Saturday, July 01, 2006

Happy July 4th… a little early

Tonight several of my American friends and I traveled to a community called Maadi to enjoy the American embassy sponsored July 4th celebration. In order to get in we had to show our American passports. Our Canadian friends were allowed in with a Canadian passport. But if you weren’t Canadian or American, you weren’t allowed in unless you were the guest of an American citizen who had made arrangements with the U.S. embassy in advance.

For security reasons it was held on July 1st (and conveniently on a weekend) at a college in the mostly ex-pat community of Maadi. The theme this year was Hawaii, so there were life-sized tiki statues and the staff members were dressed in Hawaiian garb. We ate hotdogs and hamburgers and drank lots of Coke. All the food was supplied for free. We missed out on the ice cream though. Baskin Robbins didn’t bring enough. There were probably 2,000 people in attendance. Who knew there were so many Americans living and working in Egypt?

At one point a sharp looking, marine color guard marched down the center aisle, carrying the marine flag and the stars and stripes. We sang the National Anthem (I sang it a little louder than I have in recent years) and then listened to a speech by the American ambassador to Egypt, Francis J. Ricciardone. He mainly spoke about the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence 230 years ago, and the rights and responsibilities we were later afforded as Americans because of their courageous acts.

After that, there were bingo games, rounds of limbo, and the chance to win prizes. We continued to gorge ourselves on hotdogs and hamburgers, and had a grand old time celebrating our Independence.

While I have seen evidence this year that our country does horrible things in the world (mostly without the knowledge of our citizens), I still felt a sense of pride in my country today. Today is the day that we celebrate the ideals upon which our country was created and celebrate the men who practically signed their own death warrants when they signed the Declaration.

Our country does not always live up to those ideals, but the ideals themselves are important. Those ideals are the reason that we have a judiciary that is separate from our presidency. Egypt’s judiciary does not enjoy the same separation of powers and therefore the power of the presidency goes largely unchecked. We enjoy freedom of speech. Recently Egyptian judges were arrested because they spoke out against the Egyptian president, saying that there was a tremendous amount of fraud in the recent presidential election. Massive demonstrations followed in which plainclothes police officers beat unarmed Egyptian citizens in the streets.

I can go on and on about the rights that we, the citizens of America have that are not universal rights on this planet. For that I am thankful that I will be returning to my country in a few weeks. This year has opened my eyes to how far many countries have to go before they have rights on the same level we have.

On the other hand, I am returning to a country where some basic rights have eroded during the last year.

When our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, they did so because of oppressive control by the British crown. You can easily see that the Bill of Rights, passed by Congress in 1789, was a direct response to that oppression. Our basic freedoms include free speech, so that we can speak out against our government if we see corruption; freedom of the press, so that news of corruption can be spread; and the freedom to form a militia, to prevent the government from becoming too powerful by means of force.

Though this is the one I really want to talk about: Amendment IV.

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”


Our forefathers didn’t want the newly formed American government smashing down citizens’ doors and taking citizen’s’ property and personal records without probable cause, and even then officers of the law have to be specific about where they are looking and what they are looking for.

The Bill of Rights was all about limiting the power of the government in order for people to lead free lives. It even says in the opening line,

“The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution.”


In essence they are saying, we are adding these amendments to keep the government from abusing the powers set forth in the Constitution. Our government, “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” was designed so that the people would be in control of the government, not the other way around.

So when I see news agencies reporting about the U.S. government’s use of wiretaps on DOMESTIC phones and interception of e-mail communications without a warrant or court order, I wonder what the heck is going on in my country. I understand that this is our government’s attempt of keeping people secure since the September 11th, 2001 attacks, but these communications interceptions are illegal and infringe upon our BASIC rights as Americans. I resigned myself long ago to the possibility that the American government was recording my personal phone calls from Egypt to America, but DOMESTIC calls placed by Americans to Americans? That simply goes against everything our forefathers stood for. Our government monitoring citizens is more akin to the control of the British crown than the principles of freedom set forth in our Constitution.

Fortunately we can still speak out against our government. We can write our congressmen and congresswomen and ask what they are doing to preserve our BASIC rights as American citizens, what they are doing to ensure that the American government is still run by its citizens. Our journalists are seeking out the corruption that resides in our government and informing citizens of illegal activities. I can only pray that Americans will continue to use these rights and make sure our right to privacy doesn’t disappear. Once we start losing rights, more are sure to follow.

Today I celebrate the ideals of American freedom and pray that we can get back on track as soon as possible. I hope that justice will be dispensed to those who have broken the law. I love my country and I want it to keep the spirit of our forefathers alive for a long time to come.

2 comments:

noell said...

i love you jason!

my dad and i had a long alk about our country this week when we were driving through history rich virginia on the way to richmond...

suddenly i find myself wishing i'd taken more history and civics classes... as guess one is never too old to keep learning though.... thanks for sharing your thoughts...

here are some ani lyrics... well part of a poem really:

i love my country
by which i mean
i am indebted joyfully
to all the people throughout its history
who have fought the government to make right
where so many cunning sons and daughters
our foremothers and forefathers
came singing through slaughter
came through hell and high water
so that we could stand here
and behold breathlessly the sight
how a raging river of tears
is cutting a grand canyon of light


ok, the longest comment- ever! be safe, and i hope to see you soon!

Jason said...

Thank you Noell. In this day where patriotisim apparently means to "comply with your government or else...," I would like to share these other quotes by truly pariotic Americans through the ages.

To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public.
-Theodore Roosevelt (President of the U.S.)

We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. When the loyal opposition dies, I think the soul of America dies with it.
-Edward R. Murrow (Journalist)

The notion that a radical is one who hates his country is naïve and usually idiotic. He is, more likely, one who likes his country more than the rest of us, and is thus more disturbed than the rest of us when he sees it debauched. He is not a bad citizen turning to crime; he is a good citizen driven to despair.
-H. L. Mencken (Author)

Men in authority will always think that criticism of their policies is dangerous. They will always equate their policies with patriotism, and find criticism subversive.
-Henry Steele Commager (American Historian)

I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.
-James Baldwin (Writer)

The government is merely a servant -- merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. Its function is to obey orders, not originate them.
-Mark Twain (Author)

If you want a symbolic gesture, don't burn the flag; wash it.
-Norman Thomas (Co-founder of the ACLU)

Patriotism does not oblige us to acquiesce in the destruction of liberty. Patriotism obliges us to question it, at least.
-Wendy Kaminer (Writer)

Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.
-William O. Douglas (Supreme Court Justice)

No, Noell, your comment is not the longest ever. I've got oyu beat now. Ha ha! Thanks again for visiting.