Friday, June 08, 2007

(Please) Don't Tell Me To Stop

Much has been going on in my life and I'm still trying to return to some sense of equilibrium that was lost after my recent trip to Kansas and then company visiting from Kansas. But life marches on, in spite these things as I'm sure it does for you as well.

Unfortunately the war in Iraq has also been continuing with US deaths at just over the 3,500 mark. It's always important to note when discussing fatalities in war that there is another statistic, often overlooked in all those news reports. That's the number of Iraqis that have been killed. At the minimum, there are 65,000 Iraqis estimated dead.

With all these deaths, it would seem more important than ever to have good Arabic-English translators. At hearings on the State Department's 2008 budget, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeatedly suggested that qualified language experts were needed at the agency, prompting this delicious exchange with Representative Gary Ackerman (D-NY). Ackerman noted that at least 322 language specialists with skills in Arabic, Farsi, and Korean have been discharged from the U.S. Military under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy began in 1993. Ackerman suggested the State Department hire back those language specialists, but not before getting in a hilarious zinger (source).

What does it say about us (the United States) as a country that we fight for freedoms but discriminate against the very servicemen and women that are leading the fight?? A staggering 11,082 people have been discharged from the military since its implementation. Of the 25 countries that participate militarily in NATO, more than twenty permit gays to serve; of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, two (Britain, France) permit gays to serve openly, and three (United States, Russia, China) do not. It's telling that the US is in league with Russia and China, two countries known for their wide-spread human-rights abuses. Just for fun I looked up the other countries that prohibit gays from serving openly in the military and the results were even more disturbing:Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, North Korea, Philippines[1], Saudi Arabia, Syria, Venezuela, and Yemen. (Canada, my country of choice, has included gays in the military since 1992.)

According to an article in today's New York Times, presidential candidates are predictably divided along party lines on the issue of repealing this 14-year old policy that ironically was implemented by the last Democrat to hold the office to which they aspire. According to the Pew Research Center, 52 percent of Americans favored allowing gay men and lesbians to serve openly in the military in 1994, while 45 percent opposed it. By 2006, that majority had grown to 60 percent, while 32 percent opposed the idea. A national poll conducted in May 2005 by the Boston Globe showed 79% of participants having nothing against openly gay people from serving in the military.

What was most compelling to me was this editorial from an ousted translator. I'm stunned that, despite the fact that he lives in a country that openly treats him as a second-class citizen, he is eager to serve his country. "As the friends I once served with head off to 15-month deployments, I regret I’m not there to lessen their burden and to serve my country. I’m trained to fight, I speak Arabic and I’m willing to serve. No recruiter needs to make a persuasive argument to sign me up. I’m ready, and I’m waiting."

It was comedian Danny Williams who quipped "If they don't want us in the military, then I say that straight men can't be florists and straight women can't be UPS drivers." His point clearly is that, at the end of the day, people are people, whatever their race, origin, creed, gender, age or sexual orientation. As I've quoted before from the movie Chocolat: "I think that we can't go around... measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think... we've got to measure goodness by what we *embrace*, what we create... and who we include." Let this post serve as a call for us to return to the ideals we used to define ourselves: liberty and equality for all!

1 comment:

Jolie said...

Good post! You point is so important. It's so sad that Americans find ourselves equal with view points of Russia and China. I thought America was the land of the free. This is so apparently not true when we deny people from serving our country. I do have a some hope that people do want things things to change. Now if our government would listen to the people that put them in office, we might actually see changes.