Category Archives: US/Belgium 2011-2012

Open Letter to Obama Regarding Drone Use Against American Citizens Abroad (Please Share)

Dear President Obama,

My name is Emily. I have a family I love very much, love to write, just finished a postgraduate Master’s in translation, am a fan of the Nationals. And I currently keep up with family, team, and literary culture from approximately 4000 miles away. I am one of millions of American citizens living abroad.

I was born and raised on the East Coast, but I have been living in Antwerp, Belgium for almost a year now. And I miss the United States almost every day. But lately, I’ve been forced to consider that the United States I’ve been missing these past months—the democratic nation of freedom, equality, democracy, and justice, the country I love and would die to serve and protect—might not exist anymore.

Why? Because the government, and in particular the executive branch, have acted in secret. It’s true, that’s nothing new. Governments worldwide have always, and probably will always, act without the knowledge or consent of the people they serve, in defense of those people and for the protection of their liberties. But this time, it’s gone too far. This time, government is not acting to protect and serve Americans and defend their rights as citizens. This time, you are acting to take those rights away.

In undergrad, I was one of those laughed-at liberal arts majors, but I’ve learned a few things in the course of my B.A. One of those things is that under the Fourteenth Amendment,”… No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

While Section 1 of the Amendment doesn’t state that those same obligations apply to the federal government, Section 5 makes it clear that “The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.” If Congress has the power to enforce those provisions, doesn’t that mean that Congress also has the obligation to abide by them in its own dealings?

In February, I was angered by the declaration that the government has the authority to carry out targeted drone strikes against American citizens abroad. For obvious reasons, I was frightened, too. And now, in July, I am baffled by the lack of response from my fellow Americans.

Having been away from the US, I can’t hope to answer for or explain the general domestic apathy toward the declaration, or towards the use of surveillance drones on American soil. But I hope that I at least can try to speak for Americans abroad, Democrat, Republican, or independent like me, when I say that this decision, from the man who is supposed to represent this country that I love, who is supposed to speak for us, act for us, defend our liberties as well as our physical nation, horrifies me to my very core.

“Trust us?” Please do not insult the intelligence of your own countrymen. Any American who’s been through the fourth grade knows that the United States was created out of a lack of trust for government, because of an abuse of power and a lack of representation. And that our system of checks and balances is designed to ensure that that abuse of power and lack of representation stay where they belong: in our national memory. To ensure that government is truly “for the people”, not the people for the government. So I am not sorry to say, I don’t trust the government, because it is clearly not acting for Americans like me.

Again, I love this country. I love the United States for her innovation and creativity, for her unflinching bravery in the face of evil, for her commitment to justice, to freedom, to democracy. I am proud to be an American, and would never give that up, no matter how long I remain on foreign soil.

What you are doing is wrong. It stifles those values, those liberties and rights which protect us as Americans, and which make our country the unique, ever-growing nation that she is. Where it doesn’t stifle them, it twists them, turning that amazing creative energy and innovation, which could have been used for good, into a force for oppression, fear, and hatred.

I’d like to close with two questions which clarify my stance on this, and highlight my feeling of not being represented by your administration, and particularly, by you. I hope all Americans will contemplate these questions, because it’s never too late for change.

  1. Does being resident abroad somehow negate a citizen’s Constitutional rights? In other words, should I be afraid that my other rights will be taken away too, simply because I do not reside on U.S. soil? To put it even more clearly: am I less American than you?
  2. Drones are unmanned aircraft. Let me say it again: drones are unmanned machines. And machines, as we all know very well in our own lives, often make mistakes. They can’t reason like humans can. There may be human operators on the other end, but the intelligence they have won’t always be perfect, and drones will make mistakes. As an American living abroad, what would you say to me if you made a mistake? Worse, what would you say to my family?

Thank you for reading. I hope that these questions will give rise to some serious reconsideration, and to some positive change, discussion, and dialogue.

Sincerely,

Emily K. Iekel

 

James Madison University Class of 2012

Katholieke Universiteit Leuven Class of 2013

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It’s the End of the World As I Know It

My senior year draws to a close in this next week. I have finally finished my honors thesis and all other presentations. Just one French final, and then I’m in the clear and…graduation!

That said, I do have a job lined up for this summer, a few more interviews, and a few more graduate programs I am waiting to hear from, in Belgium and in the U.S.

Bring it on, reality.

I’ll miss you, JMU.

P.S. I promise I will post more about my last trip to Belgium, and My Personal Francophone’s two journeys to the U.S. (particularly the one a few weeks ago), as time allows.

 

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It is Time

“There is time for the taking of a toast and tea,” so I am snatching a few minutes out of my schedule today to talk about the trip to BelTium (oops, I mean Belgium!) which I made last month.

First of all, dart to U.S. Airways (or is it continental?) for their lack of customer service. If that flight to Brussels was a movie (I’m using you all as guinea pigs for my screen writing class) it would go something like this:

INT. PLANE-EVENING

EMILY, 21, sits crammed in a seat in coach, a shoulder bag taking up most of her leg room. A FLIGHT ATTENDANT enters with a beverage cart.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Something to drink?

EMILY

Do you have decaf?

FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Certainly!

Exit flight attendant. Ten minutes pass.

Enter flight attendant with coffee.

EMILY

Thank you.

Emily takes a sip, makes a face.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT

I know. It’s terrible, isn’t it?

EMILY

(Trying to be polite.) It…does the job.

Exit flight attendant. Emily sets her coffee down on the tray table in front of her and puts in headphones. She watches the screen in front of her, presumably an in-flight movie.

The plane begins to shake. This is TURBULENCE and Emily doesn’t like it. She glances up toward the front of the plane.

EMILY

(Mumbling to herself) I wish the captain would make

                                  an announcement or something. (Beat) We’re all gonna die.

The turbulence continues. For six and a half hours.

Emily tosses in her seat, trying to nap.

EMILY

Please God, I’ll never sin again…if I have to die,

                                       please let the plane crash while I’m sleeping.

CUT TO:

INT. PLANE, SIX HOURS LATER

A FLIGHT ATTENDANT comes over the intercom. Emily wakes up.

FLIGHT ATTENDANT

Just to let you know, the turbulence we’ve

                                          been experiencing should end as soon as we get over

                                          land, which will be in approximately thirty minutes.

Emily mumbles under her breath. Then:

EMILY

Might have been nice to know that six hours ago.

CUT TO:

Emily exits the plane, clutching her bag in one hand. She touches solid ground: the airport linoleum, and inhales deeply, letting it out in a rush.

EMILY

Thank you, sweet Jesus.

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BelTium

Two weeks ago, I called my bank to inform them that I would be out of the country starting tomorrow. (My Personal Francophone is very excited that I am coming in time for his birthday–and New Year’s.)

“When will you be going?” the teller asked.For convenience’s sake let’s call her Cindy; this is for her protection as well as my own.

“December 28 to January 6,” I said.

“Where will you be going?” Cindy asked.

“Belgium!” I said, with a big grin on my face.

“Would you spell that?” Cindy asked. My smile faded.

“Belgium,” I said. “B-E-L-G-I-U-M.”

“Is that a country?” Cindy asked.

“Belgium!” I said. “The country between France and Germany!?”

“Oh,” Cindy said. “I thought you spelled that differently.”

“You thought I spelled it with a T or something?” I asked.

“Yes,” Cindy said.

“No,” I said. “I meant, Belgium.”

“Will that be all, ma’am?” Cindy asked. Routinely what she SHOULD have asked, was, “is there anywhere else you will be using your card?”

“No,” I said. “I may be using my card in Paris as well.”

Beat.

“Is that all, ma’am?”

“Yes,” I said.

Now the question here is not whether Cindy was incompetent, or the cold virus I was suffering through at the time made my consonants come out sounding funny (which may well have been possible–I remember going through a lot of soup, tea, and tissues).

The question is, why did I have to spell “Belgium” at all?

Belgium knows who we are; we are the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. We have HOLLYWOOD and NEW YORK CITY (and in my Personal Francophone’s case, CLINT EASTWOOD and THE MARINES.). We are AMERICANS who speak ENGLISH and have ALL THE MILITARY THINGS.

We know that they have Tintin (by the way, see the movie, it’s excellent, even though not completely faithful to the original comic), beer, chocolate and frites. Also rain. Also the European Union. Yet somehow, as Americans, we manage to push them aside.

Perhaps because they are so tiny (you can cross the country in about two hours.) Perhaps because we have less need to learn French and even less for Flemish. Perhaps because they’re a monarchy and we hate monarchy. We like them for their food.

(Don’t get me wrong, I am TOTALLY going there for the food. Sorry, sweetie. 😉 )

I am a HUGE believer in American exceptionalism. This country, put simply, is incredible. In less than 300 years we have been able to build and develop and grow into who we are. We have diversified our peoples and unified them under one nation, one Constitution, and one belief in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We work hard for what we have and love what we do. As a nation we are by and large optimistic, cheerful, hard-working, and persistent. We have some of the best schools, some of the most impressive technology and newest developments in the world.

In a word, America, we are INCREDIBLE. I am proud to be an American, proud of this country and what she has accomplished and will accomplish. Nothing, not bad leadership, not economic recession, not terrorists who hate us, can hold us back.

But maybe it’s time we start learning how to spell the names of foreign nations. Maybe it’s time we look a little further beyond the size of a country, beyond even the things that country is famous for, and at the things that country is capable of doing right now.

Next up in the international spelling bee, everyone: Uzbekistan.

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Stuffing Hound: A Thanksgiving Tradition

A belated happy Thanksgiving to everyone who has read my blog in the past, and everyone who thinks about it every time I post on Facebook and never clicks my post.

As you probably know, this is my first American Thanksgiving since 2009, because I spent last year in Salamanca eating turkey and potato puree and stuffing made out of turkey gizzards, and going to a bar for half-price cocktail night.

So as usual, my family spent the holiday with my mom’s parents. Yesterday, as we waged the annual Table Fight with the antique pullout table, trying to convince it to open up and let us insert the leaf for the 13 people who were coming for dinner, I felt compelled to mention this.

“You missed out,” said my grandparents. “You missed out,” said my sister. “Well, who’s fault was that?” said my father. “Yes,” said my mother, “you missed the carving of the turkey with stale bread up its ass.”

I had tried. “You know,” I said hopefully to my grandfather, “it’s better not to stuff the turkey before you roast it.”

He waved me off with a shrug of his Italian shoulders. “I know, but I’ve never gotten sick. But if you don’t want any of it, more for me!”

“No!” I said, a dangerous glint in my eye. “Some of that is mine!”

“Stuffing hound,” my mother said this afternoon, as I polished off the leftovers. I just grinned and took another bite. (I should mention that this was NOT the stuffing from the inside of the turkey; it was the still-delicious but slightly inferior pan made outside the bird with celery and chicken broth.)

My grandfather dropped an aluminum foil-wrapped packet on his plate.

My mother looked at it. “What’s that?”

“It’s mine and Mom’s,” my grandfather said. “It’s what we could scrape out of the bird.”

My mother and I eyed it as it was passed to my grandmother’s plate. “It’s mine,” my grandmother said. “I didn’t get any last night cause you all ate it!”

We all hastily denied any culpability, blaming it on the contractor and his wife who’d originally come to the house to redo the bathroom in September and had stayed for dinner possibly every night since.

“I don’t know,” my mother said with a grin. “I’m sitting close enough to Mom that I can probably take some from her plate.”

My grandmother eyed my mother. “If you do that, I will stab your hand with my fork!”

 

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We remember

Always remember the actions of a few can change the lives of many.

 We honor the incredibly courageous men and women who lost their lives on September 11, 2001.

We honor as well the men and women–law enforcement, medical, military, and civilian–who risked and even lost their own lives to rescue those they could.

And we honor the American people, who after this tragedy have had and will have the grace, the fortitude, and the pride to rebuild, and to make the future of this country a safer, a stronger, and a more united one.

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Back to School: Senior Style (backdated, August 26)

The night before returning to school is usually an exciting, and a frustrating one. Mountains of boxes and suitcases, last minute decisions on what to take and where to pack it. Last night, it was different. I had to say goodbye. The sense of ending was everywhere: in the packing for the final move into my apartment, the last time I would drive before Thanksgiving vacation, the last dinner with my girlfriends, the last trip to my neighbors’ house for true confessions,  conversation and telenovelas.

I have been doing this at the end of every summer before heading back to college; this year, it feels like the last time because it is the beginning of the last time. The last year. I feel as if I’d just started school, and now I’m finishing. And the next step is up to me. Decisions on graduate school, work…all mine. And the job of making it happen. Making a future possible.

I have been so lucky, in school, in work, in travel, in meeting people. And now I am lucky enough to have the ability to shape my future, to make my own choices and live them.

As I unpack the last few boxes, put away files and shoes and books and plan my schedule for the weeks ahead, I realize a few things:

Really, this has been a remarkable summer. A good time was had with friends, family, and boyfriends (well, okay, boyfriend, singular). I did a fair bit of traveling (more on that later). I wrote a decent amount, when I wasn’t working and traveling.

And I’m glad. Because this is the last summer before everything changes.

And I solemnly swear I am up to much good (disclaimer: I do not own the line I just paraphrased. We all know who does, because JK Rowling is amazing), and I intend to enjoy my senior year to the fullest.

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