Saturday, August 20, 2011

Crossing Borders - the American Hikers

I've been taking the month of August off from my blog to focus on my novel for Camp NanoWriMo, but when I read the news this morning about the 2 American hikers being sentenced to 8 years in Iran, I discovered I had something to say.

For those playing catchup, in 2009 three Americans, Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd and Josh Fattal went hiking in Iraq. While the American media has painted them as naive college students, I think it's important to note that they were very politically active in a variety of activist organizations which include anti-war, pro-Syrian, and pro-Palestinian views. Naive, perhaps, and probably. But they were not unaware of the political climate they were stepping into. In fact, they'd chosen to relocate to that region for political purposes, they weren't simply American kids on holiday.

Despite warnings received from locals, the trio decided to hike to a waterfall near the border, and then decided to step off trail when they were in an area they were unsure off. The trio stepped across the Iranian border, and were captured by the Iranian police and accused of being spies for the United States. In 2010, Sarah Shourd bailed out on $500,000 for medical reasons and returned to the states, leaving the other two to stand trial.

There's a lot of uproar right now about these hikers; everything from demands that we simply send our soldiers in to take them, to accusations that Obama dropped the ball in not expressing force.

I'm willing to be unpopular when I say, you know what, I think they deserve what they got, and they should feel damn lucky they weren't executed instead of standing trial.

It's an example of American privilege at it's worst. While OBVIOUSLY I don't paint all Americans with the same brush, there's a reason the outside world has the stereotype of us as demanding, whiny, entitled tourists who expect countries to bend themselves to our will, instead of stepping into their culture and attempting to assimilate as best as we can.

When you leave the boundaries of the United States and go into another country, you are agreeing to follow their rules and obey their laws. If you are accused of a crime, you generally acknowledge that you are at the mercy of their legal system, or lack thereof. "But I'm American!" will only take you so far.

They expected that their American passports would act as get out of jail free cards, even knowing that Americans aren't exactly the winners of the popularity contest in that part of the world. They knowingly went on a hike near the border that even the locals said was too dangerous. Then, knowing the political climate of the region, they lost track of where the border was (intentionally or accidentally; maybe a quick little jaunt on an Iranian trail was a part of their agenda), and they paid the price.

For the record, I feel the same way about the Evangelical Christian yachters who were killed by Somali Pirates in water known to be infested with pirates. (I feel the religion is relevant because of the political religious climate in the part of the world they were captured in, and the fact that their cargo hold was filled with Bibles.) You play with fire, sometimes it's going to burn you, and being American isn't going to make you get off easy. Sometimes it even makes you a much better target.

For everyone saying that their sentence is too harsh, and that American soldiers should storm Iran and take them back, I have just one question for you:

Let's suspend reality a moment and suppose that Iran and the United States shared a border, and let's just say that three hikers without visas wandered across our border, and let's just suppose that they had ties to several radical activist organizations in Iran? What exactly would we do with them?

Hold them as terrorists, send them to Guantanamo, interrogate them for information, and do it all under the name of homeland security and border protection.

Now, how do you feel about that 8 year sentence?

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