In June 2015, Dylan Roof a 21 year old, gunned down nine African-Americans during Bible study in Charleston, South Carolina.
Horrified by the act, communities in the United States began to push for the removal of confederate monuments and symbols which to this day stand atop buildings, in parks and streets continuing to remind Americans of a dark past. Recently, White nationalists and others gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the taking down of one such monument, the statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Things got out of hand resulting in the death of a 32 year old woman Heather Heyer. To understand what is going on we first need to understand America. Let us start at the very beginning.
In 1492, Christopher Columbus travelling west from Europe came across a new continent unexpectedly. He took back with him tales of his travels and conquests. Inspired by his stories, European settlers, in search of a fresh start and new opportunities traveled to this new found land. Indigenous people or Native Americans who had lived here for thousands of years began to perish due to disease, conquest and slavery. The Spanish built small settlements in Florida and the Southwest. The French did the same along the Mississippi River while the British settled along the Atlantic coast. A huge workforce was needed to help develop these colonies and the Europeans looked to Africa. African men and women were put on boats and sent to this new world as slaves. They were forced to work in fields for long hours without any pay.
By 1770, the British had spread to 13 colonies along the East Coast. Slavery was legal and being practiced in each and every one of these colonies. Territorial disputes in North America soon led to war between France and Britain. Britain won the war, but it took a huge toll on her finances. As a result, she looked to tax her American colonies. British families had been living here for over 200 years and now considered themselves more American than British and were unwilling to pay tax. They revolted and demanded freedom. Force and other methods of persuasion failed. After 18 years of struggle, the Americans declared their independence. The sentiments of the American Revolution along with the equality that was stressed in the Declaration of Independence now stood in contrast to the status of most slaves. In the north-eastern part of the United States, blacks began sending petitions demanding freedom.
The North responded. By 1804 all of the northern states had abolished slavery or put measures in place to gradually reduce it. However things were different in the South. While the North got more industrialized, the south remained agrarian, largely dependent on slave labor. They were unwilling to let go of their slaves. States were now divided as Free States or Slave states.
The United States began to expand through the purchase and conquest of new territory. New States were added to the Union mostly in opposite pairs of free and slave states to maintain balance in the senate. Northerners and Southerners often clashed over the issue of slavery disagreeing with their own party members at times. (Till 1850) The Whigs and the Democrats were the 2 political parties at the time consisting of lawmakers and representatives of both northern and southern states. Internal disagreements on the issue of slavery forced many anti-slavery northerners to secede from their existing parties and join the newly formed Republican Party. The Whigs ceased to exist, while p-slavery southerners now made up most of the Democratic Party. The country was divided on political lines and the stage set for civil war.
Abraham Lincoln joined the Republican Party in 1856 and was elected President of the country 5 years later, defeating democratic candidate Douglas. Southern states feared that this would lead to the ultimate abolition of slavery and reduced states’ rights. Seven southern slave states individually declared their secession from the U.S. to form the Confederate States of America. The Confederacy grew to include eleven states; in 1861, Fort Sumter, occupied by Union troops was fired upon by the Confederates signalling the start of a bloody war. 3 years into the war, on Jan 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, the proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, and 4 years later, the Confederates surrendered ending a bloody war where close to 700,000 people lost their lives.
During the next 25 years, monuments remembering Generals and other important personalities of the Confederacy went up in the South and continued to be erected during the 19th and early 20th century as well.
Though slavery was abolished, racism and segregation continued. It wasn’t until much later that African-Americans succeeded in their fight and achieved the most important breakthrough in equal-rights legislation.
Many supporters of Confederate monuments claim it is their heritage, something their ancestors fought for or otherwise supported and not about racism while others see it as a racist symbol representing a war that was fought to uphold slavery. Today ,the United States may not be divided on North-South lines anymore, but in its place the divide between left and right continues to grow, and at times taking a violent turn as well.
Catalonia Independence Referendum 2017 Explained
Located in the North-Eastern part of the country, Catalonia is one of Spain’s richest and most developed regions with a majority of the population living in its capital city Barcelona. Catalans, as its inhabitants are called, recently voted in a referendum that asked its residents to decide whether to secede from, or continue to be a part of Spain. Why is this happening? This is the tale of Catalonia.
During the middle ages, the region what we know today as Catalonia was under Roman rule and after the fall of the Western Roman Empire passed on to the Christian Visigoths. They ruled over all of Iberia for the next 3 centuries until they were defeated by Islamic invaders. The Franks, Another Christian Kingdom shared a border with modern day Catalonia. The Frankish King king wished to create a buffer zone between his kingdom and a rapidly growing Islamic empire and moved in to take control of the area. By 801 they pushed back the Islamic forces and seized control of the region. Several self-governing counties sprung up here. One such county was Barcelona. Over time, Barcelona acquired a dominant position in the area and during the 11th Century had control over the other counties as well. A long series of wars and battles were being fought between the various Christian Kingdoms and the Moors, as the Muslims were called for control of the Iberian Peninsula. These wars were known as the Reconquista. Castile, Aragon and other kingdoms were carving out their territories from the lands left behind by the retreating Islamic tribes.
During the 12th century, the County of Barcelona and the Kingdom of Aragon were unified under a single dynasty creating the Crown of Aragon. Due to differences in language traditions and parliament of the Catalan and Aragonese people, Catalonia was given recognition as a largely independent political entity.
In 1469 Ferdinand, prince of Aragon and Isabella, Queen of Castile were married now uniting two extremely powerful realms. The Spanish empire was born and soon began conquests both at home and overseas. The country was freed of Islamic rule in 1492 and soon began its overseas conquest of the Americas. At its height, The Spanish Empire included territory on every continent then known to Europeans. Economic activity now began to shift from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic and Madrid a city in Castile was made the capital of this vast empire. Over time, Catalonia began to lose its economic and political significance. The Spanish war of succession during the 18th century saw the fall of the ruling house of Habsburg and now The House of Bourbon began to rule over Spain. The Crown of Aragon and along with it Catalonia was placed under a centralised rule, losing much of its earlier autonomy. Under the bourbons, The Catalan language was banned in administrative use.
During the 19th century, Catalonia emerged as a major industrial hub in Spain and a fervent sense of nationalism began to grip the region. The people wished to revive the Catalan language and past traditions. In 1931, Spain became a republic and Catalonia received its autonomy, but not for long. Spanish Nationalists under Francisco Franco’s overthrew the republic merely 5 years after its inception and an era of dictatorship ensued. Thousands of Catalans suffered during this time. Many were killed, imprisoned and sent into exile. Franco ruled Spain until his death in 1975. After his death, the new regime granted Catalonia certain autonomy and a regional government was established. Along with Spanish, Catalan became the joint official language. Over the years, Catalonia emerged as Spain’s most important industrial and tourist hub.
Following Franco’s death in 1975, Catalan political parties concentrated on autonomy rather than independence. The nationalistic pride, passion and identity of both Madrid and Barcelona are nowhere better expressed than on the football pitch when the two clubs face off.
The modern independence movement began when the Spanish High Court of Justice ruled that some of the articles in the Catalan Statute of Autonomy were unconstitutional. Catalans protested against the decision and wanted to preserve their existing autonomy. However, The movement soon escalated into demands for complete independence. A referendum was held in Catalonia recently and preliminary results showed a 90% vote in favor of independence, with a turnout of 42%. The government stepped in to stop the vote by force injuring many Catalans. Madrid however has since apologized and both sides may be currently working towards diffusing tensions. Thousands of people took to the streets of both Madrid and Barcelona urging political dialogue, while thousands took part in a rally in Madrid demanding Spanish unity. Catalan leaders however plan to declare independence soon while the Spanish prime minister has vowed to block such as move. How will things go ahead from here?
What is Brexit and Article 50?
On June 2016, the Prime Minister David Cameron called out to all citizens in the UK to cast their vote. This wasn’t an electoral vote, but rather an opinion poll on whether the UK should continue with, or secede from the EU. He was confident that the citizens would not want to secede, But was let down. The United Kingdom created history that day, with close to 52% of people voting in favor of leaving the EU.
David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister the day after the results were announced. Theresa May took his place and has promised to invoke article 50 before April 2017. Article 50 is a formal notification of the intent to separate from the EU, along with complete guidelines on how to do so.
Once invoked, terms such as future trade relations with the EU will be discussed. The process is supposed to take a maximum of 2 years. This is the first time a member nation will invoke article 50 and hence the road ahead is very unclear. Once invoked, there is no going back.
The government were on the path to trigger article 50, but a recent Supreme Court ruling has stated that they need to get the bill approved by parliament first. The Members of Parliament are under tremendous pressure as they have been given just 5 days to decide on it.
So why did people vote this way?
Firstly, people in Britain felt, that their leaders were having lesser and lesser say when it came to defending national law at the European level. In their eyes, the EU was an agent of change that was dismissive of their way of life and public opinion.
Secondly, they were very concerned about restrictions placed on them due to European immigration laws. The UK government had proposed that people coming in from other parts of the EU must live in the UK and contribute to it for at least 4 years before they get access to social housing and other benefits. This was opposed by the EU, making many wonder why the EU has this much say in Britain’s social welfare?
Thirdly, as laid down by the EU, all member countries are expected to adopt the Euro latest by 2020. Many felt that they were being forced to abandon the Pound and adopt the Euro against their wishes. They have been sceptical about this, as the Pound has always been the stronger currency and they believe the Euro to be unstable as it can be influenced by economically weaker countries such as Greece.
Fourthly, people feel that being a part of the EU is costing the country billions of dollars a year. The free trade agreements it enjoys are not enough to offset this cost. They would rather be an independent nation and have the complete freedom to strike trade agreements with countries outside the EU as well such as China and India.
The vote shows how divided Britain was on the issue and the bill, if passed, would be the start of a new era in European politics.
How Powerfull is the President of United States – Donald Trump’s Executive Order
Creating huge waves his first week in office, Donald Trump has signed an executive order barring individuals of 7 nations from entering the US. Individuals from Muslim majority nations of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen have been denied entry into the US for a period of 90 days with immediate effect, until stronger laws are put in place. The individuals exempt from the ban are Diplomats, UN officials and in certain cases, those of minority faith, such as persecuted Christians, making many believe this to be a “Muslim ban”. Trump has denied the claims, stating that the order was passed to combat terrorism in order to keep the US safe and is in no way anti-Muslim.
The executive order also puts a stop to the US immigration program for 120 days, and halts Syrian refugees from entering the nation indefinitely. This comes at a time when the world faces its greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War.
The power to issue an “Executive order” is a special right enjoyed by the president of the United States. With the exception of William Henry Harrison, all presidents, including George Washington, have at some time during their tenure, issued executive orders.
One of the most famous executive orders in history was the Emancipation Proclamation, issued by President Abraham Lincoln, in 1863 which changed the status of 3 million human beings from “slave to free.”
A questionable use of the power was seen when President Ford granted a full pardon to President Nixon for any offenses he might have committed during his presidency. Former President Barack Obama issued 276 executive orders on immigration, climate change, gun control, contraception and even gay rights.
But the power to issue these orders does not give the president the right to make law and can be struck down by either Congress or the Supreme Court of America at any time.
By issuing such an order, Trump believes he is putting “America First” but such an approach shows an eerie similarity with the “America first” movement during the Second World War.
America was against getting involved in the war and as a result of this they infamously turned away the St Lewis in 1939. The ship was carrying 937 Jewish refugees who were looking to escape Hitler’s persecution. The ship was turned away from American shores; ultimately leading to 100’s being killed in the holocaust. Since then, the US has come a long way in their refugee program. 85000 refugees were allowed into the country last year, with a majority of them coming from Syria and Iraq.
Numerous protests have spread across the nation since, with people demanding Trump to reconsider his stance.
Will the Trump administration give in to the pressure, or will we witness the rise of a new America, the likes of which we haven’t seen in a long time.
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