Roundtable: Spanish Anthem, War on Terrorism

Guests: Callie Crossley, a social and cultural commentator on the television show Beat the Press; Robert George, editorial writer for the New York Post, and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, professor of globalization and education and co-director of immigration studies at New York University. They discuss reaction to the Spanish version of "The Star Spangled Banner" and the mounting death toll in the war on terrorism.

Copyright © 2006 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

ED GORDON, host:

This is NEWS AND NOTES. I'm Ed Gordon. On today's roundtable: attention to Darfur, and terror around the world.

Joining us today from our New York bureau, Robert George, editorial writer at the New York Post; and Marcelo Suárez-Orozco, professor of globalization and education and co-director of immigration studies at New York University. Also with us, Callie Crossley, a social and cultural commentator of the television show Beat the Press, seen in the Boston area. She joins us from the Harvard University studios in Cambridge.

I welcome you all, and thank you. Let's talk a little bit about what we saw in terms of a march, Robert George, in the streets. So much attention being paid to the immigration march, rightfully so today, but over the weekend we saw thousands rally in support of trying to stop the violence in Darfur and the Sudan. And interestingly enough, as much attention has really been focused over the last week, because George Clooney has become involved. Let's play a little clip from Mr. Clooney, and then we'll get into it.

Mr. GEORGE CLOONEY (Actor): We're at the doorstep of something we thought was impossible to dream of in the 21st Century. If we turn our heads and look away and hope that it will all disappear, then they will--all of them, an entire generation of people. And we will have only history left to judge us.

GORDON: Talking about, what many people are calling, the genocide there. Talk to us, A, about the inclusion of a superstar, like George Clooney, to something like this.

Mr. ROBERT GEORGE (Editorial Writer, New York Post): Well, it certainly gives a situation that has been, obviously, been growing over the last two years now, it brings so much more public attention to it. I mean, I don't think--I mean, obviously, with the numbers that were showing up on the mall over the weekend, it would have gotten some news coverage. But obviously, George--you know, sexiest man alive--Clooney, Academy Award winner, it brings a lot more focus to it. But I mean, you know the fact is, there have been a number of people who have been talking about this on the left and the right for quite some time. Particularly even some of the strongest conservatives in Congress, like Senator Sam Brownback in Kansas, Representative Chris Smith in New Jersey. If Clooney can--If Clooney's name could actually, you know, force some real attention to it, great.

GORDON: Here's what's interesting to me professor, the idea that sometimes you have dueling interests, and we're starting to see that kind of thing in the streets. We have the battle over illegal immigration. We have Darfur. You're starting to see people concerned about, obviously, the war in Iraq. Can that be problematic?

Professor MARCELO SUAREZ-OROZCO (Professor of Globalization and Education and Co-director of Immigration Studies, New York University): I'm not sure it can be problematic. I think that these are issues that increasingly call forth a more coordinated, more coherent set of responses. I think that celebrities put aside, the crisis and the Darfur is one of the great humanitarian crises in the world today--200,000 ethnically motivated killings, 2 million displaced refuges seeking shelter. This clearly calls forth a major international agenda, where we need to really coordinate our efforts with the African Union, with our colleagues in Europe, Russia, China. This is really beyond celebrity.

GORDON: But the sense of--each march starts to compete, as Robert said, for airtime, space in the newspaper, people's attention. And if you've got an anti-war march going on over here, illegal immigration march going on over here, a stopping violence in Darfur going on over here-sometimes one might believe that people will start to say, okay, you know, that's just too much marching.

Mr. GEORGE: But there's a common thread that's going on here--and I'm sure Callie can speak to this, too--there's a real common thread about America, and its role in the world, and what America is going to look like, and how it's going to react to what people have referred to--not just the browning of America, but the browning of the world right now.

GORDON: Callie, let me ask you this, and then Marcelo can follow-up. What's interesting, too, is the browning of the celebrity, or lack thereof. There are a lot of African-Americans who are suggesting, where are the black superstar celebrities and other people of color on the front of this? If you see Clooney bringing attention to Darfur, if you see Angelina Jolie bringing attention to the plight of African nations and the problems that, in fact, they're having with everything from education to just livelihood and rape-we've seen Oprah do some things, but many people feel that African-American celebrities have not stepped up enough.

Ms. CALLIE CROSSLEY (Social and Cultural Commentator, Beat the Press): Well, I don't think that's true, but I need to say first that I believe that Americans--and that's what we're known for-can multi-task when it comes to justice, and...

GORDON: Yes, that's what we're known for. I don't know how well we do it, but we're known for it.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, I mean, that's the whole question about multi-tasking in general. But what I mean is, is that we can hold more than one thought about the various issues going on in the world. And Robert is right about how America has to be involved in the world globally, but also about how do we, as Americans, really want to articulate what we say is democracy and morality, really. So that's the first thing.

The second thing is, there have been folks out in front, Don Cheadle among them. He's written several op-eds. He's visited the Sudan. People have raised their voices. But when it comes to who takes up the air space, if you will, there are some "white celebrities," for lack of a better expression, who will always get that attention. And one of the reasons they're going to get the attention is because right now, so much what is called news, is really stories that are seen through an entertainment frame. And to their credit, Clooney especially--and Jolie--both have said, we know that people are coming to us for other stuff, but we're going to take the platform and use it for something positive. So that's why, you know, he's out there in front doing it, but there are certainly black folks who are there.

And I would like to add that a Boston-based physician, Doctor Gloria White-Hammond, is executive director of A Million Voices of Darfur. Black woman. Part of her role is to engage regular black folks into the struggle, and she's done that very well. But you just don't see that and hear that in the coverage, sometimes.

GORDON: Go ahead.

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: I think another issue running through this is the lack of political leadership, and therefore, the vacuum...

GORDON: Across the board.

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Across the board--in all of these three issues that we were talking about--and therefore a vacuum is being generated that is being taken up by the celebrities.

Mr. GEORGE: Obama was--Obama was at the Darfur...

GORDON: Well, certainly. And I mean, when we talk about this, obviously there are going to be politicians, there are going to be black celebrities, there are going to be--you know, it's just a generality that people start to whisper, you know, where are these people?

All right. Let's turn our attention to something particularly based on the idea of today, and the illegal immigration boycott that we're seeing. And here is one of the fears that Americans have and don't say out loud, or perhaps in mixed company, and that is that the Spanish language is becoming so strong in the United States, that there are those kind of xenophobia fears that it's taking over and soon we'll all have to know Spanish, et cetera.

We heard a British music producer produce a Spanish language version of the United States' national anthem, and it really met with a lot criticism. Let's take a listen real quick.

(Soundbite of Spanish language version of "The Star Spangled Banner")

GORDON: Marcelo, let me go to you. When you hear this, and I know that you've had many, many conversations about this kind of thing. And there are these whispers. And a couple of brave people may come out front and suggest that they believe that people should speak English in the United States, and only speak English. What do you say to that?

Prof. SUAREZ-OROZCO: Sure. Immigrants today, including Spanish-speaking immigrants, are learning English faster and better than in any previous generation, in the history of immigration to the United States. The data on this are overwhelming. Really the issue becomes, one: is will Spanish be the general exception to what has been a rule in the history of immigration to the United States?

One of my colleagues at Harvard once said, the U.S. is a cemetery for languages. The Germans brought their language. The Japanese brought their language. The Italians brought their language. All of those languages were buried in the United States. Over time there is a very powerful movement towards English supremacy for all groups.

I think that what we're witnessing today is a kind of a new dynamic. Let's call it a bilingualism from below and a bilingualism from the top. The president can't have it both ways. He can't give his radio speech address in Spanish. He can't crack jokes in Spanish. He can't go into Spanish whenever he sees a political opportunity, and at the same time be concerned when people take this messages of civic engagement seriously, and engage in these kinds of issues like the national anthem in Spanish.

GORDON: Callie, here's the interesting point. With situations like this, could we see this as a positive in terms of bringing the United States, kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, when we know that most of the world is bilingual?

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well, absolutely, but with regard to the nation anthem, the problem is that it's a symbol that's bigger than just the language issue, or that people will try to frame it as such. And so people are very insulted that, you know, nobody wants to sing in English, which is not the point. But here's what I find interesting. It's been pointed out to me that the State Department on its website has a Spanish translation of The Star Spangled Banner. So I don't know what that's about. So now they're objecting to this wholly new song.

I think if the song didn't sound so much like the original national anthem, there would maybe be less pushback. And I am thinking about the Negro national anthem, which is about cultural pride. It's about being here, but it also is referred as the national anthem. But it's totally different sounding, and different in focus and intent, than the national anthem. So I don't know, I mean, I'm thinking this is part, this is the tip of the iceberg about backlash in general. But I also think that there was a way, maybe, to do the same thing without borrowing so heavily from the original, and that may be what has (unintelligible) other people.

GORDON: Well but this essentially is the Spanish version of the national anthem, unlike the negro national anthem, which is a completely different song.

Ms. CROSSLEY: That's what I'm saying. Yeah.

Mr. GEORGE: Right. Yeah.

Ms. CROSSLEY: That's what I'm saying, that's my point exactly. And I said if it wasn't that then maybe you wouldn't have experienced so much of a backlash.

Mr. GEORGE: It, I mean, it is just the Spanish version. It is, however, speaking to, in Callie's words, the backlash that we're starting to see on the immigration issue. Which is why, you know, a number of people said, you know, having the boycott may not be a good idea.

You have, and there's an element within the country, you know, that feels that it's not just a matter of immigrants, you know, coming in and taking jobs. It's "taking the culture", and the national anthem, you know, like the Pledge of Allegiance, is one of these really, strongly symbolic things. It's supposed to be a unifying element, and there's a sense that if you, if people start saying it in Spanish it becomes more divisive.

I think, clearly, if this is not something that's going to be done at, you know, like, sports events and things like that, I think ultimately this particular issue will fade away.

GORDON: All right, let's turn our attention to a report released by the United States government, and that is on terrorist attacks across the world. Eleven thousand terrorist attacks were carried out last year, killing more than, almost 14 and a half, or just over, I should say, 14 and a half thousand people.

The majority of these attacks, Marcello, happened in Iraq. That's an interesting juxtaposition with what we're finding in terms of the war on terror and those attacks happening in the country that we are at war with.

Professor SUÁREZ-OROZCO: Beyond the green zone, there is really very little monopoly of security in Iraq today, and that's why we see the kind of explosion in the number of attacks that are again, marked by religious groupings between the Shia, the Kurd, and the Sunni. This really suggests that we have very little control of the state apparatus in Iraq. There hasn't really been the ability of the U.S. to act as a warrantor of peace and security and this really suggests the beginning of the real disintegration of that country.

GORDON: Here's the other interesting point, Callie, when you talk about terrorist attacks in the general term, and the war on terror waged by the Bush administration, much of what is forgotten in all of this by Americans--is all of this is new to our shores, but the rest of the world has lived with this, unfortunately, for years and years and years.

Ms. CROSSLEY: You're absolutely right. And I think that's one of the reasons why maybe we don't get some kind, the same kind of intense response--though I think you're seeing more of it, witness the march against the war here over the weekend--from Americans, because it feels very distant. And that's the advantage that we've had through all of this.

I think the point here, though, is that what does it mean that our very presence in a country seems to inspire more terrorist attacks? I mean, there was the heaviest toll of deaths on this past month than has been since last year. And all you see is just, it just seems to be draining away resources--lives primarily--and to what point? Our presence seems to be inspiring the terrorism. I don't see an end to it, and I think that's a problem about the war and its message from the Bush administration and our support of it, rather, and I don't know how that, how you explain that away to folks.

Mr. GEORGE: Right. And Callie, I guess, she actually, it's the last month we had the highest number of American casualties, specifically, in Iraq.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Exactly.

Mr. GEORGE: The nub of the problem is in the way, Ed, you just described it, you know, you said most of these attacks are happening in the country that we're at war with. The weird question is, you know, are we still at war with Iraq? We are in some kind of a war and an on-going conflict in Iraq, but, you know, we're supporting the government there and there's this, obviously this internecine battle that we increasingly seem to be caught in the middle of.

And, the insurgency, unfortunately, does not seem to be under control as much as the administration, as the administration would want. And you also had, obviously you also had Colin Powell again, coming out this weekend and criticizing the troop issue. So...

GORDON: Isn't, Marcelo, that the interesting point, almost the surreal point, of what's going on in that country now? We have the United States military apparatus, the biggest and the baddest in the world, fighting insurgents, trying to install a government, and still having problems. And as Robert just suggested, it's the bloodiest month that we've seen since the war began.

Professor SUÁREZ-OROZCO: Yeah, language fails us again, because this has moved beyond the war theater and has become now a classic counter-insurgency operation. And the evidence seems to suggest that we simply didn't prepare for that scenario, for that theater. So we went in with a set of variables, with a set of constants, and now we are needing to manage a very completely different situation on the ground, and this is generating very, very destructive assaults.

Mr. GEORGE: And you also had the first suicide bombing, in successful bombing in Israel, for the first time in many, many months as well. Just as Hamas has taken control. So the entire, the idea of the democratization project that the administration has been trying to work on, has had serious setbacks in the last six weeks.

GORDON: And Callie, with about six seconds--the other fight is, that the military doesn't really want to look at--they claim that this is a rag-tag bunch of insurgents. But if you just saw this month being the bloodiest, one would have to ask about the U.S. military and their might and their readiness, and that as we've already stated, is being brought up.

Ms. CROSSLEY: Well not only that, but the Iraqis that they have been training--they just had an incident over there, where they wanted to assign them to different parts of Iraq--and the folks that have been trained now, these are the people who're supposed to be ready to go and take up the space for the Americans--said they only wanted to stay close to home. So it's, I mean, you know. They themselves don't want to be disbursed throughout the country because they don't feel it's safe. So it's quite mess.

Mr. GEORGE: Yeah.

GORDON: All right. Callie, Marcelo, and Robert. Thank you so much, greatly appreciate it.

Next up on NEWS AND NOTES, a case of art imitating life. And independent film imagines what life would be like without Mexican immigrants. We'll talk to the star of that film.

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