I was wondering today if my decision to not go to Taiwan (or to teach abroad at all for that matter) was influenced at all by the sordid tales I hear from the media of crimes against American nationals in foreign countries.
I am thinking specifically of Amanda Knox and Devon Hollahan. Amanda Knox- the girl that most Americans seem to believe was framed (or at least abused) by the Italian police and courts. I can hear every parent in American warning their kids about the dangers of non-American judicial systems. Systems where, like in most countries outside our borders, a person is guilty until proven innocent.
Now I could rattle off lists of complaints and problems with the U.S. Judicial system, our courts, our government, and American legal mores. But the fact of the matter is, I have nothing to complain about comparatively! Am I being held under house arrest, just because I believe in freedom and democracy like Aung San Suu Kyi? Man I am glad I do not live in Burma...
Or am I being held, like Amanda is, in a foreign jail for over 2 years, for a crime I may or may not have committed? Now that Amanda was found guilty, what does that say about American justice vs. international justice? Could Americans, just for being American, be targeted as the harbingers of crime?
What about in the case of Devon Hollahan? I read about his case when my friend who is teaching English abroad in the Czech Republic starting posting that one of her fellow American teachers had gone missing during a weekend trip to Frankfort. What is odd about the case of Devon is that he literally vanished into thin air. One minute he was standing next to his friend, and the next minute he was gone. Does that happen in America? Well, yes. Of course it happens.
But why we hear about people like Amanda and Devon is because we expect and understand that there is crime in America and we believe (for the most part) that the American judicial system will punish criminals and protect victims. We do not believe, I would argue, that other countries can and will do the same. This also makes me think of the case of Madeleine McCann, the little British girl that went missing while her family was vacationing in Portugal. After months with few leads, Madeleine's mother began making statements not only about the lack of any kind of system in the Portuguese government for dealing with missing persons cases, but also extended that to her own home country. She blamed the Portuguese, and in extension, the entire European justice system for the lack of definitive results in the case, calling them "20 years behind the Americans."
I have never been the victim of a crime. I was never a criminal. But I have made, and continue to make, decisions that are technically illegal. And that is because I trust that our judicial system will recognize the fact that I am not a criminal, I am merely human. Yes I make occasional bad decisions, but doesn't everyone? This brings me back to Amanda Knox. Her alibi for the night that her roommate was murdered was that she was over at her boyfriends toking it up. What she was pretty much saying is that she does illegal things but is not a murderer or a criminal. Seems pretty logical? Yeah, the Italian courts didn't think so either.
Would the same thing that happened to Amanda in Italy happen in the U.S.? I honestly don't know. But what I do know is that Amanda would much rather be tried in an American court of law than an Italian one. As I am sure Devon and Madeline's parents would have preferred that they had gone missing in their home countries.
I for one would prefer to not ever be considered either a victim or a criminal. But if I was labeled either, I would want it to be in the U.S.
The point is, I am happy I am allowed to spit out my gum on the sidewalk (Singapore), or watch and read media from more than one source (China, etc.), or protest against something I believe to be wrong (Iran, etc). More than anything, I am grateful for my own ability to be a complete pain in the ass, to espouse Marxist ideology, or to believe and practice Scientology. And that is the glory of America--you can be all those things and still be "American" instead of a "enemy of the state." Isn't freedom beautiful?