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Washington on the Fourth of July; Old Glory, 'Out of Many, One'

Seeing the Fourth of July Through Pakistani Eyes

Moved by the solidarity of the races, creeds and religions that make up the citizenry of the United States, the writer wonders why Muslims lacked a float in the Fourth of July parade, and comments on what he believes is America’s selective application of the Declaration of Independence.

By S.M. Hali

July 13, 2005

Original Article (English)    

This 4th of July, I happened to be in Washington D.C. and decided to take full advantage of the opportunity to witness the U.S. Independence Day celebrations. The Declaration of Independence was the full and formal declaration adopted on July 4, 1776 by representatives of the Thirteen Colonies in North America, announcing the separation of those colonies from Great Britain and transforming them into the United States of America. The date of this document’s adoption is generally considered to be the birthday of America.

The events of the day began with a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence on the Constitution Avenue steps of The National Archives building from 10 am to 11 am. The highlight of the day was the Independence Day Parade, which commenced at 11:45 am sharp on Constitution Avenue, starting in front of the U.S. Capitol at Seventh Street, passing between the White House and the Washington Monument, and ending one mile down in front of the Lincoln Memorial. I left my hotel situated on 17th Street about two hours before the parade to reach a good vantage point to view the parade. Although there were thousands of people already lining both sides of the Constitution Avenue, I did manage to find a suitable place. The two hour wait was not boring at all. It was nice to see Americans of all colors and creeds thronging to witness the parade. It was remarkable to see the variety of U.S. citizens that comprise the nation. There were war veterans in their full regalia of medals, senior citizens, young children, middle-aged couples, and invalids in their special vehicles and wheelchairs, braving the heat to cheer the parade and join in the celebration. Red, blue and white were the prominent colors of the day — the colors of the U.S. flag.

The parade itself was a myriad of colors. It commenced with floats and bands representing a cross-section of American culture. Representatives of the Armed Forces in full uniform, different states and school bands from high schools marched past, playing different tunes. The Wild West was represented, with men in cowboy outfits riding their mustangs, the Native Americans, the colorful creoles, the Bolivians, Southern belles, you name it, and they were there. The weather was extremely hot but school teachers fanned in and out of the ranks of the high school marchers, spraying cool water over the napes of the children’s’ necks and faces to protect them from heat stroke. The gaily decorated uniforms and the heavy musical instruments must have been a great burden, but the children paraded down the route with smiles on their faces.

Daughters of the American Revolution represented the group in their inimitable manner. There were national floats with actors dressed as historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Elizabeth Freeman and so on. It made me wonder whether we would ever dare to have look-alikes for the Quaid, Liaquat Ali, Allama Iqbal and other stalwarts of the Pakistan Movement on our floats on Pakistan Day parades.

One interesting float was the “Sikhs of the USA” with Khalsas dressed in their traditional attire wishing the spectators a “Happy Fourth of July.” Perhaps there should have been one for the “Muslims of USA” too, or is that too much to ask? U.S. Prisoners of War and those missing in action were remembered with banners and ribbons in different sections of the parade. The parade was a two hour affair but extremely absorbing. It made me marvel at the American way of life, that despite their different ethnic backgrounds, they are one in espousing their Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness ...” (I wish they remembered these truths when they attacked Afghanistan and Iraq).

The Smithsonian Institute sponsored the Folklife Festival at the National Mall featuring events throughout the day depicting various aspects of U.S. culture. Two international participants set up cultural and food stalls. Oman was there and so was India, always eager to have their presence felt, had organized their own cultural stalls, depicting reincarnation and pavilions for “Hare Krishna Hare Rama.” To attract U.S. visitors, the Indians were distributing free meals of veggies and salad. A Capitol Fourth Concert, held on the National Mall on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol hosted by Barry Bostwick with performances by Gloria Estefan, The Beach Boys, Irish tenor Ronan Tynan, the O’Jays and the National Symphony Orchestra. Rich tributes were paid to the troops deployed overseas.

The culmination of the day was an awesome display of fireworks launched from the Reflecting Pool at the Lincoln Memorial. At least a million spectators congregated to witness the show. There were sideshows at various street corners condemning the Bush Administration for its excesses in Iraq and Afghanistan. At least democracy is alive! Security was extremely tight. Road patrols, the search of bags, mounted police, strolling police, police on bikes, helicopters hovering. At least there was no untoward incident. Fifteen minutes after the fireworks, Operation Fast Forward began. It was a practice emergency evacuation exercise. People were assisted with the help of fast-changing traffic lights to rapidly clear the area. 

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