UNITED STATES

Statue of Liberty—still a beacon of hope?

Statue of Liberty—still a beacon of hope?

American poet Emma Lazarus depicted the Statue of Liberty as the "Mother of Exiles" in her sonnet The New Colossus. It was a symbol of immigration and opportunity. But, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order to ban refugees from entering the US, the world’s idea of the United States started to change. Refugees who were on their way to the US when the order was signed were stopped and detained at airports. The Statue of Liberty was a symbol of what America stood for. Now the historians are claiming that the statue was actually inspired by an Arab peasant woman.

Within one week of his inauguration, Trump signed the executive order that suspended entry for citizens of seven countries—Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen—for 90 days. The order also stopped the entry of refugees of the Syrian civil war indefinitely, and the entry of all refugees to the US for 120 days. The ban was aimed at restricting the entry of Muslim immigrants to the country. The historians claim that the Statue of Liberty was born as an Egyptian Muslim woman covered in a veil. After the opening up of Suez Canal in Egypt, sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, who is known for designing the Statue of Liberty, wanted to create a statue to stand at Port Said at the northern entrance to the Suez Canal. His design was of an African-style female figure, a robed woman holding a torch, which he called ‘Egypt Bring Light to Asia’. But his proposal was later rejected by Egypt.

In 1865, the civil war ended, reaffirming the unity of the United States on the ideas of freedom and democracy. French thinker Edouard de Laboulaye, who later came to be known as the father of the Statue of Liberty, believed that abolishing slavery in the US was a milestone and it proved that justice and liberty for all was possible. For honouring the United States, he and his friend Bartholdi, announced the construction of the statue. The proposal was that the French would finance the statue and the America would be expected to pay for the pedestal.

Laboulaye came up with the idea of building a statue for America, as a friendly gesture and for strengthening the cause for democracy in France. Historians say that the plan, which Bartholdi submitted to the US, was originally designed for Suez Canal. But, after further discussions with America, he dropped her Islamic robe and transformed her into a Roman goddess of liberty. Trump supporters have rejected the claims.

The Statue of Liberty, after reaching New York, lay in crates for over a year because the pedestal was not ready due to lack of funds. Fundraising campaigns were initiated. Lazarus, whose family fled from Europe, wrote a poem, New Colossus, for a fundraiser auction. In her poem, she called the statue, Mother of Exiles, and she wrote—"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” After her death, a plaque with the poem was mounted on the pedestal of the statue. Politicians quoted the poem in their speeches. Former US president Barack Obama, during his speech on comprehensive immigration reform at American University, said, “Let us remember these words. For it falls on each generation to ensure that that lamp–that beacon–continues to shine as a source of hope around the world, and a source of our prosperity here at home.”

But, ever since Trump’s election campaign started, his focus has been on illegal immigration. For the world, Trump's campaign promises were against the idea of the US and the Statue of Liberty. Artists came up with illustrations depicting 'her' miserable ‘status quo’, from Trump in bed with the Statue of Liberty to the latest one from German news magazine Der Spiegel—an illustration of Trump beheading the Statue of Liberty on the cover. About the controversy, Der Spiegel’s editor-in-chief Klaus Brinkbaeumer said, "We want to show what this is about. It's about democracy, it's about freedom, it's about freedom of press, freedom of justice and all that is seriously endangered.”

The origin of the Statue of Liberty might be a matter of debate, but nobody can deny that it was created as a beacon of hope for the world.

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