Do I love my country? Today is Veterans Day, so I guess it’s as good a day as any to contemplate this question. So, do I love my country? Well, I’d have to say no, but before you come after me with flaming torches and pitchforks, screaming “Love it or leave it!”, let me explain:
I’m an American. I was born in France to a German mother and an American soldier dad who was stationed overseas. I grew up here in a town outside a major U.S. military base. We went to all the military picnics, the Fourth of July celebrations, stood eagerly on the sidewalks downtown during the Armed Forces Day Parade. I grew up thinking it was normal to see choppers in the sky and hear the faint echoes of field artillery pieces taking chunks out of the Oklahoma prairie. From the top of Mt. Scott, a low peak outside of town, I could watch military jets playing in the sky and watch the impacts of their ordnance, waiting for the sound to catch up as it made the long journey from the crater to my ears. My dad was a twenty-year army man who served his country honorably, including tours in postwar Korea and in Viet Nam in the early 70s. I was in junior ROTC in high school and reached the rank of cadet major, being the second in command for the entire school. I have rappeled down the same cliff Geronimo is alleged to have ridden his horse off. I have fired automatic weapons. I have put to death many watermelons and old LPs. I am, in short, a military brat, so I think I have the bona fides to talk about America and talk about my view of what this country is. Oh, and I’m part Native American, too.
When a person says he loves his country, I always think that’s a copout and is meaningless. You have to define what you mean. Do you love everything about America? A history of slavery? Jim Crowe laws? Meth labs in the heartland? Puppy mills in Pennsylvania? All these things are part of America, an ugly part. What about internment camps for Japanese in WWII? Injecting blacks with syphilis? America is the sum of its parts and not all the parts are good. That’s why I say that I don’t “love my country”. But I love a whole lot of the people in this country.
America is a huge country, with over 300 million people here. It is Americans who make America, for good or ill, and I sure don’t love all Americans. I don’t love the woman who put her baby in the washer. I don’t love the skinhead who has a portrait of Hitler over his bed. I don’t love the corrupt politician who took a kickback from some business man. I don’t love the drug dealers peddling poison out on the streets. I don’t love a lot of people. But there are many more people that I love, admire, and respect, and these are the people who make up the best part of America.
First and foremost, I love the Americans you hardly ever hear about. The ones who wake up, go to work, strive to provide for their families, come home, sleep, and get up and do it all over again. They are the heart of this country and most of them are decent people. I love the fact that they take responsibility for their lives and they don’t ask anyone to bail them out or blame others for their faults. They just get on with it.
I love those people who truly want to help their fellow men. People who fought for civil rights, people who give in charity in such a manner that you don’t even know they are doing it. People who create jobs. People who work with at-risk youth. People who opened their hearts and wallets to help victims of the tsunami in Asia several years ago, not caring that the victims were often Muslim. People who donated money to earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Nurses who help birth babies and doctors who work long hours and who donate their skill to do free surgeries. Trash collectors who make sure not to leave a scrap of paper on the ground. Politicians who rock the boat and say “Gee, that’s stupid idea”, when an idea is, well, stupid. Moms who hang out on Facebook and tell you how cute your kids are. The toll collector who actually makes eye contact and smiles at the people going through her lane. Kids who are not shy and ask honest questions like “why do you wear that thing on your head?” when they see my hijaab. People who rescue puppies from puppy mills. Comedians who skewer all of us.
Okay, so those are people. What “things” do I love about America? Well, first of all, I love the fact that I can sit here and write articles critical of my country and not be summariliy arrested or simply taken out and shot. I love the fact that I can wear this “thing on my head” and no one can tell me to take it off. I love the fact that when it’s time to pray, I can simply stop and pray, either by going to the local mosque, or by simply facing Makkah where I happen to be – in an office building, at the airport, in a park. I love that I can bitch and complain about certain aspects of my country and not be considered disloyal (by some) and that when I turn on the lights, the electricty works, and when I turn on the tap, water comes out. I don’t have to bribe the cable guy to hook up my TV in less than a month. All my local grocery stores carry Nutella. My kids get free shots to protect them from polio and whooping cough. They go to school with kids of different races. Football and Nascar racing.
I absolutely do not deny that there is so much good with America, but that does not blind me to the reality of its mistakes. The Iraq War. Crumbling infrastructure. Lack of health care. A tax code that needs to be scrapped. Usurious interest rates that abuse poor people. Bailouts for corporations. A government in gridlock. Torture. Rendition. Support of corrupt regimes. This stuff is real and horrendous and overwhelming for many. And it’s part of America, too. And I hate it. You should hate it as well.
So, there it is. My relationship with my country – yes, America is MY country, don’t doubt that – is complex. I’m not letting you off easy, America. I’m not going to just kiss you on the cheek, tell you I love you, and then go off muttering to myself when you do something stupid, like illegal wiretaps and subsidizing sugar and corn production. I’m going to call you on it, because for good or for ill, you are my country and I have rights over you. Yes, you have rights over me, too. I won’t break the laws and I’ll pay my taxes and I’ll raise my kids to be good moral strong human beings. Muslim human beings, because most of what this country needs is found within the pages of my Book, the Qur’an. I know you don’t believe that, America, and it makes me sad, but I can’t do anything about that. Well, yes I can. I can talk to my fellow Americans, one at a time, and help them to see what I’m talking about. And I appreciate it, America, that you allow me to do that. I just refuse to anthropomorphize you and treat you like you’re a person. A country is only as good as its citizens, and sometimes the good citizens get drowned out by the corrupt politicians, the media fear-mongers, the peddlers of hate. Right now they seem to be in the ascendancy, and that’s what I am speaking out against. I think that makes me more of a true American than someone who simply waves a flag and shouts “My country, right or wrong!”.