I am not a Patriot

August 05 2 Comments Category: Blog

I suppose I’ve never been one, but recent events have prompted me to think about it more carefully. During all the so-called terrorist attacks over the past few years (here in the US as well as in India, the land of my birth) I have felt myself strangely unmoved by considerations of nationalism. Not once did I think of those who were killed as “fellow-Americans,” nor did I feel during the Mumbai bombings that my “fellow-Indians” were murdered. They were human beings, destroyed by other human beings—not Americans killed by Islamists or Indians laid waste by Pakistanis. That is not to say I didn’t feel a certain kinship with both groups if only because I have spent half my life in each country.

I felt such a terrible sadness when I heard about the deaths at the Boston Marathon (and not just because I feel a special connection to marathoners and am a huge admirer of their prowess) or the Sikh temple shootings (today is the anniversary of that senselessness) or any of the horrific events of the last couple of years that I studiously avoided TV coverage in the days that followed because past experience has taught me that media reportage trivializes such events by shallow analyses repeated ad nauseum and is clueless about the roots of the problem. I felt the same about the Norway shootings and all the other insane acts that have so overwhelmed us recently.

I will offer no defense to anyone who reads this and criticizes my continued stay in this country; most people feel you owe patriotic allegiance to the country in which you live and I understand the sense of irritation they might feel at my sentiments. Of course, I would then have no place to go because I feel (and have felt) the same way about every place in which I’ve lived; perhaps I don’t understand what patriotism actually means; not just what it means today but what it ever meant. Or maybe I just don’t want to believe in the concept because it almost always transmogrifies into jingoism. I’m not talking about citizenship, because I like to participate in the activities that my citizenship requests from me. I vote in national and local elections even though I find it increasingly difficult to believe in the integrity of the process, try to support local businesses, and volunteer my time whenever I am able to do so. But it makes me uneasy when FB, Blogs, the Media, and the Internet gush with outpourings of nationalistic jive. Patriotism may be defined as showing strong support for one’s country. Unfortunately, it has been redefined along such extreme insular parameters that other cultures and countries are now viewed through suspicious and malevolent lenses.

Every time I travel abroad I venture into the streets and pubs to chat with locals; I feel a strange kinship with them even though I don’t speak their language or participate in their cultural traditions and rites (I like to visit diners and dives in rural America for the same reason). These experiences remind me that geographical and political divides are barriers to kinship; they isolate and force separations among the people of the world. The more I travel the more I believe Robert Frost’s “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall!” This is not to suggest that my travels are filled only with wonderful experiences—I can be exasperated by so many things; I sometimes wish for efficiency as I meander through cities and bazaars; I stare quizzically at touts who attempt to con me or at shopkeepers who would overcharge me; but I remind myself that there isn’t such a thing as civic perfection anywhere—we’re all engaged in grand experiments (touts and shopkeepers want just a few cents more from me, whereas I am robbed blind daily by corporate and government marauders)! Besides, those are colorful skeins in the tapestry of my experiences. One can stand on the curb, metaphorically and literally speaking, waiting for the incessant flow of traffic to dwindle or one can dodge all manner of vehicles and jump over and through potholes to discover why there’s a crowd of animated people on the other side. Once we leap over our real and imagined borders we may find similarities and differences worthy of celebrations rather than misgivings.

Patriotism is what leads to war. Whenever I think about this I remember two poems of my youth. Rupert Brooke’s naïve, saccharine sentiments about war, “When I am dead think only this of me. That there’s some corner of some foreign field that is forever England.” His belief that it was sweet and proper to die for one’s country (dulce et decorum est…) betrays a mawkish obliviousness to the grime and horror of war; for that we have to turn to Wilfred Owen, who knew firsthand what it meant to cower in trenches and trudge through fields of devastated humanity:

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, —
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Despite my reservations in the last two decades that I have lived here, what gives me hope is that I keep witnessing a resilience and cultural generosity (my continued existence here is an eloquent testimony to that) which refuse to be subdued by hawkish forces threatening to erect more walls and fortified fences. Underlying the Constitution (a document I admire without reverence) is a unique idea—that the individual is as important as the group. That notion swims powerfully against rising tides.

I am not a Patriot, if Patriotism means:

–Jingoism, which leads to xenophobia and hostility toward other countries, and makes us beat our chest, proclaim we’re the best, and call ourselves global leaders even as we care only about our “national interests” to the detriment of the world at large.
–Using a host of public events to “honor our troops” even as we dishonor them by denying them benefits and proper healthcare once they’ve outlived their usefulness!
–Mourning terrorist victims on our shores as we turn a blind eye to drone attacks abroad that have killed thousands of innocent people; not to mention other egregious deeds committed by us in the name of ______ (fill in the blanks).
–Justifying those egregious deeds by claiming that there are evil people in the world without ever seeking the causes of that evil; we might discover some uncomfortable truths about ourselves.
–Seeking retribution as the only solution, because the Promise of America should be an appeal to our better angels…
–Trying to convert the rest of the world to our way of life, built upon greed and privilege, that benefits only a few and disenfranchises millions here and abroad.
–Creating a Patriot Act that subverts the meaning of the term by spying on our own people, stereotyping and profiling entire communities, and turning neighbors against one another.
–A slavish addiction to decades-old traditions, unmindful of the fact that the face of our country (and the world) has changed.

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  1. Kim, many years ago, a guy called John said pretty much what you are saying now ” Imagine there’s no country, I wonder if you can, nothing to kill or die for, a brotherhood of man…”

    Nandita 8 August 2013 at 7:31 am Permalink
  2. I hear ya. It’s pretty bad when politicians have the mentality of the Jerry Springer show.

    Jimmy Gabacho 8 August 2013 at 12:32 pm Permalink

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