Monday, August 18, 2014

On Patriotism

    My dad found this old newspaper from when we were living in Bahrain. I made it to the papers a lot when I was living on this small island. The Gulf Daily News, the main newspaper in Bahrain, liked to write about expats who lived in Bahrain. I was the Egyptian voice. There as an American citizen, I was still very vocal and proud of my Egyptian heritage. We were a handful of expats at my school, in my class we were two Egyptians, a Jordanian and two Lebanese students. A group of Rotarian Business men invited two students to come speak to a bunch of businessmen about our experiences as Egyptians. I was one of those two students. I don't remember exactly what my speech said, but I do remember that I made the audience laugh at the right time and nod with understanding at others. I got a standing ovation and one of the businessmen asked me to give him a copy of my speech so he can give it to his Egyptian friend who worked in the embassy. At this time I was 16 years old. 
      I loved Egypt when I was 16 because I loved having my grandmother living in my building and being able to sit with her and go to school with her and listening to stories about her and the rest of the family. I loved Egypt when I was 16 because I was able to visit my other grandmother who lived 10 minutes away and sit with her as she told me her own stories of big houses and gardens and stories that got my father in trouble. I loved Egypt because family gatherings were people who loved each other gathered around a table oblivious to all their differences. I loved being able to drive a few hours and be at a gorgeous beach without a care in the world or hop on a horse and ride for hours in the desert. That was what Egypt was to me.
     Before I found this article, I was looking through a pink box I keep letters. Letters from my friends from when I left the US when I was 11 years old and diaries I kept at the time. The sentiment I felt were completely different. I felt I had left my home when I left New Jersey. I wrote that I missed my friends and school. I wrote that I missed watching the NBA. I had not yet built the family relationships I became so fond of years later. 
      My feelings towards Egypt fluctuated drastically throughout my life. By college the Egyptian flag was everywhere in my room, patriotic songs were always in my head, I will get married and never leave Egypt I used to say. When I went to the US for a visit when I was 18 my cousin had to remind me where I was born because my rhetoric was too anti American (because to be so patriotic I had to be anti American right?). Once I reached that point and actually when my cousin told me that I realized what am I trying to prove? 
     This whole time my parents watched me silently never once commenting on my loyalty or patriotism of one country or the other. The lesson I learned from this journey of understanding nationhood is patriotism can not be forced and, like religion, when it comes from the heart it becomes so precious that it stays there. When you love your country and know why you love it, people making fun of your accent, criticizing your roads, the pollution and lack of organization really doesn't bother you. Because your love to the country is so genuine that you know it has these faults and you may do your best to make changes or you may accept it as it is because that is what gives it its charm. Your efforts to make changes are your own personal shots in the dark and may not be ideal but you know you are doing your best. There is no one way to be patriotic. To some people standing back idly is too much so they start doing what they hope is the best. Doing something generally means someone else is not doing that same thing.  
      Since the revolution began, ideas and judgements of where people's loyalties and how truly patriotic people are lies at the base of our problems now. "This group works for Egypt while this other group works for themselves.""If you truly love Egypt you will vote this way.""Because I love Egypt I will accept this or that.." The comments go on.
      As a mother and a teacher, the number one rule I was told is when dealing with my children's misbehavior, I must be clear when I call them out on something wrong they did. I must clarify that I dislike their behavior but I still love them. In Egypt criticism is not taken with an open heart. You correct an adult you are smacked, you complain in a restaurant you will be asked not to return. For years, about 60 years to be more accurate, the Egyptian general public has been told if you criticize your country you are a traitor and don't even come near your religion because we all know what that makes you. Governed by a military for 60 years uniformity has become a way of life. There is only one way to do something. There is no room for correction. 
     As a result the general public is forced to prove their patriotism because everyone must be patriotic and accepting of everything in the country.  When you are forced to prove something you go all out. You need to point out all the unpatriotic people around you. You may even condone killing them for the sake of your country. You will do all you can to prove to those around you how much you love your country. You will take measures when your family choose to criticize and keep your distance lest they say something that offends you. 
    Patriotism means different things for different people. It is meant to silently unify people under one banner as a reminder of a single goal. But when patriotism becomes a tool used to strengthen one group's cause, it becomes a poison which alienates a nation and divides its people. When you have to scream that you are patriotic and point out that others are not, you really should start questioning how genuine your feelings are. 
A very newsworthy story that made it to the Gulf Daily News in 1999 when I was a graduating senior in a private high school in what is now the Kingdom of Bahrain.

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