|I heard ya, sister.|
On February 18, 2008, Michelle Obama made the following remark at a campaign rally in Wisconsin:
For the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country.--Michelle ObamaOf course, right-wing blow-hards jumped on the remark with trumped up outrage and indignant chest-thumping. But all the whining rang hollow, apparently, as Barack Obama went on to become the presumptive nominee for the Democrats, and now seems to have a clear advantage over uber-"patriot" John McCain going into the general election.
Well, never mind all the fake conservative outrage; I'll state flat out that most of the time, I'm ashamed of my country. And that I'm afraid is the truth. I was ashamed when the right-wing hypocrites made fools of us all by hounding Bill Clinton over the trivial matter of an extramarital relationship. I was ashamed when Junior reneged on a campaign promise to abide by the Kyoto Accords. I was ashamed when a bare majority of Americans were browbeaten into going along with the Iraq fiasco. And I was shamed to the absolute core when enough voters in this country cast votes for a pig like Junior sufficient for him to steal the election in 2004.
Palestinians? Persecution of Native Americans? Wars of aggression in the Phillipines? In Nicaragua? In Hawaii? How about institutionalized slavery? Manifest destiny? I could go on all day. (Read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States if you've got the stomach for it.)
But, rather than continue in that sad but true vein, I thought I'd write about an incident that gave me reason to be proud that I was an American.
One of the high Muslim holidays is Eid Al-Adhha which commemorates the beginning of the Hajj (the pilgrimage all Muslims must take to Mecca at some point in their lives). This holiday supposedly coincides with the day that Abraham tried to sacrifice his son Ishmael (or Isaac). It occurs in December or early January, based on the Muslim lunar calendar.
Maty has established a tradition among her Muslim friends (and you might be surprised at how many there are in the Portland area) wherein we celebrate Eid Al-Adhha at the Cariaga house. It's a party. The tradition requires that Maty cook lots of food, including Halal lamb.
So, on the occassion of Eid Al-Adhha, Maty sent me to the Halal grocery in Tigard to purchase lamb. Each lamb is pre-ordered so that it can be slaughtered in the traditional Halal method by the family that owns the Halal grocery. They are a great bunch of people from Lebanon. They're amiable, funny, and out-going.
As I was waiting for our lamb to be butchered, two young Muslim men who were also at the grocery approached me. They were unsmiling, but not unfriendly. They introduced themselves and told me they were from Saudi Arabia. "Are you Muslim?" one of them asked.
"No," I replied. "But my wife is."
This produced a look of consternation from one of them. "I don't believe this is allowed," he said.
"Excuse me?" I said.
"A Muslim cannot marry a non-Muslim," he said. His friend looked embarrassed.
I shrugged and said, "This is America."
He shook his head in disgust.
Well, he may have been disgusted, but at that moment I was proud... proud to be an American. Because, here in America, we are not bound by law to conform to the dictates of any tradition. Granted, this freedom has been slow in coming, and is even now incomplete, but here in America many Old World anachronisms are fading away.
To be sure, there is still a large segment of our population that maintains an attitude of ignorance and racism, who tut-tut at people living lives outside the confines of their narrow worldview. But the melding of cultures and philosophies that has generated the zeitgeist of modern America is slowly rendering such bigots toothless. We're a long way from being perfect, but if you compare the tolerance of our culture today with that of as recently as 40 years ago, we've come a long way.
If Maty and I lived in Saudi Arabia, perhaps we would be ostracized and scorned (at the very least). But here in America, things are different.
And, in that moment, on the Muslim high holiday of Eid Al-Adhha, in a Halal grocery in Tigard, Oregon, I was proud of what we have accomplished. I was proud that my country has at least started to outgrow antiquated notions of religious and racial purity. For once, I was proud to be an American.