Friday, June 19, 2009


“Patriotism: Pride in or devotion to the country somebody was born in or is a citizen of.”

I am a patriot. Living in another country for a year has only made that belief stronger.

Over the years, patriotism has gotten a bad name; it has come to be associated with fanatical devotion to one’s country. Fanatical patriotism demands unquestioning uniformity and smothers dissent. Under the tenets of fanatical patriotism, to question the decisions of one’s government is to undermine their authority. Additionally, fanatical patriotism has taken on many of the characteristics of xenophobia. National identity is valued to the point of distrust of other nations and cultures. Both of these aspects of fanatical patriotism: unquestioned uniformity and xenophobia, are not the qualities of a patriot.

Fanatical patriotism has always been present in American culture. The past century provides many examples. In the name of national security, American citizens of Japanese origin were imprisoned in internment camps during World War II. The end of WW II brought an even more pernicious form of fanatical patriotism: McCarthyism. Suspicion of Communist activity suppressed any form of dissent. Furthermore, capitalist, Western ideals were put on a pedestal and Communist, egalitarian ones were demonized.

Under the Bush Jr. administration, fanatical patriotism has further sullied the name of the American patriot. The contemporary fanatical patriot is epitomized by the bumper sticker that proclaims: “These Colors Don’t Run.” The contemporary fanatical patriot has grown distrustful of other cultures, particularly Islamic ones. This has not been helped by the administration’s slogans, such as“ the War on Terror” and “you’re either with us or against us.” I’ll never forget the story my best friend, a Pakistani, told me several weeks after 9/11. His sister’s tires had been slashed and she had been tormented for wearing her headscarf. Both my friend and his sister have lived their entire lives in America and their success in the country embodies the American Dream. The contemporary fanatical patriot has also discouraged dissent within America. Those against the Iraq/Afghanistan wars were cast as being anti-soldier. Administration policies were not to be questioned; even those that were counter to American values such as wiretapping and terrorism were to be accepted without dissent.

So I am writing now to reclaim the good name of patriotism for patriots across the world. Patriotism is simply love for one’s country. This is not the extreme nationalism popping up throughout Europe. And this is not the unconditional love demanded by the fanatical patriot, but a critical, demanding one. I protested the Bush’s administration choice to go to war in Iraq not just because I feared the loss of innocent Iraqi lives, but also because I did not want to see my country tarnish its name and reputation. My identity and self-image is influenced by many factors: my family, my beliefs, my hometown, my education, etc. Amongst other factors is my identity as an American. I am ashamed when my country does something shameful and proud when it does good in the world. I demand the best from my country in its treatment of its own citizens and its actions in the international community. Even someone who has only shame for America is expressing a kind of patriotism: his/her identity is tied up in America.

How am I still an American Patriot when my formative years were a time of shameful actions on the part of my government? When disgraceful events litter our history?

Before I express my American pride, I want to be clear: the line between patriotism and xenophobia is a thin one. I do not wish to cross it. My patriotism means that I generally prefer American culture to others, but it represents a positive feeling to America rather than a negative one towards other cultures. My patriotism derives from my being habituated to American culture, not from a belief that American culture is objectively better. I am biased and I know it.

I love American food for what it is and for what it steals from other countries. American food means many things to many people, but my favorite is grilled meat in the summer, beer, and fresh fruit.

I love American freedom (I know that sounds corny). But experiencing the lack of freedom in other countries gives me an appreciation for what our government grants us in America. Journalism in America is incredible. This country is founded on dissent and protest. American democracy is not without its fault, but I am thankful for what we have.

I love American culture (mostly). Since World War II, no other country rivals the variety and creativity shown by American musicians. We are fortunate to be blessed with people from all over the world that bring new and different influences. Wow. I love American sports (although I love soccer the best). I love American literature and art. Steinbeck, Hemmingway, Salinger, Irving, Vonnegut, are my favorites, but that is just a start.

I love American individualism. While living in a collectivist society has been good, I prefer the recognition of the individual.

I love American gender relations and the freedom that American women have. It’s not perfect but it’s something.

I am proud that America has elected Barack Hussein Obama as its president. I will be proud of his successes and ashamed of his failures.

I love these things because I am habituated to them; I love them because I grew up with them. I would have different biases if I had grown up somewhere else. I am proud that America represents these things and more.

I do not overlook or attempt to hide America’s shortcomings. They define what it means to be an American as much as the positive things. I believe that by exposing our shortcomings and having an honest discussion about them we can move forward. I see a nation that has progressed and has been a world leader in many important areas. I have hope that this will continue and that further progress will be made.


Not to be a broken record, but: everything is good here in Morocco. Since coming back from America, I have a new level of comfort in my community. It is partly because I have passed so much time here, but also due to witnessing new volunteers struggle in this culture. It reminds me of how far I have come.

Work is good. I’ve been recruiting women in several different villages for the midwife training this fall. With the help of a nearby volunteer I’m able to reach out to a greater number of villages, some of which are very isolated. Recruiting is difficult and takes time, but we’re making progress.

Other work: STI education with sex workers is going slower. When doctors came to do physical exams a couple weeks ago, they were overwhelmed by demand so decided to just conduct verbal interviews, which were not sufficient and nearly worthless. So we are hoping to identify a smaller group of interested women and get the doctors back.

Our hammam project has hit a slight road bump. The Moroccan agency that we’re working with has pushed back the meeting for hammam owners from July 7th to late July.

About a week ago there were nationwide exams for high school students finishing their studies. The exams are very important for a student’s future studies. There is one girl from my village who attends high school in a nearby city (Midelt) who had to take the exam. She was home the week before the exams to study and her dad asked me to help her as she studies English. Helping her was a lot of fun as her English was pretty good and the topics she was studying were interesting. One of the questions was on sustainable development, one on international organizations, and another on globalization. So they were right up my alley. Yesterday I talked to the girl’s father and she got very good scores on her exams; he was grateful. It was satisfying for me because her father had told me that girls weren’t smart, that only his boys would do well in school. I kept telling the dad that his daughter was smart and knew English well. When the father told me how well his daughter did, he told me: you were right, she’s smart! So that was satisfying. She’ll probably continue her studies this fall in a university in Meknes.

This past week I helped my family out some more with farm work. Having harvested a field the previous week, this week we fertilized and irrigated the field in preparation for plowing. Irrigation of fields here is interesting. Using irrigation canals, people here flood their fields. But the unevenness of the land requires them to carefully direct the water to certain parts of the field with strategically placed, temporary canals. Another complication of irrigation is that water is a precious commodity. So a family only has rights to the water canal for a limited amount of time before it is someone else’s turn. These rights and the schedule are legislated by a local group of men. The fact that the community is able to successfully organize a very complicated community situation gives me hope for future collective action. The social structure for distribution of a public good exists.


Mark said...

Duncan, I found your post on patriotism to be thoughtful and engaging. I wish all who think of themselves as patriots would see it as you do. However, I fear even the use of the word "patriot" will overwhelm the subtle distinctions you draw, and some will march on from patriotism to my-country-right-or-wrong. ... One challenge to your claims: you say you love aspects of American culture, society, and government only because you are accustomed to them. You adopt an extreme relativist position in this statement. However, if that were true, you couldn't also be critical of some aspects of American society but not others. Clearly, you are making judgments about culture that go beyond your habituation.

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