A comment that Asma Khalid, a campaign reporter for NPR, made on the September 1 edition of the NPR politics podcast has relentlessly made the rounds in my thoughts like a SpongeBob-style earworm. Khalid’s colleague, Sam Sanders, spoke briefly on Colin Kaepernick’s protest and what it meant for Sanders to be American as a black man, to which Khalid, a Muslim woman, responded, “I will say, no matter where I am at any campaign event, particularly if it is a Republican campaign event […] I stand. Even if I’ve got a laptop in my hand. And I put my hand up just to ensure that I make everyone in the crowd feel comfortable with me.”
Khalid’s statement is woefully poetic. To ensure that I make everyone in the crowd feel comfortable with me. I think about the times I have, without much thought, patriotically exerted myself in order to make everyone else comfortable with me. I think about memorizing the names of all 50 states or lines from the Declaration of Independence to offset being the only Muslim in my entire elementary school in Idaho. I think about how I enunciate each and every word whenever I speak to a TSA agent. I think about how I sometimes speak for my parents — who speak almost flawless English and have lived in the U.S. for over 20 years — when we’re at the TSA checkpoint just to make sure the agent doesn’t pick up on their ever-so-slight accents. I think about repeating to my neighbors that I was born in the U.S., as if to prove my Americanhood. I think about how I tattooed a 12-by-12-inch bald eagle holding the Constitution on my back so that the TSA Rapiscan X-Ray will know what a True Patriot I am.
Of course, Muslim-Americans should not have to take drastic measures to avoid being treated as second-class citizens, but that is hardly an interesting claim. What’s more significant about Khalid’s statement, as well as the experiences of the millions of Muslim-Americans, is that the ways in which we compensate for being Muslim are so utterly superficial. Khalid rising for every pledge and anthem at campaign events. Me making a point of saying the Pledge of Allegiance louder than anyone else in the class. Is this what patriotism is? If I don’t do these things, am I not a patriot?
I like to think of patriotism, the love one has for one’s country, as analogous to the love between a mother and her child. Now, I’ve never given birth to a child myself, but in my high-school biology class I learned that, just as ducklings imprint on the first moving object they see within a certain period of time, a (human) mother imprints upon her baby right after giving birth. This connection is physiologically caused by the cocktail of hormones brewing within her like kombucha, and has a multitude of fascinating implications for psychological research. For instance, if a mother gives birth and is then immediately handed a loaf of bread, will she think it’s her child? Maybe. Science is incredible.
Patriotism, the way one loves one’s country, is not unlike this imprinted love. The relationship between this hypothetical mother and child is initially pure, irrational and seemingly immutable. But as both the child and the mother grow and mature, the relationship becomes more complex. The innocence of the initial bond begins to fade, and the flaws of the other become more difficult to swallow. The unconditional purity of the imprinting is not enough to sustain the love; the mother and child need to exert some effort. They need to evolve their love to accommodate the imperfections of the other.
Patriotism is more than a cursory reaction to national symbols. To argue that would be to completely delegitimize the very legitimate attachment one feels for one’s country. Love of country then, paradoxically, requires a certain cynicism, else a country cannot improve. It’s bizarre, isn’t it? Blind, immutable support for a system can cause its own demise. Ignoring a country’s hairy history and proclaiming your love for it without scrutinizing your reasons for doing so is not love at all, but rather a gross and oblivious infatuation with a self-constructed fantasy. Patriotism is ultimately activism towards the betterment of your community, not how loudly you say the Pledge of Allegiance or whether you sit or stand.
I think about all the ways I have tried to make others feel comfortable. I think about why I act the way I do. I think about how I am a patriot, how I love my country, in ways that no one sees. I think about how, perhaps, that kind of love is more valuable.
Pegah Moradi is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Jokes Aside appears alternate Mondays this semester.