How does it feel to be told you are welcome in your own country?


Ever since I became a U.S. citizen, I’ve got a kick out of the fact that when re-entering this country (after visits to the UK), after presenting my passport, the immigration official commonly returns it to me, saying: “welcome back.”

Maybe this happens more often for travelers coming through laid-back Atlanta than somewhere like New York City, but it’s an endearing friendly touch where one otherwise confronts the cold face of bureaucracy and security.

Across the globe, crossing a border tends to be a dehumanizing experience when who we are is so sharply defined by a piece of paper.

As a dual national and British citizen, it’s frankly unimaginable that a representative of the government there would offer any kind of greeting.

Once back in the U.S., however, I would find it a bit disturbing if a fellow citizen wanted to reassure me that I’m welcome here, since, supposedly, we both share equal rights and an equal claim to American identity.

Even so, since I wasn’t born here and since I “have an accent” (to which I like to respond: who doesn’t?), it’s not difficult for me to understand why I might be viewed by some Americans as an outsider. Indeed, the term “naturalization” has always struck me as being an oxymoron. An innate attribute is either there or it isn’t — I don’t see how it can be inserted.

For that reason, I’m inclined to defer moderately to those Americans who feel like an American who was born in this country is in some sense more American than those of us who were born elsewhere.

That shouldn’t imply any discrimination in terms of status or rights — it’s simply an observation about depth of enculturation.

Which brings me to Muslim Americans, a large proportion of whom were indeed born in this country and have never lived anywhere else.

When someone such as Mark Zuckerberg reaches out to Muslims and says, “I want you to know that you are always welcome here,” I realize this kind of message is well-intended, but it isn’t deeply inclusive.

One American should never be so presumptuous as to tell another American that they are welcome here.

What is called for at this time is something much more radical. What is being contested is the meaning of solidarity.

Some Americans are saying that we now need to stand together to protect ourselves from foreign threats. This kind of unity divides humanity into two camps: Americans and non-Americans. And this division undercuts the very notion of humanity.

It becomes clear then, that the actual rift here is between those for whom their experience of being American is subordinate to their experience of being human, and those for whom their identity as Americans, trumps all others.

Is someone who gives such preeminence to national identity, really capable of any genuine expression of solidarity?

If you’re ability to empathize with another person depended on first knowing what kind of citizenship they held or which religion they practiced, how could such empathy be heartfelt?

I have to wonder whether those Americans who are afraid of Muslims are not also, to a lesser degree, afraid of each other?

Empathy is the core human recognition. It is the knowledge that your experience of pain is the same as mine; that love, joy, grief, and anger are universal emotions.

Where this knowledge is lacking, or where it gets buried beneath a rigid national identity, xenophobia and Islamophia are merely symptomatic of a degradation of an underlying sense of humanity.

Americans who do not see themselves as indivisibly part of humanity, should be less concerned about how they protect America than what they think it means to be human.

And since so many American-firsters describe themselves as Christians, they might begin a process of self-inquiry by reminding themselves that according to their own belief system, they are the descendants of a human lineage that traces back to a single source preceding all national identities.

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2 thoughts on “How does it feel to be told you are welcome in your own country?

  1. mark mulligan

    The privilege of American citizenship is the same as that of Roman citizenship during the Empire: a valuable gift and a personal welcome bestowed to those willing to work together in peace under the rule of law, regardless of their provenance. The idea was useful, inclusive and dynamic, even if it was flaunted to death by early Christians who felt they owed greater allegiance to their God than to some top bureaucrat (idiot) calling himself a God; and by various kinds of Hun hovering in the wings, who understood just enough about civilization to wreck it.

    Nowadays, civilization is saturated by nationalist revival fanatics and terrorists of sundry viral meme adherence; and with incoherent populations loyal to any cause other than the rule of law: corporate greed, naked fear, bigotry, deliberate ignorance, fascism, identity politics, Netanyahu, automatic weapons for civilians, etc., etc., etc.: take your pick of the psychopaths’ latest justification for mayhem.

    We need to create a meme package as forceful in defense of our values as theirs are in attacking them. Something more potent than what prevails today: industrial-grade narcissism, corporate correctness (political correctness’ much more potent evil twin), scientifically categorical ambiguity, spluttering militarism and oligarchic complacency.

    To my knowledge, the law abiding (actually, the conscience-driven as opposed to psychopaths) are neither encouraged nor inspired to rally around the obvious principals that bind them together in peace. Heavy-handed propaganda in favor of citizenship and ties that bind us might go a lot further to unite us than self-serving cries of American exceptionalism from mercenary politicians who only manage to confirm their squalid mediocrity and that of their supporters high and low.

    I would even go further and advocate world citizenship with an honest world government to enforce it and render war illegal, which global anti-anarchy it alone could enforce. A global revolution in favor of civilization and nothing but, for the law abiding to rally around across the world.

    Yes, yes, I know: you (I suppose, based on massive past experience) and your ideological opponents and your political adversaries and your worst enemies and every mother’s son in charge of anything are hypnotically opposed to such a meme package, based on universal childhood indoctrination averse to it. Fine. Come up with your own meme package to replace mine of Learner PeaceWorld, else watch the wallowing barge of civilization lose more and more headway and eventually drift downstream to its doom under ceaseless sniping from the above-described idiots taking exploitative pot shots from both banks.

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