Posts Tagged ‘ election

Jubilant

5 Nov. 2008, 5:48am GMT – Atlantic Coast off of Morocco

First, relief. A huge sigh; for another minute I am guarded, cautious, checking 4 channels to avoid being hoodwinked by the media.

But now, incredulity. For 7 years and 8 weeks, the haze has slowly receded from the world outside my peripheral vision. After September 11, I became stuck to CNN, and I felt my nervousness in the immediate aftermath grow like a tumor into disappointment and ultimately rejection of all those silly high-flung words bandied about in civics courses– “Give me your tired, your poor…”, the “land of the free”. All I saw was ignorance, machismo, an unshakeable, deeply ingrained belief in manifest destiny. Even in my closest, most decidedly liberal friends and family members, I found an inability to see the house of mirrors all around them, to see the symmetry in American attitudes towards the world– towards extremists, a caricature that so many are painted with in American minds– and the world’s sometimes militant attitudes towards an overly muscular, hot-headed America. I was accused by my own mother of rejecting the West when I defended Muslim societies as not being fundamentally militant, and while she was wrong in her assessment of me, applying the very stereotypes she had come to adopt, she was accurate in perceiving my disgust with an American society that I had come to see as excessive and ignorant; no longer representing anything that it claimed to be. I compared the state of American politics to twisted, Orwellian regimes and corrupt theocracies, even to friends who have fought and suffered for the dream of democracy that I denied existed. And it was only natural to make these comparisons when so much of my energy was devoted to knowing the “other”– to understanding and experiencing what life is like outside a priveliged, secular, suburban, foggy dream.

My pool of friends has grown to become hugely– if not primarily– international. And I ran away from anything familiar– first, to cosmopolitan New York, and then, out of the country, any time and any way I could. Living as a stranger in a strange land has been my dream; only by forcing myself from my comfort zone at all times to do I feel like I am gaining ground in my life. The compulsion that I harnessed in my younger days of absorbing all forms of music has expanded to absorbing all ways of life outside my own realm of experience. I met people from all over the world, coming to New York and the states for some dream that I told them was dead, a figment of their imagination, a lie echoed on millions of TV screens.

But I am incredulous now because it’s as if I’ve seen a shadow of the other side, and I am afraid to believe. For all of Barack Obama’s shining rhetoric, he consistently understated the significance of his candidacy, the way in which his victory (and those of Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin) reaches deep into the musty crevices of American society and sheds a little light up the passage of some American Dream. My prejudiced, single-minded, individualistic, racist, sexist, homophobic, islamophobe America chose a president of an unlikely background most likely quite different from their own. And suddenly, I’m aware of just how fortunate I am. Of how quickly I’ve forgotten the not-so-distant generations that came to this strange land with nothing and gave me the opportunity I’ve taken for granted.

All I can react with is incredulity, a wash of emotion. And once again I need to re-evaluate my paradigm that has proved incapable of accomodating the breadth of things that can occur in this world. I’ve lived in America all my life, yet there are still certain words that get bandied around so much that it seems their value is inflated, that they’ve lost any stable meaning: words like “democracy”, and “fascism”, “terrorism” and “freedom”. I can’t help but reflect, though, that Barack Obama’s campaign and success look to me an awful lot like the fairy tales of freedom I was told as a boy.

Now I’m ready to play my part in this indistinct thing called democracy. I layed my vote on the line, and I bear responsibility for giving this man the power that he has– and it is my duty to watch him like a hawk. In one week, I will return to a country that showed me something unexpected, something outside my realm of experience, something I am eager to experience for myself.