One of my courses this semester questions the concepts of ‘state,’ and, ‘nation.’ It is taught by an amazing man. He is from Iranian Kurdistan, and is Kurdish. His knowledge of the topic of the middle east is expansive to say the least. He is quite passionate. Sometimes I catch him correcting little mistakes in his delivery. ‘The Germans,’ is corrected to, ‘the German government,’ and today a, ‘we,’ had to be corrected to, ‘they.’ The personal perspective is amazing, and that he is willing to separate it out in his lectures is even more impressive. When he starts to speak I melt into story mode. He crafts with his words, and he feels a lot like the desert that I miss: dry, warm, and filled with hidden beauty.
Now, this particular class is about the middle east: Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, Israel. A class like that has to include the influence and power of the United States in that area, and coming from the perspective of anyone who is not American (and some Americans) a bit of sourness is to be expected. I am shocked to learn little tidbits of American participation, or lack thereof, in the political situation over there. What things were influenced by wealth, and what by religion? The Jewish question. The Kurdish question. The Shiite question. These are all things I never even knew to ask. For instance, in the war between Iraq and Iran, when pretty much everyone was supporting Iraq, the final blow was that Iraq was blowing up oil tankers that were funding Iranian munitions, and Iran could not retaliate because Kuwaiti, and Saudi Arabian (Iraqi as well?) oil tankers had been given permission to use American flags for protection. Now, I understand nothing about this, but I feel like it is somewhat important to know and understand. To question. The thing that really gets me in that class though is not the US being put in a non-patriotic perspective. It is how little I know about the US.
Often times my professor will make a comment about US political stances, or military movements and either pose it as a question to me, or glance at me to confirm a detail, such as the name of Operation Desert Shield. Most often I just have to shrug in embarrassment, because I have almost no knowledge of the middle east. I can name the countries and some of the leaders, but I cannot name which religions are situated where, and which countries were against whom, when. I cannot even name which side the US was on in any given year because I do not know what the sides were. Of course, as the daughter of someone in the military this is a tragedy, but even without that connection, I feel like as a US citizen I am failing, or was failed.
I was never taught about the middle east in school. It was never stated that we, as a nation, are currently participating in wars. I learned about the revolutionary war, and the world wars. I even learned a bit about the Vietnam war and Korean conflict. But after that international events just stopped, or became focused on peaceful European interactions. Suddenly everything was about what was going on domestically and, in my education, the US lacked any sort of international presence. I realize that I dislike politics and so I never sought out this type of information, but one would think that these would be things that would be important for our future leaders to know about, and that it would be required knowledge.
I know that it is not just me. I am guessing that the average American would not be able to explain any of the US participation in the middle east. Of course, here is where all of my politically engaged friends jump in and say that they know everything that is going on. But really, where did they get that information? They had to seek it out. Research. University. Even then information is fragmented and biased. It isn’t that we are told lies about the global situation, it is more often that we don’t talk about the details- just broad sweeping concepts of supporting troops, greed, and human rights. But the average person should KNOW if their country is engaged in conflict. They should be able to articulate what individuals are dying for, what their country is or is not supporting. Somewhere along the line there is a gross lack of transparency. Whether that is the government hiding things, or the schools not adjusting their curriculum to changing times, or families not caring, or wishing to shelter their children I am not sure. What I am sure of is that something is not adding up and it makes me sad and frustrated to realize it.
I guess the logical thing to feel after the horror and disgust would be a sense of relief that I am out of that murky mess, free to gain whichever perspective I can travel towards. However, this is one of the issues that makes the question of ex-patriotism infinitely more complex, because this is one of the few things that makes me want to return to the United States. I feel a great sense of responsibility in this matter. I see a problem, and I have the ability to contribute to fixing it. If I returned to the US, permanently, I think that I would have to take on the role of a revolutionary. I would have to be one of those people who demand change, and then, instead of just demanding it, they get out and make change. I would have to be loud. It would be very difficult, but in some ways it would be truly rewarding, because I would be contributing to a better world, something that I have the power to do much more easily on “home soil” than I do in any other country. It is this loyalty and sense of care and belonging that force me to question whether I would be a successful expat, and whether that is something that I really want.