I remember when Egypt was only a place I saw on a Popeye cartoon as a kid. We were taught a little about it in history classes as I got older. The Sphinx was there and of course, the pyramids. There was always some reference made to the robotic-looking poses shown in Egyptian hieroglyphics. In high school, we laughed along with Steve Martin and his comical King Tut parody ("He could have won a Grammy. Funky Tut. Buried in his Jammies!").
In the 1980s, the Bangles told us to "Walk Like an Egyptian" and through the contagion of MTV we did just that. We all recall grandma hushing us after dinner on Easter Sunday while ABC spooled up "The Ten Commandments" again and Yul Brenner (who always stood like a human hieroglyphic) did his Egyptian Ramses impression, which looked oddly similar to his King of Siam impression done in the "King and I," but we didn't say anything; didn't want to ruin it for Gram.
We Barely Noticed
It was October 1981 when Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat was assassinated and I recall it had only been a short time after he and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had signed the Camp David Peace Accords under the persuasive, cardigan-sweatered President Jimmy ( Mr. Rogers ) Carter (“Can you say “oppression” boys and girls? I knew you could.”) I think it was only then that I began to really consider Egypt as a real place with real people in real time.
You see, I was 21 and just as pre-occupied with my little corner of the world as everyone else. The Internet and global news coverage didn't have us all so tightly wired together back then. The “big picture” wasn’t so big. The 1981 Sadat assassination was therefore simply presented as a news bite, a grainy piece of horrific film reported, displayed and properly honored. The hours of CNN analysis and FOX News pondering that follow such events now didn't exist back then and the true impact on the Middle East was quickly forgotten by most.
Democracy and my independence was something I took for granted; something as much a part of me as going to school, sleeping in a warm bed and having three meals a day. My peers were equally oblivious as we were entering that very indulgent, self-centered period in America (the 1980s) and we didn't really want the responsibility of interpreting the news.
We liked our news simple and quick like everything else. Recall just several months earlier our own president had dodged a similar fate as Ronald Regan took a bullet and lived to tell the story. A punctured lung, little time in the hospital, a wave out the window and The Gipper was back on his horse; that's how it was done in America.
But you know folks, as I look back--it may have been right around this time that we as a nation got a little too comfortable having our news "pre-digested" for us. As we took our liberties for granted, laziness ensued. A lethargy that grew while our international peers were attempting to be heard and topple regimes to achieve parity with the life we indifferently led. We barely noticed.
And why am I so sure of this now? Because most of what I just described didn't even phase me 30 years ago and now, at age 50, the overthrow of Egypt and the precedent it set in the Middle East scares me right down to my socks.
To think that less than a million Egyptians can create an outcry that is supposedly representative of a country of 80 million citizens and take to the streets in response to what amounts to nothing more than an Internet web posting and oust a 30-year incumbent president in 18 days? That has to be the slickest example of how capably one clever antelope can cause an entire herd to stampede and trample an entire society.
For the record, I am not taking a position on whether or not change was needed in Egypt--that's not my point. My point is simply we as a mass society didn't even used to look that way (to the Middle East and other conflicted nations) and while we slept, problems and issues had 30 years to fester. Suddenly now what was on the back burner has had its flame increased and people are rising up to change their world.
The Middle East is filled with angry, unhappy people who have tolerated blind and deaf governments for too long. Now as these citizens observe the "Egypt-template" of February 2011 they say, "Well, well--that seemed to work pretty neatly … and quickly." How likely are copycat performances of this historic event prone to be? Those that take place on foreign soil in the name of democracy I applaud. Man’s want to be free should be global but what about here at home?
Why Are You Here?
Today in America, there are a lot of factions of people who choose to maintain loyalty to the lands from which they came in preference to the USA. They have neglected to inherit the "melting pot" philosophy we were all taught in school years ago. How you put your heritage into the pot and stir. How your allegiance to your people can remain strong, but your support of the country that you live, work and raise your family in must be impenetrable.
When I watch today’s non-conformist and rebellious immigrants protest and burn this country’s flag, the paradox of knowing that only in this nation are such people free to demonstrate this way makes my head throb. This liberty they have is thrown in Uncle Sam’s face. The things they honor and hold dear are not of this nation. It begs the question then; “Why are you here?”
Melting Into Americans
My ancestors were all Italian. You know us. We appear on the cover of pizza boxes and spaghetti sauce jars with a big gut and handlebar mustache. Our brawling Irish brothers and sisters arrived here too and they take a lot of teasing on March 17th when their corned beef and cabbage are washed down with green-tinted beer. Polish, German, Scottish, Swedish, Hungarian--all of our relatives came here and winked at their flaws, held onto their traditions, and then gladly shared them with their new friends from all over the world.
We were under one roof. There was a sense of “family.” We didn’t demand that this country become more like us, we were honored that the people of this country allowed us to be more like them. But this habit now seems to be passé. As I said, there are people who demonstrate angrily on American soil and the irony is that if they were anywhere else, they would not have the right to even entertain that privilege.
So now here we are. Egyptians have now shown the world a new method of operation to achieving a passionate goal. I believe that such methods should indeed be utilized in resistance to tyrannical governments that lack civilized methods of proposing and objecting to the laws of the land. But I don’t believe such demonstrations belong on American soil.
If you are an American citizen, you need to respect the manner in which the founding fathers set up the boundaries of becoming part of "us" and allowing for a civil manner in which to question and challenge those beliefs. For me it isn’t enough to be in America, you have to become an American. So in sum, it is as simple as this: The privilege of membership carries with it the obligation of assimilation. What do you think? Am I out of line here?