With so much to say there is little point in duplicating effort. Therefore I usually avoid writing about something that is well-covered by other sources. The statement issued by the American Embassy in Cairo on the September 11th attacks on the embassy is being widely condemned, yet I cannot help but add my voice to the chorus.
“The Embassy of the United States in Cairo condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims — as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions. Today, the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Americans are honoring our patriots and those who serve our nation as the fitting response to the enemies of democracy. Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy. We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others.”
That is the statement, and although late in coming, it has been disavowed by the Obama administration. Though, it should be noted that the statement remains on the embassy website a full 14 hours after the fact.
This statement is a disgrace to the entire nation and everyone who lived, worked, fought, or died for America. Anyone who believes in religious freedom and free speech should feel a convulsion of shame at having official representatives of the American people apologizing to attackers and terrorists for hurt feelings that may be the result of the free exercise of American liberties by a citizen. It is not something that anyone who either understood or loved America would ever write for a world audience. The Foreign Service should defend liberty and condemn those who would attack it or its symbols.
All this reminded me of the recent political conventions. During the course of the conventions I became fixated on a rhetorical tic of the two parties. The conventions are not the first time I noticed this particular habit – having spent some time writing political speeches I have long been aware of the general propensity – of each party to refer to America somewhat differently.
Republicans tend to talk about America as a thing that exists outside of their personal experience. Republicans will say things like “America is.” In Republican rhetoric America is something almost alive, it has a truth that precedes the speaker and will persist long after the speaker has gone. In contrast Democrats often express a personal relationship with America, and as such it is not a thing that is alive, but a relationship that lives. In its worst manifestations the Democrat tendency is to offer “the America that I know,” or “in my America.”
Being predisposed, as I am, to the more conservative position, the Republican usage is appropriate to my ears while the Democrat version is somewhat grating.
Through years of marriage and fatherhood I have learned something about love. Before anything else, love is unconditional. Love precedes, and persists, without regard to flaws or mistakes. Love of country, like any genuine love, is unconditional. Love without conditions does not – it cannot – apologize for what it is.
So, when reading the Cairo embassy statement I hear the words of Michelle Obama who said in 2008 before a Milwaukee audience, “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I’m really proud of my country.” Contingent love, or a love withheld until certain criteria are achieved, is not love. It is subjugation because it holds the speaker above the object.
Before, dear reader, you roll your eyes, know that I understand fully that America is not without its blemishes. America has at times faltered, it has at times fallen short of its own ideals. America is a human creation and like anything made by man it is not perfect. Too, the presence of unconditional love does not dispense with the need for improvement. In the same way, my unconditional love for my children is not predicated on what they do or what they may become. Love precedes and persists any given moment in their lives, or mine. And because of that love I will strive with them for improvement and achievement. The arrival of betterment will be met with joy, but no addition of love.
Whoever wrote the words of the Cairo embassy statement, and whoever allows them to remain on the website, does not know love of country. They are unfit to represent that country.