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Patriotism is more than emotion

Shared ideals unified us after Sept. 11; misplaced zeal cannot be permitted to splinter commitment to those ideals.


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 9, 2002

Shared ideals unified us after Sept. 11; misplaced zeal cannot be permitted to splinter commitment to those ideals.

The concept itself had not been all that observable before that fateful hour. American flags rarely were hung outside apartment windows or stuck to car doors. The national anthem was reserved for special events, and other nationalistic songs were seldom heard. Essentially, American patriotism lay in a healthy and impervious repose until its rude awakening one morning in September.

Since then, it has experienced a number of transformations, ultimately yielding to the will of a powerful and vindictive few.

The sights and sounds of that horrific day are unforgettable. We witnessed a nation coming together, first to aid the victims and then to begin our collective healing. Blood, sweat and tears were all literally given to that end. That was patriotism.

We observed the spread of tolerance toward those in our society who were the potential, and at times actual, targets of anger gone awry. A kind word of support to America's Muslims became commonplace, from the nation's leaders down to co-workers and neighbors. That was patriotism.

We watched as the resounding cry for justice for the victims was heard. A nation stood in solidarity as military action was taken against the perpetrators of that atrocious act. That was patriotism. Notwithstanding, some Americans favored a response by our government that did not involve further destruction and bloodshed. That, too, was patriotism.

Somewhere along the course, however, those sentiments were hijacked by some in this country whose idea of patriotism is an intellectual cleansing of sorts.

When my father, University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, was invited to speak on Fox's O'Reilly Factor, he was told it was to discuss the American-Muslim community's response to our national tragedy. What actually took place was the reairing of decades-old, groundless allegations -- what a federal judge had already thrown out of court. What Bill O'Reilly did was seize upon the public's heightened anxieties to debase and silence someone he disagreed with politically.

USF president Judy Genshaft followed suit when she moved to dismiss a tenured professor. While the whole country had collectively chanted that it would never bow to terror, Genshaft said that it was the subsequent death threats to the professor that prompted her actions.

Nevertheless, the ax of patriotism fell not on these threatmakers, but ironically enough, on one who had carried out his duty to his adopted homeland. My father, having always instilled in me the American values of freedom and equality, truth and justice, taught me to stand up for what is right, no matter how difficult it may seem. That is patriotism.

He acted on those beliefs when he donated blood to the victims in New York and gathered funds from our community to aid in the recovery. He has continued to lead efforts to bring together members of all three major faith communities, especially during a time of national crisis. That is patriotism.

When the civil liberties climate turned bleak, he mobilized a national effort to uphold the Constitution, lobbying members of Congress and campaigning for politicians, all to restore the rights enjoyed by all Americans. Certainly, that is patriotism. He exercised his freedom by continuing to voice his opinions regarding the treatment of Palestinians by Israel, no matter how unpopular those views may be. That, too, is patriotism.

Indeed, it was not until after that portentous day in September that my father's character was so appallingly maligned. Yet another bitter irony: It is that same nightmare to us all, namely terrorism, that he stands accused of in the court of public opinion.

Simply put, if it wasn't for Sept. 11, there would have been no Barnyard Bill and his zoo of unfounded accusations. There would be no Jaded Judy and her urge to fire. For it was only after those planes were disastrously hijacked that our own collective sense of patriotism could suffer a similar fate.

Abraham Lincoln once said, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves." Sadly enough, this year has proven these words alarmingly accurate. I rest assured, however, that no matter how we may falter, our better sensibilities, and ultimately, we as a nation, will prevail. And that is the essence of patriotism.

- Abdullah Al-Arian, 22, was born in Durham, N.C., and reared in Tampa. He graduated from Duke University in May 2002.

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