19 April 2013

Just Questions

News media are saying that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is "of Chechen origin," though he was born in Kyrgysztan and lived ten or eleven of his nineteen years in the US. Wait, when Dzhokhar was a child, Kyrgysztan was a Soviet republic.

What makes identity, national or otherwise?

I guess I'm "of Prussian origin" since my mother was born there.  Hmmm, but Prussia is Poland now; it ceased to exist as a nation nearly two decades before I was born.  Also, I'm "an immigrant" as I was born in Germany.  I guess that makes me "German."  Maybe it makes me "of Nazi origin."

But I've lived in the US since I was six months old.  On my paternal grandmother's side, various ancestors came in various centuries from England, so many generations ago it's difficult to count.  (Hint: prior to the original Tea Party.)  Does that implicate me in the genocide of Penobscots and Wampanoags and Abenakis?

What shapes us, what shapes our views?

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Dzhokhar's older brother, was born in Chechyna, but the family moved to Dagestan and then Kyrgysztan when he was a child.  He recently became a devout Muslim and gave up smoking and drinking. It's said he was a fan (if that's the right word) of an Australian-born imam who has encouraged "holy war."

I'm caucasian, and I speak English "without an accent," which is to say I sound like an east-coast American.  But, wait, I converted to Judaism twenty-odd years ago and gave up Christmas and Easter. I'm a "follower" of Arthur Waskow, a Jewish activist.

What influenced those two brothers?

Ruslan Tsarni, their uncle, has been widely quoted today: "I respect this country. I love this country. This country which gives chance to everybody else to be treated as a human being and to just to be human being. To feel yourself human being."

As a nation, the United States certainly has demons in its past and skeletons in its closet.  Native peoples,  slavery, anti-Jewish propaganda of the 1920s, Japanese internment camps, McCarthy.  And I bet you can come up with more.

What, then, of our origins as "Americans"? What do we attend to? What do we sweep under the rug?

I only have questions.  I have no answers.  Maybe I'll go with Lennon: "Imagine...."