16 June 2008

On Patriotism.

Although meatiocrity has recently taken a sabbatical from religious news to address a broader variety of topics, at its heart, this is a blog about the ideas that are so entwined with life it becomes impossible to distinguish which gave rise to which.

As such, one of the most fascinating current events is the Zimbabwe election crisis. For those of you who don't remember, or are typical Americans, Robert Mugabe has been President of Zimbabwe since the free elections of 1980. Prior to that, he played a leading role in the guerrilla fighting which helped end both British colonial rule and white minority rule.

Mugabe is also known for leading Zimbabwe out of one of its worst humanitarian crises— the fight for independence—into the country's other worst humanitarian crisis of food shortages and economic collapse. More recently, as you'll gather from the article linked above, Mugabe is responsible for a variety of impediments to the current electoral process.

I think it's obvious that Mugabe is not a great leader. But I think there is something about him that sounds naggingly familiar. The idea of fighting off oppressive colonial powers, of internal struggle to form a nation from tribes and factions, of sussing out the distribution of power, of failing to form a stable government the first time around and eventually rewriting the constitution— it all pulls at the back of my mind.

It's because its not an unfamiliar story. It's the story of America's founding years. We had militias to fight the British, our first try at democracy collapsed, we continued to repel colonial influences after declaring independence, and we even elected a guerilla leader as our first president.

This isn't a moral judgment one way or the other. I'm not saying America is so bad, or that Robert Mugabe is the good guy. I'm not really saying anything about who's good and who's bad. I'm just saying, isn't it interesting that the formative events of revolution and independence and the formative ideas of freedom from foreign rule are common to both?

And if Mugabe is concerned that his presidential rival, Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change, is too Western, there are any number of Americans upset that immigrants might be too culturally other than American. Mugabe's not exactly a role model, but he's also not that hard to understand.

I think anybody who's got an inkling of love for their country— especially America, or any other country who formed in similar fashion— is, in a way, not entirely unlike Robert Mugabe. We never had the opportunity to sabotage a run-off election by having activists murdered and arresting the opponent's second-in-command. We never had a chance to take land— and power— from the vestiges of our oppressors and redistribute it to honest patriots.

But, if we had the opportunity, I think we might not act that differently. We might spy on our democratic rivals or run smear campaigns against our republican enemies. We would certainly want to enact legislation to protect our country, or at least our idea of what our country it. That's what patriotism means.

1 comment:

Corn Corn said...

Isn't it wonderful? How somehow and someway we always want the good Ol' stories to be as clear as lines drawn in the sand. The fascinating part about most tales of old that are meant to get us to rally around a cause do exactly what lines drawn in sand do over-time; they blur. They leave you double-taking as to who was entitled to what in the first place.