As I listened to a news anchor this week talk about the hullabaloo surrounding a speech delivered by a Muslim whose son was killed in Iraq, I was struck by the way in which the parents of the lost soldier were identified: Muslim-American.
Much has been made of late about how divided is our country, and it occurred to me attaching a prefix to “American” sharpens the wedges. The now departed son was an American. He served in the American Army. He was quite possibly a hero, for reasons beyond merely his signing up to go fight, and die, for the rest of us. He happened to subscribe to the Muslim faith, as do a few million people around the world.
We humans are a tribal lot. We love to identify with a group. We include, within the boundaries of the U.S.A., Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Sikhs, and Atheists. We wear jeans to work, or ban them. We drive Fords and Chevys and Harleys and Hondas.
When I came to Gettysburg, I took up residence in Bonneauville, a town I soon discovered to be nonexistent – at least to the post office and the Department of Motor Vehicles. When I went to get my Pennsylvania driver license, I put my address as Bonneauville 17325. The nice lady at the window, in a not quite so nice manner, questioned which was correct — Bonneauville, of which neither she nor her computer possessed knowledge, or 17325, which her computer said was Gettysburg.
A label can give us roots. In Maine, it was said to be a True Mainer one had to be at least seventh generation. I wrote about a farmer whose Maine origin went back to two brothers who had been paid for their Revolutionary War service with a deed to land near where I lived. In fact, the original land encompassed much of what had become, by the time I was writing, at least three towns.