I am hesitant to write on political matters, whether about my birth nation of the United States or my adopted land of India. But there are times when I find it hard to remain silent. In the last couple of days, the US President uttered these words to four congresswomen, ‘Go back to where you came from’ with accompanying colorful tweets. Perhaps he did not know that three of the four were born in the USA, and the fourth came from Somalia as a teenager.
Of course some will say that things said by these four have been anti-American etc, but there is that right in this country to disagree and dissent. For those who want to draw that line, and say that these four have crossed over, it would be important to be aware it may be them next time under different circumstances of protest. Having the freedom of dissent is an extremely important right in the US, one that is not available in many countries of the world.
President Trump’s words strike me hard not because I am a first or second generation immigrant, though my ancestors did come to the US from Scotland and Ireland earlier. What hits me is this is the same kind of language that the Hindu nationalists use in India about Muslims and Christians. They want all of the minorities to ‘go back to where they came from”, though Christians have been in India since the first century A.D., and Muslims since the seventh century. That kind of language opens the door to further direct action of violence and hate, as it has in India. I believe it also does in the United States.
Last year I was in Princeton, New Jersey, giving a lecture at a conference at Princeton Theological Seminary. When on a walk one morning, I saw this sign in a yard (see photo). Here’s what it said, in Spanish and Arabic along with English: No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor. The message is one of hospitality, of belonging. Don’t go anywhere, be our neighbor. We may be different, we may disagree. Yet stay with us, be part of us, and can we be part of you?
Words that speak of exclusion, uttered by any side, do not contribute to dialogue and peace. Especially said by the President of a nation. A leader for all must truly rule for all, and represent all. That should be true in India, and the United States, as well as any other nation. Are these racist words? We do not always know the intent of heart, but the actions that result from words like this are damaging and destructive. In India it results often in riots and bloodshed. In the United States, it can do the same.
I wish President Trump would apologize for these words, setting an example as the highest elected leader of the land. But sadly, based on the track record, somehow I think that is not likely. The divides continue and deepen. The more perfect union we are meant to be working towards becomes more and more a ‘more fractured union.’
I don’t want them to ‘go where they came from’, even if actually it is New York City. I want them as neighbors. I need them.