“What do you think of America, Mom?” a young man with Down’s syndrome asked his mother, the waitress who was serving us in the now almost-empty restaurant. “I think America is in a terrible place, sweetie,” she responded. My ears perked. I wondered if she might be upset about the economy. Maybe she didn’t like one or both of the presidential candidates. Perhaps she felt America was becoming increasingly racist. “We’ve left God. ‘One nation under God’. That’s what it’s supposed to be. But now we’re just one nation.”
I felt uncomfortable. My husband and I were the only two people left in the restaurant located in a small town in Illinois with a population less than 9,000. We were blatantly foreign, my husband speaking with his Scottish accent and both of us walking around while holding iPads, kindles and a man bag. I had just asked the waitress’s daughter if the red things in the mashed potatoes were bacon bits, because if they were, I couldn’t eat it. She told me they were potato skins.
Had the mama waitress answered her son so loudly in order to make a point? Or maybe I had become hypersensitized to America’s God-speak and it was starting to get on my nerves.
It’s everywhere. The Bibles in every single hotel room, the signs in front of churches telling me I needed saving, the four older creationists sitting with big posters at the start of a trail in the Smoky Mountains, the country singers ending their show in Nashville with a gospel song, the tour guide announcing all kinds of religion existed in Nashville: Methodists, Baptists, Catholics…you name it!
It really was no different than how Egyptians include God in their everyday talk and how they think they need to be the saviors of the world. If only all the peoples who wanted to save others were put together somewhere on their own and had it out with each other. I wonder if they’d all finally see how alike they really are. Maybe they’ll realize how old-fashioned and silly their saving methods are. Or maybe they’d all just kill each other.
I had a Facebook conversation yesterday with a friend’s friend. It didn’t go well. My friend and her friends were upset that Jaden Smith – actor Will Smith’s son- had announced they were gender fluid. This was the first I had heard of the term but I have to admit I found the concept interesting. The article my friend had posted had nothing to do with sexuality. Jaden had simply said that they don’t identify as male or female, and as a result I think the implication was that they should be allowed to model men’s and women’s clothes. Personally, I couldn’t see why that should bother me (or anyone else). But apparently it does and immensely so. This person is mentally ill, the friend’s friend proclaimed, and people shouldn’t be condoning those kinds of actions. It was counterproductive to society, I was told. I replied that I was sorry that this person’s productivity was being countered by Jaden Smith’s gender fluidity but that at least Jaden seems to be doing pretty well. I was told I was almost called something other than “lady” while being reprimanded.
I’m Muslim. I consider myself a practicing, conservative Muslim (I couldn’t give two shits that there are many Muslims out there who think I have “lost the way”). Yet here I was, trying to convince some Americans that we can believe what we want for ourselves while still thinking it’s all right for others to believe and think differently. It wasn’t, especially because of its effect on the children, I was told.
America is supposed to be the land of the free. But it doesn’t feel free to me. The laws of the country might be ones that promote freedom. But at least some of the societal “norms” I’ve confronted don’t seem to encourage or support freedoms other than their own and seeing people exercise freedoms that seemingly have no negative impact on others upsets them immensely.
My two-week-road-trip view of the country is likely a distorted one. But it seems like some people at least in some parts of America really need everyone else to think, believe and be like them. That way of thinking is dangerous, in my view. It’s what leads to Daesh-like extremist ideologies (the so-called people of the “Islamic State”).
America is a beautiful country and everyone I’ve met so far has been kind and gracious. I’m having a wonderful time.
But the continuous in-your-face God-speak scares me just like it does in the lands of the Arabs.