Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer based in Exeter. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.
Years ago, I moved back to New Hampshire to be closer to other family members, to settle my family in a place away from the hustle and bustle that often occurs in urban centers, to be in a place I thought about after living and working in the Middle East. for so long was perfect—close to Boston, close to the Atlantic Ocean, hopefully a sanctuary nestled in the beauty of the Granite State.
Not far from where my family, friends, teachers and librarians raised and inspired me to be who I am today.
When I returned, I did not expect that the past I remembered was the homeland from which I had emigrated; that my return to those roots was perhaps an unrealistic expectation that everything would be as I had left it.
I know and expect that free societies are dynamic, often conflicted, and that within the conflicts and debates we not only witness that we are free people, but also where we learn from, working with others who are neighbors, who are enemies .
This morning I took a deep breath before I started writing.
For over ten years I have shared with you and the world my childhood, my fears, my loves, my doubts, my discoveries and my questions. As a second generation Arab American Muslim who is often told to go back where he came from (Note to reader: there are no direct flights between Exeter and Manchester), I continue to defend and believe in America’s promise.
Believe in the promise of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that all men are created equal.
And within that promise I believe, as one of America’s greatest prophets, James Baldwin, wroteNotes from a native son>: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and it is for this reason that I insist on the right to constantly criticize her.”
I also stand by this right.
For well over a decade, I’ve witnessed walls being erected, screens being erected, ignorance and prejudice tearing communities apart – and it scares me.
I have never been more scared than I am today.
These are scary times, and I believe that if you are not afraid with me, not only can you be unpatriotic or immoral, but you can actually be a danger to people like me.
I was in college when President Kennedy was assassinated. I was working on Senator Eugene McCarthy’s presidential campaign when MLK and RFK were assassinated. I remember Fred Hampton, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X; remember so many others.
Over the past decade, I remember Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Ahmad Arberry; remember so many others.
I remember the 1963 March on Washington, the 2017 march in Charlottesville.
But I never thought I would have to remember that the President of the United States called for an uprising on January 6, 2021, to overthrow our legitimately elected government in order to stay in power.
I never thought that nearly two years after the 2020 presidential election, there would be so many Americans who would continue to believe or claim, without evidence, that the election of Joe Biden was illegitimate; Americans who would rather believe QAnon and Falun Gong/EpochTimes than American intelligence.
For a long time, I thought New Hampshire was different from other places; that people value not only freedom and self-reliance, but also education and community. I never thought, never imagined that here, as in all of America, not only would there be candidates who would believe such lies and slander, but they would have a chance to win.
Many are so-called Christian nationalists who have weaponized God to justify the unjustifiable, seeking to use God to justify the unthinkable; trying to disenfranchise, marginalize, threaten, and erect walls to isolate Americans who don’t look, pray, or think the way they do.
The few who have a chance of winning are genuine racists and anti-Semites who feel their day has come. Others are power-hungry opportunists who never miss an opportunity to make a profit. Some are scared of demographic change and want to build walls, others are just narcissistic, ignorant, people who hate the complex, people who never read poetry.
New Hampshire poet Robert Frost wrote in his oft-quoted 1914 Wall repair:
“Before I build a wall, I’d like to know
What I bricked or bricked up
And who did I want to offend
There’s something a wall doesn’t like
It wants to reduce it. “
“Where it is, we don’t need a wall,” Frost continues. We need faith in facts and truth, faith in the purposeful promise that all men are created equal.