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 without the chaos that we often encounter in the cities, to be in a place that I thought, after living and working in the Middle East. for a long time, it was ideal – close to Boston, close to the Atlantic, hopefully a sanctuary nestled in the beauty of the Granite State.
Near the place where I was raised and influenced by family, friends, teachers and librarians to become who I am today.
What I did not expect, when I returned, was that the past I remembered was the country I had moved to; that perhaps my return to those roots was an unrealistic expectation that things would be as I had left them.
It wasn’t it.
I know, and I expect, that free movements are powerful, often in conflict with each other, and that it is from within the conflicts and arguments that we not only see proof of our existence as free people but from there where we learn, while interacting with others, neighbors, who are enemies.
This morning I took a deep breath before I started writing.
For more than ten years I have been sharing with you and the world my childhood, my fears, loves, doubts, discoveries and questions. As a second generation Arab American Muslim who is often told to go back to where he came from (Note to the reader: There are no direct flights between Exeter and Manchester) I continue to wait for, and believe, the promise of America.
Believe in the aspirational promise, expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, that all men are created equal.
And in that promise I believe, as one of America’s greatest prophets James Baldwin wroteDetails of the Native Son>: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and, precisely for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize it forever.”
I, too, insist on that right.
For more than a decade, I’ve seen walls being built, screens being erected, communities being divided by ignorance and prejudice – and it scares me.
I have never been more scared than I am today.
It’s a scary time and I believe if you’re not scared around me you may be unpatriotic or misbehaving but you’re a threat 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 many more.
In the last ten years I remember Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery; remember many more.
I remember the 1963 March on Washington, the 2017 march in Charlottesville.
But I never thought that I would have to remember that the president of the United States of America called for a revolution on January 6, 2021, with the intention of overthrowing our legitimately elected government so that we can stay we rule.
I had no idea that nearly two years after the 2020 presidential election there would be so many Americans who continue to believe, or profess to believe, with little evidence, that Joe Biden’s election was illegal; Americans would rather believe QAnon and Falun Gong/EpochTimes than America’s intelligence services.
For a long time I thought New Hampshire was different from other places; that people valued not only freedom and self-reliance but education and community. I never thought, and never will, that here, like across America, not only could there be candidates for office who believe such lies and rumors but have a chance to win .
Many are so-called national Christians who have armed God to justify what is unjust, trying to use God to justify the unthinkable; trying to belittle, belittle, threaten and build walls to separate other Americans who don’t look, pray or think like them.
Others who stand a chance of winning are the true racists and antisemites who feel their day has come. Others are power-hungry opportunists who never pass up an opportunity to make a profit. Some are scared of demographic changes and want to build walls, others are just narcissistic, ignorant, people who hate complexity, people who have never read poetry.
New Hampshire poet Robert Frost wrote in his oft-quoted 1914 book Fix the Wall:
“Before building a wall I would ask to know
What I had gathered or was a wall
And the one I liked to offend
Something doesn’t like the wall
That needs to be reduced. ”
Frost continues: “Here we don’t need a wall. What we need is to be faithful to facts and truth, to be faithful to the promise of the desire that all men are created equal.