Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An American Name

Of all the history being made today, of all the ceilings being broken, of all the much-anticipated change coming to Washington, of all the words carefully crafted and soberly uttered, one word keeps cutting to the front of the line for me: Hussein.

Today America makes history in all sorts of ways, not the least of which is how the name Hussein will be heard from here on out. For some, Hussein has to date been the name of a late foreign dictator who didn't flinch at the use of chemical weapons even against his own citizens. For some Hussein was the face of the Axis of Evil. For some Hussein was a link in the chain of global terror. As of today, Hussein for these people necessarily means something different.

There are other insinuations of the name Hussein, other stigmas that have to date attached themselves to the word--not least of which is the reminder of American hubris. George Bush won my vote in 2000 with a simple phrase that hinted at his purported approach to foreign policy: "Ours must be a humble nation." An attack on our shores complicated that promise, of course, and the ensuing Bush Doctrine, which sanctioned pre-emptive attacks on the presumption of an imminent threat, changed our reputation throughout the world from benevolent dictator (which we were) to violent empire (which in the eyes of many we now are).

I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of a decision to go to war, nor do I understand the great complexity of international relations. But I do know that, until today, Hussein as a name has been not a uniter but a divider. Stories abound of discrimination and even outright violence against Americans of Middle-Eastern descent in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001. One woman famously threw John McCain off his game during a campaign stop last year, when she muttered incoherently into his microphone about how Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim and can't be trusted. Extremist talk-show hosts spat the name into their microphones as a latent attack on their political opponent's right to hold office. Not to mention the occasional slips of the tongue in which our new President's last name was inadvertently replaced with the first name of the world's most famous terrorist, Osama bin Laden.

In 2008 and for years previous the name Hussein was a controversy in America. But today that changes. Today our new president takes the oath of office using his full name: Barack Hussein Obama. Hussein today becomes an American name. America the creedal nation, bound not merely by geography or ethnicity but by the presumption that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the inalienable, God-given rights of every human being, today broadens its vision of itself. Black children today will grow up believing that they might one day become president; Middle-Eastern children today will grow up believing that this land is their land.

2 comments:

heather said...

I just watched the inauguration, and it was interesting how they omitted his middle name in almost everything except the swearing in.

Anonymous said...

People get hung up on different things.

For some it is religion. For others it is race. Others have a hang-up on the sexuality of others.

For me, I have managed to survive 14 years of our last president's mis-management. I am ready for a fresh start. Name is not a problem unless someone suggests, " Let George do it."

GZ