THE BLOG

The True Patriot

11/25/2011 03:58 pm ET | Updated Jan 25, 2012

"Oh my name it is nothin'
My age it means less
The country I come from
Is called the Midwest
I's taught and brought up there
The laws to abide
And that land that I live in
Has God on its side."
--Bob Dylan

In a nationally televised GOP debate on CNN on November 22 covering the overarching theme of "National Security," the moderator, Wolf Blitzer, asked presidential candidate Rick Santorum if he would support ethnic and religious profiling. Santorum replied, "The folks who are most likely to be committing these crimes, obviously Muslims would be someone you'd look at. Absolutely."

Santorum justified this under the so-called "Patriot Act."

I want to distinguish between two terms that are often used interchangeably, but in actuality, while connected in some ways, are unique and distinct: the terms are "Patriot" and "Nationalist," with their corresponding concepts being "Patriotic" and "Nationalistic."

My copy of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines a "Patriot" as:
1. a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests, and
2. a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, [and here is the important difference] especially of individual rights against presumed interference by the government. That is the definition of a "Patriot."

A "Nationalist," according to my dictionary is 1. a person who has devotion and loyalty to one's own nation, and 2. a person who has excessive patriotism or chauvinism, which is a zealous and aggressive patriotism or enthusiasm for military glory, a biased devotion to any group, attitude, or cause. This is sometimes called "Jingoism."

The United States is a beautiful and noble concept, a vibrant idea, a vital and enduring vision, a process and progression toward, but we have not yet attained, not yet reached that concept, that idea, that vision. We are, rather, a work in process.

And this is possibly what separates the Patriot from the Nationalist, for the Patriot understands and witnesses the divide or the gap between the reality and the promise and the potential. The Nationalist, on the other hand, is often not aware that a gap even exists between the potential and the reality.

"Oh the history books tell it
They tell is so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side."
--Bob Dylan

I interpret a true Patriot as one who, indeed, loves her or his country, but also one who sees the way things are, and one who works for change to make things better.

A Patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent global community.

My vision of a Patriot is one who embraces John F. Kennedy's challenge by "ask[ing] not what your country can do for you" but rather "ask[ing] what you can do for your country."

"Imagine no possessions,
I wonder if you can,
No need for greed or hunger,
A brotherhood of man [and woman]
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world..."
--John Lennon

However, the language or the terminology has somehow been distorted and skewed.

Keeping these distinctions I outlined previously in mind, the so-called "Patriot Act" is, in fact, the "Nationalist Act" or even the "Chauvinist Act" or the "Jingoist Act." The current Patriot Act has as much to do with Patriots as the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" has to do with defending marriage rights. All these acts are punitive and stand in stark contrast to their respective titles.

In addition, when the United States government sends CIA operatives to destabilize and overthrow other governments, our leaders call them "freedom fighters" or "Intelligence Officers." When other countries do the same, our leaders call them -- fill in the blank.

When concerned U.S. citizens rally for peace and advocate for diplomatic solutions to conflict, we are often labeled as "traitors," "bums," "effete snobs," and "cowards." When others march to illegal, unjustified, or premature wars, they are called "patriots" and "defenders of democracy."

"He's five feet two and he's six feet four
He fights with missiles and with spears
He's all of 31 and he's only 17
He's been a soldier for a thousand years...
He's the universal soldier and he really is to blame
His orders come from far away no more
They come from him, and you, and me
And brothers can't you see
This is not the way we put an end to war."
--Buffy Sainte-Marie

During the Vietnam War era, those of us who challenged the war were met with signs and bumper stickers demanding: "AMERICA, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!"

Our response was "AMERICA, CHANGE IT OR LOSE IT!"

"Oh the First World War, boys
It closed out its fate
The reason for fighting
I never got straight
But I learned to accept it
And accept it with pride
For you don't count the dead
When God's on your side."
--Bob Dylan

A Patriot, yes indeed, sees things the way they are and tries to make them better, for denial of liberty comes in many forms.

Whenever the so-called "Patriot Act" profiles individuals on their appearance, whenever people are detained and their constitutional rights are denied, and whenever any of our liberties are restricted, we must all speak out against the injustice.

Whenever states like Arizona pass bias-based laws that result in racial profiling and when they eliminate multicultural studies programs, liberty is denied and we must all speak out against the injustice.

Whenever communities like New York City and Murfreesboro, Tennessee promote intolerance by obstructing the installation of Islamic Centers, and when states like Oklahoma pass bogus and hate-inspired laws by wide margins to prevent judges from invoking Sharia law in court cases, liberty is denied and we must all speak out against the injustice.

Whenever anyone of any social identity is targeted for a hate-motivated attack, bullying, and cyber bullying, harassment, and violence, liberty is denied and we must all speak out against the injustice.

For in the final analysis, whenever anyone is diminished, we are all demeaned, and the possibility for authentic community cannot be realized unless and until we become involved, to challenge, to question, and to act.

We all now have a special opportunity, indeed a responsibility, to serve as social commentators, as critics, exposing and highlighting the wide-scale inequities of all kinds that saturate and engulf our environment, and to challenge the culture to move forever forward and to grow.

"You may say I'm a dreamer,
But I'm not the only one,
I hope some day you'll join us,
And the world will live as one."
--John Lennon

Patriots, yes indeed, see things the way they are and work to make them better. Let us all transform our country and our world.