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Commentary Last Updated: Nov 26th, 2008 - 01:46:38

Why do I live in the United States?
By Jorge Majfud
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Translated by Bruce Campbell

Nov 26, 2008, 00:18

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In 2001, Oriana Fallaci wrote her famous article, �The Rage and the Pride,� in which she not only made an indiscriminate attack on Third World immigrants in Europe and the United States but on all cultures other than �Western culture.�

In 2002, I published in several newspapers a long response covering at least 20 points, which I considered errors on the part of the author. My essay was called �The Slow Suicide of the West�* and, far from attacking the West and praising the East, the central idea lay in defending the West against one of its worst enemies: the West itself.

Thanks to this essay I have received anonymous attacks that run from reminders about my ancestors -- a factor which would explain my reasoning -- to warnings from the owners of the world about the dangers of thinking along tracks other than the official ones.

A few days ago, a friend sent me by mail the criticisms of a reader and asked that I respond to his observations. In synthesis, the reader, taking on his status as a U.S. citizen, asked if I truly felt so uncomfortable with �our culture and our values,� why I didn�t go live in those countries I admired so much. At the end he added: �It doesn�t matter whether Majfud is right about the West. It is a matter of coherency. The least one can ask of an intellectual is coherency.�

The truth is that I admire the Greek philosophy of the fifth and sixth centuries, the poetry of Omar Kayyam, the physics of Albert Einstein, but I believe it is unnecessary and perhaps impossible to go live in Periclean Greece, old Persia or Nazi Germany of the 1920s. In fact, most German intellectuals who were exiled to the United States during the Nazi period did not become, for that very reason, complacent and acritical of the new order -- undoubtedly preferable to the one they were abandoning -- but instead remained coherent with their previous thinking: power does not need defenders; it has plenty of adulators.

It is part of fascist thinking to confuse an entire country with the ideology of those who dominate the spheres of power: if someone criticizes the dominant ideology X -- often articulated by intellectuals who are functional to the military and economic power of the moment -- they would be attacking the entire country where X is dominant, ergo that someone should leave to live somewhere else and allow X to expand freely to the last corner of human consciousness.

It is clear that this reader did not read my entire essay, hurried along by a superficial reaction, proper to the early stages of the new digital culture. If I mentioned that the holocausts, the inquisitions and the widespread practice of torture are also very Western products, it was not to demonstrate the inferiority of the West but, on the contrary, in order to exercise an equally Western custom according to which it has been critique and not adulation that often has intervened against our own defects. Among these latter, let us count arrogance and the purity of ignorance, according to which everything was invented by Europe or the United States a hundred years ago, including the Phonecian alphabet, Arabic numerals, African and Hebrew theology, the fundamentals of the sciences and the broad legacy of the arts and thought.

This kind of thinking has existed throughout history, but, in certain periods, it has dominated most of society and on occasions has ruled the laws of a government and of a state. In the 20th century, it was called fascism but there are earlier examples, like that of Spain of the 15th and 16th centuries. Despite the fact that the Iberian peninsula had one of the oldest and richest cultures in terms of cultural, racial, religious and linguistic diversity, there was a political movement that defined what was �our culture� and decided that being Spanish meant being Catholic, speaking Castilian, having white skin and blood free from contamination by the Moors and the Jews. This great country shed its blood for centuries trying to overcome the culture of the ideological and police state garrote until in the 20th century the general�simo, Francisco Franco, revived the fascist myth: there is only one way of being Spanish, of being a man, of speaking, of thinking and of publishing, of being deserving of life or of deserving to set foot on a piece of land delimited by some, generally arbitrary, political boundaries.

This example of one of the countries I most love on the whole planet after my own country is hardly a classic example. There would not be sufficient space to recall that this same fascist idea of unity and purity by exclusion wreaked havoc under all of Latin America�s dictatorships, as well as in Africa, in Asia and in any corner of the planet we might wish to look. Including, it should be said, my own country of origin, which I love without reason and without justifying my emotions by claiming that it is the best country in the world, or that the best and most beautiful people live there, which besides being arbitrary would demonstrate an acutely retarded nationalism, when the country in question is not a world power, and a dangerous nationalism, when it is.

Fortunately, in the United States there are millions of people who do not think like my inquisitor. Millions of people do not believe that this heterogeneous country, composed of many states and of many groups who disagree with the political powers that be, could be defined by a unitary culture and unitary values, imprecisely defined but clearly declared by some fascist groups who do not even know the history of the country where they were born, but arrogate to themselves the right to exclude from morality all those who do not fall within their narrow mental circle. They are as coherent in this regard as a mule who, by possessing only one idea for everything, can never enter into contradictions. The masters who whipped their black slaves in the 19th century -- or beat them and dragged them behind their pick-up trucks in the 20th century -- and the slaves shared the same values and the same culture. Other men and women, free and enslaved, deplored these values and this dominant culture and they were not exactly the worst of U.S. society.

I should have started by answering that I live in the United States because I do not live alone, because I am not the dictator who decides where my family should live, according to his desire and needs. I live in the United States because it is here where I have my work. These should be two sufficient reasons, but we must never underestimate the simplicity of fascism.

When I lived in my country (my country of origin, not of my property) and I published harsh critiques against its government and against some of our customs, there was always a fascist who would accuse me of being unpatriotic, which also suggested that in order to be patriotic it is necessary to be highly acritical (hypo-critical). When the economic crisis battered the middle and lower classes in my country, I saw the definitive need to emigrate, accepting an invitation from a U.S. professor to continue my career here. The rich and powerful do not emigrate. They move their capital or go on vacation and then inflate their chests with their patriotism. �Mr. X served his country all his life,� they then repeat, in order to hide the fact that his country served him all his life.

That is to say, I live in the United State because I exercise the right to work where I consider there to be a better opportunity to work, just like anyone else, and that does not mean that I should turn a blind eye to all of the defects and barbarities that I see in the country where I live. A lot of U.S. citizens also live and work in Iraq and in many other countries, at the same time that they criticize and disparage those same cultures. And they do not leave those countries because of it. Many U.S. citizens also have large businesses in almost all of the countries of the world, and work and live in those countries, and it is not for love of the values and cultures of those countries that they remain where they are.

That is not the case for me. I do not hold in low regard my son�s country. I live in the United States because I still believe that this country is not composed of 300 million McCarthys but also by a few Carl Sagans, Norman Mailers, Ernest Hemingways, Toni Morrisons, Charles Bukowskis, Paul Austers, Truman Capotes, Noam Chomskys and outsiders like Edward Said, Albert Einstein and many more who in their moment were accused of being dangerous elements, only because they dared to exercise radical critique -- radical, like all criticism that goes to the roots of a problem -- because they still believed in humanity.

I live in the United States because I also admire something about this country -- those who happily assert that there is no culture here make me laugh -- not the garbage consumed like delicious delicacies but the exquisite minds that are dismissed like garbage. That is to say that I also live in the United States because, for a writer accustomed to the dialectical struggle, there is nothing better than living as Jos� Mart� used to say somewhat vaguely, �in the bowels of the monster.�

I live in the United States because I do not believe that a country or a culture can have ideological or even legal owners. I live in the United States as I might live in any other place in the world, because I may be moved by professional necessity or the need for work, but I will not be intimidated by those who not only believe themselves to be owners of the Planet but seek also to expand their domain by demanding that critics yield, nicely and on a volunteer basis, the last spaces that remain for dissidence or, simply, for critical analysis.

Jorge Majfud is a Uruguayan writer. He currently teaches at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He has traveled to more than 40 countries, whose impressions have become part of his novels and essays. His publications include Hacia qu� patrias del silencio (memorias de un desaparecido) [novel] (Montevideo, Uruguay: Editorial Graffiti, 1996; Tenerife, Spain: Baile del Sol, 2001); Cr�tica de la pasi�n pura [essays] (Montevideo: Editorial Graffiti, 1998; Fairfax, Virginia: HCR, 1999; Buenos Aires, Argentina: Editorial Argenta, 2000); and La reina de Am�rica [novel] (Tenerife: Baile del Sol, 2002).

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