Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer based in Exeter. His columns are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.
I moved back to New Hampshire many years ago to be closer to other family members, to put my family in a place away from the noise often encountered in urban centers, to be where I thought I was when I lived and worked in the Middle East. for so long has been ideal – close to Boston, close to the Atlantic, hopefully a sanctuary in the beauty of the Granite State.
Not far from where my family, friends, teachers and librarians nurtured and inspired me to be who I am today.
When I returned, I did not expect that I remembered the homeland from which I emigrated; that my return to those roots was perhaps an unrealistic expectation that everything would be the way I had left it.
I know and I hope that free societies are dynamic, often in conflict, and that within the conflicts and debates we not only testify that we are free people, but also where we learn from, interacting with others who are neighbors, who are enemies.
This morning I took a deep breath before writing.
I have been sharing my childhood, my fears, my love, my doubts, my discoveries and my questions with you and the world for more than a decade. As a second-generation Arab-American Muslim who is often told to go back to where he came from (Note to reader: there are no direct flights between Exeter and Manchester), I continue to stand for and believe in America’s promise.
Believe in the aspirational promise in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that all men are equal.
And I believe in that promise, as one of America’s greatest prophets, James Baldwin, wroteNotes of a native son>: “I love America more than any other country in this world and it is for this reason that I claim the right to constantly criticize it.”
I also claim this right.
For more than a decade, I’ve watched walls being erected, screens erected, communities being torn apart by ignorance and prejudice – 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 scared with me, not only can you be unpatriotic or immoral, but you can actually be 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 so many others.
In the last decade, I remember Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery; remember so many others.
I remember 1963. March on Washington, 2017 march in Charlottesville.
However, I never thought I would have to remember that the President of the United States of America instigated the uprising in 2021. on January 6 to overthrow our legitimately elected government in order to remain in power.
I never thought that almost two years after 2020 presidential election, there will be so many Americans who will continue to believe, or claim to believe without any 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 valued not only freedom and independence, but also education and community. I never thought or imagined that here, as in all of America, not only would there be candidates who believed such lies and slander, but that they would have a chance to win.
Many so-called Christian nationalists weaponize God to justify the unjustifiable, try to use God to justify the unthinkable; trying to disenfranchise, segregate, threaten, and build walls to isolate Americans who don’t look, pray, or think like they do.
Some 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 building a wall, I would like to ask
What I bricked or bricked
And who did I want to offend
There is someone who does not like the wall
It wants it to go down.”
“Where it is, we don’t need a wall,” Frost continues. We need fidelity to facts and truth, fidelity to the promise that all men are equal.