I Am An American
The Response of Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed
Behalf of the New Citizens
(Many American Muslims, particularly the African-American Muslims, are proud to be American citizens. They are indigenous to America and Islam has given them the dignity and self-esteem to make their lives meaningful, even as they struggle against racial discrimination. As an Immigrant Muslim I am grateful for the opportunity that America has given for the Muslims to prosper and practice their faith. Myself and other Muslims believe that America is dar-ul-sulh (place of peace or place of treaty) or dar-ul-A'hed (is the land with which the Islamic State has a treaty with another country). Muslims have begun to refer to America and India as dar-ul-aman (house of security or house of safe conduct or house of order), where there is peace and tolerance and freedom of religion. America, in many of its laws and practices, is much more Islamic than many contemporary Muslim States.)
Dr. Elliott, Mayor Sullivan, Distinguished Guests, Fellow Americans, Ladies & Gentlemen:
I am very proud and happy to be an American citizen! It is a pleasure to be here this evening to respond on behalf of the new citizens. At the outset I would like to thank Mr. Raymond E. Morrow, Director of Adult Education, and the Committee of “I Am An American Day” Celebration for giving me this opportunity.
I want to respond by answering four questions:
1. Why I came to the United States?
2. Why I became a United States citizen?
3. What is the present American Scene?
4. What I want to do as a new citizen?
Question 1:Why I came to the United States?
The first exposure of United States I had was through watching Hollywood movies. As a young boy I was impressed and fascinated, watching such movies as the ‘Thief of Baghdad” and “Jungle Boy” which starred the elephant boy, Sabu. Sabu was born and brought up in Mysore, which happens to be my State (now it is called Karnataka) also. As a young boy I used to go to morning shows and matinees, which were cheap and screened a lot of stunt movies, such as Flash Gordon, Superman and Batman.
I remember very well, when I was 6 or 7 years old that I walked to a movie theatre 3 miles away to see a Hollywood movie matinee. That evening I told my mother: “I wasted my money watching that dirty movie (Western Romantic) which showed nothing but hugging and kissing by men and women.” (Kissing is prohibited in public in India). I went to see thrills and fighting in the movie and I was disappointed.
As I grew my taste changed and l used to watch many social, detective and mystery movies. I never used to miss the movies of Alfred Hitchcock. “Psycho” is the best suspense movie I have ever seen. “Peyton Place” is the best social film and I liked it because its story is very near to Indian social life. I have watched movies made in countries all over the world including Russia, but believe me, nothing can match Hollywood. By watching Hollywood movies, I increased my knowledge of the United States culture, history and government, geography and scientific achievements.
The Voice of America was my favorite radio program. I was exclusively tuning in for scientific programs. I was little interested in the propaganda broadcasts by the United States Government.
When I was going to college in Bangalore, Mysore State, I utilized the numerous services rendered by the United States Information Library (USIL). I used to borrow freely a large number of textbooks on various subjects. I used to get free popular magazines from U.S.A. I used to get free news weekly “American Reporter” published by the American Embassy in New Delhi. I used to watch movies at the USIL on campus life in the different universities of U.S. and on the space programs and scientific achievements.
Many American professors were invited to give lectures in the USIL auditorium. USIL had all college catalogs and financial assistance information available for all prospective students. Going to the U.S. for higher studies has been considered by almost every Indian student as one of the greatest ambitions and achievements in life, and I was no exception. Watching in newspapers, the photos of one or two students leaving Bangalore for higher studies in U.S. was a great stimulus and an impetus for my own efforts in that direction. To go to U.S. to obtain a doctorate became the single most important desire of my life.
Apart from the availability of scholarships, financial assistance to foreign students by the generous U.S., the most attractive thing to me was the system of education in U.S., which is highly advanced. Freedom to choose any subject and to study it at a time convenient to the student, the interdisciplinary approach, no age barrier, no long essay answers in the examinations, the friendly relationship between the professors and the students are but a few of the many good points in the U.S. education system. Where on earth can one find a physicist studying the basic medical sciences from anatomy to pathology and pharmacology along with the M.D. students except in the United Sates and particularly at the Johns Hopkins University?
QUESTION 2: Why I became a United States Citizen?
After having eaten the salt (an expression of loyalty) of U.S. for six years, becoming a citizen is a humble expression or gratitude to the people and government of the United Sates of America.
By becoming a citizen, I have fulfilled my commitment to the United Sates Public Health Service, which so generously financed my studies at the Johns Hopkins University and made me able to meet successfully any scientific challenge in the physical, biological or basic medical sciences.
I did not want to be left behind as an alien for decades or all of my life. I had a sincere desire to become involved in the mainstream of American life. I did not want that unique and golden opportunity to be denied to me simply because I am not an American citizen. I had bitter experiences of such denials on flimsy ground of National Security, although there was no relation.
To compete for positions exclusively reserved for U.S. citizens, which I am now able to do. Now I feel a liberated man and have peace of mind because nobody and nobody can discriminate against me because of my color, national origin, religion or sex. Now I have the great power to vote to elect the right person for the right job.
Furthermore, I will have opportunity and privilege to work as a Juror. And last but not least I am eligible to hold public office for which I am suited. After nine years as a citizen, I am eligible to become a United States Senator. I have desires to hold the public office at the highest level, except that of the Presidency and the Vice-Presidency. If the people draft me and when they feel I am the right person, who can deliver the goods, I shall never decline the responsibility nor disappoint them!
Question 3.The American Scene.
The whole world knows that U.S. is the richest, technologically the most powerful and the most advanced and the leader of the world. This evening I want to show you another side of America—the darker side of my America.
To my new fellow Americans I could say: “America is no more the land of opportunity.” It was in the past and it may be in the future, but not now. These are the troubles I see which need correcting by all of us. As President Ford said in his State of the Union address to the Congress: “The State of the Union is bad.”
Today America has an energy crisis due to the shortsightedness, improper planning and irrational actions of our past leaders and our own selfishness. This will continue as long as the current priorities and policies are not changed. The economy is weakened by the high unemployment, recession and inflation. It is ironical to note that foreign capital and investment in this country are rejected to satisfy the wishes of a small section of the people.
Drug abuse is a powerful enemy of the United States. A foreign country could take over U.S. without firing a single shot, by simply making a sizable U.S. population of drug addicts. Because drug addicts are always looking for their high, they care less for patriotism, discipline, and value of freedom, democracy, liberty and pursuit of happiness. It does not take a genius to predict that if drug abuse is not controlled, then it could lead to the decay and decline of these United States.
Crime and corruption exists from the lowest to the highest level in the country. Criminologists claim many causes for the crime, unequal justice, corrupt law enforcement, permissiveness, and lack of parental guidance. To me decay of the American family is the single most important reason for the prevalence of drug abuse and crime in American Society today. Millions of American homes from poor to rich are beset by the disease of permissiveness, erosion of high ideals, lack of right leadership, lack of self-discipline, honest character, warmth, love and stability. Serious crimes including rape, indiscriminate use of guns, in our schools and streets could be traced to wrong parental values, parental apathy, or other wrong influences. In my former country, if somebody’s child goes astray the society literally spits on the faces of the parents for having failed to take care of their children. They say: “You are not dogs that give birth to a litter in one street and run away to another street. You must discharge your responsibility as parents.” Conversely, parents get the credit for the achievements of their children. We should encourage the strengthening of our family unit. First in homes, next schools, we should develop an early consciousness of high moral values, right character and discipline.
The surest way to promote a criminal society is to make sure crime pays. Tragically in America it pays frequently. Like almost every other institution the United States criminal justice system has been slowed down, became seriously crippled and even blind. The Agnew (Vice President) case, the Watergate scandal, Nixon pardon are living testimonials of injustice partially rectified by our law.
The surveillance by Intelligence Agencies on our citizens makes me doubt that the Bill of Rights is truly for all and the functioning of the United States Constitution is hampered. Is U.S. making a mockery of Democracy? Is this the Republic for which the founding fathers so gallantly fought and sacrificed their lives? Is this still the Republic whose Constitution was written in such a flowery language with heart-touching ideals of freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness? Is this the free country, which attracts freedom-loving people from the communist, socialist, capitalist and other third world countries? Yes it is! But we must fight to preserve these ideals.
There is nothing pathetic to me than seeing the plight of our senior citizens. The elderly poor often go hungry or they eat pet food, they are mugged and killed. They are exploited by profiteers in nursing homes, allegedly headed by men high in religious circles. Is it necessary for the elderly to die unattended in nursing homes? Human dignity, decency and thantology dictate that a dying person be allowed to keep his or her hand in the hand of a near or dear one. Fellow Americans, remember one day everyone will become old. Is this what you want to happen to you? I shall never allow this to happen to me. I shall use my new powers as a citizen to change the system. Honor thy father and mother.
Another mockery in this land of the free enterprise is the “Fair Trade Act” practiced in 36 states. This is blatant day robbery of the consumers. Any laws made should be in the public interest, public safety and consumer protection. The Fair Trade Act needs to be rewritten. The standard of health in this great nation could be improved. There is no dearth for cases of V.D. T.B. Leprosy, malaria, and typhoid diseases are not rarities. Unless some type of national health insurance comes, the standard of health may not be improved. The existence of T.B. in America was a big surprise to me.
It is ironical to note that U.S. has supported and is supporting dictatorial regimes throughout the world. But what I strongly opposed was the sending of young Americans by drafting them into the military against their wishes to fight an undeclared and hence an illegal war. A war—guerilla war—for which they are not, trained, to fight in a land (Vietnam) 12,000 miles away— a land strange and unfamiliar, in a hostile tropical climate with plenty of malaria and cholera germs to greet them. The power of the will of the people to fight is more powerful than the Atom Bomb or Hydrogen Bomb.
When U.S. fought its War of Independence 200 years ago, no country drafted its youngsters and sent them here to fight for U.S. It was the will of the people to fight and the moral and effective leadership of the founding fathers, which led to the independence of U.S.
Question 4: What I want to do as a new Citizen?
To make America a better place to live we should restore discipline in every family and school. Thus making a society, which respects the law.
To avoid drug abuse by their children, parents must realize drinking of coffee, tea, cola beverages, smoking of tobacco products, alcohol are all drug abuses, which can lead to serious drug abuses and narcotics. Parents should set their own example to their children. As the twig is bent, perhaps a return to the turn of the century.
Schools must enforce discipline on students. They should have the children memorize selected poems of great poets; they should memorize multiple tables from 1 to 20. This will eliminate more dependence on electronic calculators and gives self-reliance and confidence in oneself.
Amend the constitution to prevent repetition of the Watergate Scandals. Remember Nixon proved checks and balances of the Government to be ineffective. Had he burnt the tapes, there would have been no evidence to impeach and convict him.
We must make our country greater by our character and will power. Not by possessing deadly weapons, including weapons of chemical, biological warfare, which make the lands of Southeast Asia uninhabitable for 50 years to come.
“If wealth is lost, nothing is lost. If health is lost, something is lost. If character is lost, everything is lost.”
When I visit a foreign country the people of that country should receive me as a citizen of the great country of U.S. with warmth, admiration, affection and friendliness, and not as Watch out, he may be a CIA Agent.”
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