Robert Azzi is a photographer and writer based in Exeter. His articles are archived at theotherazzi.wordpress.com.
Several years ago I moved back to New Hampshire to be closer to other family members, to settle my family in a place without the stress usually found in big cities, in a place I thought, after having lived and worked in the Middle East. long, is the best – close to Boston, close to the Atlantic, hopefully a sanctuary in the beauty of the Granite State.
Close to where I was supported and supported by family, friends, teachers and librarians to become who I am today.
What I didn’t think about, when I came back, was that the past I remembered was a country where I had emigrated; that my return to these roots is perhaps the unrealistic hope that things will be as I left them.
It is not.
I know, and hope, that the white community is strong, often conflicted, and it is through conflict and conflict that we not only prove ourselves life as a free person but from where we learn, when we join others, who are neighbors, who are enemies.
This morning I took a deep breath before writing.
Over the years I have shared with you and the world of my childhood, my fears, loves, doubts, discoveries and questions. As a second generation Arab American Muslim who is often told to go back to where he came from (Note to readers: There are no direct flights between Exeter and Manchester) I still stand for, and Trust, the promise of America.
Believe in the aspirational promise, articulated in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, that all people are created equal.
And in that promise I believe, as one of America’s greatest prophets James Baldwin wrote inNotes About A Boy>: “I love America more than any other country in the world, and for this reason, I speak to the right to criticize it forever.”
I, too, insist on the law.
For more than a decade, I have seen walls being built, screens being erected, communities being divided by ignorance and opinion – and it scares me.
I have never been more scared than today.
It is a dangerous time and I believe that if you are not afraid with me that not only you will not love or not honest but you will be a threat to people like me.
I was in school 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 others.
In the last ten years I remember Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Ahmaud Arbery; remember others.
I remember the 1963 March on Washington, the 2017 march in Charlottesville.
But I didn’t think I had to remember that a president of the United States encouraged an attack on January 6, 2021, with the goal of overthrowing our elected government to become powerful.
I never thought that almost two years after the 2020 presidential election there would be so many Americans who still believe, or claim to believe, without evidence, that the election of Joe Biden was illegitimate; Americans who would rather believe QAnon and Falun Gong/EpochTimes than the American intelligence service.
For a long time I have thought that New Hampshire is different from other places; that people value not only freedom and self-confidence but education and community. I never thought, never thought, that, as all over America, not only will there be candidates for office who believe lies and falsehoods but they have the opportunity to win.
Many are called Christian nationalists arming God to justify the unjustifiable, trying to use God to justify the unimaginable; try to disenfranchise, marginalize, intimidate and build walls to isolate fellow Americans who don’t look, pray or think the way they do.
Some who have a chance to win are real racists and murderers who think their day has come. Others are power hungry people who never miss an opportunity to make money. Some are afraid of the changing population and want to build walls, others are just narcissistic, ignorant, people who hate the complex, people who have never read poetry.
New Hampshire poet Robert Frost wrote in his 1914 often quoted Mending Wall:
“Before I build a wall I want to know
What I am walling in or walling out
And who do I want to blame
Something that doesn’t like the wall
That required him to fall. “
“It’s where we don’t need a wall,” Frost added. What we need is justice for truth and truth, justice for the promise that all men are created equal.