The Obligation of Assimilation

I remember when Egypt was only a place I saw on a Popeye cartoon as a kid. We were taught a little about it in history classes as I got older. The Sphinx was there and of course, the pyramids. There was always some reference made to the robotic-looking poses shown in Egyptian hieroglyphics. In high school, we laughed along with Steve Martin and his comical King Tut parody (“He could have won a Grammy. Funky Tut. Buried in his Jammies!”).

Does U.S. citizenship come with an obligation to assimilate?

In the 1980s, the Bangles told us to “Walk Like an Egyptian” and through the contagion of MTV we did just that. We all recall grandma hushing us after dinner on Easter Sunday while ABC spooled up “The Ten Commandments” again and Yul Brenner (who always stood like a human hieroglyphic) did his Egyptian Ramses impression, which looked oddly similar to his King of Siam impression done in the “King and I,” but we didn’t say anything; didn’t want to ruin it for Gram.

We Barely Noticed

It was October 1981 when Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat was assassinated and I recall it had only been a short time after he and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin had signed the Camp David Peace Accords under the persuasive, cardigan-sweatered President Jimmy (Mr. Rogers) Carter (“Can you say “oppression” boys and girls? I knew you could.”) I think it was only then that I began to really consider Egypt as a real place with real people in real time.

You see, I was 21 and just as pre-occupied with my little corner of the world as everyone else. The Internet and global news coverage didn’t have us all so tightly wired together back then. The “big picture” wasn’t so big. The 1981 Sadat assassination was therefore simply presented as a news bite, a grainy piece of horrific film reported, displayed and properly honored. The hours of CNN analysis and FOX News pondering that follow such events now didn’t exist back then and the true impact on the Middle East was quickly forgotten by most.

Democracy and my independence was something I took for granted; something as much a part of me as going to school, sleeping in a warm bed and having three meals a day. My peers were equally oblivious as we were entering that very indulgent, self-centered period in America (the 1980s) and we didn’t really want the responsibility of interpreting the news.

We liked our news simple and quick like everything else. Recall just several months earlier our own president had dodged a similar fate as Ronald Regan took a bullet and lived to tell the story. A punctured lung, little time in the hospital, a wave out the window and The Gipper was back on his horse; that’s how it was done in America.

But you know folks, as I look back–it may have been right around this time that we as a nation got a little too comfortable having our news “pre-digested” for us. As we took our liberties for granted, laziness ensued. A lethargy that grew while our international peers were attempting to be heard and topple regimes to achieve parity with the life we indifferently led. We barely noticed.

And why am I so sure of this now? Because most of what I just described didn’t even phase me 30 years ago and now, at age 50, the overthrow of Egypt and the precedent it set in the Middle East scares me right down to my socks.

To think that less than a million Egyptians can create an outcry that is supposedly representative of a country of 80 million citizens and take to the streets in response to what amounts to nothing more than an Internet web posting and oust a 30-year incumbent president in 18 days? That has to be the slickest example of how capably one clever antelope can cause an entire herd to stampede and trample an entire society.

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