Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Defining Loyalty to America

How does a new American citizen define his loyalty to his chosen country? Should we question his loyalty based on origin or actions? How long does it take to prove loyalty? These and similar questions are brought once again to the attention of the country in the wake of the most recent terrorism attempt in Time Square by Faisal Shahzad, a newly naturalized American citizen of Pakistani origin. His act was nothing less than treason against his chosen country and a clear forfeiture of his citizenship.
Loyalty questions are entirely reasonable and will resurface with regularity during times of crisis. Our World War II experience logically led us to view Germans and Japanese with suspicion. During the Cold War we viewed with justifiable suspicion newly arrived immigrant from communist countries. After all, the Soviet Block had amply demonstrated its intentions and capabilities to launch sleeper cells for the purpose of penetrating American society and harming the country. And now during this era of continuing terrorism, we have good reasons to view Americans of Middle Eastern and south Asian origin with suspicion. America is an open society and largely welcoming to new citizens, but that is no reason to disregard reasonable caution for the sake of political correctness or misguided aversion to offending someone. The government’s primary responsibility is to defend and protect its citizens.

As a would-be American citizen, I experienced such suspicions and cautions first-hand. Upon my immigration to the US in the early 1970s I found it entirely reasonable and prudent for my adopted country to check me out and demand certain conditions in exchange for the highly sought-after and much-appreciated US citizenship. I gladly complied with the conditions of citizenship: a working knowledge of the English language, a basic understanding of civics, the promise not to become a burden to the state, and above all, loyalty to my chosen homeland. This was and still is accomplished with the
oath of allegiance. The most important aspect of qualifying for naturalization as an American citizen, the oath requires the new citizen to renounce any foreign allegiances and to support and defend the constitution. This oath is quite clear and unambiguous and taken voluntarily by a new citizen.

These citizenship requirements were a small price to pay for the freedom I enjoyed, the ability to shape my own destiny, the unlimited potential I could pursue with perseverance and drive. Although lengthy, I never resented the thorough background investigations to which I was subjected before being granted a commission in the US Air Force and eventually giving me access to Top Secret intelligence information. To me it was the embodiment of limitless opportunities offered by my adopted country - a country I considered my own many years before ever setting foot on American soil.

At the core of American values is freedom of choice - we chose to live here because we identify with the American way of life. We also have the right to leave anytime we no longer feel comfortable here, unlike many other countries that lack of this option in. Not coincidentally, many of our immigrants are from just those countries. But the oath of allegiance should guide all of us -- native-born and naturalized citizens!