Being an American today, a responsible global citizen

By Story of America Team

Rebecca Colleen El-Kher and her familyI was born in the Midwest, Wyoming to be exact, so I grew up with Midwestern ideals. As a child I was headstrong and tended to be my own person, which made it difficult to make friends. I wasn’t really an introvert as much as I was a self-contained person. I had strong beliefs of right and wrong which I learned from my parents, and this tended to make me somewhat judgmental and those traits continue even today.

I am now 52 years old and have learned a lot in the last 52 years. I soon realized when I decided to go to college that the world was bigger than my own little piece of America. As I had lived in several different states, that was a sizeable piece, but at college my world expanded sometimes painfully that there was more to America and the world than I had thought. I watched TV so I knew of other countries and I was pretty good at geography but it had no context no personal meaning. It was at college this all changed.

As I said, I have a very strong belief in right and wrong, and at the time I entered college in the early 80’s, I felt America could do no wrong. It was there I met the love of my life and my world expanded dramatically. You see, my husband-to-be was from Libya, which at that time was under the thumb of Ghadhafi. We happened to be in the same field of study and we met through mutual friends (long story). It was through him and others that I met that I learned as an American I had a lot to learn. I could no longer keep myself in my shell and ignore what was going on beyond the American borders. This was about the time of the Iranian hostage crisis and I watched the story unfold on TV. At that time, I was part of the group that accepted the word Muslim terrorist. I felt the Muslims and terrorism were synonymous. I remember all the coverage whenever there was an attack by the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which was headed by Yasser Arafat. Needless to say, I was growing in my knowledge of the world and at times, it was a painful growth as I learned that America wasn’t the knight in shining armor I had thought it to be. My father had served in WWII and he had told some of the stories he had experienced during the war, but they were just stories and did not have the meaning they do today.

I am proud to be an American and I do agree with our principles, but now I realize there is more to it than that as I witnessed the Gulf War and the struggles more recently of the Arab Spring. Over that period of time, I learned about my husband’s beliefs and chose to convert to Islam and since then I have had to deal with the prejudice and hatred many feel towards my beliefs especially after 9/11. Many have suffered far worse than me, but it made me realize that America has a long way to go to be truly accepting of all the people who make up its population.

After 9/11 in 2005, I had the privilege of traveling to my husband’s country (Libya) and meet my extended family. They were warm and welcoming, and it was there I learned how others viewed Americans. I was a bit surprised as many felt Americans were arrogant and that their way was the only way. The experiences they had were of Americans treating them as they deserved everything handed to them. I was sad this was so, as I told my family there, I am a guest in their country and as such it is the guests obligation to be considerate of the host. I pray I was able to change some misconceptions at that time.

Then in 2010, we were able to visit again just a few short months before the revolution. We became aware that something was brewing but it wasn’t until after we left that we followed what was going on and then the revolution happened. I will not go into all the details but I had family threatened by Ghadhafi’s response, and when it was finally over, I was able to breathe a sigh of relief. This brings me back to what it means to be an American today is to be a responsible global citizen, as what we do here in America affects others in the world. The world has become so interconnected, it is important for me as an American to do what I can to help others and to work at home to protect what we hold dear — our freedoms. We cannot let fear rule how we react to others.