Citizen or Subject

I finished reading the book Arab Spring Dreams, which is an anthology compiled by Nasser Weddady & Sohrab Ahmari. It publishes essays submitted to an adjacent contest by teenagers writing on what freedom means to them. It was an amazing book, but one essay in particular, Citizen or Subject submitted by M. Elkhadiri, a 20-year-old from Morocco, stood out to me. This was my response, which felt appropriate to post on (the US) Election Day.

I have acquaintances* on Facebook who I see consistently gripe about some political event or another.To these people, who are for the most part intelligent, free-thinking individuals, it isn’t that they take issue with the outcome, or the players, or even the topic. Rather, it is the existence itself that is so offensive to these friends. To them, being aware in any way to politics is this odious, unfathomable burden that they would much rather prefer to deposit on the side of the road as they continue on their way.

Now, as a disclaimer, it should be noted that I graduated with a Bachelors in Political Science. I even have a minor in Economics (in my opinion, the two require being studied simultaneously for effective comprehension). However, I’m more interested in reading fiction or studying typography or drafting a new graphic design than I am in politics. Politics are not an interest of mine so much as they are an obligation. I didn’t pick Political Science in college because it was the topic that grabbed me the tightest, but because it felt the most important area in which to invest my formal education.

To the folks I mentioned in the first paragraph, such a choice is incomprehensible. My sense of obligation to politics—and this is isn’t limited to politics specific to my country, or my country’s external relations, but expands to include the world on the whole—strikes them as relatively pointless. Some might even be tempted to call it ironic, citing my relative lack of patriotism. I would consider such people, and those like them, subjects. They willingly and easily forfeit their role as citizens and become subjects. Even arguments that they vote won’t sway me from my opinion—if they lack a basis of understanding behind their choice, their vote is not an expression of themselves. Rather, it belongs to whatever elements they’ve allowed to make their decision for them—whether it’s a sharp sound bite on the radio, a clever video that’s gone viral on their favorite webpage, or a well-designed poster.

This world is full of places where people fight with their very teeth, on occasions their lives, in order to declare themselves citizens in the eyes of their government. They fight against the strong pressure of their leaders to bow down as blind subjects and chose to stand firm as active citizens, aware and participatory. Our country isn’t so tough. It’s far from perfect, yes, and I’m never going to be the first to make an argument that America has a flawlessly smooth system. It does, however, allow for individuals to be involved. It lets them be citizens of their country, rather than subjects, so it’s baffling that so many people rest in a state of apathy and allow their government to rule them blindly.

Today is election day in the US. The voting should have already happened, and most of the people reading this will do so with a bit of an eye roll, saying yeah yeah yeah already done it. Bored now. Which is cool—I get it. I guess I just wanted to do my part to impress on you the value that your vote has. Even if it doesn’t feel like it’s worth anything, since in reality it’s worth about half of a pittance. The value of your vote is directly related to your investment in your country.

 The value is you standing up an choosing to be a citizen, instead of a subject.

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One thought on “Citizen or Subject

  1. A few days ago I hosted brunch to a friend who grew up in Lebanon. It was humbling to hear her stories of not batting an eye at the notion of being held at gunpoint. She asked quite seriously on how the voting process in the U.S. goes, and she was astounded at the relative lack of violence that goes into choosing our leader and issues. It’s conversations like those where I believe having a mind of your own and not voting blindly is of the utmost importance. I value my vote for many reasons, but most of all, it is because I know that many people around the world fight for that very same right.

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