Patriots


Look, from an American sporting perspective I am pretty happy to be living in Boston. The Red Sox won the World Series. Again. The Patriots are still the team to beat after so many Super Bowl wins and finals in the last few years. The Celtics made history in basketball when they whipped the Lakers for the crown this year. The Revolutions are top of the league in soccer after making the finals for 3 years in a row. Hell, even the Bruins improved this year on the ice. Yep, it is pretty good to be in Boston if you like American sport. Or what they call sport.

But Americans really don’t play any sport. Oh they call it sport, but it really isn’t. American football (known incorrectly as Gridiron by some) are really only played by bunch of wimps. So much steroids, protective gear and stop-and-start kinda play that they look more like Transformers running low on batteries. Basketball is really just netball played by guys in over-sized pajama pants. Ice hockey is for guys who are too sober to get involved in a proper bar fight. Their soccer is watched by an average crowd of 7, including family, friends and coaching staff. And baseball is for guys who can’t play cricket.

Ah, cricket. Good old cricket. Nothing like watching the swing of the willow sitting on the Oaks at Newlands. Have a braai and a beer (and Klippies offered by your neighbour). I miss good old cricket. It isn’t shown on television over here. Americans just don’t get it. Their eyes glass over when I try to explain that it is a game played for five days from 10 am to 6 pm with a lunch break and two tea breaks each day – and you are still not guaranteed a result. Except if it is England playing and you pretty much know they will lose. But Americans can’t handle anything that will potentially interfere with the trip to the mall or watching daytime soaps. Or work for that matter. Short attention span. They have ADD when it comes to cricket.

And they don’t get the names either. Here it is all blood and gore – Steelers, Cowboys, Jaguars, Giants, Bears and more in the NFL (football). The Devils, Thrashers, Hurricanes, Avalanche, Predators, Flames and more in the NHL (ice hockey). Fire, Revolution, Earthquakes and more in MLS (soccer). We have the Warriors, Hawks, Rockets, Timberwolves, Grizzlies, Raptors and more in the NBA (basketball). And MLB (baseball). Well, let’s just say that the Brewers, Royals, Twins, Blue Jays and Sox don’t quite have the same bite to it. And what the hell is an Oriole? Is it a breakfast or a bird? Can you imagine them being known by the proper Latin name – The Baltimore Icterus Galbula? Anyway… The Proteas just doesn’t have the same ring or sting to it when it comes to the more blood and gore type names Americans love so much. (Note to self – look if there is a link between President Bush’s approach to foreign policy and the violent names of American sport teams.)

But I follow the cricket. Especially now when South Africa is doing their yearly humiliation of England. (Did I hear anyone say 1 up?) Like I said, I can’t watch it. But I read it. On my mobile phone. Via the live texting of the BBC. It is brilliant. Not the actual cricket, but the commentating. I know South Africa will win, but I keep on following the live texts because of the sense of humor and descriptions given by the BBC team. They are really special. Got to love the English for that. They might be getting their backsides kicked by Kallis, Ntini, Prince and the gang, but they sure know how to commentate. And keep you laughing all the way. It might be all they have left in sport – a good sense of humor. The play cricket, rugby and soccer like a bunch of clowns in any case.

I now check the updates every hour or so. It’s less about the cricket score than the wisdom and wise cracks from the BBC team. I want to share a few with you. It’ll hopefully give you an insight into British humor. Unfortunately it won’t help you understand cricket any more than eating a burger will help you drive better. There is no link. But I hope you enjoy these. I’ll might try to update these over the next few days. Now, sit back and enjoy the company of the BBC cricket commentators – in their words. It all started with their first text update this morning… (It’s in UK time and remember to read it in a ‘proper’ English accent.

And Nel takes another England wicket...

And Nel takes another England wicket...

10:33 – New Kid’s out on his ear because he upset ‘team unity’ (is the England dressing room actually some delicate eco-system?) and Colly’s back on the back of a few runs in a Twenty20 knockabout. If I was Owais Shah or Ravi Bopara, not only would I be a different colour, I’d be a little bit irritated as well.

It’s all so chummy, I wouldn’t be surprised if the England team all bundled round Vaughany’s mum and dad’s house for a pyjama party after today’s play. Maybe Colly’s back in the side because he can get his hands on Porky’s?

11:28 – The man to the left of me has just pulled out a plum of a lookalike – Morkel and 1980’s ‘Brat Pack’ stalwart Anthony Michael Hall. If you were to stretch Morkel on a rack like a Catholic martyr, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.

Vaughny was pricklier than the famed Jungle Book paw-paw in his Aggers interview. He said it with a laugh but it was saucer of milk for table two stuff.

11:54 – Plenty of empty seats at Edgbaston, not sure why that is. It’s got all the atmosphere of a nursing home Christmas party at the moment.

12:06 – Nel – or is it Gunther? – strolls down the wicket and spits a few verbals Cook’s way. I’ve got to be honest, Nel seems more simple than intimidating. It must be like batting against Lennie from Of Mice and Men. He drags another one in short – not sure why he keeps doing that, this pitch has the consistency of a lemon drizzle cake.

12:16 – A few more strokes like that and the ball will be speaking the Queen’s English.

Send back the defibrillators, I think this pitch might already be dead…

12:36 – Umpire Dar had no doubts, although Vaughan looks at him as though he’s just found him heavy petting with his mother on the sofa as he leaves the field.

12:46 – Cook gropes at an away-cutter from Nel and the South African paceman grins maniacally, like a staggering drunk who’s just seen up a lady’s skirt.

13:39 – I have o report that the England skipper is getting absolutely slaughtered in your email, anyone would think he’d nutted the pope.

13:59 – Another wicked delivery from Morkel Cook nibbling before pulling his bat out of the way as if he’s just been caught with his hands in his mother’s handbag.

14:12 – He actually has pretty good figures in test and first-class cricket but he’s had about as much cutting edge as a jam roly-poly in this series so far.

14:16 – If Graeme Smith is the nasty prison governor from Shawshank Redemption, Nel is the bully-club wielding prison guard.

14:25 – I’d hate to be there when something genuinely bad actually happens to Nel – he reacted to Bell hitting that four as if he’s just seen his car. Nel lets out a primeval roar – Gunther is clearly a very angry man.

14:42 – This England team reminds me of when I used to want to hang about with my older brother and his mates when I was a kid. My brother used to tolerate me, but you could tell he never really wanted me there. I got a bit choked up writing that.. such sad memories…

14:52 – Nel roars in Smith’s direction – Smith better watch his back, drop another catch and Nel will make his ears into a necklace.

15:00 – There’s former England skipper Graham Taylor in the stand – black shades, black shirt, white tie, he looks like he’s going to pull out a Tommy gun and start strafing the South African fielders.

15:05 – And he’s tighter than the elephant man’s hatband today.

15:11 – Thank God for that, watching the Durham man trying to get off the mark was like watching open heart surgery.

15:18 – The Durham man staggers out of his crease like a man emerging from solitary confinement.

15:26 – Does anyone else feel like trying to understand the England selectors is like banging your head against a brick wall whilst wearing a straight jacket and being held upside down in a vat of marmalade?

15:37 – As an England fan, I would rather smash my arm repeatedly in a car door than watch much more of this…

15:43 – Ambrose – another in the England batting line-up who makes Bill Wyman look like Gary Sobers at the moment. Old Nel is madder than a box of frogs.

… that’s tea. I’m sure it will be a cosy one in the England dressing room, all chums together sharing out the Werther’s Originals and telling tales of the 2005 Ashes series. I can just imagine Vaughany leaning forward in his armchair like Uncle Albert and proclaiming every now and again: “During the 2005 Ashes…” I wonder if they’ve got an open fire up there?

16:04 – Regarding the reference to the Elephant Man, whatever happened to him, he made on good film and no-one’s seen him since?

16:13 – Surely a couple of Ambrose failures here will lead him to being dropped – the Warwickshire gloveman looks like he’s been batting with an upright hoover for most of this summer.

16:19 – Nel chuntering down to the deep mid-wicket rope like a startled rhinoceros.

16:35 – Watching Flintoff having to bat like this makes for rather painful viewing, it’s like Maradona playing at full-back.

16:49 – Nel licks his fingers and grins, like a naughty boy who’s just polished off a sticky bun.

17:11 – Watching these two batsmen scratch away, I just had the sudden urge to start singing Onward Christian Soldiers. I’ve also got this image in my head of Freddie and Ambrose under siege in a dilapidated building, poking their heads round the corner every few minutes to fire a couple of shots.

17:30 – Good job Ntini ducked or his team-mates would have had to rechristen him Anne Boleyn.

17:37 – If you’d have believed my nan, her glory years were spent wearing a tin helmet in a coal shed fending off rats the size of rottweilers while the German bombs fell all around her. A deeply miserable woman, she didn’t tend to go out much after the War ended.

17:47 – Most of the England players are looking a little bit sheepish in the field, like schoolboys shuffling nervously outside the headmaster’s office awaiting to hear their fate.

18:02 – The South Africa openers could only look more relaxed if they were basted in butter.

18:05 – A day spent browsing for ceiling tiles in B&Q would have raised the spirits higher than this.

End of day 1… With the South Africans way on top. England all out for 230 and South Africa sitting pretty at 38 for one. Now, where is that beer and braai

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Well, 4th of July just passed. And the celebrations could be seen all around us. Flags flying, parades everywhere and fireworks to scare the cats – and kids. And it made me wonder – what does it mean to be a patriot?

We were sitting outside having a barbeque. American style. Burgers and all. Pretty American on 4th of July. Just us South Africans and an Aussie friend. Anyway… Our backyard neighbors were having their own party. Big family gathering. Even bigger griller. And meat to feed an army. At least a few divisions. And it went on and on. The crowd kept on growing and the noise kept on rising. We didn’t have a problem with it. They were having fun. Good clean fun. (And we loved the fireworks later in the evening – all courtesy of our partying neighbors.) And then we noticed the balloons.

Big balloons. All in the American colors. Red, white and blue. Stars and stripes everywhere. Almost every chair had a few of them tied to the back. Flying in the wind. This new type of flag. My wife and myself looked at each other and laughed. A very typical thing for us – we know each other way too well already! We said it at almost the same time, “I bet you those balloons were made in China!”

She won the right to blog on the “Made in China” joke. I really can’t say no to her. But it made me think of China. Again. And on the meaning of being proud of your country. Being a patriot.

And no. It wasn’t the “Free Tibet” flags that was made in China that made me think of China. It was my recent chats with a few Chinese in China that made me realize they are very proud of their country. Well, most of them anyway. Wherever I went they told me so. How they love their country and how proud they are of how China is developing. And, of course, the Beijing Olympics. For them the Olympics was about the Chinese people and not the Chinese government. A chance for us to meet China and the Chinese people. For them it was about them and their country. And not their government. I know, the Chinese government really secured the Olympics – not the people. But it still made sense. I know how it felt.

I have always loved my country. And my people. But I wasn’t always that proud of my government. The Apartheid government was not a regime to be proud of. Trust me. They weren’t. But I always loved my country. The mountains, the rivers, everything. And I really loved my people. It was an easy call. I loved my country. I loved my people. And I still saw myself as a patriot. I would defend my country and my people. But not my government. They were corrupt. In every sense of the word. If they asked me to go to war I would say no. If they asked me to vote in their rigged elections I wouldn’t. I would not listen to them and I would not support them in anything. But I would defend my country and my people. In my way. By protesting against the Apartheid regime. By speaking out when ever I got the chance. I would defy them. And challenge them. Because I was a patriot.

Over here in America people are asking the patriotism question. Again. And I am not just talking about Obama. Whether him wearing a flag or not makes him more or less patriotic. Like everyone wears that each day. Go do a Google search on the Mac and see how many times he wears one. Being a vet does not give you a free pass. Or at least I don’t think so. But this isn’t about Obama. Maybe only in an indirect way. The questions about him being American and being a patriot triggered some initial thoughts. But it isn’t about him. No, it’s about people who are claiming to be more patriotic than the next.

Supporting the war. That makes you a patriot. Being against gay marriages. That makes you a patriot. Not criticising President Bush. That makes you a patriot. Saying it is okay to hold people without trail and (maybe) torturing them. That makes you a patriot. Being in favour of subsidies for big oil but against universal health care. That makes you a patriot. Being Republican. Being conservative and against liberals. Listening to Rush and Bill. Watching Fox. Pro-flag. Anti-protests. And so on. And so on. It all makes you a patriot.

Or does it?

Were you a patriot if you supported the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII? Or were you a patriot when you tried to speak out against it? Were you a patriot when you supported segregation? Or were you a patriot when you acted against it? Were you a patriot when you lynched blacks and burned crosses and churches all over? Or were you a patriot when you marched against it? Were you a patriot when you supported a war to get rid of weapons of mass destruction? Or were you a patriot when you protested against a war with little evidence to support the claims of the President? Are you a patriot when you support a war no matter what the reasons? Or are you a patriot when you believe you can support the soldiers and still not agree with the war? Are you a patriot when you say other Americans are not American enough because they do not agree with everything you do or say? Or are you a patriot when you say that being an American means celebrating and loving diversity of all kinds – religion, color, languages, political thoughts, food and even stupid bloody movies?

You decide. I am not here to tell you what patriotism means in America. I can only tell you what it means for me as a South African. It means loving my country. Believing in my people. Caring for those around me. Looking after our land and the animals who live there. And speaking out when my government is unjust. Or just plain wrong. They are not my country. They are not my people. They do not stand for what my country stand for. Or at least not what the majority of us want our country to stand for. They are our government. They come and go. The people, the land and the spirit that make us never die. The meaning of being South African never come and go. It is more than the sum of us. It is that intangible meaning of us.

I am a patriotic South African when I disagree with my government when they are wrong. I am a patriot when I speak out against stupid decisions made by my government. I was a patriot when I protested against the government during Apartheid. I am a patriot when I speak out and protest against my government when I believe they are not being true to what we want our country to stand for – freedom, tolerance, equality and celebrating our diversity. And all the other good stuff.

And don’t confuse the patriotism bit with loving it or being proud of it. I love my children. But I am not proud of them when they do something wrong. I still love them. I still care for them. Deeply and without question. No less than before. But I also know I have to remind them of the rules. Our rules. Rules of respect, love and hard work. It does not make me less of a dad just because they need to know when I am disappointed with them. I tell them. But I also tell them I love them no less. I love them. I care for them. But I can’t always be proud of them. But I can be even more proud of them when they make right what they did wrong. That makes me love them even more. When they hold up their hands and say, “Yeah, I was wrong. Sorry dad.”

But driving a car made in Japan? Wearing clothes made in India? Eating food grown in Mexico? Drinking coffee grown in Ethiopia? Buying gas imported from Saudi Arabia? Reading books written by an Englishman? Watching a French movie? Having balloons made in China?

I don’t know. I like it when I see something made in South Africa. But I don’t buy it just because it is made in South Africa. I buy it (or not) because of many reasons – price, quality, taste, smell, functionality etc. Whatever. I buy it when I can. But I won’t buy a SUV just because it was made in South Africa. I’ll buy the less thirsty car made wherever.

A patriot. What is it? You decide. Because you make it. You build your country with every decision you make. The easy decisions and the difficult ones. They all count. There is no end. You build it every day. America is different from what it was a 100 years ago. Every single day you are still working on it. Keeping the good bits alive. And turning it into something new and making it relevant for society today. No end game. It’s not a game. It a journey. With no end destination. And every step counts. Every person count.

Every American count. Every American equals one brick. And you decide how strong you want this structure called America to be. You place your brick. You make it strong or you make it weak. It isn’t easy. And it has never been easy to build this great nation. It wasn’t easy to fight the British for independence. It wasn’t easy to free the slaves. It wasn’t easy to give women voting rights. It wasn’t easy to fight in WWII. It wasn’t easy to end segregation. It wasn’t easy to pull out of Vietnam. But it was the right thing to do.

Are you a patriot? Just wait before you answer. First ask yourself what does it mean to be a patriot? Define it. Look around and ask if this is what your fellow countrymen mean by it? Do you agree with it? What is your America? Happy you got all the info you need? Good. Now answer it. Are you a patriot?

Just don’t forget to look in the mirror when you answer.

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You know me. Pretty much a patriotic South African. Proud of our history. And deeply affected by Madiba – Nelson Mandela. I think the guy did an incredible job starting us off on the right track. Oh, we had a few other great leaders as well. But Madiba was our big daddy. Our Patriot. The John Adams of South Africa. The man who fought so hard to bring freedom to our little country down South. Just like John Adams and the other Patriots did over here in the US. (Oh yes, just like with the US, most of our subsequent leaders have been less “patriotic”, loved, reputable and effective as leaders than those original Founding Fathers.) So, I read with interest the recent flood of opinions regarding Nelson Mandela needing a special waiver to enter the US because he is still classified as a terrorist. As a South African I will refrain from commenting on whether he is a terrorist or not. That should be obvious. I will also refrain from blaming President Bush or Vice President Dick Cheney for this as that would be easy, but also opportunistic and a cheap shot. The fact is that President Mandela’s good friend President Bill Clinton had 8 years to undo this injustice. As did his partner Senator Clinton. I am more concerned with the policy behind this terror list and the message it sends to other “liberation” organizations and individuals across the world.

Nelson Mandela, and the African National Congress that he belonged to, were put on the list because the US government supported the Apartheid regime’s classification of the ANC as a terrorist organization. This indicated support of the Apartheid regime by the US government – both Republicans and Democrats. Again, I will refrain from discussing the Apartheid regime. I think we can all agree that it was a regime based on one of the most unjust and oppressive political systems in modern history. Really, take it from me and the people who suffered and died at the hands of that regime, they were not a nice bunch of guys to be associated with. Trust me, your mother will be most disappointed if you hung out with them.

On the other hand, the ANC was a peaceful organization for most of its history. It was established in 1912 in direct reaction to being excluded from having any political rights under the Union constitution of 1910. They remained an organization who believed in peaceful protest against the oppressive governments that gave no political rights to black South Africans. They did not even revert to violence when widows of black soldiers who died fighting in WWII received no pension whatsoever. It was only after 69 people were shot, mostly schoolchildren shot in the back, on 21 March 1960 in Sharpeville that the ANC got banned for calling a national stay-away campaign. Note, still no violence called for by the ANC – just a stay-away. It was only after more murdering by the Apartheid government and the arrest of more than 2,000 people that the ANC took up the armed struggle against the Apartheid government – while they were banned from South Africa. Their “military wing”, Umkhonto we Sizwe(Spear of the Nation), was only established in 1961. They officially took up arms when exiled. They took up arms when their people got murdered, arrested and taxed to death and they were banned from being in South Africa to represent the oppressed in even a peaceful way. Remember this bit – people being taxed, not represented in government, no ownership, murdered and arrested left, right and centre AND their “party” being banned even though they are promoting peaceful resistance.

In short, the ANC was a peaceful organization for 48 years before they took up arms. And only after they got banned and people were murdered in public did they take up arms. And they continued this armed struggle against the Apartheid regime for the next 30 years. So yes, they were peaceful for much longer than what they were in the armed struggle. But still the US and many other Western governments declared them a terrorist organization. And before you get on your high horse – they only started taking in money and support from the old USSR when all those Western governments refused to provide them with any support against the Apartheid regime. Many, many years after they got banned and classified as a terrorist organization. A case of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend…”

Let me put this in language and context you might get. A bit closer to home. Imagine you live in the US. Peacefully. Oh, there is a colonial power in charge, but you don’t care much for them. But then they start shooting your people when they protest against the unjust laws and taxes these colonial powers instituted against your people. And, of course, you don’t have full representation – only token representation. So after many years of continued oppression you say “enough is enough” and you stand up and have a big old war for independence. And you take support from anyone – even those who also have oppressive systems in place in their own country. Let’s say like asking the French monarchy for support even though they did not give their own people the rights you were fighting for and who were an oppressiveregime to their own people. Oh, wait – that happened here right? Imagine that, those Patriots who stood up against the British rule would have been branded a terrorist group if the current US application of the term terrorist was used by the colonial master back then. See, the ANC was like the Patriots back when you fought for your independence… And I for one will defend John Adams and anyone else who dare call them terrorists. They were freedom fighters on the side of the good and the brave. On the side of the oppressed. They were the good guys. They were the brave guys. Full stop. Not terrorists.

But the problem they would face today is that there is no clear guidelines on what will constitute a terrorist organization in the eyes of the US government.

So, does the US classify organizations based on their opposition to legitimate governments? No. As the case in South Africa highlights, the US government supported an oppressive regime and not those seeking democracy. It did the same in Angola and in Mozambique. It supported the warlords in both those countries who fought the legitimate governments. Governments who continued to win the popular democratic votes in elections from before, during and after the wars that ravished these countries. And, of course, the US supported the Taliban, Saddam Hussein and many Latin American dictators who were as oppressive as these African and Middle Eastern dictators. Yes, it was during the Cold War, but it still… The US build their partnership in the same way the ANC did – not being picky, but just picking anyone who will fight against the injustice they believe their own people will or are facing. Both picked dirty friends. And neither of them can claim that the other one had “worse” friends than the other. You willing to make a call on whether you would prefer the Taliban or a Communist? Not an easy choice is it? A bit like a pan and a fire choice I think. Hello pot, cheers kettle.

But it still leaves the question open – does the US classify organizations as terrorist if they take up arms against any type of government then? No. The US government is not averse to supporting organizations who take up arms. As mentioned before, they supported violent groups in Mozambique and Angola. And they have continued to do so – who can forget the call to arms of Iraqi’s during the first Gulf War? And the direct or indirect support for those who take up arms against oppressive regimes.

So what is a terrorist in the eyes of the US government? Who knows? And that has been the problem with declassifying Nelson Mandela as terrorist. We have no clear guidelines. How can we declassify someone when we don’t know the classification in the first place? It’s a bit like just building a road and seeing where it takes us. Or a railroad. And remember the big railroad bubble of 1893? This road is just waiting to blow up in our face and create panic.

At the very least we need to know what a terrorist is. I don’t mean some global definition we can all agree on. I am not that naive. All I can ask is for the US to have a clear definition. But there isn’t. Do yourself a favour – try and find a clear definition anywhere in the US laws. Too vague and too many loopholes. How can we win a war against terrorism if we can’t even define who or what is a terrorist? So far we have been more or less lucky. Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were relatively easy calls. Sadam not so easy. And the more we go into this “War Against Terrorism” the more fuzzy it will become. I would really like Nelson Mandela to not be classified as a terrorist. And I really don’t want us to start a war against the next John Adams and his group of Patriots. He was a Patriot. And so was Mandela. Let’s not shoot at anything that moves. Not every shadow is a threat. Let’s know who we fight. Because how else would we know when we have won?

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