Being American Can't Be Easy | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 01, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 01, 2019

Being American Can't Be Easy

There are certain advantages to being Bangladeshi. (This is not actually true, but for now let's pretend.)

One of the advantages is that a Bangladeshi will never experience existential dread, as we have grown up understanding that we are completely inconsequential.

This relates to the second thing we have going for ourselves—we are internationally guiltless. It's great.

You know when you're on a road trip and none of you can find the hotel? But you've been sitting way at the back of the car with the luggage minding your business through all of it, so when everyone up front is cursing each other for not asking for directions or knowing how to read Google Maps or spending too much time in the highway restaurant bathroom and now you're going to get robbed by bandits in the middle of nowhere, you get that deep sense of satisfaction of knowing that you have done literally nothing to get everyone into that mess. That's everyday being Bangladeshi. The world may be going to Hell in a handbasket, and we're probably one of the first countries that'll get it in the neck, but it's not our fault and so we can at the very least be smug about it.

Who else can boast such clear consciences? Not Indians. Not Israelis. Maybe the British, because they like to pretend that they've never done anything to anyone anywhere.

I've wondered at times how it feels to be an American. This is because I am not a middle-aged Bengali bhabi, who knows exactly how it feels to be an American. The USA has made a long career of getting deeply involved in the private affairs of everyone in the neighbourhood, forging alliances, pitting people against one another, spying and trading information for the buzz of it, destabilising relationships and toppling regimes. Like a Bengali bhabi, the US does not do this as part of a grand Petyr Baelish-esque master plan, but in a very stupid, almost atavistic fashion devoid of strategy or calculation, motivated by a very personal sense of moral justice that applies to everyone else except themselves. Bhabis and Americans wreck people's lives and sit smugly in the remains, sipping tea, commenting on the results, and being genuinely confused and outraged when someone challenges them on their crimes.

To a degree, this is a criticism of the US government and not the American people at large; but only to a degree. Those who benefit from great power politics in a democracy can hardly be absolved of all responsibility. Nevertheless, we—the powerless majority—should feel a certain degree of pity for the average American. We know that the reason our countries don't hurt others isn't purely because we're just better people, but because our states don't have the capacity to meddle internationally. The dumpster fire of our domestic politics is wholly in sync with our preferences and capabilities in external politics.

We don't live in a country that couldn't provide fresh water to an entire town for half a decade, while simultaneously being capable of fighting six separate wars an entire ocean away.

We don't live in a country where someone can sit in a box in California and kill a family in the Swat Valley, while little children are shot to death inside schools.

We certainly don't live a country that could close down most of its government while still successfully enacting regime change in Venezeulain the name of Freedom™. I wonder how it feels to be American and to know that this is considered an essential government function while food safety and tax collection are not. If I imagine myself American, I get doubly annoyed when I remember that the only reason 'my' government closed down was because of a political belief that America should look inwards and take care of its own problems, and not have to deal with all the hassle that involves taking care of the displaced and destitute from Central and South America. It would feel odd to me, if I were American, that my government still found time and money to spread Freedom™ and create more destitute and displaced in South America. I'm not American, so instead of being angry I just find it very funny.

(Though, if I were American, I probably wouldn't actually think about it, or about anything other than football and bad beer.)

I imagine we would be very confused and upset to live in a country like the USA. Not so confused and upset that we would imagine that we got the better end of the deal, but at least we can sleep well at night—provided the power doesn't go out or the building next door doesn't start construction at 3 am. Or until we get with an Amazon delivery of Freedom™ in the form of a Hellfire missile fired from a CIA-run Predator drone subcontracted to Jeff Bezos and coordinated through a Skype call between a Monster Energy-fueled 19-year-old gamer in damp shorts and a harassed single mother of four who's only doing this as her third job so that she can afford bottled water for her family and a bulletproof vest for her youngest.

 

The writer is an artist and an MA candidate in International Migration at the University of Kent. Read more of this sort of thing in Disconnect: Collected Short Fiction.

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