The debate about the legitimacy of kneeling during the National Anthem at the start of NFL games is still raging a week after the Orange Menace first called the men who participated in the protest “sons of bitches”.
If you are asking for my opinion on it, here it is. Kneeling during the anthem is a legitimate form of peaceful protest. It in no way disrespects the flag. The gentlemen engaged in this protest are not protesting the flag. They are protesting the current climate in which “liberty and justice for all” is just a dream.
When we have reached the point where eight-year-old bi-racial boys must escape from attempted lynching at the hands of white teens and yet those teens are protected by the state so that “one mistake” won’t ruin their futures….
When we reach the point where we can watch a man shot, strangled, tased to death on the evening news and know that their murderer still walks the streets and in some cases is still an active member of law enforcement…
When we reach the point where government officials are publicly calling upon private businesses to penalize people who don’t show the requisite amount of “patriotism”…
When we reach this point it is necessary for every person with a voice to stand together and say, no more.
But as confused people conflate a protest against police brutality with a protest against the flag, I am forced to reflect on the importance, or lack thereof, of symbols and rituals. The anthem, the flag, the Pledge of Allegiance, and all of the rituals we associate with them are at their heart symbols without any intrinsic value. None of them are as old as the Republic itself. Many, if not most only became “a thing” in its current form in the last century.
For me, the flag waving and overt displays are often hollow. The same people who are emotionally attached to these symbols and rituals are often woefully ignorant of the history and principles that they are supposed to represent. The number of NASCAR fans who fly the confederate flag, A REBEL FLAG, a flag representing the ENEMIES of the United States and yet get worked up over the “stars and bars” is dizzying.
My religion is one that has a lot of pageantry and ritual. It is easy to make it just a habit to perform them. That is why there are so many Muslims who lie, cheat, have illicit relationships and yet never miss a salat. We have slipped into the same kind of empty patriotism that I see surrounding this protest. Our lives are often at odds with the ideas that those symbols are supposed to represent. We fiercely protect the rituals and symbols, but often fail to do the work that makes those rituals and symbols meaningful.
Often, when Muslims get bent out of shape about supposed “offenses” or “disrespect” to the Prophet or Islam it is usually because they feel their identity has been attacked. Even if that identity is poorly thought out and the “offense” is objectively benign, the thing that they are protecting isn’t sacred but much more profane. They are protecting the safety and sanctity of the rituals and symbols that they themselves have emptied of their sanctity and meaning.
In the comments and reactions of the people who oppose the NFL protests, I see the same tendency. People who have never read the flag code, who scream about the first amendment and yet support a whole host of ideas that are patently UNCONSTITUTIONAL are angry at the players who take a knee. They are protecting the hollow husk of patriotism rather than embracing that which should be sacred. They are protecting an identity rather than the rights and freedoms that should be granted EVERY American.
To those who are against the NFL protests I ask you if your patriotism is hollowed, or hallowed. Is it a sacred ideal that shapes your worldview, or is it a comforting set of symbols and ideals that you can wrap around your identity? And to us, all, isn’t it time that we all protested and called attention to the ways that our communities have failed to live up to our ideals?
In my opinion, we all need more people taking a knee and calling attention to the real and often systemic problems in our communities, our mosques, and our homes. We need to reclaim the MEANING in the rituals and symbols we embrace by living out the values they represent, even when it flies in the face of “tradition”. We all need to take a knee.