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Shame and Patriotism

Rod Dreher describes an unusual encounter with an Iranian man in the Netherlands:

The sad Iranian man didn’t make me angry, not in the least. I happen to agree with everything he said about his government, and sympathized with him. Still, to stand in a foreign country, talking to strangers on a train platform, and to confess straight up that you are ashamed of your country — it was such a demeaning thing that it made both my Dutch friend and me squirm.

It’s an interesting story. When I read it, I wondered how much of the shame the man feels (and apparently feels compelled to admit to random passersby) is a defense mechanism. Suppose that you lived as part of a diaspora in another part of the world where you assumed that your nationality and religion were viewed with suspicion if not hostility, and then imagine that the country you came from also happened to be governed by an authoritarian regime reviled in many other parts of the world. It might not be enough for you to say that the regime doesn’t represent your country, or to insist that your country has been badly misunderstood because of your government’s actions, and instead you might want to make clear how far removed you are from all of it. The man Rod and his friend spoke to said, “I come from Iran. I am ashamed.” But he might just as well have said, “I come from Iran, but don’t blame me for any of that, it’s not my fault.” It may have seemed demeaning to Rod and his friend, and maybe it was, but I suspect it was also one of the few ways that this man thought he could strongly reject the Iranian regime’s shameful conduct without cutting himself off entirely from his country. In this case, it seems to me that the man wasn’t ashamed of his country so much as he was ashamed of what had been done to his country by its leaders. Viewed that way, he was doing something very similar to what exiles and expatriates fleeing from the misrule of their homelands have been doing for centuries.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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