It is hard to go at this moment. I did not expect the lessons of Bosnia to come home to the United States of Donald Trump’s “America First” nationalism. Because each vote still counts, because no state has seceded yet, because a “gunned-up” population has not taken up those guns, the country I love appears to be emerging from the Trump nightmare. It is not yet free of the tentacles of his derangement. To beat back the defeated president’s ongoing assault on truth, the rule of law, and the institutions of democracy has been the absolute moral imperative of our times.
The American idea freed me, a British Jew from the land of “trembling Israelites,” as it has freed countless others in various ways. Naturalization is a rite of passage to responsibility. “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” depend on the engagement of citizens. The fight to defend America’s openness, renewal and unity against Trump’s walls, retrogression and fracture is inseparable from the struggle to save the world from the creeping autocracy of the 21st century. On lies is tyranny built.
But to everything there is a season. I have tried not only to say what I think but also to reveal who I am. That work is done. You know me, unfiltered, for better or worse. Wisdom is also knowing when to go. Persist too long and, like all those armies bent on reaching Moscow, you may face the Russian winter.
Nobody ever told me what subject to choose, much less what to say about it. “You write and you are free,” a Saudi friend once said in Jeddah. He could scarcely imagine to what degree. Free and solitary, like a runner on the beach in the early morning at low tide. Such freedom is rare.
The thing is to use it. To listen through the silences for a clue. To see the intersection of personal and national psyches, the richest point of journalistic inquiry. To marry the head and the heart. To make a difference. To know, and it’s enough, that a column saved a life. To suggest, in the name of a child’s innocent gaze, that putting food on the table beats an eye for an eye, for then soon enough everyone is blind. To hold power to account.
Having spent my infancy in South Africa, grown up and been educated in England, and then, after a peripatetic life as a foreign correspondent, found my home in New York (the place that took me in), I have been concerned with belonging.
It could scarcely be otherwise. From Lithuania to Johannesburg, from South Africa to Israel and Britain, from London to New York, my family has been on the move since the 1890s. Trees have roots. Jews have legs. Displacement is hard. A new land is also the loss of the old. The mental toll, as on my intermittently suicidal late mother, may be severe.