The year was 2006. I had just been detained by Egyptian authorities at the Cairo airport. After several hours of interrogation, I was stuck in what is equivalent to an immigration holding-tank with the rest of the people who were not allowed to enter the country. I would later learn that some of my Christian activities the previous year had landed my name on Egypt’s secret police blacklist.
As I was sitting in the detainment area, waiting to be processed, the officer-in-charge walked up to me and asked, “Where are you from?”
“I am an American,” I replied.
The man’s face quickly contorted, as if someone had just pushed his face into fresh horse manure. He then snatched my passport out of my hand and mumbled what sounded like, “You are NOT an American!” as he walked away.
What angered him was the fact that an Iranian-born man was referring to himself as an American. I knew that. In fact, he might have treated me a bit differently if I had told him that I was an Iranian, but I refused to do so. Iran is where, of no choice of my own, I was born. However, by choice, I am now a naturalized American citizen, and I was not about to allow an Egyptian officer take that privilege away from me.
America is my country and I am grateful to be an American. Here’s why:
I am grateful to be an American because this is the nation where, exactly 40 years ago, I was welcomed with open arms and taught that all men are created equal in God’s eyes. It was in this country that I learned the meaning of freedom. It was in America that I received my higher education that provided a decent living for my family and me. But even more important, it was here where I met my soul mate and greatest love of my life, Karen, whom I’ve been with for 36 years. Furthermore, it was in the United States of America where our two children (a son who is proudly serving in the Air Force and a daughter who is working on her doctorate) were born. But above all else, it was this great land that introduced me to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and freed me from the bondage of Islam.
So, to my dear friends, who, just like me, migrated to this great nation, let me say: Be grateful for living here. Otherwise, may I suggest to you what I suggested to my Iranian church members the Sunday after 9/11:
Did anyone put a gun to your head and force you to come to the United States? Those Americans who were born here have no choice. This is their country and they have to put up with things they don’t like about their nation. However, for those of us who willingly migrated here, we have our country of origin. If you can’t be grateful for what this nation has to offer, or you don’t like this country for your personal reasons, then I will be glad to buy you a one-way ticket and personally put you on the first plane back to Iran. Why? Because ungrateful people will never be happy, no matter where they live.