I came across a statement on Facebook earlier today. It said “5 minutes after your birth, they decide your name, nationality, religion and sect, and you spend the rest of your life defending something you didn’t even choose”.

Sounds cool. Wow, I feel my thinker feelz coming on just typing this out. But here’s the thing. I didn’t choose my parents either. But I will defend them if I need to. I did not choose my gender, but if someone said all men are evil, I would take strong objection to that. I was not consulted before a skin color was assigned to me. But I will not stand for brown skin to be demonized. My point is, there are plenty of things we don’t choose and still defend. Saying they are not worth defending just because they were not “chosen” is just meaningless. Sort of like saying “a couple of millennia after crawling out of the ocean, they decide how many legs you are going to have, and your spend the rest of your life defending bipedal motion”.

Why do we defend our nationality, religion and sect? Because these are part of our identity. I have lived in the states for the last 6 years; I could live here for the next 50 and I will still be identified as an Indian. Even if I change my citizenship. My children, and perhaps even my grandchildren will be identified as being Indian-American. In India we still call people of British descent Anglo-Indian even though generations of their families have lived and died in the country. Does this mean we are all unenlightened racists? Not necessarily. Do we need to force ourselves to give up our identities and just identify as human beings? Only if we are willing to embrace a dystopian world where everything is gray and homogenous. What we need is to embrace and even celebrate our distinctions whenever possible, not erase them.

The religion we grow up with shapes us. The rest of the world sees us as representative of that religion. The general perception of the religion reflects upon us. And perception has very real consequences. A cursory look at the real world will reveal that a favorable image can lend privilege and an unfavorable image will lead to discrimination. And every opinion, every little statement, op-ed, book adds to or subtracts from this image until one culture can be so lionized as to claim a divine right to rule while another culture can be dehumanized to the point that genocide gets justified as a final solution.

A nation, a religion, a sect represents more than just a label. It represents the labors of our ancestors. It is a record of what our fathers, and their fathers, and their fathers before them did. It is a testimony to how our mothers, and our mothers’ mothers raised their children. It is the story of their struggles and dreams. Their triumphs and tragedies. Defending one’s religion or nationality is both a necessity, and a duty not to be taken lightly but to be carried out with pride.