Out of the mouths of babes


Can't find the link so I'll have to post in entirety.

Near East South Asia Council of Overseas Schools

The winner of this year's Call for Papers is WARREN S. APEL of The American Embassy School in New Delhi, India. His thoughtful and insightful essay is reprinted below.

Why Do They Hate Us?
Warren S. Apel
American Embassy School, New Delhi, India

Americans like to believe that the United States is a great country. And in many respects we are correct. Compared to many countries in the world, we are lucky to have the political freedoms, the quality medical care, education system, and low poverty that we enjoy. We figure that no one should hate us – they should all want to be more like us. It’s this belief that caused George W. Bush to make his famous quote: "I'm amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about, that people would hate us. . . like most Americans, I just can't believe it. Because I know how good we are. . ."

Why was America a target of terrorism? For the last year, just the act of posing this question has been tantamount to justifying the actions of those terrorists who struck the United States. If asking the question was excusing the terrorists, then changing our attitudes or conduct was "giving in to their demands." Until recently, there has been no chance of actually changing the way America conducts itself at home or abroad. Now that we’ve had more than a year to calm down, perhaps it’s time to change our way of thinking, our attitudes, and our actions.

When we ask the question "why do they hate us?" we don’t want a complicated answer. Americans don’t want to hear that we’ve been doing anything wrong. We want to hear "they are jealous of our freedoms." We want to generalize that Arabs are crazed and violent, acting without logical motivation. U.S. Congressman Brad Sherman stated in a meeting of the Committee on International Relations that "we are resented for our power, envied for our wealth and hated for our liberty." This kind of placating reassurance may comfort Americans, but it is far from the truth. Other countries have freedoms, wealth and liberty. Why weren’t Sweden, Canada, or Holland the target of any recent terrorism?


The main motivation of Osama Bin Laden is simple: the American military presence in Saudi Arabia desecrates the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. It makes sense that to be good world neighbors, we should remove our military bases from Saudi Arabia. We have a huge military presence in the Middle East, mostly to ensure America’s supply of cheap petroleum. We can stop provoking Arab terrorists without "giving in to their demands." If we spent more money developing alternatives to petroleum, we wouldn’t need to work as hard as we do in protecting our access to it.

But there’s no reason to assume that our presence in Saudi Arabia is the only thing Americans are doing wrong in the eyes of the rest of the world. We isolate ourselves from the rest of the world – reneging on treaties and breaking promises. We decide unilaterally that our need for nuclear missile testing, land mines, and gas-guzzling SUVs outweighs the nearly unanimous global decisions to cut back on those planetary disasters. Our children are sedentary and overfed to the point of unhealthy obesity while millions of children elsewhere starve. We look down on countries where gender equity and voter rights aren’t as strong as they are in America; however, many people in those countries see us as barbaric and backward for our use of capital punishment and rampant gun possession. For many people in Europe, Americans are bumbling tourists, complaining that waiters in France don’t speak English well enough – then returning home to vote on English-only legislation. There’s a joke in Europe that you can tell an American in a crowd: they’re the one who speaks only one language and doesn’t know where Canada is.

If we are to peacefully co-exist with the rest of the world, we’ll have to start learning about them. Americans see Palestinians as terrorists because we do not understand the politics of the Middle East well enough. American newspapers are grossly lacking in news from other countries. The "world" segments of network television news offer glimpses of earthquakes and train crashes in exotic foreign locations, without any substantive reporting on political situations, causes of famine, or roots of conflict. Americans have become so desensitized to human suffering that the U.S. media simply chooses not to report on many of the world’s most important news stories – for example, the Indonesian genocide of the people in East Timor was almost never covered in American newspapers. People in Australia and New Zealand were aware that the American government condoned the violence, and even supplied Indonesia with the weapons that were used – but Americans remained blissfully ignorant of the situation.


Traveling around the world makes one realize just how ignorant Americans are about the rest of the world. Taxi drivers in Cairo, Egypt know the names of nearly every major politician in the world – reading and chatting about world politics is a dear hobby to many of them. Americans would be hard pressed just to name the leaders of the G-8 nations. In fact, I would wager that few Americans even know the countries that make up the G-8. The current push in American education to "return to the three R’s" is certainly not going to help this situation. If anything, American education should be promoting world awareness, global thinking, teamwork, and international awareness. Perhaps in a generation or two we could have a nation of world citizens.

But ignorance and holy desecration are far from America’s worst public image problems. Our self-declared status as the world’s most important superpower may make Americans feel safe and significant, but it causes many others around the world to see us as a threatening, egocentric bully. We declare our support to other nations when it is beneficial to America – regardless of how that nation treats its citizens, elects its officials, or behaves with its neighbors. We supported the dictatorship of Suharto in Indonesia because that country supplies most of the oil in the Pacific Rim. We provided support, weapons and training to "freedom fighters" in Central America who are almost indistinguishable from the people we label "terrorists" today. The role of the US in the training of Osama Bin Laden and the Taliban is conveniently overlooked in the American media. The United States has managed for years to ignore the brutal persecution of the people of poor countries like Tibet, Myanmar, and Cambodia, yet we rushed to the support of Kuwait because it is an oil-rich country that we can take advantage of.

The American people take it for granted that when we fight a war, we’re doing it to help restore democracy around the world. When we remove one ruler, and replace him with one that America has hand picked, it’s hardly a move towards increasing the amount of global democracy. In fact, while we talk about democratic principles, we ought to bear in mind that, to a large number of people in the world, George W. Bush himself is not the democratically-elected ruler of the United States. To people from nations where nepotism and bribery are a way of life, it makes sense that Bush’s victory was determined by the governor of Florida -- Bush’s brother -- and not by the people of America. But that hardly puts us in the position to "restore democracy" through military action.

Those military actions are part of our public image problem. We have a hard time making firm friendships with Arab nations because we shift our alliances so often. We made close friends with Gamel Abdel Nasser when we thought that an alliance with Egypt would be politically advantageous. A few years later, we were supporting attempts to overthrow his government. Before Iraq was declared part of the "axis of evil," America oversaw the coup that put Saddam Hussein and the Ba’ath Socialist Party in charge of the country. Our friendships flip-flopped between Iraq and Iran – we were close with the Shah of Iran, then a few years later we armed and financed Saddam Hussein and helped him invade Iran. In hindsight, it appears that our decision to give Iraq materials and training in the production of chemical and biological weapons might not have been a good one. While President Reagan was bombing Libya, we were engaging in arms deals with Iran, one of Libya’s close allies – and one of the countries that America now considers an "instigator of international terrorism."


Is it any wonder that Arab nations hate us? At the very least, these countries should be wary of making alliances with us. We have a history of sending the CIA in to take out our "friends." The American people’s lack of interest in or knowledge of these matters helps fuel the fire of popular opinion. We have no objection to the military actions against the Taliban in Afghanistan because we see them as the agents behind the attacks on America. On September 10th, the Taliban were just considered fundamentalists who treated women poorly – not terrorists or enemies of America. A few weeks later, more than a few Americans openly supported the idea of destroying the entire country with nuclear weapons. Not many Americans discussed or remembered the American role in Afghanistan a few years earlier. In 1995, America was supporting the Taliban financially and militarily, while allowing and encouraging countries like Egypt and Algeria to persecute, imprison and execute their fundamentalist Muslim populations. Why were we propping up the hardest-core of the hardcore Muslim governments? They were fighting our common enemy, the Russians. And in an effort to help American kids "just say no" we assisted the Taliban in their religious goal of eradicating opium fields. Seven years later, we were eradicating the Taliban themselves.

And now that the Russians are no longer our enemies, we ask for their assistance in our "war against terrorism." In yet another example of our Nation’s ability to quickly change its opinion, we made a questionable moral tradeoff to gain Russia’s support. A few years ago, we were labeling their genocide against the people of Chechnya "ethnic cleansing." To gain the support of Russia, George W. Bush has changed that label – now the Russians are "fighting terrorism" when they labor at continuing Stalin’s goal of eradicating the Chechen people.

Americans have a hard time remembering our enemies. At any one time, there may be ten or so countries on our current "axis of evil." Right now, we know that Afghanistan is one of the "bad guys." But what about Pakistan? We need to use their land to help if we end up invading Iraq, so we’ll likely become temporary friends with them. It’s hard to tell if we’re allies with Syria, Lebanon, or Iran right now. But while most Americans forget who our enemies are, those enemies will never forget. America is such a large, powerful country – throwing our military and economic power around as we like – that once we’ve placed some country on our list of "bad guys" the citizens of that country will likely hate us forever. While American citizens quickly forget which countries American planes were bombing a few years ago, the people of Cambodia, Libya, Sudan, and Beirut will always remember those explosions with the same level of recall we have for the images of those planes hitting the twin towers.


It’s good for America that we’re finally asking the right questions – that we’re interested in why people hate us. It would be great if we admitted that our foreign policy favored deceit, greed, and petroleum over human lives and freedoms. The world would be a better place if we decided to re-evaluate how our policy affects the people of the Middle East and South Asia. If we re-thought our economic sanctions, we could reduce some of the world’s poverty – the proven breeding ground of terrorists.

But beyond those lofty goals, if we have the foresight, we can also predict what people will hate us for next. It shouldn’t be hard. Indeed, one hundred Nobel Laureates have agreed that the most pressing danger to world peace is not the isolated acts of terrorist individuals or governments, but the legitimate demands of the world’s economically disadvantaged people. America has the power to join the world and ratify the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Convention on Climate Change, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties, and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. If we continue to insist that every American’s personal wealth and lifestyle are more important than the lives of the other people on our planet, we will have a whole lot more people hating us than we currently do.

Most of the world’s poor live in equatorial climates in large cities near water. Global warming, caused by the dependence on fossil fuels by the wealthy few, has already begun to threaten the lives of the world’s poorest people. Recent flooding in Prague, China, and Bangladesh have killed hundreds and displaced thousands. America’s fascination with the sport utility vehicle has indirectly caused forest fires in Australia, glacial landslides in Russia and typhoons in Singapore. Worldwide drought and famine will be increasing over the next decade, but America refuses to even consider reducing its levels of fossil fuel consumption. President Bush declares such actions to be "not in the United States' economic best interest;" however, the World Council of Churches has declared this global slap in the face to be a "betrayal of (America’s) responsibilities as global citizens."

We have to realize that increasing our short-term economic best interest might not be the best plan of action. It’s time to start thinking of the future, and not just the short-term gains of our actions. America’s addiction to fossil fuels and red meat is wreaking havoc with global weather patterns. We control a huge percentage of the world’s money, food, and fuel. We have the power to change. We can rethink our military and economic presence in South Asia and the Middle East. We can work harder at developing clean fuels and renewable energy sources. If we can finally see the value in compromise, we can apologize to the world and sign the treaties George W. Bush pulled us out of. We can work in the economic best interest of the whole world. Perhaps once we start doing that, fewer and fewer people will hate us.

"Why do they hate us?" If we are ready to ask the question, we must be ready to change. We should not listen to Nationalist zealots like Rep Sherman, who warn that America "cannot and dare not change our foreign policy, because to placate Mr. Bin Laden and his gang is impossible. . . . To placate them is dishonorable." Changing our foreign policy must not be seen as placating Osama Bin Laden, nor as dishonorable. What we must do is understand why other people in other countries hate us, accept that we will be always hated by a few, but work to improve ourselves and our image – even if that doesn’t seem like it’s in our "economic best interest."
So, if America is the big, bad bully in the playground of nations, what does that make Britain?  The spekky, weedy kid who hangs around with him all the time, grassing other kids up to him and making sure all the first years have handed over their lunch money?

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