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More and More, War Is Viewed as America's
Published on Sunday, November 4, 2001 in the New York Times
More and More, War Is Viewed as America's
by Donald G. McNeil Jr
 
PARIS Whatever doubts the world's intellectuals and politicians may raise about America's war on terror, the world's people do not seem to be voting with raised fists yet.

Despite a war in Afghanistan that has dropped thousands of bombs and killed some civilians, there have been no devastating anti-American riots; there is forbearance, as sympathy for the victims of Sept. 11 still lingers.

However, if the people follow where intellectuals and editorialists are leading, that will change soon. Portraits of the United States as a lonely, self-absorbed bully taking out its rage on defenseless Afghanistan are on the rise.

More and more, the war is being seen abroad as "America against Osama," not, as the Bush administration would prefer, "All of us against terrorism." The intense Sept. 12 rush of "We are all Americans" seems to have faded in the breasts of all but Tony Blair, the prime minister of Britain, who continues to jet around the globe more actively than American leaders themselves to recruit support for the cause.

T-shirts lionizing Osama bin Laden are hits with those who feel themselves the world's dispossessed and see the terrorists striking a blow against an overweening superpower: in Algerian-populated suburbs of Paris and the Cape Flats of South Africa, in the streets of Cairo and Jakarta.

Newspapers in the Arab world have been full of references to America's "Zionist- controlled press" and to the common rumors that no Jews died on Sept. 11 and that America thinks Afghanistan has oil.

But there are also calmer, more considered Muslim voices, pondering the wisdom and consequences of America's actions now.

In the Egyptian newspaper Al Gomhuria, Samir Ragab, who is said to be close to President Hosni Mubarak, asked: "Where are the Americans now? We all thought they were superhuman, equipped with invincible power, wealth and the ability to manipulate." Because Americans bomb while being unable to catch Mr. bin Laden, he said, "innocent civilians in Afghanistan who complain that they have not tasted beef for three years are suffering most of the casualties."

A Turkish editor and a Saudi royal counselor agreed that the bombing was hurting America more than the Taliban. "As long as the U.S. keeps killing civilians, it will not differ from the organizations it is fighting against the only difference is that the U.S. apologizes," said Ismet Berkan, editor of Radikal.

Ihsahn Ali Bu-Hulaiga, a Saudi adviser, said 99 percent of the Afghans were innocents, and added: "We watch what happens in Afghanistan and we feel bad, and the following item in any newscast is that the Israelis killed X number of Palestinians or destroyed so many houses. It sends the message to us Arabs."

Because no other country has had a huge terrorist attack, because the hundreds of overseas envelopes that spilled powder have turned out so far to be hoaxes, not anthrax, the fear so widely felt in the United States has not spread elsewhere in the world. Instead, scrutiny of American actions, past and present, is on the rise.

While Americans compare Sept. 11 to Pearl Harbor forgetting perhaps that the world was already primed to hate the Axis powers by their invasions of Poland, France, Korea, Manchuria and Ethiopia a stronger sense of "What does this mean for me?" has emerged.

Kenyans, who lost 207 people in the 1998 bombing of the American Embassy in Nairobi, which is attributed to Mr. bin Laden, wonder what took America so long. But other Africans are dismayed that the world seems to have lost interest in AIDS, which will kill 25 million, not 5,000.

Russians see parallels to Chechnya and are ready to see America strike as brutally as they do there. The Japanese agonize over whether to send troops. The Chinese, who have a border with Afghanistan, seem strangely silent.

While no one speaks so forcefully for America as Mr. Blair, presidents of countries usually skeptical of American militarism have played along. Vicente Fox of Mexico has offered America more oil, lamented the Mexicans who died, and said "we consider this problem our problem," although 62 percent of his people, in one poll, endorsed neutrality. Jacques Chirac of France offered troops, though cynics here say he used the nationalist card to make his opponent in next year's presidential elections look like a cranky Old Left naysayer.

However, in newspapers around the world, the backlash is under way.

The American notion that anger at America is simply resentment of its culture, that foreigners are unhappy because McBurgers outsell escargots or Stallone outsells Truffaut, is seen overseas as just more American smugness.

When foreign writers complain about America now, their complaints are quite specific, and foreign-policy oriented: America should not silently let the Israelis commit assassinations, bulldoze houses and colonize Palestinian land; America should pay attention to Muslim fury that American troops occupy the land of the Prophet Muhammad; America should not bomb dirt-poor Afghan cities with no antiaircraft defenses.

When old sores are scratched, they are usually about American foreign policies: Alfredo Pita, a Peruvian writer, recalled that the 1973 coup encouraged by Richard Nixon that killed Chile's elected president, Salvador Allende, also began on Sept. 11.

Eduardo Galeano, a Mexican journalist, asked why 5,000 New York deaths were televised, but not the deaths of 200,000 Guatemalans "sacrificed not by Muslim fanatics but by terrorist militias supported by the successive American governments."

A commentary in Britain's left- leaning Guardian newspaper said the United States had been "training terrorists" in its Fort Benning, Ga., school for Latin American soldiers and police officers for 55 years and suggested that the British bomb Georgia and also drop packages of nan and curry stamped with the Afghan flag.

America's newest "traditional friends" may be Eastern Europeans.

Poles, firmly pro-American, understand that civilians die in every war and are dismayed only that Mr. bin Laden is proving hard to catch, said Bronislaw Geremek, a former foreign minister.

A Romanian newspaper, Evenimentul Zilei, ran a stirring editorial, "Ode to America," that circled the globe by e-mail and was read to American soldiers. It celebrated American multiracial unity, its rush to help victims and its flag-flying, and described a charity concert of Hollywood stars as "the heavy artillery of the American soul."

Africa has its hands full with poverty and AIDS. Among intellectuals, hard feelings linger over America's refusal to attend the United Nations racism summit meeting, over high AIDS drug prices and, historically, over slavery.

Ethnic rioting in the continent's most populous country, Nigeria, took a strange twist after Sept. 11. Thousands have died in Muslim-Christian clashes in the last two years; now, Christians have taken to wearing American flags as war decor.

In South Africa, the issue "has polarized this country on racial lines, with whites supporting America, and anti-American feeling very strong among blacks," said Bongani Sibeko, 40, a black advertising executive who has lived in New York. He suggested that frustration with American policy in the Middle East reverberated far beyond the Arab world.

"I worked in the World Trade Center and the anger and fury I felt will never wane but this is against the background of the U.S. role in the Middle East," Mr. Sibeko said. "It's very difficult to balance images of Israeli tanks and images of those planes crashing."

The angriest are the country's Muslims mixed-race descendants of 17th-century Malay slaves. One radio poll found that 85 percent "sympathized" with American victims but 70 percent thought American policies were to blame and 60 percent thought Mr. bin Laden's guilt had not been proved.

"Of course we feel sorry for the innocent victims, but don't you think CNN is dragging this out to the hilt?" asked Aeysha Adams, manager of a nonprofit journalism training program, and a Muslim. "I guess they think they're the only country that gets bombed or where people die."

Exactly the same comment could be heard in Switzerland, one of the world's richest countries, with a very small Muslim population.

"The U.S. is not used to attacks on its soil," said Claude Monnier, the former editor of The Geneva Journal. "But 5,000 people if you compare this to the world wars, or to Rwanda, there is a kind of imbalance. People are beginning to be angry here. They were moved by Sept. 11, but feel that the U.S. is being overbearing. Normally, the Swiss are pro-American, but in Afghanistan, we see a small and powerless country being trashed out by the U.S. As a small country, we have some sympathy."

Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company

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