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'Anti-Americanism' Has Roots in U.S. Foreign Policy
Published on Friday, October 19, 2001 in the Inter Press Service
'Anti-Americanism' Has Roots in U.S. Foreign Policy
by Mushahid Hussain
ISLAMABAD, Oct 19 (IPS) - Addressing the American people on Oct. 11, U.S. President George W Bush seemed as perplexed as millions of Americans about the ''vitriolic hatred for America in some Islamic countries''. He added: ''Like most Americans, I just cannot believe it because I know how good we are.''

The day after Bush's remarks, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, Egypt and Palestine witnessed more violent anti-American protests. What accounts for this dichotomy between the American self-image and how others, particularly Muslims, view them?

For any foreign visitor to America, the goodness of the average American, and the fact that immigrants rightly perceive America as providing opportunities and freedoms denied at home is certainly an important ingredient that makes the United States the world's most popular destination. Their deeply ingrained empathy, candor, humor and hard work endear Americans to all those who interact with them.

How is this 'good guy' transformed into the 'bad guy' abroad? The problem is that American goodness is hardly ever exported, remaining confined to its shores. This gap between what American says at home - liberties, rule of law and democracy - is rarely practiced in American foreign policy.

After all, what was common among a diverse group of leaders like Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Gamal Abdel Nasser, Fidel Castro or Dr Sukarno?

They were all great admirers of America and the American Revolution prior to assuming office. They all looked up to the United States of America, whose 20th century role and ideology had been defined by Woodrow Wilson as supporting the 'right of self-determination' of subjugated peoples and colonies.

An enterprising American journalist, Edgar Snow, whose sympathetic account of the Chinese Communist Party's struggle, 'Red Star over China', remains a classic, launched Mao on the international stage.

When Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam's independence from France on Sep. 2, 1945, he borrowed the opening words from the American Declaration of Independence regarding the ''inalienable right of people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness'', so inspired was he by American ideals.

Before the July 1952 overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy which he and 12 other members of the Free Officers Movement initiated, Nasser was very close to the Americans, including the Middle East chief of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of that period, Kermit Roosevelt, who was covertly communicating with Nasser through Anwar Sadat.

Sukarno idolized Thomas Jefferson and his speeches were laced with Jeffersonian quotes. And when Castro launched the Cuban Revolution, he was confident of receiving American support.

But then, what happened? After coming to power, they became implacable American foes after a rude shock that the America they admired and idolized and the one they had read about in history books was different in real life.

Then there were two events which were to prove a forerunner of the emerging patterns of American policy: the first successful CIA coup against a popular, democratic government because it was perceived to be acting contrary to U.S. economic interests, DR Mossadeq in Iran in 1953.

A decade later, the CIA engineered the ouster and assassination of South Vietnam's President Ngo Dinh Diem, a friend and ally of the United States simply because he had outlived his utility to American interests.

From ousting an elected nationalist to killing a friend, the U.S. persona was now being defined as an amoral, ruthless power whose foreign policy instruments were capable of anything, irrespective of friend or foe. It was perhaps in this context that DR Henry Kissinger once remarked, ''to be an enemy of America can be dangerous, but to be a friend is fatal.''

Negativism about America has largely been derived and shaped by predominant popular perceptions in three areas: dignity, double standards and democracy.

The leading London-based Saudi-owned Arabic newspaper, 'Al Hayat', recently carried a poet's lament on the plight of the Arabs that includes lines such as ''Children are dying, but no one makes a move. Houses are demolished, but no one makes a move. Holy Places are desecrated, but no one makes a move. I am fed up with life in the world of mortals.''

The author of these lines is not some raving radical in a Palestinian refugee camp, but Saudi Arabia's ambassador to Britain, and the sentiments he has expressed represent what is by now almost a universally- held belief among Arabs, the poor and the elite alike.

For Muslims, the double standards they see reinforced this hostility. For instance, when United Nations resolutions apply to Iraq, they exempt Israel. And nuclear weapons are even given religious labels, such as Pakistan's 'Islamic' bomb. Or terrorism is treated as a virtual Muslim monopoly, forgetting that Timothy McVeigh, DR Baruch Goldstein (the Jewish settler who gunned down 29 worshippers in a Palestinian mosque in 1994) and the Tamil Tigers, who blew up Rajiv Gandhi, were not Muslim.

Democracy, or its absence in countries that are American allies, is another key ingredient of anti-Americanism, more so when the United States has conspired or connived to undermine the democratic process.

Patrice Lumumba was ousted in 1960 in the Congo and replaced by General Mobuto. In 1965, Sukarno's replacement by General Suharto was followed by a massacre of almost 500,000 Indonesians, some of whose names were in lists proved by the American Embassy to Suharto's men. And in 1973, the elected leftist President of Chile, Salvador Allende, was ousted and killed in a CIA-backed military coup.

It is no surprise that those peoples in these countries traced their plight at home - the injustice, the police state repression, the poverty, and the corruption - to American actions.

However, not many Americans were aware of the adverse impact of American foreign policy on billions of lives overseas.

All that changed on Sep.11, 2001. Nineteen suicide bombers have done more damage to America's self-confidence than World War II, Vietnam or the Cold War combined. On Oct. 7, after returning from bombing Afghanistan that Sunday night, Commander Biff, head of an F-14 Tomcat squadron, told the media: ''Tonight was about restoring America's confidence.''

However, restoring America's confidence must not be at the expense of renewing America's relationship with the Muslim world, which is facing severe strains. Hence, the crisis needs to be handled with patience, maturity and wisdom.

Of all the hordes of Western journalists who have been in Pakistan after Sep. 11, not one has reported any hostility or harassment from the people they encounter in the streets, even those in anti-American demonstrations.

There is no personal animosity toward any American or Westerner from people they have met, only a strident political critique and resentment of American foreign policy, which is where the roots of anti- Americanism lie.

Copyright 2001 IPS


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