|Sep 20, 2001, 11:46 AM|
Why this happened, what you don't want to hear
As many of you around here know, I'm not a person afraid to investigate unpopular ideas and difficult realities. As we hang up American flags and attempt to come together in grief and action, I think of those historic and current Americans I think of as great Americans. I see that oftentimes great patriotism is a function of going against the grain, of investigating, searching and seeing beyond the headlines-fighting for the elusive right and making America better. Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, George Marshall, Susan B Anthony, Martin Luther King, Ralph Nader, Thomas Jefferson, Colin Powell and many others are Americans who saw deep seated and difficult problems and fought them. In that same vein, I would like you to read this article. It's kinda tough to accept as you won't find Dan Rather or Bill O'Reilly forwarding these ideas and questions-either before or after the WTC and Pentagon attacks. Basically, the powers that be don't want you thinking or seeing beyond the idiot box (network TV) reality.
That said, none of this is meant to justify or to lessen the horror of the WTC and Pentagon attacks, I simply think that patriotism is more than displaying a flag-but struggling with serious problems and fighting against them the same way so many great Americans have. By doing so we make The United States of America better, stronger and more just.
This article has been circulating on the web after having been printed in the Boulder Weekly. Feel free to comment (I don't agree with it entirely), although know that I and many others will see flames and outright rejection of the entirety as evidence of unwillingness to admit serious problems that must be addressed.
Why are we despised?
As the dust settled on Tuesday's shocking terrorist attacks in New York and
Washington, D.C., President George Bush vowed the United States would find
and punish those responsible for the devastation.
His words resonated with stunned Americans across the country, who gathered
in front of television sets and spoke out on TV programs and radio shows,
some demanding a swift and brutal U.S. response.
Anger fueled by images of Palestinians celebrating the attacks in the street
prompted one local caller to say it was time to "kill all the towel heads."
But scattered among the grief-stricken and angry voices were a small number
of Americans asking whether the United States has done anything to provoke
It's a question many people didn't appreciate.
"I'm appalled at the lack of patriotism," said one caller, who spoke out on
KGNU radio. Still, it's a question worth trying to answer.
Why is the United States despised?
John Wayne politics
Local U.S. policy experts and activists grappled with grief and shock
Tuesday along with the rest of the country. While they took pains to explain
that they in no way excuse or condone Tuesday's violence, some were willing
to offer their insights into the reasons so many people hate America.
Understanding the motives behind terrorist attacks against the United States
is hampered by the assumptions many Americans hold, said Ira Chernus, a
professor of religious studies at CU.
One of those assumptions is that U.S. intentions the world over are good,
even when the government or military makes mistakes. The belief that we're
only trying to help makes it hard for us to understand why anyone would do
something like this to us, Chernus said.
Related to that assumption is the belief that the United States is both
innocent and invulnerable, which prevents Americans from listening to the
message behind such events.
"The important thing is to be able to listen insofar as we can to the people
who carried out this thing," Chernus said. "We start out with the assumption
that there's no point in listening to what they have to say. The general
assumption is that if you listen to what they say, that endorses (the
Chernus points out that the message of terrorists on trial for other acts of
violence around the world has been left out of court coverage. People never
get a clear picture of what's bothering these people and why they were
driven to such extremes.
While some critics claim that U.S. policy is motivated by greed or
aggression, Chernus believes foreign policy since World War II has been
focused on defending the country against perceived threats like communism
and the Soviet Union. Those efforts to protect and defend often extend far
beyond U.S. borders, however, forcing the United States into conflict with
"We believe the only way to defend the United States is to organize the
world. We step on other people's toes every day in ways we can't
understand," Chernus said. "It's a stupid way to defend yourself because in
the end you experience more risk."
According to David Barsamian, host of the nationally broadcast program
Alternative Radio, risk to American lives comes as a result of rage
generated by U.S. foreign policy and economic and cultural hegemony.
"It's directly related to its foreign policy and its perception as the
primary agent and enforcer of the status quo of the global capitalist
system," said Barsamian.
Barsamian sat in his Boulder home Tuesday watching coverage of the "very
shocking" attacks on television.
"What's extraordinary about these attacks is the level of sophistication,"
Barsamian said. "Where is the CIA? Where is the FBI? Where are the tens of
billions of dollars being spent?
"Starbucks closes all stores internationally. This is huge. Look at the
level of panic here."
Speculation since the attacks has centered on various Islamic fundamentalist
groups, particularly Saudi Arabian exile Osama Bin Laden and his followers.
While pointing out that we don't know who is responsible for the attacks,
Barsamian stressed there is a great deal of rage toward the United States in
the Middle East.
"U.S. foreign policy is seen by many Middle Eastern people as being
overwhelmingly one-sided in favor of Israel," he said. "There's tremendous
anger toward the United States, and there's a tremendous irony in this. If
it is traced to Bin Laden, he's a product of U.S. foreign policy."
In an effort to drive the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan, the U.S.
swallowed its repugnance toward Bin Laden and men like him, who were trained
and funded by the CIA in a bit of Cold War strategy that has had devastating
consequences as the students turn their weapons against their teachers.
"This is an example of blowback," Barsamian said, adding, "if it can be
traced to this particular group, which is not farfetched."
Joel Edelstein, professor of political science at CU-Denver and producer of
programs at KGNU radio, acknowledged that Israel has legitimate concerns
about its safety. Still, the struggle in the Middle East has been over land,
with the United States supporting a policy that is devastating to
Palestinians, he said.
"You have this ongoing degradation of Palestinians," Edelstein said. "They
really were forced out of their houses. Their houses really were bulldozed."
The United States spends $3.5 billion annually on aid to Israel, which goes
to support these actions and to defend Israel's continued settlement on the
"Americans would not sit quiet if they were treated like the Palestinians
are treated by the Israelis," Edelstein said.
Barsamian said Israel's policies build desperation in Palestinian people.
"If you lose your land, if you cannot feed your family, if you've been
culturally humiliated, if you've been denigrated on all sides - this creates
a reaction, and that reaction can take extreme forms," he said.
Terrorism, Barsamian said, is the "poor man's B-52."
But it's not just U.S. policy in the Middle East that makes the United
States a target, experts agree. Nor is dissatisfaction with the United
States limited to Muslims. U.S. indifference toward World Court rulings, its
refusal to fulfill its financial obligations to the United Nations, and its
global military presence also inspire antipathy in people around the world,
including America's allies.
"To Americans it seems perfectly normal that we have military bases in
scores of countries, but imagine if Thailand had bases in Canada," Barsamian
said, conjuring up images of Thai fighters enforcing no-fly zones over parts
of the United States.
The U.S. military presence is offensive to people around the world, he said.
This is particularly true in the Middle East, which has become a sort of
"floating military base," with U.S. warships continually stationed in waters
surrounding the Persian Gulf.
"This is arrogance. This is imperial behavior," Barsamian said.
The "American imperial swagger" that accompanies the U.S. military only
makes matters worse, Barsamian said. This swagger reveals itself in the U.S.
tendency to act unilaterally, rejecting international opinion and even U.N.
authority on issues like sanctions against Cuba, the Kyoto Accord, and
nuclear weapons treaties.
"International treaties are not us," he said. "Bush has never met an
international treaty he liked. This is John Wayne politics."
Resentment toward the United States extends to Europe, as well.
"Any top dog faces resentment, but some of it is rooted in quite strong
political feeling," Barsamian said.
|Sep 20, 2001, 11:49 AM|
Europeans are mystified and outraged by American use of capital punishment
and the opposition of some Americans toward abortion. And while European
nations have tried to voice their opinions on U.S. decisions and actions
abroad, the U.S. government has not welcomed the feedback, ignoring
resolutions made by the European Parliament.
"We're a rogue nation," said Edelstein. "The European nations are looking at
us in terms of putting missiles in space, refusing to sign Kyoto. Europe
thinks we're crazy."
Allies that used to vote with us or abstain from voting on controversial
issues of importance to the United States are now voting against us as our
isolation grows, Edelstein said.
While Americans tend to view the United States as a force for freedom,
justice and democracy in the world, many other peoples see the United States
as an oppressor, he said.
"We are the sole hegemon. We're returning to the concept of Manifest
A world in poverty
"Not only does the United States export foreign policy. It also exports its
culture," Barsamian said. "There's not sensitivity to local culture and
local traditions, particularly in the Islamic world where tradition is
stronger than it is in Europe."
This culture takes the form of Hollywood movies, Starbucks, and Burger Kings
on street corners in places like Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where American
culture is considered suspect at best.
"We tend to view the United States as the universal culture to which all
others aspire," said Edelstein.
This is based, in part, on misconceptions Americans have of their own
country, he said.
"We think we have the highest wages, which is not true," Edelstein said. "We
think we are the freest country, which is debatable. We tend to think we
have the best democracy, which is absurd."
Such blind faith in our own culture creates the mistaken belief that it is
In the United States, culture is intimately tied to economy, and the U.S.
government promotes the latter with a vengeance. Barsamian said U.S.
diplomatic policy could be summed up this way: "We're going to do what we
Barsamian recalls a story Vandana Shiva shared with him during an interview.
Shiva, a human-rights activist from India, quoted a U.S. trade
representative speaking with Indian officials as saying, "'If you don't open
up your markets, we're going to break them open with a crowbar.'"
"This is how the Mafia don speaks," Barsamian said. "I often say if you want
to understand U.S. policy, watch 'The Godfather.'"
Despite the effort put into the economy, global capitalism has not delivered
to many people around the globe, Barsamian said.
"It has not delivered the kind of benefits that are meaningful to segments
of the population. Having a Burger King around the corner is not
"The U.S. government represents the wealthy in our own country," he said.
"And our friends are the wealthy in other countries. You can see it in the
development model we support through the IMF (International Monetary Fund)
and World Bank."
This model ensures that a small percentage of people in developing countries
move up financially but leaves the vast majority behind, he said.
Intense protests against the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade
Organization over the past two years indicate that some Americans are
concerned about the connection between poverty and global development,
Carolyn Bninski, a local activist who was arrested in April 2000 during the
IMF protests in Washington, D.C., said the current model of development
accounts for about six million deaths worldwide each year.
"We use economic power to impose policies on countries that benefit wealthy
corporations in the United States but harm local people," Bninski said. "A
lot of people die - slow deaths perhaps - as a result of those policies. I
am in no way downplaying the horror (of the terrorist attacks). I think it's
a horrible tragedy. But I think we need to start seeing our relationship to
every life and everybody on this planet."
Scott Silber, a local community organizer who has also participated in
protests against the IMF, World Bank and World Trade Organization, said
people from all segments of U.S. society have become concerned about these
"People have been able to link the symptoms they're fighting to global
corporate power," Silber said.
Those symptoms include violations of human rights, workers' rights, the
rights of women and indigenous people, as well as the destruction of the
environment and the blind pursuit of capital, he said.
"People are suffering," Silber said. "The vast majority of the world is in
poverty, and the United States is on the benefiting end of that."
A call for empathy
Bninski said she and other members of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice
Center fear the United States will retaliate blindly in a fury over
Tuesday's attack, resulting in the deaths of more innocent people.
"The United States needs to go through legitimate international channels and
to try people in a court of law that's legitimate," Bninski said. "It's
really important to reserve judgment and not to retaliate against people or
groups of people."
She's not the only one who's concerned. Muslim students, many of whom are
American citizens by birth, braced for an onslaught of hate mail, threats,
and confrontations. Muslim organizations across the country reported death
threats and hate mail, many pulling their Web sites to stem the tide of
violent words. But at CU, where police have stepped up security and are
prepared to protect Islamic students, incidents have been minor.
"We're all just holding each other," said Amina Nawaz, an American citizen
and president of CU's Muslim Student Association.
Nawaz said some Muslims experienced heightened tensions in classes Tuesday.
One woman, wearing the traditional hijab covering, walked into her classroom
where students were talking only to have the room fall silent when people
"She could just feel everyone's hatred boring into her," Nawaz said.
But Nawaz said members of her organization are grief-stricken over the
"We're a part of the American community, and we feel it just as strongly as
anybody else," she said.
Those who engineered the attacks don't reflect the values of Islam, Nawaz
"Shameless acts are not part of our religion," she said.
Bninski said it's time for Americans to learn to empathize with people who
are suffering around the world. While they connect to the suffering of other
Americans, they seem blind to the suffering of non-Americans.
"I think we have to think about every human life as being of equal value,
not just Americans," Bninski said. "We need to start thinking of global
citizens and think of the impact of U.S. decisions on other people."
On Bninski's mind are the deaths of an estimated six million Iraqi children
since 1990 due to U.S.-imposed sanctions and the destruction in Yugoslavia
brought on by 68 days of bombing.
"I think of the images of Burmese workers on (American-owned) pipelines with
chains around their ankles," said Silber. "I think of the workers I see
every day all around me who are working 16-hour days to survive and feed
their families. I think of the little children who are born into war-torn
areas of the world where it seems like their lives are hopeless. If only war
weren't profitable, these kids wouldn't have to grow up in fear and
But most Americans don't make an effort to learn about the ways in which
their nation contributes to tragedies in the world around them, Chernus
"It's willed ignorance," he said. "There's a cultural divide in the United
States. There's a segment of our population that is able to - perhaps
imperfectly - empathize with suffering in the world. And there are those
Americans who simply can't seem to relate."
Chernus fears Tuesday's horror will be written off as the work of
"unprovoked crazies," and America will lose a chance to benefit from what
could be a wake-up call.
"If things were going right, we would ask ourselves what role we may have
played in the chain of events that led to this disaster. If we were doing
the right thing, we would think of ourselves as part of a network of
relationships," Chernus said. "It's not a question of 'our fault' or 'their
fault,' but of how that network of relationships has gotten us to where we
Barsamian said that discussions of U.S. foreign policy will be kept out of
the response to the attacks.
"No one's going to go to the root causes, not with corporate media acting as
stenographers to power," Barsamian said. "(The media will say) 'These are
just genetically crazy people. They were having bad hair days.'"
The media will focus selectively on Islamic fundamentalists, leaving out
mention of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, two very strict Muslim nations with
which the United States has close political ties, he predicted.
A constructive response, Barsamian said, would look more like this: "Start
obeying international law. Show respect for sensitivity for other cultures.
Stop bullying the world. Stop acting like a Mafia don. Work with difference.
Accept criticism. Radically relook at our behavior in the Middle East."
|Sep 20, 2001, 11:50 AM|
Edelstein would like to see the United States respond by turning its effort
"For the American government to respond in a way that I would consider
constructive would include the establishment of democracy in the United
And if the United States continues on its current path?
"U.S. foreign policy has not given people hope. If you rob people of their
dignity and self-respect, they have nothing," Barsamian said. "That's how
you can become a suicide bomber".
|Sep 20, 2001, 02:01 PM|
This is a simplistic cynical analysis of a complex situation to further a personal agenda;
1)America is mean other people.
2)We're not the only ones that think so, ask Europe.
3)We must change our evil ways and really be a Democracy.
4)Everybody will be happy then.
The whole truth would take far to long for me to write. The reasons for Terrorism are mainly because an unsophisticated people feel marginalized and irrelevant and are told that if they do this horrible thing, the enemy will stand up and take notice. Then they are given the training and tools to destroy by other morons with personal agendas, often under the guise of serving God.
This is exactly why we had our own home grown terrorist blow up the federal building in KC. Just another dis-affected youth that was trying to bring the "War" to the "Enemy".
While I am no American Nationalist (see my posts) the cold hard fact is that although the U.S. is a giant that sometime eats it's young, there is no other nation in the history of humanity that has promoted more people into the light of Democracy. It is an imperfect machine, because it is made and run by humans, but it is still the archetype of the system which most Democracies strive for.
By the way, I have lived in Europe. They are neither Mystified or outraged by us, any more than we are mystified or outraged by people from say,... Denver. In fact, I know of two families that would like to move here, and believe me, it's not because they want to change us.
|Sep 20, 2001, 02:21 PM|
I found the article to be somewhat self-flagellistic.. We erred in the past, and now we must admit our culpability and make reparations.. Oh woe is me.. Sob!
Hindsight is always 20-20, as we all know.
Where was all this "universal feel-good" when it was needed?
Who committed all those (now) obvious blunders in foreign policy? Our elected officials. Politicians, many of whom have personal biases and agendas which rule their actions, not the selfless activities we'd all like -our- leaders to display.
Friend to all, even the enemy.
Our policies are and will be dictated by the same mind sets. Possibly building on the sad experiences of the Cold War.. but I don't expect too much there. Political self-interest always rules.
It might be prudent to determine WHY there are enemies.. if the analyses could be factual, unbiased.. but it's not something we can hold our breath over.
The core problem is the world as it views the United States. Where that view is poor, what can we do to improve it?
The situation with the US, Isreal and the Arabs. It will take a genuine statesman to finger that one out so the potential bloodbath is minimized.
|Sep 20, 2001, 02:54 PM|
These ideas are/were all over the world at any protest of IMF, WTO, etc and among the alternative press. All over the recent Green Party and other national parties presidential bids. Most of America just wasn't listening, searching or even questioning beyond the story fed to us by the media wings of those same corps that make billions building military weapons.
It's not a wholesale rejection of American ideals, institutions, cultures and norms or a simple blame game, but a plea to re-examine.
|Sep 20, 2001, 06:02 PM|
I wouldn't use the riots at the IMF and WTO meetings as a positive indication
What we saw was a group of undisciplined masked thugs violently responding to
established authority, destroying property and looting indiscriminately.
The foreign relations "policy" of say, Attila the Hun.
If there is a legitimate reason to have a different opinion on an organization's
policy, generally the most effective way to alter that policy is to join the
organization, work to a position where you can affect the policy...
Shooting a CEO for instance, doesn't make the shooter the new CEO.
|Sep 20, 2001, 06:20 PM|
The vast majority of protesters in Bonn, Seattle, Copenhagen, DC, etc were peaceful. This doesn't get covered as masked madmen make for better videotape.
The mainstream media covers the violent buttheads' actions to draw attention away from the message of the majority of protesters. And did so quite well. Not many people remember the coalition of labor unions, environmentalists and socialists at Seattle. It was very significant that these disparate groups came together.
If the Europeans don't think we're crazy, explain 3000 Swedes? simultaneously mooning our president during his visit a few months back.
|Sep 20, 2001, 06:52 PM|
Walled Lake, MI, USA
Joined Feb 2000
I think it's important for people to read all different opinions on any given issue, because no one side is always 100 percent right or 100 percent wrong. There were some good points made in the article. The fact that such an article can be openly published and distributed without fear of recrimination points to another reason why some people really hate America. This is an open country where there is a great diversity of opinion. Closed societies cannot understand this, and they fear it mightily. It threatens their monolithic existence.
It's nostalgic to hear that students are protesting against war on college campuses once again. A young female at the University of Michigan confidently told a reporter that the U.S. has no right to complain about the terrorist bombings because U.S. policy against Iraq has resulted in thousands of women and children dying of disease and hunger in Iraq. She apparently was not aware that the sanctions against Iraq make provision for adequate food and medicine to be purchased and distributed by the government of Iraq for its citizens. She did not express any knowledge that the leadership of Iraq elects to divert massive funding from food and medicine in order to rebuild its war machine. Exactly who is to blame for Iraq's government policy concerning the priorities given to its civilian population? If the U.S. removed all military forces from the Gulf, how long would it take for Iraq to once again rape Kuwait, and then move on to annex other Arab states?
The U.S. is a big and powerful country, and the mistakes of big and powerful countries are magnified many times over. The mistakes of lesser countries tend to go unnoticed. The diversity of opinion and freedom of expression in America assure that no American mistake goes unnoticed and unmentioned within the country's own borders, much less around the rest of the world. Most Americans honestly want to do the right thing. But the diversity of opinion results in many different versions of what's right.
|Sep 20, 2001, 09:34 PM|
The degree of cranial rectumitis shown by the writer of this article and many of the people quoted in it is difficult to fathom.
The very notion that American foreign policy is responsible for the deaths of Iraqi children rather than the policies of their insane and demonic leadership is so absurd that I can't find words to describe it.
If you don't like American culture then don't folow it, if you don't like Burger King then don't eat the damned things, if you don't like Hollywood movies then don't watch them but if you think that these things justify mass murder and terrorism then you have just proven yourself seriously deranged and a prime candidate for culling from the herd.
|Sep 20, 2001, 10:07 PM|
I dont give a damn WHY someone hates us. If some guy walks up and punches your mother in the face, what ya gonna do? Invite the guy inside and discuss his feeling over a cup of coffee! Worried what the neibors will think or are you gonna cry and hope someone else deals with him. Thats just how arogant and vain many Americans are. So worried about our own self image and we just gotta be loved. BOO HOO HOO. Why do people hate me. Many remind me of that guy on Saturday night Live that wears the sweater and says. "People like me. Im good anough and gosh...What ever. Where are our balls.REALITY CHECK.... Somebody hijacked and crashed 4 airliners trying to kill as many men,women and children as they could. Had they had a atomic weapon or been able to kill more they sure as hell would have. Many have been so caught up in themselves and "hey, look at me. Im rich and have a SUV and can talk and drive at the same time while I have a Star Bucks coffee. Meanwhile, these manics are taking advantage of our liberties knowing nobody would dare profile,question or be suspicious of them for fear of being hung by the civil liberties union or attacked by lawyers. Bottom Line. Quit worrying if the horse is going blind and load the dam cart. Ok, Im done.
|Sep 20, 2001, 10:07 PM|
What a serious crock of crap this article is. The writer obviously had his or her head stuck up a foul-smelling, dark place. Of course, one has to only notice it was in the Boulder, Co. press to understand. Boulder is populated with left-wing hippies that are a hold-over from the 60's. So, therefore, capitalism=evil, while communism=good.
|Sep 20, 2001, 10:41 PM|
Joined Mar 2001
Let's take that artice to it's logical conclusions....
If their culture is so strong and important.....why do they watch hollywood movies or eat burger king? We don't force it down their throats..they chew and swallow.
If our support of Israel is so destabilizing to the area perhaps we should withdraw our support. Allies are of no use when you compare it to arabic popular opinion.
If the suffering palestinians are made worse off by our policy....why not hold peace talks sometime? Ooops...been there...done that.
Yes being a superpower has it's disadvantages. We have a great burden. Yet our power has been a stabilizing force in the world for a long, long time. Remember your WW2 history and then decide the pro's and con's of our superpower status. -Ken
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