Saturday, April 16, 2005
On the evening of September 11, 2001, President Bush addressed a shocked nation. In a speech designed to give hope to the American people, as well as to instill fear in our attackers, Bush posed the question, “Why do they hate us?” He told the nation “they” hate us because of our democracy, because of our freedom, and because we are wealthy. Apparently, we now knew why “they” hated us, whoever “they” were.
Since then I have had many opportunities to talk with people from around the globe and I have learned that what President Bush said was not entirely accurate. This summer I spent time with people that would qualify as the “they” in Bush’s address. I gained from them much wisdom and hope. When my new friends discovered that I was an American willing to listen and eager to learn, I was not hated, but admired. As I spent time with them, I realized that Bush had missed the point in his address. He was not wrong that many people throughout the world hate the U.S., but the reasons he listed were erroneous.
As I spent more time in conversation, I learned that people who “hate” the U.S. do not often hate American citizens. It is not our people that earn their loathing. It is not our democracy that they have come to despise. It is certainly not our freedom or any of the other ideals from which our nation was founded. I do not presume to speak for entire peoples or nations; the ideas presented here are representative of those individuals I spent time with this past summer. However, I believe that their opinions are indicative of a significant portion of their respective nations.
In many places, the ideal of democracy is held on high. Freedom is something for which many of these people long, not unlike you or I. Why then do we in this country often get the impression from our leaders, or from other nations themselves, that we are hated as a country? Why then are we referred to as “the great Satan” in some Middle Eastern nations?
Our sisters and brothers in other nations, especially in the Middle East, hate us because of our country’s foreign policies, which are killing them. Oil and money are the mediums through which we exercise our control over whole peoples. Our foreign policy extends beyond the realms of oil as well, but it is no less destructive. Let us look at a different example, so we can understand the long arm of U.S. foreign policy.
Following the conclusion of the Gulf War in 1991, the U.S. and the U.N. levied heavy sanctions against Iraq. These were designed to undermine Saddam Hussein’s regime and punish Iraq economically. Internally displaced persons do not qualify under the Geneva Convention for refugee status and therefore do not qualify for aid. Red Cross/Red Crescent is not allowed into the country due to U.S. sanctions and 500,000 children have died as a result from starvation and easily curable diseases. Saddam remained in power while his people suffered. Our foreign policy towards Iraq caused hatred from the common Iraqi towards us, and yet we wonder why.
One other primary reason the U.S. is hated is because of our communal ignorance of what happens on our Earth. The general American public has no idea what goes on in other countries, nor do they care. Therein lies the real rub. Friends, we are truly blessed in this country to be afforded the freedom to read what we please and to learn what we will. This is not the case in many places. So, when people who are not allowed to learn look at us and see that we choose not to learn, they cannot stand it. It is the irony of ironies and it cuts deep.
I had the opportunity to talk at length with a lady from Kosovo this summer. She told me her story – about how she was forced to leave her home with nowhere to go. She related how she and her family lived in a cave for a week and survived on one loaf of bread. I listened as she told me that before that horror, she was not permitted to go to school because of her ethnicity. If she were caught reading, she would have been shot. This is not a fear we know in this nation. It is almost incomprehensible to her and others like her that we in this nation choose not to learn about the world! Now, it pains me as well.
President Bush had it wrong when he listed reasons why “they” hate us. It is amazing - the “they” he talks about are no different from you and I. They have feelings as we do and they have fears as we do. However, they do not often have freedom as we do. Frequently we are envied, not hated, for our freedom. We are hated because we do not use it. I urge you, learn about what is happening in the world. Read! It is only from learning and understanding that we can begin to build up this world of ours together. I have faith it can be done, but it must begin with each of us. Let us not take for granted that with which we have been blessed. Let us not forget our sisters and brothers in other countries who suffer as we cannot fathom. Use what has been given to you – read, learn, understand, if for no other reason than because you can.
This editorial was answered with another editorial by David Dolgin, found here.