November 5, 2001

America's values


NEW YORK - Since Sept. 11, I have been struck by the depth of this nation's values and character, its unity in pursuit of a common goal, and the acceptance of diversity and tolerance.

Even now, there is little talk of revenge. What I hear mostly reflects America's determination to get rid of terrorism, while hoping not to harm innocent lives in the process.

Originally from India, I have lived in America for more than 30 years. As any other American, I have the same rights and opportunities afforded all citizens. I can pursue any job or business, buy any property, travel anywhere, speak freely and bring up my children in any community. I cherish that freedom most, more than the comfort that comes from professional success.

When I compare the U.S. with almost any other country, I realize the blessings I have enjoyed. During the past 50 years, some African countries, in particular Uganda and Kenya, drove out most Indians who had been there for generations. Most Arab nations do not allow foreigners to become citizens, and only in rare cases are foreigners permitted to fully own businesses.

Most of the other Asian countries do not want foreigners to settle there, and when they do, they are treated poorly. And Russia, India's one-time cold-war ally, has no great interest in Indians' settling there. Even in India, parents and hosts of foreign nationals, including those of Indian origin, are required to report every night to the police station about their stay.

Countries complain about U.S. interference in other nations' affairs. I suppose they mean the U.S. invasion of Haiti to remove a military regime and bring democracy to a starving people. Then there was Somalia, plagued by tribal wars, despotic warlords and immense famine; Panama, which was ruled by a drug-trafficking dictator; Bosnia and Kosovo Muslims, who were being annihilated by the Christian Serbs; Kuwait, which was swallowed up by an Iraqi dictator.

In none of these instances, did America want to conquer land or seize wealth. The U.S. was fighting to protect people from oppression and genocide. A reliable supply of oil from the Middle East for the world economy is another consideration. Certainly, America has made some major errors in judgment in Vietnam, Chile and other situations. But all those mistakes were made in the name of democracy and freedom.

Contrast this with India's greatest ally, the former Soviet Union. Under Joseph Stalin, at least 10 million died in the purges between 1926 and 1939. After World War II, the Soviet Union ran over Eastern Europe - except Yugoslavia - with its tanks, forced its satellite states into the Warsaw Pact, and ruled the region de facto until the fall of the Berlin Wall. Then there was the invasion of Afghanistan. Who brought freedom to all these countries? And who paid for it? The American people.

With more than $270 million in annual contributions, America is the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Afghanistan. Last May, the United States gave $43 million to Afghanistan in aid to relieve the country's famine and has just announced another $320 million in aid for refugees. America remains the largest contributor of assistance around the globe, offering more than the combined total by all other nations. Who pays? American taxpayers.

There are those who want America to disengage from any dispute abroad, as long as America's security isn't threatened. Think of a world in which America becomes an isolationist nation. What would become of the rest of the world? I can only imagine the terrible consequence within just 10 to 20 years: Nations invading one another on some pretext or the other; mass killings within and across borders in the name of God; ethnic cleansing for racial purity; oppression of women and minorities in several nations; unspeakable human rights violations in many countries; the prospect of nuclear war.

Is that what Americans want? I certainly don't. Those who criticize the U.S. for "interfering in the internal affairs of other countries" must think twice of a world without America to battle for freedom versus oppression. I hope nations will leave aside their self-serving doctrines and false pride, and face the reality of what the world would be like without American involvement.

Abraham M. George is dean of the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media.

Copyright 2001 Christian Science Monitor