October 23, 2001

Here's why they hate us


Why do they hate us? Six weeks after Sept. 11, the question is still being asked by Americans who, having finally taken an interest in the world around them, are appalled to find that large chunks of it do not share their view of the United States as a bastion of liberty, democracy and the pursuit of happiness for all.

President Bush admitted to being "amazed that there's such a misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us, because I know how good we are."

He has also said that those who attacked us hate our freedoms, our form of government, our wealth, our very way of life.

Not so.

First, to put things in perspective, we are hated by only a tiny percentage of the world's teeming masses. And only a hard core of Islamic fanatics hates us enough to kill themselves and thousands of others by flying airliners into tall buildings, or spreading anthrax, for that matter.

The reasons for their hatred have been spelled out in numerous television interviews, fatwas and declarations of holy war by the likes of Saudi Arabian millionaire Osama bin Laden, Egyptian pediatrician Ayman al-Zawahiri, his No. 2 in the al-Qaida organization, and their Taliban friends. They have nothing to do with our being rich, democratic or good.

If Pat Buchanan, "Mr. Isolationist" in his 2000 run at the presidency, can look beyond our borders long enough to recognize those reasons, the average American should have no trouble doing so. Writing in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Buchanan eloquently summed up the imams' indictment of our alleged sins:

- America props up puppet regimes of parasite princes who squander the oil wealth of Arabia in the fleshpots of the West.

- U.S. presence on Saudi soil defiles the land on which sit the holy places of Mecca and Medina.

- We pollute Islamic culture and countries with drugs, alcohol, abortions, blasphemous books, filthy magazines, dirty movies and hellish music that capture and corrupt their young.

- We starve Iraqi children with sanctions because Saddam Hussein defies U.N. resolutions, but give Israel the weapons to defy U.N. resolutions, persecute Palestinians and deny them the liberty we champion.

- To those who hate us, America is the Evil Empire.

"It may seem un-American to repeat such charges," said Buchanan, "yet it seems unintelligent not to. For as Sun Tzu wrote: 'Know thy enemy. Know thyself.' If we must fight these people the rest of our lives, we should know why they hate us, and we delude ourselves if we believe the slaughters of Sept. 11 came about because we are 'good.'"

Second, and here it is important to separate hate from resentment, the United States is resented in many parts of the world. The reasons for Middle Eastern resentment should by now be well known, but anti-Americanism runs far beyond our favoring of Israel or our propping up of unpopular Arab regimes.

Again, it is not focused on our wealth, power or "goodness" but on how they are projected abroad.

In other words, it's our foreign policy, not our way of life, that so many foreigners find objectionable. They accuse Washington of being rude, arrogant, insensitive, of practicing a double standard or of being so selfishly obsessed with U.S. national interests as to be just plain bad.

A Pakistani woman, U.S.-educated and professedly pro-American, put it best when she told CNN's Christiane Amanpour: "We love America and what it stands for, but we have this sense of betrayal. Why? Because you use people, then cast them aside when they're no longer useful to you."

"As long as you needed Pakistan for your war in Afghanistan you couldn't do enough for us. As soon as the Soviets left Afghanistan, you abandoned us, leaving us with a refugee problem, an economic problem and an Islamic fundamentalist problem."

She was correct.

When the Soviets were in Afghanistan we used Pakistan to recruit and arm refugee Afghans as freedom fighters against the godless infidel; encouraged Pakistan's madrassas, Islamic schools, to preach holy war and churn out more mujahideen recruits, essentially fighting a proxy war under the guise of jihad.

When the Soviets left, we abandoned both Afghanistan and Pakistan, uncaring of the fundamentalist time bomb we left ticking in Pakistan and the murderous struggle for power that continued between the various mujahideen factions. Afghan refugees continued to pour into Pakistan and the madrassas continued to turn them into holy warriors, except this time they brought the Taliban to power.

Close on the heels of the Taliban - so close he is now regarded as their virtual defense minister - came bin Laden and his "Arabs," most of them veterans of the anti-Soviet war. The rest, as they say, is history.

Looking elsewhere, we abandoned Somalia after losing 18 soldiers in an ambush said to have been plotted with bin Laden's help. After 10 years of anarchy and mindless bloodletting, that African country finally has a transitional government still threatened by rival warlords.

Just last week, Prime Minister Ali Khalif Galaydg pleaded with the United Nations to keep Somalia from becoming "a vacuum that can breed terrorism."

France's U.N. ambassador warns that it could become "a second Afghanistan."

We abandoned the Philippines after losing our military bases there.

Although the Catholic government in Manila has negotiated a shaky peace with most Islamic rebels on the southern island of Mindanao, it is stymied by the Abu Sayyaf Group, also allied with bin Laden's al-Qaida. Abu Sayyaf has plotted terrorist attacks on the pope, kidnapped a number of foreign tourists, extorted huge ransoms for some and beheaded others.

We have, for all intents and purposes, abandoned Haiti after invading the island, ousting its military rulers and restoring a popularly elected president to power. When it turned out that President Jean-Bertrand Aristide was less of a democrat than we wanted him to be, we simply lost interest.

The world is littered with places that have either lost our interest or never had it to start with. Put much of Africa in the latter category.

Why should Africans, Muslims or otherwise, love us when they see us pouring far more aid than we give any war-shattered African country into reconstructing Bosnia (lending credence to their oft-voiced complaint that we prefer white Europeans to black Africans)? And why should we give Israel four times more aid than the whole of sub-Saharan Africa?

We will never abandon the Middle East because of our "special relationship" with Israel and our need for Arab oil. Therein lies the rub: Arab and non-Arab Islamic public opinion faults us on both counts.

As Dominique Moisi, deputy director of the Paris-based Institut Francais des Relations Internationales, so rightly points out, we have prevented democratization of the Arab world by supporting corrupt and dictatorial regimes, allowing our lust for cheap oil to blind us to the terrible resentment this was creating. Globalization, widening inequality and escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have all added to this.

We have a right to defend ourselves against terrorists, writes Moisi, but we should also address the cause of "their destructive despair. That means imposing territorial sacrifices on our allies, including Israel, and questioning the wisdom of our support for corrupt Arab regimes."

The dilemma is that democracy could spawn more extremism while its absence feeds the despair that fuels terrorism.

Copyright 2001 Scripps Howard News Service