Why do they (still) hate us?
Editor’s note: In the weeks and months following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a common impromptu lesson in American public school classrooms centered on the question, “Why do they hate us?” While it’s impossible to know how those thousands of discussions came out, one might assume that most teachers fell back on President Bush’s simplistic, face-saving explanation: that the terrorists envy our freedom. In one of the great ironies of history, the federal government responded by ignoring the Constitution and instituting policies that diminished our freedoms in the name of homeland security. The terrorists, so it seemed, had succeeded. Five years and two wars later, we are still asking the same question: Why do they hate us? When it comes to international hatred, there are no easy answers, but as long as Americans continue to see themselves as innocent victims, the truth will remain elusive.
by Ali Erritouni
When Muslim terrorists attacked New York and Washington D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001, their barbarous acts came as a shock to us. Many of us couldn’t understand why anybody would hate us so much that they would kill themselves in order to hurt us. While we were pondering the taproot of that atrocity, our president came to the rescue. Fearful that we might stray into dangerous territory, he explained, “They hate what we see here in this chamber—a democratically elected government. . . . They hate our freedoms—our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble, and disagree with each other.”
This explanation was simple and reassuring: it sought to prevent us from delving into American foreign policies and, therefore, from discovering some unpalatable facts about them; it spared us the arduous task of researching history books and recognizing that our continuous support throughout the 20th century of vicious dictatorships in the Middle East, South America, and Asia had little to do with freedom; and it helped us overcome the trauma of the attacks by making us feel good about ourselves: we are superior, rich, and, above all, free, and that’s reason enough for other people to envy us and wish to cause us harm.
The terrorist attacks were criminal and immoral. Yet to say that the perpetrators of those crimes killed themselves and three thousand people in the process just because they hated our freedoms is simplistic and dangerous—simplistic, because it reduces complex political motives to quasi-religious explanations, and dangerous, because a world where people fight over irreconcilable world views and beliefs can never experience peace. If, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,” then the Muslim East and the Christian West will keep fighting each other until the end of time—an event likely brought about by some nuclear holocaust.
I will not get into the political grievances that motivated the 9/11 terrorists. But I will share with you some incidents that have happened recently and that have made many people in the world “hate” us. By so doing, I hope to draw your attention to the fact that our government and corporations have done a good deal of harm in the world, so much so that people not only in the Middle East but also in Mexico, Europe, and South America may feel justified in giving us tit for tat. The CIA calls this desire for revenge “blowback,” making it clear that terrorist attacks against Americans may be a counter-response rather than an unprovoked aggression.
Because its victims are almost always innocent civilians, terrorism can never be justified; however, it is vital that we understand that the barbarism of international terrorism is largely a response to the barbarism of American foreign policies. We need to reject Bush’s explanation of the motives behind the events of 9/11 and behind other terrorist atrocities because, unless we understand the real reasons that drive people to hate us, we will not be able to remedy them and to create a more peaceful world. In fact, blinded by an arrogant sense of self-righteousness, our government and corporations continue to abuse other people, oblivious to the possible consequences of their actions on all of us.
- The 20th Century Fox movie Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan has so far made over $70 million; yet, some of the Romanian villagers featured in the movie were paid between $3.30 and $5.50. Even worse, lacking any human decency, the producers of Borat cast the unsuspecting villagers in unflattering ways in order to force laughs out of us. Nicolae Staicu, a Romanian community leader, complained that “[t]hey took one of our 75-year-old ladies, put huge silicone breasts on her and said she was 47. . . . . [O]ne of our men who is missing an arm had a plastic sex toy taped to his stump." The moviemakers also had a woman put her cow inside her house where they made it defecate and urinate. Associated Press William J. Kole reports that “[r]esidents and local officials in the hardscrabble hamlet 85 miles northwest of Bucharest said Tuesday they were horrified and humiliated to learn their abject poverty and simple ways were ridiculed for a movie now raking in millions at box offices worldwide.” The vilified villagers come from Glod, an impoverished Romanian village, which lacks basic modern conveniences such as indoor plumbing and running water. As if their circumstances were not difficult enough, our movie industry must make exorbitant profit out of them and, to add insult to injury, mock their poverty.
- The U.S. has vetoed a draft United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Israeli attack on Beit Hanoun, Palestine, which killed 19 Palestinian civilians, mostly women and children. It’s not the first time our government makes it clear to Arabs that their lives are worthless. In his recent book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, Jimmy Carter deplores Israel’s daily violation of the Palestinians’ basic human rights. He also argues that our overt and tacit support of Israel’s confiscation and continued occupation of Arab lands is bound to intensify anti-Americanism in the Arab World.
- Mexicans complain that the low cost of Wal-mart’s products in Mexico City have bankrupted small farmers and public markets. However, despite their complaints, Wal-mart, given its political and financial clout, will continue to do business as usual.
- According to the UN, the civil war in Iraq has claimed the lives of 7,200 people in the last two months alone. It does not take much brain power to realize that before the American invasion, there was no civil war; that after the invasion, a civil war started between Shiites and Sunnites; and that the invasion is consequently responsible for the civil war. Yet, this very simple syllogism seems too difficult for our corporate journalists to grasp. Ralph Peters, USA Today journalist, opined that we have offered Iraqis the opportunity to become democratic, but they have squandered it: “we did give the Iraqis a unique chance to build a rule-of-law democracy, [but they] preferred to indulge in old hatreds, confessional violence, ethnic bigotry and a culture of corruption.” Peters goes on to say that "it's their tragedy, not ours.”
- Aside from their lack of human decency, people like Peters never seem to learn from history. If we leave Iraq to its fate, it would be only a matter of time before their tragedy becomes ours as well. Peters seems to have forgotten about our experience with Afghanistan. After the Cold War, we left that country mired in armed conflict, poverty, and tribal politics. 9/11 is partly the outcome of that lack of vision.
- Here is a humane and, as it happens, a realpolitik solution to the Iraq war: The U.S. government should 1) get American troops out of Iraq immediately; 2) convince the Iraqis, through diplomatic channels, to come to the table and to devise political rather than military solutions to their differences; 3) give Iraqis enough money to help them rebuild their country. (In a more just world, we should pay Iraqis billions of dollars in restitution for the damage we did to their country.)