America is a great country. It stands for the best things people can hope for. The US constitution, the first amendment, the respect or individual rights are unmatched the world over. These are not just words on paper, for every American these values are experienced every day in every state of the union.
Unfortunately, though, sometimes that is as far as it goes. Once outside the US or in dealing with foreign policy these values are often replaced with a variety of other considerations. People who have not lived in America, especially those people who have been on the receiving end of some of the distorted US foreign policies have little appreciation for what America stands for.
The ugly and despicable attack on US governmental and commercial institutions needs to be seen in this vein. This is not to excuse this act which must be denounced.
For years people in the Middle East have suffered from this double faced US foreign policy. Human rights, the great Wilsonian concept of the people’s right to self determination seems to stop when the subject of discussions are Palestinians.
Some might ask why now. What has the US done recently to trigger this unprecedented response? While this is an important question the answer is not necessarily in any specific action by the US but rather in the fact that people around the world have much more access in real time with full color to acts, events and pronouncements of American official regarding foreign policy issues. The spread of satellite television, for example, has meant that stories about say the human suffering of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation enter the sitting rooms of hundreds of millions of people every day. And when top US officials defend or justify human rights violations in third world countries, few people can go back and think of the rosy American picture as the defender of rights and protector of freedoms.
When Vice president Dick Chaney told Fox television last month that the US “understands” Israel’s need to assassinate top Palestinian officials, his statement was widely broadcast all over the Arab and Moslem world. To have a senior US official understand the use of an ally of US apache helicopters in an offensive attack was hard to fathom. Some commentators said that even Timothy McVee was entitled to a trial, while Israeli generals are acting as judge jury and executioner with full support from the world of human rights and democracy. Shortly after Cheney’s statements I wrote an oped in the long Island daily Newsday (8/13) saying that Cheney is adding fuel to the raging fire of the Middle East.
Unfortunately the US support for Israel and justification for its brutality against Palestinians continued. The highly publicized withdrawal of American from the Durban conference for fear that Israel would be tainted ‘racist’ did little to reverse the anti American feelings of many people around the world. All this simply added to the poisonous feelings in the non western world. Even the most moderate and pro US country in the region, Saudi Arabia was expressing strong anti American positions in public.
The public attacks against Americans by many of its Arab allies in the region didn’t satisfy a population that daily saw humiliation against fellow Arabs and Moslems with Arab governments completely inept in responding to it.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington President Bush spoke to the American people calling what happened as an attack against America’s values. He ended by saying “we go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world.” For Americans living in this great country these words sounded true and genuine. But for many around the world who have not seen these values translated in US foreign policy, these words were empty rhetoric.
The values that America stands for are the envy of well-informed human beings around the world living in authoritarian countries. Those of us who have lived in America and have experienced this great country try our best to tell people around the world about it with the hope that these values can be emulated. Those who only see the results of American foreign policy often hamper our efforts by pointing to this contradiction.
In the past the US government was able to get away with this duplicity. Friendly countries would protect the US image and government controlled media would ensure that America’s policies are defended. Globalization which has been the main vehicle for the success of America has also brought with it media instruments (internet and satellite) that circumvent government controlled media and allow the people a free access to the reality of the US foreign policy. Is it possible that the very instruments of its own success haunt America?
Daoud Kuttab is a journalist who covered both intifadas and Director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Jerusalem.