Enter a city or US Zip  
Washington DC's Weather
VOL 3. NO. 35 Monday, September 17 - Sunday, September 23, 2001
SIGN UP NOW! FREE Metro Connection email newsletter.

"You Mean People Actually Hate Us?"
By Mahesh MURTHY

Activists of Pakistan militant religious parties stand in front of an anti-American banner during a rally in Islamabad, Pakistan on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2001. The sign reads: Americans Think! Why Are You Hated All Over the World? (AP Photo/B.K.Bangash)

I'm not Arab. I'm not even a Moslem. I sit in my home for the last two years, in Mumbai, India, staring at the television screen. And I look at the same horror that my friends and ex-colleagues in the US are seeing.

I surf between CNN, CNBC and Fox, who are all showing the same thing: the towers of the World Trade Center collapsing in slow motion, again and again like something out of a compilation you'd otherwise get for $19.95 plus S and H on late-night TV.

And then I click over to the BBC, the only "world" TV channel I can think of, and glimpse a scene that brings more gasps than any concrete demolition. A video of people dancing in the streets, in Palestine. Palestinian people holding up their fingers up in a "V" for victory symbol. Take that, damn Yankees, they seem to say, you've got your comeuppance.

How many of my American friends got to see that on live TV? Nothing brings the point across better - one that I tried to make without much success during my six years in the US: Americans, my friends, are not liked by quite a few people around the world. There, I said the unthinkable.

And the incomprehensible. What do you mean, not liked, I'm questioned. Aren't we the world's greatest country? What's not to like about us? We're easy going, we've got a pretty darn good legal system, our companies kick other companies' butts. Our people are bright, smart, we're rich, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are as American as apple pie. Yeah, maybe it's an overstatement to call it the World Series when it's basically us versus a few Canadians, but we ARE the world's most celebrated superpower, are we not? How the hell can anybody not like us?

My eyes go back to the television set. The Blame Game has already started. Where is the intelligence my taxpayer dollars supposedly paid for, one belligerent gent demands on some US TV channel. How could they overpower pilots and fly these modern aircraft into buildings, another wonders. It must have been amazingly meticulously planned, a third concurs. Somewhere, I'm sure, lawyers are already filing class action suits. We charge United and American with gross negligence, failing to detect hijackers and causing death to our clients' loved ones, I can hear them demand.

But everybody misses the point.

Why did this act take place? Why this destruction, not just of people, but the symbol of American free trade and enterprise, the World Trade Center? Why should a plane be flown into the symbol of America's (supposed) military might, the Pentagon?

Let's be clear about one thing, if all that was needed was death and destruction of people or property - then there are far more efficient ways than hijacking four aircraft and flying them into buildings. If there was complex organization that went into this enterprise, I'm sure somebody could have simply brought across a tiny, far more effective nuclear device and detonated it somewhere. But no, news needed to be created.

Do we see one thing - that a point was being made? And the point was this: "America, I will crush your rampant ego. I will crush your symbols of pride and arrogance and bring you down to the level you deserve to be."

Much as I despise the action and the thought behind it, one thought comes clear. America, Osama Bin Laden seems to be saying, if indeed he is behind this, we will make it clear that you are but one country among the 200 or so out there. You are but a few hundred million people among the billions out there. You are as vulnerable and fallible as anybody else.

And I shudder to confess, that, at an extreme cost of thousands of lives, the attacker has won this first battle. He has gotten us off our high horses.

The sad fact is this. He may live, he may die. The Cruise missiles may be staking out Afghanistan and Bin Laden's hideouts as I write this, if he is the perpetrator of this heinous crime. He may be dead by the morning. But he did get one point across.

We're as vulnerable as anybody else. We're as human as anybody else. There is a world outside of us, with countries that have as much legal right to exist as we do. Can we finally understand that we're not God?

Now the murmurs come out, some fanatical Arabs were planning this since the US-brokered Camp David accord. Perhaps demolishing World Trade Center is the easiest way of striking at Israel and global Jewry. Perhaps Bin Laden's time was running out in Afghanistan, and he needed a final symbolic victory.

But what has the US done to anger the Arab world? For starters, let us remember this: the Islamic Jihadi movement is one that has often received the covert and overt support of the US government, as a deterrent against a more-feared enemy, communism. Pakistan was a US ally for long, indeed the Pakistan-funded Jihad that's going on now in Indian Kashmir is an indirect beneficiary of US largesse. As are Mr. Bin Laden's training camps in Afghanistan. And the super-rich Saudi kingdom that we prop with our support. We created and indirectly funded the guys who brought down the Towers and the Pentagon. What went wrong here?

We played God. And how do I put it nicely... well, we're not God.

Can we understand what we're facing here? For starters we have an adversary who doesn't care if he lives or dies when he fights. His life is already so wretched, so poor, so bereft of comfort, that the only goal he's fighting for is the attainment of heaven. And for the men who hijacked the planes and killed themselves willingly in the process, martyrdom has already been achieved in the eyes of their parents, their siblings, their peers and their leaders.

That's right, this isn't about capturing oil fields or some concession away from Enron. The average Jihadi comes from the poorest of the poor families, and has no dreams of riches. He has one thing in abundance, like his comrades. "Izzat". A concept that falls somewhere between pride and self-respect. A young lad from Kabul or Karachi may remorselessly shoot dead his own sister if she so much as looks at another man. And just as quietly face his maker if sentenced to death for the same. Izzat at work. Pride. That's the only thing that matters.

And if there's one thing we don't know how to handle, it's other people's pride. Because our own gets in the way.

Why are we so surprised at these attacks? The last time we saw something of a similar magnitude on TV, we were bombing Iraq - and bombs, sanctions and all, that country survives till today on pride and self-respect. That was a nice shoot-me-up video game that the good guys won. This time, we're on the receiving end.

That's where the similarities with Pearl Harbour end. Yes, the hammer of the US Armed Forces may pound the life out of a few fanatics in the Afghan desert. But it is not a country we are at war with. It is an ideology.

We will win the return battle, for sure. Probably sniff out the kingpin, extradite him and put him on trial, or simply bomb him into non-existence. But the pride isn't going away over on the other side so easily.

We'll have to be much more circumspect for that. Listen a lot more to what other countries are saying. As Eric Berne says, talk Adult to Adult, not Parent to Child.

Start with the realization that we aren't loved everywhere. From the Senior Bush vomiting in Japan to his son making an ass of himself in Europe, we're not exactly seen very welcomingly. Let's tread carefully, go beyond the ole' Bermuda-shorts-wearing, camera-swinging, dollar-distributing aging redneck specimen we display to the world.

Can we try to be global citizens, not just Americans? Read more in our local papers than "Cat run over by speeding truck" on the front page?

Do little things like occasionally pay our part of the fees to the UN? Or believe that the fact that almost every other country on Earth has signed the Kyoto protocol might be more important to the planet than the corporations who funded our electoral ambitions?

Yes, we will win the next battle. Our destructive technology will beat their destructive technology.

But the war will only be won when we win their hearts. And that isn't going to happen till we change ours.

(c) Mahesh Murthy 2001

Mahesh Murthy invests in and writes about technology and life in Asia and the US. He has lived in Hong Kong, Portland, Oregon and Seattle and is now in Mumbai, India.

To share your comments about this article with other readers of metroconnection.info email editor@metroconnection.info or to connect with Murthy directly email mahesh@passionfund.com.

Welcome Calendar Connection What's Up?/Story Ideas/Events Classified Ads Best Black Web Sites Business Services Including our Ujamaa Black Business Directory Our Print Edition Our Advertising Media Kit Contact Us/Feedback Form