After All We’ve Done For Them, Why Do They Hate Us?

September 18, 2006 | By | Reply More

A follow up, answer, another viewpoint…

The title is somewhat rhetorical. Hate–in its undiluted, culturally-disseminated form has only one reason–the perpetuation of local power–for the individual, the power to insist that he/she is right and refuses to countenance criticism, implicit or otherwise; for the state, the power to maintain power in the face of outside insistence on change. . If those against whom the hatred is directed are unfortunate enough not to see how they play into it, then the issue becomes complicated. What we now see in the Middle East and many other parts of the world is a hatred based on local potentates (single rulers, committees, vested interests, or cultural hegemons) desire, need, hunger to maintain a privileged position in their section of the world, something that became more and more untenable int he aftermath of World War ll.

Can that really be? After the decades of beating ourselves (namely, the West, which includes Europe, North America, and certain isolated pockets here and there and may now, paradoxically, include Japan, but certainly includes Australia, and may in time include India…) for our “responsibilities” in causing global problems (such self-recrimination soundly based on the legacies of a colonialist past), maybe it’s time to revisit some of that surplus self-loathing and see where the responsibilities actually lie.

The current exacerbating events of the current mess are all from the same source–the end of the second world war and the onset of the Cold War. Lest we forget, WW ll was the final staggering example of a European tradition of major powers vying for dominance among themselves. There’s more than ample validity to the idea that it was no more than the second half of the first world war, which set the stage by yielding to a desire for revenge on the part of France (less so Britain) and the creation, in formal language, of the dominant ideology of revolution of the 20th Century, namely Nationalism.

Nationalism, in some form, had been around for a long time, but it was subsumed in larger concepts of Country, language, ethnicity, certain cultural constants–it was not a separate political idea until Wilson let the genie out of the bottle at Versailles by suggesting that every group with a distinguishing identity deserved to have its own nation. Primarily, this was in answer to the problem of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which was the unlikely casus belli of the war, but also in partial response to the Question of the Middle East which was presented by Prince Faisel in partnership with T.E. Lawrence. Faisel’s people were in a fix with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire–they had no nations, they possessed no political cohesion, they were largely in the same situations as most American Indian people’s of the 18th and 19th Century–they were separate peoples without a framework from which to tell other countries to keep out. Lawrence saw the feeding frenzy about to occur and worked hard to try to set up a principle of nationhood for the Arabs so they could–diplomatically at least–defend themselves.

He failed. Britain and France wanted the oil reserves, which they’d known about for decades, and they also wanted to slam the door on the Bolshevik regime in Russia and deny them access to the same oil and open access to the world’s oceans through the Persian Gulf. To them, this seemed of overriding importance–after Russia had just gone through a nasty revolution reminiscent of the French Revolution, which still colored European perceptions about revolutions in general, and Bolshevism was quite antithetical to everything they valued. Or so it seemed.

The Arabs got caught in the crossfire and remained there for most of the rest of the century.

It still took a long time for Nationalism to take root. Pan-Arabism, Nasser, and the emergent Palestinian issue fed into it. World War ll came along to center everyone’s attention on another problem and delayed a lot of the eventual difficulties this idea of Nationalism would present.

But it was the Cold War that solidified the concepts and turned them brutal.

After all, the Cold War, when it became a shooting war, was fought everywhere but on the territory of the principle antagonists. Largely, though, it was economic, and had the harshest effects on those same surrogate battlegrounds.

Here’s the thing. The image of the United States was, in fact, a beacon of hope for many people living under oppressive regimes. The sad fact is, many of the peoples–small groups, small countries, places with histories of kings, dictators, violence, and poverty–got the fever for revolution, fed by Russian and later Chinese communists, overthrew their governments, such as they were, and installed a Marxist or pseudo Marxist regime, only to find themselves saddled with ideological dictatorships that were, often, worse than those they’d cast off. They didn’t know. They had no way of knowing. They were hungry. They were illiterate. They suffered from diseases with little or no public health services. They were living in hell and the promises looked good.

The problem we had, during all this, was this: we really didn’t like the idea of overthrowing foreign governments, even though we had a history of it in Central America and were beginning to have one in other places. Our actions along these lines were ambivalent. But we really didn’t like the idea of a Marxist regime. The leaders of countries facing a Marxist revolution would come to us and ask for help. The deal was simple–we’ll be our allies against communism if you help us stay in power. This usually meant selling them, at discount, military equipment which they then used to kill their own people and field horrific secret police forces to suppress dissent. With a wink and nod and, I’m sure, a wince and private promise to ourselves to “fix that when we get the chance” we entered into alliances in the name of freedom which resulted in nothing of the sort. We had a war to win, we couldn’t tell someone like, say, Pinochet to straighten up and be an enlightened sort if we expected to maintain necessary alliances against the Soviet Union. It was a devil’s bargain. We are paying for it big time.

Were we malicious about it? Were we hypocrites?

I’m sure a lot of hand wringing went on about this up till Cuba let Russian install medium-range nuclear missiles ninety miles from Florida. All at once, this wasn’t an ideological issue anymore. This was real. The Cuban Missile Crisis concretized our policy. If something said “communist” on it, we set about finding a way to crush it.

Were we wrong? In hindsight, we certainly went about it in many ill-conceived and inappropriate ways. We had some good ideas. Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, Lend-Lease, the Peace Corps…

But we are curiously reluctant to pin anything solid on simple ideas. We terrified by other ideas. This is nothing new, I suppose. Foreign ideas have been fought for millennia. Look at Christianity. Rome opposed it very strenuously. When it succeeded anyway, the “victors” turned right around and opposed all competing ideas with equal vigor and brutality. We have a deep-seated animus against what we define as Not Us. But instead of doing what might be most effective–taking a hard look at those foreign ideas and seeing if they’re sound and demonstrating where they aren’t–we do the same thing everyone has always done–oppose them, shut them out, condemn anyone who wants to give them their day in court.

Had we relied on our ideas and just kept feeding the programs that were the best advertisements for Who We Are, the Cold War may have gone on for another decade or two or three, but eventually we might have won the debate.

See, what we have as a really good idea that is quite revolutionary is that Individuals Ought To Have A Choice.

Simply stated. Terribly difficult to convey. Choice in what? How far do such choices go? Are there any limits on what to choose? And–thorniest of all–how do you teach people how to choose?

Here’s where we have lost it. We have always had a conflicted attitude ourselves about this freedom. Sure, it’s a great idea–but what if people choose something, well, Bad? And who defines that? Well…

A nation founded on an idea of religious freedom, for instance, ought to have no problem with new religions or religions that practice differently than others. But the 19th Century is littered with examples where new movements were crushed by the larger popular intolerance of such differences. Look at the Mormons, for instance. Those that survived have done so by being utterly innocuous and nonconfrontational (the Amish, etc) and, most importantly, isolated. Such pockets pose no threat. Mormonism got big, and so posed a serious threat.

But shouldn’t they have had a choice? Shouldn’t they have been allowed to practice as they saw fit?

It wasn’t even so much that they violated local law–polygamy, specifically. That issue never even got to trial. They were persecuted by impromptu eruptions of local animosity, eruptions which the government, after the fact, condoned, if not the method then at least the impulse.

We have carried that ambivalence everywhere we have gone. We worship an idea of tolerance–as long as people don’t actually test it. Do what you want, unless it’s different from what we want you to do.

Most 20th century revolutions, especially in Central America, have been land reform issues. Peasants, in confrontation with the ruling class, living subsistence existences on land barely able to sustain them, demanding that their government not force them off land that will sustain them. Governments selling land to outside interests for short term gain at the expense of the well-being of their people. This is a fairness issue.

But it is, to us, an economic issue, and when the land in question seems to be land owned by, say, U.S. Fruit or Ford Motor Company, then we support the government in suppressing what we label theft. If the people mount a political challenge, field a candidate, and vote in a land reform government, we have gone in and undermined it to keep our business interests happy. Or our other allies in the region mollified, because if we let such a change stand in one place, it may spread.

It has never seemed to occur to us–at least not at a policy level–that if we back our principles, maybe the resulting “socialist” governments would be stronger allies over time. Besides, we’ve been preaching freedom all along and when a people actually manages to act on these principles, and we then invalidate what they do, how does that play?

Even so, we didn’t begin to suffer in a major way from this until we ran headlong into the fundamental question of the Middle East. By and large, in say 60% of the cases, we still came off looking preferable to the other choice–Russia. It was clear to anyone with access to any kind of media that we were having a lot better time with our system than the Soviet Union was with its system. In an up and down comparison, we won every time. The undeveloped world–and a big chunk of the developed world–wanted to be the United States.

Lest we forget–because self-recrimination can be like a drug, habit-forming, and take us as far from reality as constant self-congratulations–the United States, since the end of World War ll, has been largely a positive force on the planet.

The problem has been worsened in two ways, both connected with a kind of myopic vision of what Choice means. Some time during the Bush Sr. administration, the two very different although mutually reinforcing concepts of Democracy and Free Markets were blatantly conflated by the First Bush. He made them interchangeable conceptually. One can see why. Ideas are fine, but if your standard of living doesn’t change for the better, they are all equal–equally useless. What we offered in opposition to communism, ostensibly, were Goodies. See those long lines in Moscow waiting for bread? For shoes? For any commodity, which never seem to be in sufficient supply? That’s a consequence of the communist method. Now, look at our markets. Plenty for everyone and lines only on Dollar Days. That’s what our system has to offer. Become a democracy–which allows for Individual Choice, and, in an easy to understand, but not entirely accurate conflation, freedom for business to function as it pleases–and you, too, can have all these Goodies.

Capitalism, as a label, became synonymous with Sweat Shop, so lost its P.R. utility, so we softened it with Free Markets. Bush took the next rhetorical step and declared Markets and Democracy the same thing.

Boy. Not good. Look at post-Soviet Russia to see why. They’re grabbing all the Goodies they can and doing everything they can to undermine democratic controls on Robber Baron capitalism. China may be doing a bit better, it’s too soon to tell, but there’s still a disconnect between what Democracy really means and capitalist open market economies.

I said they were mutually reinforcing, and that’s true. Our revolution was over taxes and trade, which equated to standard of living, and opposition to interference by government on the ability of the Individual to Do Better. For most of colonial America, though, subsistence was the economic model, trade largely relegated to the ports and big cities. We fought a terrible ideological war in the 1810s through 40s over “money economy”–and lost the agrarian model Jefferson preferred, Democracy and Free Markets, conjoined as they were, really did mean different things then.

How does this play in a place and among people who know neither?

The Arab legacy is monarchic. The House of Sa’ad is an old, traditional royal establishment. They grew very, very wealthy throughout the 50s and 60s. When OPEC formed and the first oil embargo was imposed, it seemed, on the surface, a legitimate political movement to retain control of local resources by the rightful representatives of those countries. Hurt it did, but we did not win our case because there was more than a little Right on their side. Besides, the major oil companies did okay out of it, after adjusting for the new political reality.

Whatever. The fact is, as with all entrenched and privileged elites, the Arab monarchies are not willingly going to relinquish power. That is just what they were faced with in the 80s. Because they had grown wealthy from the revenues of Middle East oil and had done nothing to alleviate considerable endemic poverty in their own countries (despite Islamic law, by the way), they were faced with growing Nationalist movements that wanted to overthrow them, replace them with more populist regimes, and attempt to utilize the vast revenue for public betterment. There were many forms of these movements, but two of them concern us here. One was democratic, and partly Marxist. Because of that, we certainly could not support them, even if their grievances were correct. The other was a nascent fundamentalist movement that saw the decadence of the Royal Houses as basically immoral and anti-Islamic. Neither of these groups were large enough yet to cause serious problems, but the Saudis recognized the trend and moved to do something about it.

What they did was shift the blame. They fed into the Islamist movements the idea that the real enemy was not the royal houses, but America. Look at everything you’re railing against, it’s all Western. Look at the history of Western abuse in the Middle East. This is just more of the same. Coca Colonialism!

It didn’t help that there was some truth to this–we’ve always manipulated markets to our own desires when ever possible, and the fact is that our chief export to these countries has been our Culture. The paradox of the Arab/Muslim reaction to the West is that our movies and music are in huge demand, and these are the very things being blamed for the decay of Islamic virtues.

(Ideas can be very powerful all by themselves. As a side note, it should be pointed out that, in another example of Western cultural hegemony, traditional Japanese music nearly disappeared when European chromaticism was introduced. The Japanese grabbed hold of Bach and his descendants with such a fervor that they almost completely abandoned their own musical heritage. Who is to blame? It’s an absurd question, really, but certainly fuel for debate.)

The ruling houses were more successful than they wanted to be. They sapped the energy from many of the democratic movements while distracting the local animosities of their people from themselves to Us. I’m sure they never intended it to go this far. But after all, most of the murderers of 9/11 were not from Afghanistan or Iraq, but Saudi Arabia. Osama Bin Laden is a Saud. The idea of the West as Enemy has taken on multinational dimensions, but it was fed by nationalistic and privileged interests which we blundered into all unknowing.

Because the fact is, democracy would undermine fundamentalist Islam, as it does fundamentalist Christianity. The idea that the Individual Ought to Be Free to Choose is antithetical to religious ideas of divine authority and cultural oppression. Under democracy, you can’t prevent half your people from voting because they lack a penis. You can’t different rules for different people Just Because they’re different. You can’t have a concept of individual obliteration to religious hegemony.

But it also undermines royal fiat.

In some Arab states, it is the ruling houses themselves that are beginning to institute democratic institutions, under the assumption that it is better to do it themselves, controlled and gradually, than risk overthrow by madmen. But it’s a dicey thing, and the one element that would be of immense help to them would be a rational United States policy of support that did not come, all or nothing, combined with a market system that violates local conditions.

See, because of Bush Sr. making that unfortunate conflation, we have it backwards now. Free markets do not foment democracy. It’s the other way around. Besides, what markets anywhere have ever been “free”? With democracy, though, a people gets to choose what it wants to be before being overwhelmed by insistence from the outside that they must be this or that. We’ve gotten ourselves stuck in a position of insisting that they must be a certain way before they can have democracy (which may be true, but it has be emerge naturally from within, not imposed from without) or the benefits of a relationship with us. The trouble is also that we’re fickle about it. (When the Shah was still in power in Iran, he wanted to begin a nuclear energy program–and we supported it. We supported it with offers of money and technical advice. Now that it’s a different regime, we’re saying they can’t have it, but in most of its elements it is the same program. Arguably, this regime is more democratically chosen than the Shah’s had been, but it’s a thorny problem.) We are perfectly will to sell arms to all kinds of people we wouldn’t sit down to dinner with. When it comes to helping the people under these regimes, though.

We like to say you can’t judge a book by its cover. In many ways, the United States is a book that is being so judged. A big, flashy, gaudy cover, bodice-ripper style, that shows all the glitter and glitz of what we are without showing much of the substance. It’s not fair. But we could choose to put something substantive in the cover blurbs…and it might help if we printed the thing in a language other people could read.

But we have no faith that our ideas will sell. Not even among ourselves. That’s what we put the glitzy cover on everything for to begin with.

And that’s a big, big problem.

The irony is, they who hate us actually do  have such faith–and they are very afraid of it.  This has nothing to do with the right or wrong of those ideas, only the fact of them.  But you have to ask, if someone is afraid of an idea, how impoverished is their life to begin with? 

Something we need to ask ourselves as well.

Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Category: American Culture, Bigotry, Communication, Consumerism, Cultural Evolution, Culture, Current Events, Economy, Good and Evil, History, Language, Law, Media, Politics, Religion, The Middle East, Uncategorized

About the Author ()

Mark is a writer and musician living in the St. Louis area. He hit puberty at the peak of the Sixties and came of age just as it was all coming to a close with the end of the Vietnam War. He was annoyed when bellbottoms went out of style, but he got over it.

Leave a Reply