Editorials and Opinions

How the world sees America

By Aron Milberg
Published: May 2009

People don’t hate Americans as individuals, despite the popular preconceived notion. If an American travels extensively, he will find that if he treats the locals with respect, he will in turn be respected and treated with humanity.

America as a whole, however, is not so well received by the world population. It is fair to say that people hate America, even if they don’t hate Americans.

Twentieth-century scholar Edward Said coined the term “Orientalism, a system whereby Western narratives about the East are influenced by the Western imperialist attitude. This bias taints the Western perception of the East with untruth.

Non-Western narratives in the West are likewise eschewed with “Occidentalism, a system whereby other people’s perception of the West and its ideals are changed because of the effect of centuries of un-reconciled Western imperialism.

The Occidentalist narrative about the United States exists in all the places it has imperialized. As Hugo Chavez of Venezuela says, “The grand destroyer of the world, and the greatest threat … is represented by U.S. imperialism. The places that “hate our freedom most are the places where we have had the most involvement, such as Latin America and the Middle East.

During the twentieth century, secularism was actually on the rise in the Middle East. Yassir Arafat, Gamal Nasser, Saddam Hussein, and Mohammad Pahlavi were all secularists. However, the U.S. had chosen to support Hamas, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Islamic revolution in Iran, and the Islamic infiltration of the new Iraqi government.
The West’s policy toward Islam has created the cultural conditions that fostered modern radical political Islam. This is, of course, not to say that there is only one type of Islam, and that there is no hope for secularism in the Middle East.

After the 9/11 attacks, Osama Bin Laden wrote a letter to America stating his grievances. It is true that he commented on America’s need for Islam, which is what conservative pundits point to when they say Bin Laden “hates America’s freedom. They ignore, however, the majority of the letter, in which the main grievance is that “[America] attacked us and [continues] to attack us.

Bin Laden listed Somalia, Palestine, Kuwait, and the Middle Eastern Oil Aristocracy as examples in which America has negatively involved itself, resulting in the death or subjugation of Arabs. He did not mention America’s historical involvement in Iran, or the imperialism of European countries in the Middle East and Northern Africa; imperialism which in the early stages of globalization was inextricably linked to America.

Admittedly, Bin Laden also chastised America for its liberal policies towards gambling and homosexuality, its secular government, and its capitalist economic system. But if America had not been so involved in the history of the Middle East in such a destructive way, these issues would probably not have come up.

Bin Laden does not criticize Turkey, which legalized prostitution, or Palestine, which has an intense history of secularism; not so coincidentally, the Ottoman Empire has fallen and there has never been a Palestinian Empire. The “American Empire, though, is still around.

To say that the Middle Eastern animosity toward the West is not derived from Islam would be false. But to say that modern Islam is not a product of modernization, imperialism, globalization, secularism, foreign ideology, and economic conditions would be even more harmfully false.

As Said says, “Ideas, cultures, and histories cannot seriously be understood or studied without their force, or more precisely their configurations of power, also being studied.

It would be a misstep to say that secularism, liberal democracy, modernization, industrialization, and even globalization and capitalism are inherently evil. In fact, most people would willingly accept these things, if the choice were voluntary.

But throughout history, the West’s global contributions have been introduced by imperialism, colonialism, and destruction.

The face of liberal democracy is one of violence and evil. And it is not because people hate liberty. It is because the so-called liberators kill the children and steal the resources of the places they are liberating.

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