by Austin Bay
June 4, 2003Why do they hate us?
The first mistake behindthis classic American question is a guilt-laced assumption -- assuming "they"is a representative sample of the planet and "hate" is the culpritemotion.
The popular origins, political abuse and greedymedia leverage of the American public's proclivity for guilt trips are fodderfor a library's worth of books. From lunatic left to ridiculous right,the American strength of self-critique has a tendency to end withself-blame. Maybe the folks who hawk the "Puritan origins" myth have a point,even for allegedly secular Americans. "Forgive us Lord, we've done wrong" --and no doubt we have in numerous circumstances -- becomes "Good God, wecaused this mess. Why, observe the anger of the Arab street." Or plug in anygroup with a grievance.
The charge made by internationalcritics that America is dangerous is true. America has been dangerous since1776 -- dangerous to autocrats and the vicious elites that still control muchof the planet.
Liberty remains a threat to the autocrats, asit remains a great hope to those they oppress. If you doubt this, then youare blind to the toppling statues of Saddam. Saudi Arabia's Crown PrinceAbdullah can give The New York Times his plans for Mideast peace, but don'task him about the oppressed in his own kingdom. Very few in Saudi Arabia havethe guts to raise that lurking issue -- it leads to jail, orworse.
A few will, with great care. In a souk in a Saudiport, I drank a cup of tea with a Shiite jewelry dealer. Sometime in theconversation about nothing too important, he asked me what it's really likein Texas. That's when I asked, "What's it really like for a cosmopolitan Shiatrader in a land run by a Wahhabi-radical Bedouin tribe?" Bottom line: Itisn't easy. Eastern Saudi Arabia has a lot of Shia Arabs, but you won't findthem cropping up in the official religious statistics.
Whyare we unpopular at the United Nations? Consider the U.N.'s membership list.Most of the so-called nation-states are anything but. Sure, they have RandMcNally borders, but they aren't modern states rooted in legitimate, popularauthority. These hoaxes are areas controlled by the primitive sovereignty oftyranny, empires of fear where autocrats (often backed by a favored ethnicgroup, a tribe with a flag) call the shots.
Yeah, they hateus. The autocrats running the fake states hate us because they fear theliberty that empowers us will encourage their oppressed to topplethem.
And that's happening. Satellite Tv puts the FirstAmendment in orbit around the globe; the Internet slips it into every home.The USSR's evil Stalinist apparatus couldn't handle the globalizing FirstAmendment. Post-Cold War thugs can't, either. Communications technologyundermines the dictators. Who "programs" the First Amendment? We can kavetchabout Hollywood's often smutty fare, but the truth is every American programsthe First Amendment. That scares the tyrants.
So they hateus.
Which leads to the other embedded complaint directedat America -- we're powerful. Quick lesson in the counter-intuitive: TheU.S. political system is based on a system that seeks to check and balancepower. That system, imperfect as it is, is the source of what theFrench disdainfully call the American "hyper-power." Our system permitscreativity and experimentation -- in politics, in economic endeavors. That'sa threat to fossil bureaucracies everywhere, including the one governing fromthe Champs Elysee.
Little wonder those bureaucrats despiseus. Religious fanatics attacked us on 9-11. Parse Osama bin Laden'scomplaints, and the United States is somehow responsible for events eightcenturies old.
Bin Laden, a truly old-time reactionary, didcome up with a new wrinkle -- turning airliners into ballistic missiles.Osama showed us that the technology of mega-death is no longer solelycontrolled by national governments. With nuclear and chemical weapons, thesmall tyrants (North Korea) and the tiny terror gangs (Al Qaeda) can threatena hundred million innocents. International means for controlling thesekillers are demonstrably inadequate. The Untied States has the military andpolitical power to defeat them.
Hyperpower? As oneMalaysian Muslim told me last fall, there is no other country capable ofleading the necessary fight.
So what if the killers hateus?