anti-american crowd
Almost three years after the 9/11 attacks, there is every indication that our world is now more insecure than it has ever been. Anti-Western extremists willing to use violence are more numerous and more committed than ever. They have been given justification in their belief that at least some Western leaders harbour overt and hostile ethnic and religious bias, put ideology above reason in their decision-making, and have imperialistic and economic motivations, rather than humanitarian and peacemaking ones, for their constant, trigger-happy war-mongering.

If these extremists wanted to create massive fear, huge economic loss and large numbers of civilian casualties, there are lots of ways to do it, and the bumbling, anti-democratic Homeland Security forces would be helpless to prevent them. These extremists could release bioweapons up smokestacks in North Korea, which, like today’s Chinese pollution, would carry across the Pacific to North America, and its source would be untraceable. Such weapons would be quite easy, according to the experts, for anyone with an appropriate university education to cook up, and tons of them have been missing and unaccounted for since the fall of the Soviet Union. Or the extremists could recruit American radical groups to use conventional weapons to bomb dams, pipelines, refineries, convention and transportation centres and key points in the power grid, or poison the water supply or the food supply (at any of a dozen points in the supply chain). Or they could recruit Americans to become pilots and have them crash planes into nuclear power plants, some of which are directly beneath flightpaths and wouldn’t require any telltale diversion.

So a large number of people (say, a billion or so, and thanks to Bush their numbers swell every day) have motive. method and opportunity to attack the West, but they don’t. Why not?

The neocons can’t fathom the answer to this question, and would like us to believe it’s new Western security measures and vigilance that have prevented more and larger-scale attacks outside the Mideast. But the evidence of the continuing and stunning incompetence of Western intelligence, which has yet to solve conclusively any of the previous attacks, and which is obviously unprepared for new ones, suggests that isn’t the answer. The real answer is a lot simpler, and if you read the articles by reporters in the third world that quote what the locals have to say about us, and use a little bit of imagination, you understand that the answer to this question is the same as the answer to the other two questions we keep asking: Why do they hate us? and What do they want? The answer to all three questions is: We just want the West to go away and leave us alone.

Imagine the Earth was in a tenuous war with an alien race of vastly superior military might, which had put settlements of its own strange and frightening peoples on Earth as a show of strength. And imagine that through an act of astonishing stealth we had been able to blow up one of the aliens’ invading spaceships, and that they retaliated by blowing up an entire arbitrarily selected country on Earth, because they couldn’t figure out where our strike came from. And that they threatened to blow up more countries if we didn’t turn over the perpetrators of our strike on them.

Now suppose we had the opportunity to blow up another of their spaceships, or maybe two or three, but not enough to make a significant dint in their armada. Would we do it? Of course not. We know that the retaliation would be devastating. We would sit tight, hassle the local settlers and hope they got discouraged and went home. We would just want these brutal aliens to go away and leave us alone.

OK, now suppose further that the alien leader broadcasts speeches to his settlers and armies on Earth that glorify an endless war of shock and awe against all those on Earth that oppose the alien invasion, and that claim that the people of Earth who resist the invasion ‘hate freedom’ and are ‘evil’. And that everywhere you go on Earth you see more and more signs of alien expansion — signs in the alien language, alien occupation forces, mines and factories owned by the aliens. How would you feel? Even if they killed the one Earth politician you hated more than any other, would you welcome them as liberators, or fear them to the very bottom of your soul?

Now imagine you’re one of the aliens, and you’re trying to decide what to do next. You’ve invested a fortune in new, unpopular, aggravating security measures to try to prevent the next stealth attack on your armada out in Space, and that’s hampering your ability to conduct operations on Earth to protect your settlements there. A lot of your fellow aliens are suggesting the Earth invasion was a mistake, but you have a lot at stake — thousands of your fellow aliens have already died, the military action is bankrupting the alien empire, and your armada can’t even make it home unless they mine all the rocket fuel on Earth, and that will take time. So what do you do? You dig in for the long haul and secure the mines and your settlements, and invent a fiction for home consumption that you’re doing it for the Earth peoples’ own good.

What the vast majority of third world people want from the West is simply our absence — politically, militarily, economically and culturally — from their countries’ affairs. They want us to go away and leave them alone. They aren’t even particularly interested in selling their oil wealth to the West — the oil nations are currently selling it at a tiny fraction of what they could get for it if they wanted to be greedy, but they know the consequences of doing so would be war, and besides oil wealth has been at best a mixed blessing for the countries that have it, and at worst a curse that perverts the rest of their economies and breeds dependence and lack of diversification. Even in third world countries suffering under despots, people see us as a mixed blessing — chances are it’s weaponry we’ve sold their government that’s killing them, and that it’s profits from joint ventures between our corporations and their government that have financed the genocide, so we shouldn’t be surprised when they doubt our motivations as ‘liberators’. And if they’ve read about Rwanda, they also doubt our capability to help them.

Obviously, the multinational corporations that own a lot of property or employ a lot of slave labour in the third world, and which are making large profits from these operations, would be the big losers if we all just packed up and left — sold off all our interests, as Canada successfully pressured our corporations to do in Sudan a year ago, and simply withdrew. Should we — politically, militarily, economically and culturally — withdraw from the entire third world, and leave them alone to solve their own problems?

Whatever your political stripe, your answer to this question is probably ‘no’, or at least a qualified ‘no’. If you’re a conservative you might see such withdrawal as an act of cowardice, isolationism and economic madness, damaging to all countries concerned. If you’re a liberal you might see it as an abrogation of responsibility to clean up the mess we created, or of our humanitarian duty as citizens of Earth. In either case you might see it as politically reckless.

But no matter your reason for answering ‘no’, you must understand that your answer is not what the majority in the third world wants. If you don’t believe this, reread the four shaded paragraphs above and appreciate that our culture is so foreign, so alien, so threatening to the third world that if they had a choice, they’d forego all the benefits of cultural and economic exchange with the West to avoid what, to them, are its overwhelming costs. We should have the courage, and the imagination, to respect that. Tribal cultures, and communities in nature, respect cultural diversity and don’t interfere with neighbouring communities’ property or practices (to do so invites war, which is almost always won by the defenders). We have copied this concept, which we now call sovereignty, from these natural cultures. But in our modern Crusade for cultural homogeneity, we have lost our respect for it, because we can no longer imagine how the loss of sovereignty feels to a people suddenly invaded by an alien people.

We pay lip service to sovereignty in the UN and other international bodies and international agreements. But we only talk about it when it is abused by dictators and despots who hide behind it to perpetrate atrocities. When another nation’s culture broadly supports something we abhor, like subjugation of women (Afghanistan, still) or laws we consider barbaric (Nigeria) or child labour (Thailand) or slavery (the US until the 1860s), or capital punishment (the US today), it is hard for those of us in more ‘enlightened’ countries to resist the temptation to charge in and tell the majority their culture is wrong and must change. But if we respect sovereignty we must resist that temptation. Just as Americans finally learned the error of their ways about slavery, and will one day learn the error of their ways about capital punishment, the Afghanis and the Nigerians and the Thais will eventually come to realize the social unacceptability of their practices, in their own time and on their own terms. It is not our place to change their culture coercively, and if we try to impose change on them it will just provoke resistance and set back the process further.

So this is a paean to sovereignty — for the right of cultures to seek their own path forward, clumsily and slowly, to own and manage their own resources, make their own strange laws — and to tell alien invaders to go away and leave them alone.

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  1. Peter:Let me first say that I didn’t read the whole article as it was quite lengthy and to be honest, not all that different than what other neocons spew. You could tell from the first few paragraphs that this guy was a neocon and Bush defender. But the biggest problem with the article is it doesn’t tackle the most important question which Dave asked. “Why do they hate us?” The problem with neocons is that they assume it is just because the other guys are evil and they attack us because they have nothing better to do. Sure, there are some psycopaths out there that ‘kill for fun’ but you can’t organize a group as large as Al Qaeda out of a bunch of psychopaths. Al Qaeda formed the same way groups like Greenpeace, and other lobby groups formed. That is, out of a cause that a group of like minded people share a belief in. So, the most important question we need to ask is, what is that cause that united so many people and drives them to such extreme lengths to voluntarily take their own lives for that cause. Think about that for a second. These people, who aren’t psychopaths and for the most part are highly educated and intelligent people, are willing to take their own lives for what they believe in. If an American did the same thing defending the United States he would be considerd honorable, nobal, a national hero, and remembered for years.So, you have to ask why these people feel so strongly about their cause that they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in defending that cause. Until you ask, understand, and answer that question how can you have any hope in being able to solve the problem? The only thing Bush is doing is defending against the symptoms (i.e. terrorism) but not the cause of those symptoms (hatred of the United States) and in doing so is only strenghening the underlying problem in the process.

  2. Life Tenant says:

    Good dissection of neocon blunders, but I’m sorry, Dave, the rest of this is a gross oversimplification. You cannot simply lump together the entire “Third World” as a set of “tribal cultures.” India and China were not tribal cultures in the sense that North America was before contact with Western imperialists. The industrial revolution, in one form or another, has already transformed many of these regions irrevocably, as it transformed the West. Some parts of the Third World are steeped in Western culture, e.g. Latin America, parts of which would likely think of themselves as part of the West. Not all the cultural and other exports of the West are damaging — think of concepts of constitutional government or individual rights — or unwanted — think of Hollywood movies or open-source software. You overstate the difference between the West and other cultures, and understate the differences among the other cultures besides the West. We are all part of human diversity. And we are all part of world history, in which Western and other cultures have intermingled inextricably since long before Herodotus sojourned in Egypt. The world is too interdependent for anybody to “go away.” Sharing and exchange for mutual benefit is entirely possible among various Western and non-Western cultures, and it happens. We need to do more of it. Retreating into isolated blocs is not the answer.

  3. baaa says:

    Dave Johnson:Yes, there is a certain amount of military and economic hegemony on the part of the west. However, even if the west were to disengage, it seems unlikely that everything would be hunky dorey. The fact is, ‘they’ do hate us already. Identifying what causes them to hate us and stopping that behaviour will not blunt their hate. Some reasons offhand are:Anti-western propaganda will keep the people unaware of any such disengagement. They believe what they want to believe.A huge portion of the world resents America’s status as the sole superpower, hegemony or no. It’s a Winner’s curse. Even America’s friends are guilty of this.Extremists bent on bringing about the Caliphate will not back down until they meet their goal. They will not be appeased. In fact, as the essay details, every time we don’t fight back, they become emboldened.I understand that in solving a problem one is meant to take care of the cause and not the symptom, but I really don’t know what specific actions we can take to stop hatred of the US. I notice that Kerry for one hasn’t put forward any. Any ideas?

  4. Ken Hirsch says:

    What an incredibly arrogant piece of nonsense this essay is. You presume to know what the majority of not just one third world nation wants, but the “vast majority” of the third world as a whole!I’m sure the women of Darfur will be so happy to hear that you’re respecting their sovereignty as they are raped and their husbands killed and their homes burned. That will really make them feel warmly towards the West. Which was better, when the U.S. respected the sovereignty of Indonesia in 1975 or when the West intervened in 1999?Should the United States of America have respected the sovereignty of the Confederate States in 1861? The U.S. did not just spontaneously evolve to a higher moral plane. More than half a million people died to end slavery.What really cracks me up is how you have the whole trade issue backwards. You see, when the West disengages from a country economically, it’s called sanctions. It’s not about respecting a country’s sovereignty, it’s about pressuring them to change. The first thing Mandela did when he came to power was to get the sanctions lifted. The South Africans want investors, customers, and employers from the West.

  5. Charles2 says:

    I think as a conceptual frame, Dave gets a lot right in his essay. Lumping the entire “third world” together may be a vast overstatement, but the results of his analysis are, I believe, very close to reality. There is no one cause of much of the hatred, but rather it has built up over many decades. I would offer up the theory that the greatest “hatred” against the US is in societies that have a history of blood feuds and long-lasting tribal enmity. Our (meaning the “West”) meddling in their “soveriegnty” since at least the 18th Century is not forgotten. Far from it, it is remembered and passed from generation to generation, inspiring hatred. And each time we support a dictator, split tribal areas into different countries or invade, we only feed that hatred and ensure that there are additional layers added to the stories that get handed down.But of course, every thing we try to do to understand this enmity is only a conceptual framework with rather tenuous ties to “reality” in the world. Each area is slightly different, each grudge or feud slightly more or less violent. Withdrawal has its advantages, but perhaps engagement – of a different sort – has more. But we’ve never been very good at the sort of engagement that today’s world calls for. I’m not even sure how to describe it.

  6. Peter,You make some good points and ultimately there is no simple answer. Propaganda can work but it works so much better when American action so clearly backs up that propaganda. One of Al Qaeda’s biggest pieces of recruitment propaganda is ‘they are invading our holy territory’ and it worked incredibly well when the United States just had a few thousand troops in Saudi Arabia. How well do you think it will work when 140,000 American troops are in Iraq imposing American ideals on Arabs? The Americans need to marginalize the Bin Ladens of the world, not strengthen them and you do that by being the better leader, not the more powerful one.And yes, there is always some resentment to a sole superpower but that resentment turns to hatred when that sole supowerpower imposes itself on others. And yes, there are extremists out there but what gives those extremists power is the ability to recruit the grunts (terrorists) to carry out their plans. Bin Laden hasn’t killed many (or any?) Americans himself. He hires others to do his dirty deeds. Take away his power to recruit people and money and he and his extremist thoughts are nothing to fear. Extremists aren’t born extremists, they grow to become extremists.Ultimately the western culture has a lot to offer other cultures but other cultures also have a lot to offer western culture. It is time that we get past the “were the best, we’ll tell you what to do” attitude. Encourage them to reform. Help them reform. Show them how we do things in the west. Treat them with respect and respect their own cultures. Create friends, not enemies. And be patient. Cultural and political revolutions take decades, if not generations, and can’t be done overnight no matter how strong your military is.(Note: The other big issue that creates extremists is the United States completely biased support of Israel but this is a whole discussion in itself).

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Peter: The author of this intolerably long and incoherent blather gets it all backwards: 9/11 happened not because America ‘backed off’, but because it has been bullying the people of the Middle East, politically, economically, and, through Israel, militarily, incessantly for generations. Bin Ladin’s biggest beef with the US is their presence in Saudi Arabia — culturally, politically and economically in partnerships with the wildly unpopular Royal Family, militarily with their use of Saudi air bases etc. If America had ‘backed off’ Saudi Arabia there would have been no 9/11. As for anti-Western propaganda, I think you give the Arab peoples too little credit — they are as skeptical of what their leaders tell them as anyone else, and they believe what they see — Starbucks and McDonalds on every corner, the Saudi government sitting on their hands as Arab civilians in Palestine and Afghanistan and Iraq die at the hands of American and allied troops, proliferation of English signs, arrogant American troops and businesspeople everywhere — regardless of what they’re told by the government.David: Eloquent comments, thank you.Subdude: I’m not saying (at least I didn’t mean to say) that the third world is tribal or culturally homogeneous — it certainly is not. And I’m not saying it’s necessarily a good idea (economically or socially) for the West withdrawal from countries with very different cultures from ours (Modern Latin American culture is closer to ours, since the indigenous people there, as in North America, were largely eradicated and assimilated by invading Western culture) — I’m saying that Western withdrawal is what these countries want. China got its wish by isolating itself completely from Western influence for decades, and India’s first inclination when it was colonized by the West was to get them to go home, too (the war against the British was long and brutal). Those two countries are quite willing to accept offshored work and money for manufactured products from the West, but it would be a mistake to believe that either of those countries would now welcome American culture, economic ownership or political pressure. India is involved in nuclear brinksmanship with Pakistan, a country that is fiercely opposed to the introduction of any Western culture (though ironically and expediently its President is a qualified ally of America). If we leave a nation’s people and its culture alone until they reach out to us, as Russia has done and as much of the rest of the world will do eventually, on their own terms and in their own time, we can avoid all the resentment and anger that inevitably come with unwanted cultural invasion, political bullying and economic imperialism.Ken: Ken, Ken, where do I begin? You seem to enjoy twisting everything I say. If you read my blog, you surely know I have called for UN-sponsored humanitarian relief and peacemaking in Sudan. Respecting a foreign culture and refraining from unwanted economic imperialism and exploitation of other countries doesn’t mean abrogating our responsibility to reduce suffering and bring an end to behaviours that are inhumane by *any* cultural standard. As for slavery in the US, Canada was violently opposed to the practice long before the 1860s, and in fact provided safe harbour for American slaves for decades before the Americans became enlightened. The question you ask about Confederate sovereignty is the wrong one — the question you should have asked was: Would Canada have been morally justified in pulling together a global confederation of enlightened states and bombing and occupying America in the early 1800s because of their repugnant slavery laws, and then imposing a puppet government until *we* were convinced that America was sufficiently socially advanced to govern itself responsibly? And as for sanctions, they are the antithesis of disengagement — they are economic bullying, an interventionist tactic (and a lousy one, since it usually punishes the citizensinstead of the government).Charles: Good point — it’s important to keep lines of communication and information flow open even when a culture chooses to isolate itself from other exchanges. Engagement needs to be reciprocal and respectful in the interim.

  8. Ken Hirsch says:

    Would Canada have been morally justified in pulling together a global confederation of enlightened states and bombing and occupying America in the early 1800s because of their repugnant slavery laws, and then imposing a puppet government until *we* were convinced that America was sufficiently socially advanced to govern itself responsibly?Yes! Just as the United Staes was justified in invading the Confederate States. The United States did set up puppet governments in the South and occupied the South for more than ten years. The outcome may not have been perfect, but it was better than allowing slavery to continue. There are pragmatic grounds for respecting sovereignty. I was moderately opposed to invading Iraq because I thought that it would turn out badly. But I certain did not think and do not think that respecting the sovereignty of an illegitimate and immoral ruler has any moral weight.I really did not intend to twist your words; I was just trying to show you the logical conclusions from what you say. You certainly haven’t made it clear which things “are inhumane by any cultural standard” and which things aren’t.You really aren’t at all clear on what actions you think violate sovereignty and which don’t. Sure, invasion does, but your overheated rhetoric about “economic imperialism” makes it look like you think Starbucks opening franchises in China is a violation of China’s sovereignty!To me, the whole essay just smacks of emotional projection. You hate corporate capitalism so you just assume that the majority of third worlders do, too.

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