Why Are We Hated?
The question that has been asked most frequently in the wake of the horrific terrorist attack of September 11 is why America is hated so intensely, so much so that individuals are motivated to kill indiscriminately and in the process die without hesitation. A number of reasons can provide the "rationale" for this kind behavior. But to understand their resoluteness and fanaticism, we must consider the background of would-be-terrorists and examine how hate infused with religious zeal transforms them psychologically to commit unspeakable crimes.
Nothing is easier to teach than hate. Hate is irrational, generated from a narrow perspective. It is durable and inveterate because it substitutes for feelings of inadequacy or failure while offering an outlet for the management of discontent and despair. Hate is self-consuming: The greater its intensity, the more blinding and malicious is its flame. It prevents the individual from any objective perception of the truth. The individual's hatred of his own conditions is therefore easily transferable to hating others whom he can conveniently blame for his misfortune. When instigated and left smoldering, hate becomes self-propelling, in need of some relief. Dictators and extremist religious leaders have long since learned to use hate as a unifying element to mobilize the masses against their enemies–Nazi Germany offers a perfect example. When hate is sanctioned by religious fanaticism and nourished by conditions of idleness, poverty and neglect, it becomes an integral part of religion itself and a formidable force for violence.
Feelings of antagonism against the United States are not a new phenomenon. As part of the western hemisphere America is at best suspected by certain segments of the Muslim and the Arab worlds as symbolizing what the West has perceived: imperialism, colonialism, capitalism and the rest of "isms" offered nothing to them except to become objects of their resistence and discontent. America's ascendency to superpowerdom added further fuel to the already charged anti-imperialism atmosphere. But for the past five decades, especially since the 1967 Six Day-War, America has earned other appellations, such as the exploiter of Arab lands and peoples, the defender of Zionism and the protector of corrupt Arab regimes.
The United States is seen as an arrogant and morally decadent state that takes other nations for granted but pays no heed to their real problems. Arab and Muslim extremists accuse the United States of being motivated by narrowly defined national security concerns.
For example, although many Arab states supported the first Bush administration in 1991 in its effort to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, they also believe that the United States is exploitive and that it was then (and still is) motivated by its oil interests rather than concern for Kuwait's freedom. The United States, from this perspective, simply wanted to safeguard the despised Saudi government while preventing Saddam Hussein from controlling the combined huge reservoir of Kuwaiti and Iraqi oil. Similarly, our adversaries insist that American arrogance glaringly manifests itself by the pervasiveness of our culture which overshadows–and devalues, implicitly and explicitly–indigenous cultures and their way of life. Paradoxically, America is embraced because of its rich diversity, while envied because of its wide appeal.
The United States is also seen as self-indulgent, operating from the vantage point of America as the center of the universe. We are labeled as uncaring: We neither understand nor do we show any interest in understanding other people's needs, aspirations or the problems that impact their lives so profoundly. America acts only when American interests are at stake. As proof, look at our support of corrupt Arab regimes such as the Gulf States, especially Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Moreover, our critics charge the United States with being indifferent to the evils occurring elsewhere around the world–the genocide in Rwanda, disease and starvation in other African nations and the Palestinian's state of homelessness. America is for Americans while the rest of the world gets the crumbs.
One of the more common accusations leveled against us is our failure to be evenhanded in our foreign policy. We are accused of favoring Israel over the Arab States, specifically the Palestinians and of not discharging our responsibilities impartially in the region. Our critics cite the continuing sanctions against Iraq for its noncompliance with UN resolutions, causing tremendous hardship to the Iraqi people, whereas Israel has never been forced to comply with any UN resolutions against its policies, such as that it return the occupied territories.
The United States, finally, is envied because of its wealth, freedom, outreach and immense human and material resources. The envy of America also extends to our economic and military power and our ability to wield them almost at will. American visitors to Arab and Muslim countries are easily visible, immediately recognized by their deep pockets. Typically, they make no effort to show modesty. When both the reality and the myth of America are juxtaposed against the immediate reality of deprivation and hardship, the result is a combustible stew of envy, deep resentment and hate.
Put all these together and it is not hard to see how America becomes, at a minimum, the scapegoat its detractors need. From time immemorial leaders from all political and philosophical persuasions sought to blame others for their shortcomings and endemic problems. The bigger the problem they faced, the larger and more significant the scapegoat had to be. The United States fits the bill not only because it is a superpower, but because its power is so visible. Add to this mix the media in many of these counties –among them, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Lebanon, Iran and Libya which are not free to criticize their own government, and so join in the official anti-American crusade, feeding the public the same dose of fallacies and misperceptions that their respective government dishes out. Undoubtedly, we can legitimately debate and criticize certain American policies in the Middle East, and the citizens, government and media of these nations have an equal right to criticize our policy, say, in connection with Israel, Iraq, the Palestinians, Iran, or our presence in the Middle East and, especially, the Persian Gulf. We must, however, distinguish between legitimate criticism of policies and the deliberate and malicious campaign of hatred that portrays America as the source of all the evils and social ills in these societies.
Unlike other political philosophies, hate sanctioned by religious zeal is not subject to rational discourse. The indoctrinated become intoxicated with feelings of piety; they grow fearless, undeterred by dangers or even death. They emerge as fanatic believers in the cause, resistant to outside influence because they feel shielded by a divine power and their belief that they will achieve martyrdom once they perform the ultimate deed. Committing an act of violence against the United States or making Americans suffer briefly satiates their hateful burning thirst. Successfully battling such hate may prove much harder to achieve than waging the actual war on terrorism because we need to change the environment in which hate and blind religious fanaticism fester before they become full blown.