America's Goodness Doesn't Extend Overseas
by Mushahid Hussain
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- For any foreign visitor to America, the virtues of the average American, coupled with the fact that immigrants get freedoms and opportunities that are denied to them at home, are key ingredients that make the United States the world's most popular destination.
As a student in the United States from 1973 to 1976, I witnessed the empathy, candor, humor and hard work that endear Americans to all those who interact with them.
I lived with an American family in Washington and developed close friendships with people of different faiths. I attended Christmas Mass with a Catholic family and enjoyed kosher food to the strains of "Hava Nagila" with Jewish friends.
Not once did I experience racism or the kind of suspicion that many from my background suffer in Europe.
How does this "good guy" at home become the "ugly American" overseas? Because the goodness of the U.S. remains mostly within its borders. American liberty, rule of law, democracy and justice are alien to U.S. foreign policy.
What did a diverse group of Third World leaders--Mao Tse-tung of China, Ho Chi Minh of Vietnam, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Fidel Castro of Cuba and Sukarno of Indonesia--have in common? As admirers of the American Revolution, they also believed in the ideals articulated by President Wilson, supporting the right of self-determination of subjugated peoples and colonies. So inspired was Ho that when he declared Vietnam's independence from France in 1945, he borrowed words from the Declaration of Independence about the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
But what happened? Coming to power, these leaders became implacable American foes after finding that the U.S. they idolized was different in real life.
At the height of the Vietnam War, Sen. J. William Fulbright referred to U.S. "arrogance of power."
During the 1991 Gulf War, President Bush's father aptly summed it up: "What we say goes."
For Muslims, double standards reinforced hostility in the Third World. United Nations resolutions are enforced against Iraq but not Israel. Weapons are given labels: Pakistan's nuclear capability is defined as "Islamic," hence a threat, while India's "vegetarian bomb" is viewed differently.
Terrorism is treated as a virtual Muslim monopoly, despite such terrorists as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh; Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish settler who gunned down 29 Palestinians in 1994; and the Sri Lankan separatist Tamil Tigers, who killed former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.
Sentiment in the Middle East is further aggravated because Muslims feel they are being made to pay for crimes against humanity committed during the Holocaust by the Christians of Europe against the Jews of Europe.
Not many Americans are aware of the adverse impact of U.S. foreign policy on billions of lives overseas because what happens over there never affected their lives back home. All that changed on Sept. 11. Nineteen suicide bombers did more damage to U.S. self-confidence than World War II, Vietnam and the Cold War combined.
When the head of an F-14 Tomcat squadron returned from the first bombing attack of Afghanistan on Oct. 7, he told the media: "Tonight was about giving America back the confidence."
But restoring American confidence could end up ruining a relationship with a Muslim world already under serious strain.
Mushahid Hussain is a syndicated columnist based in Islamabad.