Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Connecticut Yankee in a whole new court

By Rick Shade
As an American who spends much of his time living, working and traveling in Europe and other foreign locales, I'm often asked to describe foreign attitudes regarding America and Americans in a post-9/11 world. Inexperienced travelers in taxis and at airports often ask the same questions -- "Do they really hate us now?" or "Is it safe for Americans?" and "Should I tell people I'm Canadian?"

While my answers are usually filled with positives about the joys of travel and the fact that most people will be courteous and friendly to travelers, it is getting harder these days to tell anyone with a straight face that Americans are well-liked throughout the world. Now of course, America-bashing is nothing new -- we've been experiencing backlash throughout old Europe (particularly in France) since the 1950's -- but events of the past few years, particularly the war in Iraq, have created a whole new level of animosity toward our country and its foreign policy that seems to have spread worldwide.

The Iraq War may be the straw that broke the camel's back in our relationship with many foreign nations, but our decisions to cozy-up to one dictator after another in the Muslim world -- particularly our past ties to the Shah of Iran, Saddam Hussein and Saudi King Fahd -- probably anger more people worldwide than our support for Israel. Today, our calls for freedom around the world ring hollow to many while we still support King Mohammad VI in Morocco and military dictators like Mushareff in Pakistan.

Spending as much time as I have in the Middle East made me an opponent of the Iraq War from the outset -- not because I had any idea of the mess it would become internationally, but simply because of the "clan" mentality which dominates a great deal of Muslim culture. Most countries throughout the region have a particular clan or sect that dominates much of the society. Iraq, much like Morocco and Pakistan, have many. The concept of an American force invading that country and inserting a western-style democracy was laughable from the beginning.

One connected factor that seems to be making life a little less comfortable for Americans traveling abroad is the ever-increasing population of young Muslims throughout Western Europe. They are generally first and second generation Euros -- far too young to have any remembrance of America as the Great Liberator, and far too likely to see us as the Great Satan.

I experienced that very anger only a couple of months ago in Holland (where I am currently located) at my hotel's bar. While chatting with a co-worker, I found myself being stared-down by two Dutch Muslims sitting at the bar. When my friend asked them (in Dutch) why they kept staring and muttering, they said that they simply hated Americans. The bar eventually asked them to leave, but the point was taken.

I recently took another U.S. bashing in a local Brazilian bar, as a Brazilian co-worker spent a half-hour explaining to an American co-worker how dangerous and stupid the American regime is. My American friend ended the conversation by asking the Brazilian -- "If you agree that there is always going to be a world superpower, which one would you rather live under, Nazi Germany, the USSR, Red China or the USA?" We didn't win any hearts and minds, but at least we didn't lose the argument either.

On my last trip to England, I got a taste of how America bashing is both a new and old phenomenon. While strolling through London, I walked past many of the foreign embassies and consulates. Most were isolated homes with the only security being locked doors. The American embassy however, was a fortress. It had two sets of security fences and about a half-dozen UK police officers patrolling the perimeter with automatic weapons.

"Ah," I thought, "Now we see the results of the war and how it has changed the way people see us." However, when I approached one of the officers to ask him about the extra security, he responded that it was nothing new. "It has been like this for as long as I can remember," he said.

Unfortunately, it appears that while world anti-American sentiment has certainly grown in the past few years, it did not start with the inauguration of George W. Bush and will not end overnight with the election of a new president.

That said, I still tell anyone that asks how great seeing and experiencing the world is, especially the great city of London. I also tell them to tell taxi drivers they are Canadian.

1 comment:

Chaim said...

Thanks for your perspective here.

It's true that none of this started with Iraq, though it might certainly seem this way to many, parrticularly the young of this country and abroad.

To fix matters for us will take morre than a new President; it would take generations and a complete paradigm shift. Sadly, I don't think this country will be ready for such a thing any time soon...