WHY DO THEY HATE US?
The reasons are many, the history long
'America represents global capitalism'
By Joseph S. Nye, 9/16/2001
Osama bin Laden, suspected architect of various terrorist attacks against
the United States, including last Tuesday's horror, has repeatedly called for
Muslims worldwide to join in his holy. He is quoted as saying, ''I'm fighting
so I can die a martyr and go to heaven to meet God. Our fight now is against
Ironically, the United States helped to create bin Laden and his
followers. We trained some of the mujahadeen who fought a holy war against
Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the l980s.1980s. Other of bin Laden's
supporters developed a deep resentment of the presence of US troops in Saudia
Arabia during and after the Gulf War a decade ago.
In their eyes, the American presence defiled the home of Islam's holiest
shrines. Bin Laden has also appealed to those who have been radicalized by the
conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as recent photos showed. For this
implacable hard core, hatred of the United States is deeply rooted.
But not everyone hates us, nor is bin Laden the only catalyst for terror.
The Aum Shinrikyo cult that spread chemical poisons in the Tokyo subway system
a few years ago was interested in fomenting a war between the United States
and Japan. And Timothy McVeigh was a homegrown product. The important question
is whether such hard nuggets of hatred can broaden their appeal beyond their
narrow band. The answer to that depends in part on what the United States
represents and what it does.
For one thing, the United States is the most powerful country in the
world, and our military has a global reach unlike any other country. For some,
this makes us an important source of stability. Singapore's Senior Minister
Lee Kuan Yew, for example, believes that the presence of 100,000 US troops in
East Asia has helped to provide the local balance of power that has been the
security foundation for Asian economic growth.
For others (like Saddam Hussein) who want to upset the status quo in their
regions, the presence of American forces is a hindrance. Since they cannot
beat us, they are tempted to support terrorists who can try to undermine our
will at home. This form of hatred and source of terrorism grows out of our
role in thwarting the ambitions of local tyrants.
Others hate us because of our allies. American support for Israel, the
only democracy in the Middle East, has become a source of tension with groups
in countries like Libya, Syria, and Iran, which the State Department lists as
Some Americans may be tempted to believe that we could reduce these
hatreds and our vulnerability if we would withdraw our troops, curtail our
alliances, and follow a more isolationist foreign policy. But they would be
mistaken. Fundamentalist groups would still resent the power of the American
economy and culture. American corporations and citizens represent global
capitalism, which is still anathema to them. It would make no sense to give
such groups free rein in their regions while at the same time abandoning our
Moreover, American popular culture has a global reach regardless of what
we do. Some critics even see globalization as Americanization. While such
views are too simplistic, there is no escaping the influence of Hollywood,
Harvard, and CNN. In general, our culture has a positive effect and
contributes to our attractive or ''soft'' power just as our military and
economic might contribute to our ''hard'' power. American movies and
television programs express freedom, individualism, and change (as well as sex
and violence ). American higher education attracts half a million students
from around the world every year. Unlike the classical empires of Rome and
Britain where the culture extended only as far as the armies, American culture
extends much further.
Generally, the global reach of American culture helps to enhance our
''soft'' power. But not for everyone. Individualism and liberties are
attractive to many people, but repulsive to some fundamentalists. One of the
suspected hijacker-pilots is reported to have said he did not like the United
States because it is ''too lax. I can go anywhere I want to and they can't
Others are repelled by American feminism and the changing role of women.
Open sexuality and individual choices are profoundly subversive of staunchly
patriarchal societies. Such conflicts mean that American culture can have both
positive and negative effects in the same country. For example, at the same
time that conservative mullahs in Iran are condemning the United States as the
great Satan, some Iranian teenagers are surreptitiously watching smuggled
cassettes of Hollywood movies. Indeed, for some conservatives the term ''
great Satan'' refers less to our Fifth Fleet than to MTV.
In short, some people will hate us because of our values of openness and
opportunity for change. But they are not likely to become a majority unless we
ourselves fail to practice and live up to our values. Some tyrants and
fundamentalists will always hate us, and we will have no choice but to deal
with them through more effective counter-terrorism policies. But those hard
nuggets of hate are unlikely to catalyze broad hatred unless we abandon our
values and pursue policies that let the extremists appeal to the majority in
the middle. And that is something we should keep in mind as we fashion our
policy responses to this tragedy.
Joseph S. Nye is dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and
author of a forthcoming book on America's global influence.
This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 09/16/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.