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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 the Americans.''

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 harboring terrorists.

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 allies.

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 stop me.''

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.

   

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