The US War on Iraq is producing a frightening rash of `anti-American’ sentiments across Asia.
On a recent visit to Chiang Mai, northern Thailand, a tuk-tuk driver tells me ‘I hate America. American no good, kill Iraqi people, steal their oil’. A very strong comment indeed, coming from ordinary folk in what is Asia’s most `America-friendly’ nation.
In Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India the `anti-American’ sentiments are worse. Thousands of ordinary citizens are taking to the streets chanting `Death to America’.
But seriously, I confess, I am deeply confused. What does it really mean to be `anti-American’ ?
I have been `anti-American’ for as long I can remember, for plenty of reasons- many valid and some quite hazy. And yet I just can’t seem to personally encounter a truly dislikable `American’. All the `Americans’ I get to meet are the most open, sincere, fair-minded people you can get anywhere (sure, I live in faraway Thailand and `Moses’ Charlton Heston never invited me to the NRA meetings).
But these days, watching the War sometimes I feel so angry, I want to go shout at the nearest `American’. I look around my room and spot one. It is my son who thinks he is Batman. Shooooo kid- fly away !
Make no mistake- there is this place called the United States- which occupies a certain geographical area, is ruled by a certain domestic elite and sizeable sections of whose population do benefit from the imperial policies of THEIR rulers.
When a country consumes 25 percent of the world’s energy- it does take more than a few evil capitalists to help gulp down the goodies. Or when the United States accounts over 50 percent of the global arms trade the incoming cash makes more than just a few companies go around. On these scores, there is no doubt that the millions of brave, wonderful people resisting US hegemony within the United States bear a crushing responsibility.
But in the globalized web of manufactured wars, wants and waste we live in is it really honest to point fingers across the seven seas to just one country ? Is it not true that AMERICA is today a super CONCEPT crossing all national borders and not a mere country any more ? That AMERICA is no longer just a nation but a distorted NOTION of power, politics, prosperity and even personality ? A NOTION that is shared, nurtured, armed to the teeth by elites who rule every corner of our world ?
If this is not true, why then do I see elite Indians, Thais, Filipinos, Chinese and all the other pirated AMERICAN clones around Asia heave a sigh of relief now that AMERICA has `WON’ the War on Iraq ? Why is the media in MY country glibly speculating on the future of Iraqi oil production and `rebuilding’ contracts when the innocent Iraqi dead are yet to be buried ? How is it possible for anyone, anywhere to rest, relax or move on with life before those responsible for dreadful war crimes in Iraq are punished ? Are not all these `non-AMERICANS’ partaking in the loot of Iraq? Can any of these `non-AMERICAN’s shy away from the blame of being active collaborators, silent participants in the propping up of the- AMERICAN EMPIRE.
I have a proposal to make. How about if we identified those very special aspects of the NOTION called AMERICA that are so dear to the MASTERS of our world, all over ? Would that not help us understand better- what being `anti-AMERICAN’ could mean ? And to fight the enemy amidst us, even within us ?.
Not entirely an easy task, I agree, but someone has to start somewhere. Here is my (very incomplete) attempt at describing those components of the AMERICAN NOTION that turns so many people `anti-AMERICAN’:
To be ‘anti-AMERICAN’ is to be against:
1) Power beyond Punishment: Nothing is beyond punishment, that’s for sure. But how does one even begin to punish AMERICA ? Just reading out the charges would take a lifetime.
Just think of the enormity of the crimes and the sheer impunity involved. How American leaders have gotten away with murder, upon murder, war crime upon war crime in continent after continent. Hiroshima, Korea, Vietnam, Chile, Granada, Panama-the list goes on. In Vietnam alone 3 million citizens were killed by the American war machine. Were there any Vietnamese `terrorists’ in New York in1964 that all these innocent people had to die ? Who got punished for that GENOCIDE ? A few years ago when Robert McNamara, one of the architects of the U.S. war did a mea culpa he apologized- to the American people – not to the Vietnamese !!!
Of course all this is old hat really. Except, there are still those in my part of the world, who remember the dead, grieve for them and live on with the scars of that barbaric war. And meanwhile the AMERICAN WAR CRIME industry grinds on as brazen, as evilly banal as before.
The scales may be different, but similar impunity is to be found wherever power concentrates beyond a particular point. In October,1984 after the then Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi was shot by her Sikh bodyguards- within a couple of days- over 3000 innocent Sikhs were slaughtered in pogroms organized by the ruling Congress Party all around northern India. To this day not a single person has been convicted for these murders.
In January, 2002 mobs led by the ruling Hindu nationalists in Gujarat, western India massacred over 3000 Muslims while police officials stood by or even abetted this crime against humanity. Far from being punished the politician responsible got elected back to office with a thumping majority before the year ended. The arbitrary murders and massacres committed by Indian authorities in the country’s north-eastern states and in Kashmir are too well known to recount. All these are cases fit for an International Criminal Court anywhere.
As an `anti-AMERICAN’ I will speak about the impunity of regimes wherever they exist. As much as I rage against AMERICAN crimes around the globe I will continue to resist the AMERICAN copyright violations who rule MY country too.
2) Profits before People: Its not about Oil, its not about Oil, its not about Oil- and as Baghdad burnt following its `liberation’ the only building the US Marines thought fit to protect was the Iraqi Oil Ministry. One of the first tasks the `Demolition Forces’ did upon invading Iraq was to `secure’ the country’s oil fields. And all this while “We do not intentionally target civilian areas”.
You know what ? If they want oil they can have it- yes, even stolen Iraqi oil. They are obviously addicted to the stuff- and get very violent when denied their regular dosage. So give it to them, one gallon at a time, poured carefully on the head of every neo-CON gangster who runs this narcotic ring. It might help them get over the habit. (All done with proper consent, of course !)
It is clear I am no de-addiction expert but the point I am making is that much of our world runs on the same logic that the US government has displayed all along in Iraq. Of profits, profits, profits, always before people. To be `anti-AMERICAN’ will have to mean fighting for a world that uses exactly the opposite logic- people, people, people, always before profits.
3) Consumption without Constraint: One of the most popular targets of many anti-globalization, anti-war protests around the globe has been the Macdonald fast food outlets everywhere. Rightly so too. They are a symbol of the gluttony and wasteful habits that the AMERICAN NOTION represents- of consumption without constraint. Their strategic importance to the AMERICAN Empire can be gauged from the argument posed by Thomas Friedman, a senior ideologue of the Empire, that the global spread of `American’ popular culture is a harbinger of world peace: ‘People who eat Macdonald’s do not fight wars against each other.’
Sure they don’t Mr Friedman, because people who eat Macdonald’s happen to be collectively shooting the folks who refuse to swallow your junk food. And also, the people who eat, eat, eat and do nothing else but EAT are the cause of wars everywhere in the world. The way to HELL is littered with the mal-intentions of junk food vendors.
To me such junk food consumption is symptomatic of a deeper malaise that runs through all our `modern’ societies. We live in a world where the rich are gorging themselves to death (and paying billions to slim down later or in medicare) while millions of the poor starve without even a morsel in sight. And it is the same gluttony that is at work vis a vis every other planetary resource- Fire, Earth, Forest,Water, Air. This is a self-destructive selfishness that certainly deserves to be opposed wherever it exists.
4) Packaging what is not Palatable: Every time I see those newscasters on CNN or Fox News (mis) reporting out of Iraq I can’t help but wonder- how do they get their hairdo right with all that depleted uranium around ? Or is it all held together with some secret sub-atomic energy ?
There is surely some black magic to the way `AMERICANs’ always manage to look good, flashing Colgate white teeth with every smile and just that right amount of wrinkle around the eyes. Oh, how so very stunning. They are always, always, always- every minute of their fantasy lives, even with dozens of dead Iraqi corpses around them- the BOLD and the BEAUTIFUL.
How bloody oppressive ! But doesn’t every society have its quota of the B & Bs – the immortal ones, who never tire, age or panic in public? In India, looking poor and modest was politically correct and fashionable even till forty years after they shot Gandhi. All of a sudden now everyone is trying to look like a cross between Hugh Grant and Elizabeth Hurley. If these people get any more beautiful, I bet they will all sprout wings and compete with our newly privatized airlines. And all this in a country where the malnourished millions find it too traumatic to even look at themselves in the mirror.
Talking about packaging the unpalatable- how about the US Command’s media briefing center in Doha, Qatar which was reportedly built by a Hollywood firm at the cost of over US$1.5 million ? . The Merchants of Death these days come with their own Decoration. Soooooooo `AMERICAN’ !!
5) Religion with Regimentation: One recent opinion poll in the United States found that 60 percent of the population believes God visits their President in his dreams. Apparently to provide `insider’ tip offs to Dubya the Dubious about global WMD movements- `pssssstt, under Assad’s bed this time !’.
Of course I made that one up. And why not ? THEY cook up THEIR opinion polls too (`70 percent of American’s support the War’ kind of toxic fertiliser).
But listen to this. “It could only happen with an American invasion. Poised behind the troops, waiting for a signal that Iraq is safe enough for them to operate in, are the evangelical Christians – carrying food in one hand and the Bible in the other”. I quote from a recent article in the Guardian.
What I am getting at is simply the way God has been hijacked by fundamentalists with a gun everywhere- Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu. What is it about Religion, that seems to produce so many jack-booted Regiments ready for War at its service – throughout human history ? This is too big a question for me. I don’t have a clue. Must be some Freudian reason or the other, I guess.
But what I know is – this is simply not ON. I am not going to allow any lunatic to kidnap MY GOD (s) to serve as hostage to ANYBODY’S politics of hatred ANYWHERE.
6) Cleverness without Conscience: There SHE is once again on my TV screen. Christiana `CNN’ Amanpour. HER breathless, incessant chatter- guiding a Cruise missile to an Iraqi home. Talk, Talk, Talk, Talk- Bomb, Bomb, Bomb, Bomb. SHUT UP WILL YOU ! THERE ARE PEOPLE DYING BEHIND YOU !
There is something about the sheer articulateness of the `AMERICAN’s that is fascinating and yet so extremely frightening. THEY always have a way with words, describing, dissecting, debating events and actions faced with which normal human beings would be rendered speechless.
‘Collateral Damage’ and ‘Smart Bombs’ are of course two of the most notorious examples of such cleverness with the English language but the list is really quite endless. Between Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom, two very `neat’ phrases, an entire generation of Iraqis lie dead, devastated and wasted. And yet how those words conjure up images of genuinely noble intentions. Of AMERICA reaching out to a faraway oppressed people, sacrificing its own youth to liberate a foreign land from its cruel dictator.
I must confess, I am reaching the end of my list because I think such articulateness is quite uniquely American- as attributable to residents of the United States. It comes from a long tradition of genuine debate and skilful oratory- a la Abe Lincoln giving a political speech, non-stop for 24 hours (or whatever). But it has also resulted in the polishing of the English language to weapon-grade proportions, into a fine tool of mass deception that no other society has mastered or even come close to mastering as yet.
Imagine the Chinese, another wanna-be superpower, trying to convince the world about anything they want to do- say taking over Taiwan to maintain PROTECT DEMOCRACY. Or the Russians taking over Ukraine to CLEAN UP toxic wastes from Chernobyl . They would be laughed out of action before the first move.
Even the British, who invented the language, don’t come anywhere close. When Tony Blair lies in public- his voice, its tenor, the way he says it all is so transparently false you feel like doing your best sheep imitation back at him. Bleaaaaaat it ! You LOSER !
No, this is nothing to laugh about really. Of all the traits of the `Americans’ their facility with the tongue and the many clever turns of the English sentence are the most dangerous. It is a super-duper black hole generator that can gobble up entire civilizations, wipe out all historical memory. And put a `pretty’ sound and picture to every despicable act ever committed. It is the ultimate source of AMERICAN power globally.
This is one battle that only those resisting the AMERICAN EMPIRE within the shores of the United States are qualified to fight. We can only watch and offer moral support- our own tongues, very, very tied.
Satya Sagar is a freelance Indian journalist covering South-East Asia and based in Thailand. He can be reached at [email protected]