America is a great country. It stands for the best things people can hope for. The U.S. Constitution, the First Amendment, the respect for individual rights are unmatched the world over. These are not just words on paper, for every American these values are experienced every day in every state of the Union.
Unfortunately, though, sometimes that is as far as it goes. Once outside the U.S. or in dealing with foreign policy, these values are often replaced with a variety of other considerations. People who have not lived in America, especially those people who have been on the receiving end of some of the distorted U.S. foreign policies, have little appreciation for what America stands for.
The ugly and despicable attack on U.S. governmental and commercial institutions needs to be seen in this vein. This is not to excuse this act which must be denounced.
For years people in the Middle East have suffered from this double-faced U.S. foreign policy. Human rights, the great Wilsonian concept of the people's right to self-determination seems to stop when the subject of discussions are Palestinians.
Some might ask, Why now? What has the U.S. done recently to trigger this unprecedented response? While this is an important question, the answer is not necessarily in any specific action by the U.S. but rather in the fact that people around the world have much more access in real time, with full color, to acts, events and pronouncements of American officials regarding foreign policy issues. The spread of satellite television, for example, has meant that stories -- about say the human suffering of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation -- enter the sitting rooms of hundreds of millions of people every day. And when top U.S. officials defend or justify human rights violations in third world countries, few people can go back and think of the rosy American picture as the defender of rights and protector of freedoms.
When Vice president Dick Cheney told Fox television last month that the U.S. "understands" Israel's need to assassinate top Palestinian officials, his statement was widely broadcast all over the Arab and Muslim world. To have a senior U.S. official understand the use of U.S. apache helicopters in an offensive attack was hard to fathom. Some commentators said that even Timothy McVeigh was entitled to a trial, while Israeli generals are acting as judge, jury and executioner with support from the world of human rights and democracy. Shortly after Cheney's statements, I wrote an op-ed in Newsday, saying that Cheney is adding fuel to the raging fire of the Middle East.
Unfortunately, U.S. support for Israel and justification for its brutality against Palestinians continues. The highly publicized withdrawal of American from the Durban conference for fear that Israel would be tainted "racist" did little to reverse the anti-American feelings of many people around the world. All this simply added to the poisonous feelings in the non-Western world. Even the most moderate and pro-U.S. country in the region, Saudi Arabia, was expressing strong anti-American positions in public.
The public attacks against Americans by many of its Arab allies in the region didn't satisfy a population that daily saw humiliation against fellow Arabs and Muslims with Arab governments completely inept in responding to it.
Shortly after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, President Bush spoke to the American people calling what happened an attack against America's values. He ended by saying, "We go forward to defend freedom and all that is good and just in our world." For Americans living in this great country these words sounded true and genuine. But for many around the world who have not seen these values translated in U.S. foreign policy, these words were empty rhetoric.
The values that America stands for are the envy of well-informed human beings around the world living in authoritarian countries. Those of us who have lived in America and have experienced this great country try our best to tell people around the world about it with the hope that these values can be emulated. Those who only see the results of American foreign policy often hamper our efforts by pointing to this contradiction.
In the past, the U.S. government was able to get away with this duplicity. Friendly countries would protect the U.S. image, and government-controlled media would ensure that America's policies were defended. Globalization, which has been the main vehicle for the success of the U.S., has also brought with it media instruments (Internet and satellite) that circumvent government-controlled media and allow people free access to the realities of U.S. foreign policy. Is it possible that the very instruments of its own success haunt America?
Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian-American journalist living in Jerusalem. He is the director of the Institute of Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University. This piece was originally published by the Arab Media Internet Network.