On being an American in the Middle East: a personal reflection
"We have only to go to Lebanon, to Syria, to Jordan, to witness first-hand the intense hatred among many people for the United States, because we bombed and shelled and unmercifully killed totally innocent villagers, women and children and farmers and housewives, in those villages around Beirut...as a result, we have become a kind of Satan in the minds of those who are deeply resentful. That is what precipitated the taking of hostages and that is what has precipitated some terrorist attacks" Ex-president Jimmie Carter, in an interview for the New York Times, on March 26th 1989
Linda and I just returned from a thoroughly enjoyed vacation: a week each in Lebanon and Cyprus, immersed in some of the purest splendors that nature can offer and some of the finest remnants of cultural antiquity. Only the side-issue of politics inserted an occasional bit of uneasiness.
In both of these countries, as in an increasing number of places around the globe, I suspect, it is uncomfortable and perhaps perilous to admit being American. The citizens of both Lebanon and Cyprus readily made the distinction between us as American people and the policies of the U.S. government. We found all with whom we had significant contact to be ready to accept us warmly for ourselves. But "America" is in distinct disfavor. "Clinton" as the head of state has become a popularly derided symbol of all that is ugly about western imperialism and bullying. People are naturally curious and are free to ask where their visitors come from. More than once, our reply that we are from America drew some response like: "tell Clinton to stop dropping the bombs."
In Lebanon, this meant primarily the bombs and starvation policies imposed on the Iraqi public; in Cyprus it meant those bombs falling on Yugoslavia. For both it was generalized as the symbol of superpower aggressive dominance and the obvious double standard of punishment that we apply in the region. Cypriots want to know why we turn a blind eye to Turkey's abominable human rights record, and instead provide their adversary with extraordinary military and economic benefits. In war-ravaged Lebanon, it becomes even more personal. The overt favoritism and political clout that the US has accorded Israel --despite its atrocities against both Palestinians and the Lebanese themselves -- is something that they experience firsthand. They see America as being complicit in the Israeli occupation of their lands and as the principal provider of the weapons used to inflict harm against their people on a daily basis.
Fortunately for us, the people of Lebanon and Cyprus, as well as the Palestinians, do not hold Linda and me responsible for those U.S. policies and actions. While that may comfort my security anxiety, it does not do a great deal for my conscience nor my pride.