Why We Still Don't Get It, One Year On

  • From: "Muslim News" <editor_@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <submit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2002 21:29:14 +0100

Perhaps the greatest lie told to the American public about the September
11 terrorist attacks is that they prove the outside world hates us.
President Bush, for example, has repeatedly warned Americans about
foreign "evil doers" who loathe everything we stand for. The US media
has been no less insistent, referring time and again to "Why they hate
us", as one Newsweek story put it. 

But the world doesn't hate us, the American people. It is our
government, our military, and our corporations that are resented. To
anyone living outside the US, this may seem an obvious point. But we
Americans are not used to drawing the distinction most outsiders do
between Americans and America. One result of Americans' confusion is
that, a year after the attacks in New York and Washington, we remain
largely ignorant of how the world regards us and why. 

Non-Americans, however, misunderstand the true source of our ignorance
about them, which only furthers our mutual estrangement. Yes, our
mind-boggling wealth and power encourage a certain complacency and
arrogance. But that is not the most important cause of our global

Americans are ignorant about the outside world mainly because most of
what we're told about it is little more than semi-official propaganda.
Our political leaders portray the acts of our government, military and
corporations in the best possible light, and our news media do little to
challenge these self-serving declarations. 

An outstanding example was President Bush's warning to foreign nations,
days after September 11, that "either you are with us or you are with
the terrorists". The US would never accept such ultimatums itself, yet
the arrogance of Bush's remark went unnoticed by America's journalistic
elite. The International Herald Tribune did not mention Bush's statement
until the 20th paragraph of its story, deep inside the paper. By
contrast, the French daily Le Monde highlighted it three times on its
front page. 

I spent six months traveling the world before and after September 11,
gathering impressions about my homeland. I interviewed a wide range of
people in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Today, as the Bush
administration prepares to attack Iraq, I recall a comment by Ana, an
intellectual in Barcelona, shortly after September 11: "Many of us have
American friends, but we wish they would think a little more about their
government, because we have to live with America's politics, and that is
often difficult, especially when war is in the air." 

Would outsiders be more forgiving if they knew how little critical
information we Americans receive about our government's foreign policy?
Even sophisticated foreign observers don't appreciate how poorly served
Americans are by our media and education systems, how narrow the range
of information and debate is in "the land of the free". 

For example, last year's terrorist attacks presented an eerie
coincidence to anyone familiar with the real history of American foreign
policy. September 11 is also the date - in 1973 - when a coup encouraged
by the US overthrew a democratically elected government in Chile. The
official death toll in Chile, 3,197, was remarkably close to the number
of lives lost to terror 28 years later in America. This disquieting
piece of deja vu passed unremarked in American coverage. 

We do not, thank God, have a state-owned or state-controlled press in
the US. We do, however, have a state-friendly one. Our news media
support the prevailing political system, its underlying assumptions and
power relations, and the economic and foreign policies that flow from

Because most news coverage of the Middle East reflects the pro-Israeli
bias that characterizes official American policy, Americans are ignorant
about basic aspects of the conflict. A poll last May found that only 32%
of Americans knew that more Palestinians than Israelis had died in this
spring's fighting. 

In Washington, the media function like a palace court press. In the name
of political neutrality, the definition of quotable sources is limited
to the narrow spectrum from Republican to Democrat. If a given point of
view - say, that missile defense is a dangerous fantasy - is not
articulated by leading lawmakers, it is ignored. Instead of substance,
journalists focus on palace intrigues: what is the White House proposing
today, how will Congress react, who will win the fight? Rarely does the
coverage stand back from insider debates, or offer alternative analysis.
Thus our media fail to act as the check and balance our nation's
founders envisioned. 

So think twice, foreign friends, before judging my compatriots too
harshly. Americans suffer daily from pseudo-news that parrots the
pronouncements of the powerful and illuminates nothing but the corporate
bottom line. Is it any wonder we don't understand the world around us? 

Source:  Guardian

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