Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Ugly American

An ugly face of America is never far below the surface. Scratch the surface and, as shown by the DP World ports issue, the ugly side appears very quickly. Ignorant, racist, xenophobic and paranoid.

The world has long laughed at Americans' ignorance of the world. Racism has been an inherent part of the country since Europeans first landed. Xenophobia has long been apparent but set in in a big way after 9/11. And also since 9/11 paranoia has been added to the already volatile mixture.

Remember that prior to 9/11, terrorist attacks on the US had been carried out by Americans. The mainland hadn't come under attack from foreigners before, an almost unique situation in the world. Other countries have been attacked and invaded through the centuries but when it happened to America panic and paranoia set in. That reaction has been encouraged and inflamed by the government playing the national security card ever since.

The hysteria over DP World's take-over of P&O, much of it cynical pretence and vote buying by politicians in election year, taps into ignorance and fear once again. We're back with Senator Joe McCarthy and reds under the beds, except now it's Arabs. Don't believe me? Read this:

Source: 83rd Congress, 2nd Session, Senate Resolution 301 (2 December 1954).

Periodically American society has been gripped by fear, and its responses have not done credit to its democratic nature. In this century the Red Scare following World War I (see Document 43) saw hundreds of innocent aliens rounded up, imprisoned and deported, for no reason other than fear of their allegedly radical ideas...
The hunt for subversives started during the war itself, and was furthered by congressional committees that often abused their powers of investigation to harass people with whom they differed politically. Then in February 1950, an undistinguished, first-term Republican senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy, burst into national prominence when, in a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, he held up a piece of paper that he claimed was a list of 205 known communists currently working in the State Department. McCarthy never produced documentation for a single one of his charges, but for the next four years he exploited an issue that he realized had touched a nerve in the American public."

Doesn't it all sound depressingly familiar!

Opponents to the DP World/P&O deal are firing up public support by squawking about US ports falling into foreign hands. As these rabble-rousers well know, many American ports have been owned by foreign companies for years. Do Americans think that P&O is an American company I wonder? It's also a fact that responsibility for security, entry & exits rests with the US Coastguard, US Customs is responsible for inspecting containers and US longshoremen handle the cargos. Who owns the ports is irrelevant to those responsibilities.

Then there's the nonsense of "troubling connections" between the UAE and terrorists. The London bombers were home-grown suicide bombers, the 'shoe bomber' was British...where was the outcry against P&O, a British company, owning the ports, given Britain's link with terrorists!

The furore is simple prejudice - what Thomas Friedman in the New York Times calls 'global ethnic profiling'. More succinctly it's the racism of Arab equals Islamic terrorist.

Look at the hogwash of Senator Lindsey Graham's "theUAE, which vows to destroy Israel". Is the Senator really that ignorant of the true facts, or is he deliberately mis-informing his constituents? This is nothing but cynical politicians looking for votes in an election year, fanning the flames of racism, encouraged by the ignorance and paranoia of the electorate.

When the world's only super-power behaves in this way towards a country which has been a staunch ally for decades, we should all be very afraid.


missenme said...

I'm American.

What do you think of me?

Seabee said...

I don't know you personally, so I have no opinion.
I'm talking about national character, not every individual person. British are reserved - but not all are. Latinos are passionate - but not all are. Germans are efficient & cold - but not all are.
These comments apply to the American national character, they don't apply to every individual person.

nzm said...

Are you sure that 9/11 wasn't an American-led event?

Seabee said...

nzm, who's the question to? I'm sure it wasn't...

nzm said...

Seabee - sorry for not being clear, it was to you.

See - I'm not sure about that at all.

There may have been Muslim guys onboard those planes, but personally, I don't think that it was led by Al Qaeda or Saddam.

I was in the US for 9/11. What I saw on the TV that day was enough for me to have doubts.

Within 1 hour of the planes going into the WTC, they were displaying photos of the hijackers - passport images.

Then they claimed that the FBI had been hunting for these guys for at least 6 months and hadn't been able to track them down.

Then it came out that the plane tickets had been purchased with the hijackers' credit cards.

You can't tell me that these guys had been hunted by the FBI for all that time, and were able to use credit cards and not be traced?

There were other anomalies too - too many to mention here, but enough for me, and the American family that I was staying with, to doubt what we were hearing and seeing.

Of course, all those first impressions are the ones that the majority of Americans (and the world) took to be the reality. In the shock of the moment and the sheer incredulousness, that's what people heard first, so it sticks.

Al Qaeda, to my knowledge, never claimed responsibilty for the attacks. Comments were attributed to Bin Laden, but he never claimed that AQ had carried out the attacks.

AQ did however, claim responsibilty for an earlier attack (1991?) on the WTC when they drove an explosive-laden truck into the WTC entrance and detonated it.

There are a lot of web links that also doubt what was said to be the truth around 9/11. Of note, are the scientific ones that explain that the way in which the towers collapsed indicates that they imploded as if it was a controlled demolition.

I'm a conspiracy theorist over this episode! I guess that we'll never know the full story.

It's like most inflammatory subjects : you either believe in black, or in white - or grey if it doesn't bother you!

Above all, I'm just thankful that I was on top of the WTC on Saturday 8th Sept and not Tuesday 11th Sept. It was a memorable way to celebrate my 40th birthday!

Seabee said...

nzm, no I'm not a conspiracy theorist about 9/11. I think it happened pretty much as it's been presented.
I think the security lapses were down to good old fashioned incompetence, inter-agency rivalries and not joining the dots.
The West still hadn't grasped the suicide killer bit - people willing, even eager, to give up their own lives. I remember the Iranian embassy siege in London back in 1980 when the security people with listening devices were astonished to hear hostages volunteering to be killed. They never learned from that or took it into account when anticipating terrorist acts.
And the building collapse? Well, I heard several architectural experts talk about the steel that was the load-bearing skeleton of the buildings melting in the intense heat of all the aviation fuel burning.
As you say, we'll probably never know...

missenme said...

Seabee said:
"I don't know you personally, so I have no opinion.
I'm talking about national character, not every individual person. British are reserved - but not all are. Latinos are passionate - but not all are. Germans are efficient & cold - but not all are.
These comments apply to the American national character, they don't apply to every individual person."

When you speak in general absolutes then you send a pretty clear message. If you don't want your opinion to be misunderstood, then you should be more clear about who specifically you are talking about when you say "American".

I hate it when people refer to a nationality as "being" a certain way...when they have no personal knowledge of the millions of individuals about whom they are speaking.

Because of this - I, for example - am immediately stereotyped because of the passport I hold, with no regard to who I am as a person. This is done all over the the same people who "hate" Americans for being "racist, xenophobic, and paranoid".

That being said, I believe that you can take pretty much every country on the planet and insert it into this post title, for that specific reason.

Racism, xenophobia, and paranoia exist EVERYWHERE. Just pick your country, and then pick your victim, and chances are you'll find a match.

Somebody should blow up the bandwagon.

missenme said...

nzm - Oh Wise One - we here on Planet Earth desperatly need your help!!

Got any ideas about who shot JFK? How about the Moon Landing? Face on Mars? Y2K? Killer Comets? Hurricane Katrina? How about Stonehenge? Easter Island? The Tooth Fairy? Area 51???

We need answers, nzm, PLEASE help us out!!!

(Disclaimer - the above was completely and utterly sarcastic)

You and Mystic Jack should get together and write a book...

nzm said...

missenme - you have your opinions and I have mine - and that's what makes us so delightfully different!

Maybe you should start your own blog to start voicing yours?

missenme said...

Nah - I'd rather go around refuting rubbish...

Seabee said...

missenme, you seem not to be aware that for the title of the piece I used the title of a very famous book writen by two Americans. A novel, and I quote, "about American blunders, arrogance, corruption,incompetance. To this day, more than forty years after its publication, the phrase 'ugly American' is invoked to embody America's incompetent, heavy-handed foreign policy."

Racism, paranoia, xenophobism may indeed exist everywhere. That doesn't make it right, it doesn't excuse it, it doesn't mean it should be swept under the carpet and not discussed. Nor does it mean that we should pretend it isn't true of any particular country, even if that country is the USA.
If you read the newspapers from around the world, the US included, you will see that many respected commentators are saying much the same thing as me about this specific DP World hysteria.

Anonymous said...

NZM...hmm, maybe the Japanese weren't the one who bombed Pearl Harbor.

Anonymous said...

From an American-
Interesting that it was "W's" administration that approved the DPW deal, which was then assailed by Charles Schumer and other liberal democrats like Obama. With the Olympics going on, Obama now praises China's billions spent on infrastructure like ports and airports, which he crows are better than those in the US (virtual slave labor and a lack of environmental rules help too, but that's another story).

Who does he think runs China's largest ports? You guessed it -- Dubai Ports World. There's plenty of ignorance to go around, much of it by left-wingers who'll say anything to get elected.