Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Experience has convinced me that serious anti-Americanism abroad is wildly exaggerated by pollsters with agendas and a sensation-hungry media

…experience has convinced me that serious anti-Americanism abroad is wildly exaggerated by pollsters with agendas and a sensation-hungry media
writes Ralph Peters (thanks to Gregory).
From Indonesian cities declared "hotbeds of Islamic fundamentalism" to that darkest of continents, Europe, I've found far more visa-seekers than would-be suicide bombers. After about 30 seconds of blowing off steam, my interlocutors from Sulawesi to Strassbourg only wanted to know how to get a green card.

Don't be fooled: America remains the most inspiring symbol in the world. A minority of a minority may actually prefer punitive religion, gender apartheid, poverty and filth, but much of the superficial rhetoric you hear directed against our country is a sign of jealousy and longing.

There are real America-haters out there, of course. The worst are deadly, and they'll menace us for decades to come. But there are no long lines of would-be émigrés outside of any Saudi, Iranian or Chinese embassies. No Africans or Latin Americans dream of building a better life for their families in Russia or Syria.

The American dream is still very much alive. For countless human beings around the world, the United States remains the shining city on a hill.

We forget how blessed we are. Having seen bitter poverty, disease, miserable corruption and life reduced to the most basic needs, I find it increasingly hard to put up with complaints about our country from spoiled professors and actors grown rich in a society they disdain (it makes me want to add a personal touch to their lattes). Even conservatives often underestimate the transformative genius of America and the power of our ideas.

We live in the one country on earth where pessimism is never warranted.

I've spent a month in a different part of Africa each of the last three years. And I've met one truly ferocious anti-American on that continent. She was an absolute nut-case who reminded me of those domestic leftists who blame America for their self-wrought misfortunes and personal discontents.

On the other hand, I've been taken aback by African fury toward "imperialist" Arabs and militant Islam. Nashville at its most patriotic has nothing on one educated Kenyan who all but volunteered to swim to Pakistan and kill Osama bin Laden single-handedly.

Foreign correspondents, academics and even some of our diplomats will disagree with the claims made in this column. A few will sincerely believe that the world despises America.

Let me tell you why my experience has been different from theirs. It's simple: We speak with different people.

Diplomats listen to politicians. Academics confer with their fellow academics. And journalists — especially the lazier sort — crib from local journalists, or interview politicians and academics.

Imagine trying to form a picture of America by interviewing only Ted Kennedy, Ward Churchill and Dan Rather.

Myself, I avoid embassies, rarely interview politicians and seek out students, not professors. I like to listen to shopkeepers, mullahs and missionaries, to workers, businessmen, medical personnel and the local equivalent of Joe Sixpack. And I never claim to be a journalist. That reveals a very different picture of any society.

Take your own poll. The next time you go on vacation or a business trip to a developing country, stroll off the resort or skip the lunch at the hotel restaurant. Don't be afraid. Work past the touts who prey on tourists everywhere and wander the streets. Just for an hour or two. And let conversations happen.

No comments: