A recent column of mine created so many wrong perceptions in the minds of some readers that I feel compelled to write a column in response.
In my column, ” A bitter taste of sentiments abroad,” I wrote about my recent visit to India and my impressions of how the Iraq war was perceived by friends and family there. Most people I spoke to there, I wrote, were critical of America’s invasion of Iraq.
Reactions to this column were mixed, as I’d fully expected. Some Americans who had traveled abroad recently or had relatives living in other parts of the world wrote saying that they had had similar experiences. Some others wrote to say that though they hadn’t traveled overseas, they could appreciate the perspective from abroad.
Human Rights Watch
Roughly half the readers who responded felt the other way, and some of them were pretty vehement. What I was taken aback by, however, was the characterization by many readers of Indians as ”haters of America and Americans.” Furthermore, some asked, how could Indians, who had benefited greatly from outsourcing, be so ungrateful and criticize America’s efforts in Iraq?
Normally, I’d let criticism go, but I wouldn’t want members of my ethnic community to feel the adverse effects of being wrongly labeled ”America-haters,” hence this column.
Disagreement with some policies of the U.S. administration doesn’t constitute hatred of America and Americans, and I was a little surprised that some readers didn’t want to see the difference. Dissent, as we know, is a tradition and a staple of the American way of life, something that we encourage and uphold here. It is also, after all, something that we, in our bid to spread freedom and democracy, are trying to instill in the Iraqis and Afghans: to have opinions and to have the freedom to express them without fear of being demonized or jailed.
Also, hatred is a pretty strong word, and if I went looking for ”hatred of America” in my hometown, Bangalore, what I’d find instead is an urban populace totally enamored of the American way of life. Young Indians there love all things American and can’t seem to have enough of them. American soaps, fast food restaurants, Hollywood movies, malls filled with American merchandise are now features of many Indian cities, and each time I travel to India I marvel at how the way of life there has changed in the decade since I left it.
Truth be told, my relatives in India, especially the younger set, see more American soaps, eat more burgers and pizza, buy more Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger outfits than I do here in America.
Personally speaking, I’m not crazy about America’s misadventure in Iraq on the one hand, and I love this country and admire greatly its ideals on the other, and I don’t find the two notions incompatible. When Barack Obama spoke at the Democratic Convention of America being a ”magical place,” I, as an immigrant, could relate to this more acutely perhaps than the average American.
The other point was about Indians and outsourcing. It is true that thousands of Indians have, by virtue of the outsourcing boom, increased their incomes tenfold and greatly improved their lifestyles. But at the risk of raising hackles again, I’d have to point out that America’s relationship with them is a business relationship and not a master-servant one.
Should these Indians be thankful to America for their good fortune? Absolutely. But should this translate into blind agreement with all American policies? No, for that would be giving them the status of a herd of cows. Besides, the benefits of outsourcing are reaped at both ends. American companies, aware of the large, skilled, English-speaking workforce in India willing to work for lower wages, outsource jobs there and reap huge profits.
Consider this: If a young man in an Indian city on an American payroll held a privately held opinion that the Iraq war was unjustified — why would that be so outrageous and unacceptable? Again, I don’t purport to speak for all Indians, just the Indians I know and have spoken to.
In these nuanced times, we ought to be careful, I think, whom we label America-haters. In my mind, they are the ones who regard all Americans as infidels. Their rage is irrational and implacable, their hatred something that can’t be reasoned or negotiated with. They don’t have any humanity you could appeal to, and they would embrace death if it meant killing Americans in the process.
Contrast this with the people I wrote about: some Indians and possibly other people in different nations. These are people who have opinions and express them in acceptable forums — in private conversations, in letters to newspaper editors and so forth.
When we shut out different voices, we isolate ourselves further; when we, with a broad swipe of the brush, label all as ”America-haters,” we do ourselves a disservice.
Saritha Prabhu, a Tennessean columnist, resides in Clarksville.