A bitter taste of sentiments abroad

You knew America hasn’t been too popular on the world stage lately, but just how unpopular was something I came face-to-face with often on a recent trip to India.

”Come, come, my friends from America,” said Narasimha, a friend we had gone to visit while in India. ”Come, I better be nice to you, better kowtow to you, or else who knows what you’ll do to me. Bomb me perhaps or torture me.”

He was being mocking and facetious, but over the next hour all he wanted to talk about was America’s invasion of Iraq and its consequences. And that was the way it was during most of my month-long visit. We would visit friends, relatives, acquaintances, and the conversation would veer inevitably to the Iraq war, the prison abuse scandal, the lack of WMD and on and on.

And none of the opinions were favorable to America, I might add. Some of the gentler critics felt that however well-intentioned America might be in Iraq, the war, unprovoked and pre-emptive as it was, was immoral. And some of the more vociferous critics, like my brother-in-law, felt that America picks and chooses the dictators it doesn’t like. President Musharraf of Pakistan was a dictator too, he argued, and Pakistan was a hotbed of terrorism and, with its innumerable madrasas (religious schools) a center of Islamic fundamentalism too, but no, Musharraf was a friend and crucial U.S. ally.

Now these aren’t disaffected Islamic radicals with an abiding hatred for America who are plotting and scheming to kill Americans. They are well-read, educated Indians who have been reading about and watching a less sanitized version of the war than the one we have been getting. And these are people who have sent their sons and daughters to America to study and work here and chase the American dream and send small chunks of it back home in the form of money transfers.

Gallup Poll this ain’t, but I have a feeling many thinking people across the world feel this way too.

This visceral opposition to the Iraq War stems, I think, from three emotions: indignation at the U.S. administration’s arrogance and self-righteousness, empathy for the civilian Iraqi underdog and a feeling that if this could happen to Iraq, it could happen to any other nation.

Which is not the way we see it here in America. Though more and more Americans have begun to realize that the war in Iraq was a huge mistake, there is still some moral confusion.

Loss of lives, loss of property, untold damage to America’s prestige and credibility abroad and the possibility of Iraq turning into a terrorist haven: That is what the Iraq War amounts to, but the Bush administration has been successful, at least partly, in selling a different notion. A notion that, though the war may have been started on wrong grounds, a lot of good has been accomplished in Iraq: A dictator has been toppled, the Iraqis are free, democracy is on its way to getting established, schools and hospitals are being built and on and on.

And for me, who sees herself sometimes as a fly-on-the-wall observer, there has been a different kind of confusion: to see the conservative media tell liberals that it is simply wrong to criticize the war because ordinary Iraqis suffered under Saddam and that jobless, security-less and infrastructure-less though they may be today, are at least free of that. And I thought liberals were the ones whose hearts bled for the oppressed and downtrodden of the world.

But the world sees the war in a different light, I’m afraid. When the fundamental premise for starting the war was wrong, no amount of freedom-ringing and democracy-spreading can set that right.

If you went by the current U.S. doctrine, you’d have to conclude this: If you rushed to invade a country based on faulty intelligence and flimsy evidence, if you bypassed the United Nations and if you had failed to try all other avenues, it still would be OK provided you had good intentions — intentions of toppling a dictator, of spreading freedom and democracy and of fixing all that you had broken.

Based on this doctrine, I am tempted to use a loose analogy: I could storm and hold up a bank tomorrow and make off with millions of dollars if I had every intention of using the money to help the poor and needy.

After all, according to the U.S. administration, the ends justify the means.

Saritha Prabhu, a Tennessean columnist, resides in Clarksville.

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The Tennessean, USA
July 19, 2004 Column
Saritha Prabhu

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday July 19, 2004.
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