On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked four passenger planes and flew two of them into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and one into the Pentagon. The fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Horrified Americans watched their television sets as people leapt to their deaths from the burning towers and thousands were crushed to death or suffocated under the ruins as the towers collapsed. They saw the enormous hole in the Pentagon smolder and viewed the bodies that littered the Pennsylvania field. Following these terrible images was shock at the realization that someone hated America enough to carry out such devastating attacks.
The September 11 terrorist attacks were the most devastating ever to occur in the United States, and they took many people by surprise. But as international reactions following the attacks revealed, anti-Americanism is not a new phenomenon. It already spanned the globe long before September 11, 2001. While after the attacks, anti-Americanism was slow to reveal itself in most countries, hatred for the United States was immediately and emphatically expressed throughout the Middle East.
Many Arab and Muslim people have long harbored great hatred and resentment for the United States. A major cause of that hatred is American involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, which centers on a disagreement between Arabs and Israelis over Israel’s right to exist and the Israelis’ treatment of Palestinian refugees. The majority of Arabs believe that America’s support for Israel—which includes financial and military aid—is hypocritical and harmful to Arabs. They claim, for example, that when Israelis commit terrorist attacks against Palestinians, the United States approves, calling the actions self-defense, while when Palestinians defend themselves, America condemns the actions, calling them terrorist attacks. It is America’s support of Israel, they say, that has made the continued oppression of the Palestinians possible.
Arabs’ hatred of America became immediately evident when they applauded the September 11 attacks. Osama bin Laden, the terrorist leader believed to be responsible for the at- tacks, stated: “What America has experienced is God’s just punishment for the sufferings they have inflicted on the world of Islam.” He was not the only one to celebrate while Americans mourned the carnage in New York, however. Iraqi state television called the attacks the “operation of the century,” deserved by the United States because of its “crimes against humanity.” In Palestinian refugee camps across the Middle East, militants fired guns and cheered in celebration.
In the majority of countries around the world, however, anti-Americanism was not the first response to September 11; instead, any existing dislike of the superpower was temporarily overcome by compassion. Indeed, initially, most nations expressed deep sympathy for America’s tragedy. In the September 16, 2001, British Sunday Telegraph, an American in London recounted the compassion he received following the attack. He reported:
Cut off from America, I was nevertheless surrounded by goodwill. A saleswoman, hearing an American accent, asked quietly if I’d managed to talk to my parents. A Pakistani driver, teary-eyed, offered his condolences. An American friend told me he had received a sympathy card from his downstairs neighbors, who he barely knows.
Around the world, there were expressions of solidarity with America. In countries such as Australia, Japan, and Russia, people showed their sympathy by placing flowers outside U.S. consulates and embassies. Government buildings in Turkey lowered their flags to half-mast. In the streets of India, Hindus burned an effigy of Bin Laden in protest of the terrorists’ actions. Many people emphasized their commonality with Americans. For example, German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said, “They were not only attacks on the people in the United States, our friends in America, but also against the entire civilized world, against our own freedom, against our own values, values which we share with the American people.”
However, despite their initial expressions of support for America, even these sympathetic nations had a long, underlying history of anti-Americanism. One of the major reasons for this resentment is American foreign policy. Other nations have accused America of being too aggressive, and of pursuing and protecting its own interests at the expense of other nations. Author Muqtedar Khan argues that America’s foreign policy has created hatred. He writes: “[America’s] exclusively self-regarding outlook, its arrogant unilateralism, its unwise and untrustworthy rhetoric and its belligerent posture, is alienating and angering people in the East and the West.” Khan echoes the belief held by many people around the world that the United States “wish[es] to reshape the world to perpetuate America’s imperial aspirations. Unfortunately for them the world is unwilling to cooperate. The harder they push the more resentment they will generate.”
In addition to its foreign policy, America’s culture, which has spread around the world, has elicited both jealousy and disapproval from many nations. One element of that culture is America’s way of life, which is often seen as wasteful and harmful to the environment. For example, statistics show that only 4 percent of the world’s population lives within the United States, yet America creates 25 percent of the world’s carbondioxide emissions. Popular culture—music, films, books, advertising, Web sites, and television—is America’s most visible and most pervasive export. Many people disapprove of the way of life portrayed in these products and fear the growing Americanization of the world. Writer James W. Caeser describes the strong dislike of U.S. culture that is found globally:
Anti-Americanism . . . is certainly nothing new. Over a half-century ago, the novelist Henry de Montherlant put the following statement in the mouth of one of his characters (a journalist): “One nation that manages to lower intelligence, morality, human quality on nearly all the surface of the earth, such a thing has never been seen before in the existence of the planet. I accuse the United States of being in a permanent state of crime against humankind.” America, from this point of view, is a symbol for all that is grotesque, obscene, monstrous, stultifying, stunted, leveling, deadening, deracinating, deforming, and rootless.
American journalist Charles Krauthammer recognizes the way that even nations who strive to emulate American culture may hate it at the same time. Writing in Time magazine, he contends that “envy for America, resentment of our power, hatred of our success has been a staple for decades.”
For as long as America has existed, there have been many people around the world who have disliked it for a variety of reasons, including its culture and its actions toward other nations. The September 11 attacks did not change that. Much of the initial outpouring of sympathy quickly evaporated to reveal this negative view of America. Soon there were accusations that America had deserved or even caused the attacks. Many people believed that through its aggressive foreign policy and its negative cultural influence on other countries, America had caused international hatred, which inevitably resulted in the terrorist attacks. Author Todd Gitlin agrees that sympathy for America’s loss was quickly replaced by accusations that it was partly to blame for the disaster. He writes:
As shock and solidarity overflowed on September 11, it seemed for a moment that political differences had melted in the inferno of Lower Manhattan. Plain human sympathy abounded amid a common sense of grief and emergency. Soon enough, however, old reflexes and tones cropped up here and there on the left, both abroad and at home—smugness, acrimony, . . . accompanied by the notion that the attacks were, well, not a just dessert, exactly, but . . . [a] damnable yet understandable payback . . . rooted in America’s own crimes of commission and omission . . . reaping what empire had sown.
American writer Harry Browne echoes this opinion. He argues that by its continued violent actions against other countries, America was doomed to eventually see violence against itself. He states: “[America’s] foreign policy has been insane for decades. It was only a matter of time until Americans would have to suffer personally for it. . . . When will we learn that we can’t allow our politicians to bully the world without someone bullying back eventually?”
The topic of anti-Americanism has been a source of widespread debate for years despite the fact that a large number of Americans often seemed unaware of it. As a result of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, many Americans became acutely aware of the world’s hatred for their country for the first time. The authors in At Issue: Does the World Hate the United States? offer various perspectives on the extent of anti-Americanism around the world. They also examine the causes of both love and hatred toward the United States, and the implications of these views for Americans.