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Images of hatred

Why is the United States hated everywhere? NITIN PADTE tries to find an answer.

Dear citizens of United States,

THIS is in response to President Bush's question "Why do they hate us?" in the aftermath of September 11. In these parts of the world, from which the likes of Osama bin Laden come, it is not the American people that are hated. It is the image of the U.S., portrayed by the American government and its representatives, that is hated. Unfortunately, this dislike, in some cases intense hatred, seems all pervasive. This could be a starting point to look for the root cause for hatred and the role images play in fostering it. Let me start with my seven-year-old niece.

As she got ready to go to school, she asked me, "Why do people from Pakistan want to kill all of us? I hate Pakistanis." I asked her for her idea of a Pakistani, she said, "All those soldiers they keep showing on television and all those people who talk about taking Kashmir from us." I pointed out that, right then, many girls like her who lived in Pakistan would also be getting ready for school. His first reaction was disbelief, followed by a quizzical look.

I think the seeds of hatred are buried deep within us and, unless they are consciously exorcised, we carry them till the end. Last May, despite my strong protests, my wife and daughter persuaded me to visit the U.S. But why was the U.S. way down on my list of places-to-be-visited? I thought I had got my priorities right. But at 42, I was no different from my seven-year-old niece.

As I contacted my friends after September 11, they reported that in some parts of the country people were celebrating the attacks. At our school (ironically set up by American missionaries 100 years ago), some students had exhaustive clippings on Osama bin Laden and looked upon him as their ideal. This year, a player on the school soccer team (an American citizen) has "Osama" on his jersey.

This year, the Near East and South Asian Association of the international school had its conference in Cairo. The place was crawling with gun-toting security men. When I asked local residents about it, they said that the Western embassies were under threat from Islamic militants. What was strange was how quickly they bonded with me. One reason for this was Amitabh Bachchan. Another was that they assumed that all Indians hated the U.S. as much as they did.

I suspect George Bush had only a limited number of people in mind when he asked, "Why do they hate us?" I do not believe he suspects that the malaise is wide spread. In India, the primary reason is quite obvious. We hate Pakistan, and the U.S. has supported Pakistan in two wars against us. In recent years, the aggressive manner in which the World Bank (seen here as an American stooge) has forced economic reforms on India has not gone down well.

The truth about animosity is that images are hated more than the reality behind it. So what is the image of the U.S.? It is seen as the chief representative of western culture, which is McDonalds, free sex, skimpy clothing, drugs and technological arrogance. On the political and military front, the images are of the Seventh Fleet coming into Indian waters during the1971 war, a cheating Nixon, a lying Clinton and a Bush who has bombed innocent Afghans and is ready to do the same to the Iraqis.

The problem with images of hate is that they lie dormant and take grotesque proportions when, forced by circumstances, they come to the forefront of your consciousness. The mind looks for more evidence to feed this hate and the U.S. seems to supply the world with regular doses.

Last May as I travelled through the U.S., I struggled with the hatred of a lifetime. The experience set off a cacophony in my mind. Some images were becoming blurred and others were taking strong root. Bush, Clinton and the Seventh Fleet were becoming hazy.

When the planes crashed into the World Trade Centre, I did not rejoice nor feel that "they deserved it". For I was not thinking of the axis of evil or the proponents of a nuclear shield over the United States. I was thinking of the man who tossed a huge fish across to his helper at Pike Market; of the spray that blew me off at Hurricane Deck at Niagara of the blind African-American with much baggage being led by his guide dog in Boston.

It is not the U.S. and the Americans that the world outside hates. It is the threatening, posturing and arrogance of a few who seek to represent the country that is hated.

When those who hate the U.S. realise that these are not the people who represent the soul and essence of the country, Mr. Bush can happily call off his plans for a nuclear shield.

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