When I left the Unite States for a book tour in South Africa almost two weeks ago, I was heavily engaged in the debate on Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of The Christ,” arguing forcefully that the Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus.
But in South Africa, I learned that I who argued that the Romans killed Jesus, and those who argued that Jews agitated for his death, were both grossly mistaken. It turns out it was neither the Romans nor the Jews, but George W. Bush.
Yes, ladies and gentleman, the world in general, and South Africa in particular, is convinced that our president is the anti-Christ, a brutal monster flinging his rampaging armies across the globe in pursuit of American control of the world. The level of animosity shown to our beloved president outside our borders has reached cosmic proportions and is just slightly behind the general animosity that people feel toward Americans in general.
When I first visited South Africa 10 years ago, Nelson Mandela had just been elected president, and South Africa enjoyed the much-deserved admiration of the world in demonstrating how racial injustice can be corrected and democratization achieved through a peaceful political process rather than armed rebellion and war. That’s why I was so saddened to see the deep animosity that has developed toward the United States in a country I so revere. Many black South Africans draw parallels between their colonial oppression under white apartheid rule, and the American invasion of Iraq. Strangely, while they hate Bush, they admire Bill Clinton – he who sat back idly while nearly a million black Africans were killed in Rwanda.
Having just completed a book titled, “Freedom from Fear,” set to be released this September, I knew I had to be bold and courageous as I traveled through the land of the America detractors. So although I was being interviewed on radio, television and print about my books on relationships and my criticisms of the popular culture, I made sure to get in a plug about how proud I am to be an American, and how much I admire our president for saving the people of Iraq from brutality.
In South Africa, to admit publicly that you supported the war in Iraq is only slightly less shameful than to confess to beating your wife.
So, to mitigate the inevitable attacks – “Hey, which producer booked this Neanderthal on my TV show?” – I made sure to wrap my endorsement with healthy doses of humor, begging the host not to throw me out of their studios and promising to repent my evil ways. Luckily, my self-deprecating humor always took the edge off my pro-American sallies, and even ingratiated me to my hosts. Listeners would call in the radio shows and say that although my pro-Bush ideas are clearly dangerous, it was a real pleasure to hear their first ever humble American (a nice comment considering that no one who knows me has ever accused me of harboring humility).
South Africans are truly some of the nicest people you will ever encounter. My wife and I had a burst tire on the way to Sun City at 11 o’clock at night and four separate black motorists stopped and assisted us in changing it – which makes it all the more surprising they have such a shockingly low opinion of Americans.
We are perceived as shallow and decadent materialists, aggressive bullies who refuse to work within the framework of international law, a colonialist and imperialist power seeking the hegemony of a Pax Americana. One Christian man I encountered told me he hated America because we were a nation of smut-peddlers, while a bright radio host told me all Americans were stupid (I asked her if present company was excluded).
How should we Americans react to this kind of criticism? Should we engage in profound soul-searching and change our ways? After all, if everyone tells you that you’re a jerk, then maybe you are.
As a Jew, I am slightly reluctant to accept the world’s opinion of me at face value. After all, every European nation we have inhabited has at one point or another kicked us out, accusing us of being child-murdering parasites intent on world-domination. So just as that turned out to be pretty inaccurate – motivated as it was by blind hatred – it stands to reason that modern America-hatred is pretty much off base as well.
Simply stated, the world hates us Americans not because we have done anything wrong, but because we have done so much right. Because we are a just and moral nation, prepared to expend life and treasure to fight evil, we make self-absorbed, impotent and arrogant nations – like France – look pretty bad.
The whole world turned a blind eye to Saddam Hussein having slaughtered more than 1 million Muslims. They preferred to sip their cappuccinos on the streets of Paris and frequent expensive boutiques of Berlin, rather than send their boys to liberate an impoverished people with darker skin than theirs. The Arabs themselves – utterly consumed by hatred of Israel – uttered not a word of protest at the slaughter of their Arab brethren in Iraq.
With the removal of the world’s foremost murderer from power, America should have been respected as the most moral country on earth. But that would have made people like the Europeans feel highly immoral. So they instead decided to malign our motivation, making the absurd suggestion that we invaded Iraq to steal its oil, even though it would take us more than 20 years at optimal conditions to simply recoup the expense of ousting Saddam.
When your friend gives a large amount of money to charity, you have two choices. The first is to be inspired by his example and emulate him by making a donation of your own. But if you’re too cheap and selfish to do so, the other alternative is to malign your friend’s character by saying he did so just to have his name on a building.
But here I must make an important point: While there will always be hypocritical nations like France and Germany who will dislike America irrationally and unreasonably – due to their own jealousy and impotence – there are other open-mined nations like South Africa where it is incumbent upon us to make every effort to make ourselves understood.
We Americans, amidst being a compassionate and moral people, can always better ourselves and make a point of coming across as an understanding and benevolent nation that is open to criticism. South Africans are not intrinsic America haters. Unlike Canada and the Arab world, they do not feel they are in competition with us. Their own anti-Americanism is based on a shallow and superficial comparison between their experience at white apartheid colonial segregation, and their view that America is similarly a bullying, white, occupier intent on denigrating indigenous peoples.
We must therefore engage in an intelligent dialogue, refuting their claims about us and showing them a side of Americans they have never seen. When traveling abroad, every American should see oneself as an ambassador for one’s country. When locals hurl insulting anti-Americanisms – which you are guaranteed to encounter – be sure not to lose your cool. Be humble, but knowledgeable and determined. Here is an example of a conversation I had with a black woman who manages a book-store chain in Johannesburg:
She: Americans are arrogant. They do whatever they want, flouting international law and refusing to work through international channels.
Me: I assume you’re referring to the war in Iraq.
She: Yes. How dare the United States simply trample on another nation’s sovereignty?
Me: Sovereignty? Are you seriously suggesting that Saddam Hussein was a legitimate ruler? If you were living under a murderous dictatorship, would you not have been appalled at a silent world that ignored your suffering? Did you consider P.W. Botha and other enforcers of apartheid legitimate rulers, even though basic human rights were suppressed?
She: That was different. The whole world agreed that apartheid was wrong.
Me: And Saddam gassing Kurds and executing hundreds of thousands of Shia Muslims was not wrong? Isn’t there something incredibly immoral about a world that doesn’t see that as evil, and aren’t we Americans the only ones who were prepared to do something about it?
She: Why couldn’t you have done it through the United Nations?
Me: Oh, do you mean the same United Nations who watched as 800,000 Rwandans were slaughtered to the north of your country almost 10 years ago, but refused to send even 5,000 troops to stop the slaughter? Or the same Kofi Anan who was received a fax from General Dallaire, the U.N. commander in Kigali, begging for permission to stop the genocide, but was ordered not to intervene?
She: I see your point.
The United States now finds itself in the same situation that Israel did for the last 50 years, maligned constantly by other nations and beginning to believe it may not even be worth responding to the diatribes. I couldn’t disagree more. Israel’s biggest public-relations mistake was in believing that the world was inherently opposed to its existence and therefore would never have an open mind to hearing articulate defenses of its policies.
We Americans are good people, a moral nation, charitable, spiritual and kind. We have an obligation to let the world see that so that they will emulate our own goodness and preparedness to rescue other nations. God has blessed us with greater prosperity than any nation in the history of the world. With such blessing comes responsibility, and our responsibility is to lead the world away from the immoral leadership of the old Europe.
And every American is an unpaid diplomat in that noble cause. When you travel abroad, people instantly know where you’re from. It’s incumbent upon us all to stand up for our country. It can be difficult. Europeans especially will probe to see if you like Bush or if you’re prepared to slam your president in order to receive instant acceptance. The proper path is not to sound aggressively defensive, but articulately informed.
In the final analysis, my opposition to Mel Gibson’s film was simply that I did not want to see the Jewish people defamed as the murderers of Jesus. But I equally do not want to see my beloved country libeled as a nation of intimidating oppressors, when in reality we are benevolent fighters against persecution and suffering.