Why do they hate us? Ever since September 11, Americans have been asking that question. President Bush voiced it with a tone of bewilderment. Newsweek devoted a cover story to it. We Americans think of ourselves as generous, optimistic, and fair, so it comes as a shock to realize that we inspire hatred strong enough to incite mass murder.
The results of a study conducted by the Princeton Survey Research Associates underscore the gulf between Americans' self-perceptions and that of the rest of the world. Whereas only 18 percent of Americans considered "U.S. policies and actions in the world" a main cause of the attacks, elsewhere that figure rose to 58 percent, and to 81 percent in the Middle East.
I recently listened to a panel of experts address the Why do they hate us? question in an all-day forum. A British management consultant and an American Pulitzer Prize-winning historian answered with an attitude approaching resignation: What's new? Others always resent the top dog.
To my surprise, the lone Pakistani on the panel defended the United States. "Only Americans would even convene a panel like this," he said. "Look at what the French and British empires did. When their subjects criticized them, they imprisoned or shot them. Wherever I go, Americans are trying to learn more about Islam and are critically examining their own country. It amazes me."
On the other hand, participants noted examples that made some sense of Muslim hatred. Diplomats, for instance, brought up American policy in the Middle East; we are, after all, the source for the helicopter gunships and jet fighters used by Israel against Palestinians.
One panelist mentioned the Baywatch syndrome. That television program, which features hunks and babes cavorting on ...