how the world sees america

An Irish Blogger's Letter to America

by Niall Conlon, a 23-year-old blogger in Dublin

Americans may be hard pressed to believe it, but it's tough for a European like me to hate America. After all, who could hate a country that gave the world John Wayne, Kurt Vonnegut, Fred Skinner and Tony Kushner? Look around Europe and you'll find American movies, books and music topping the charts. In truth, Europeans stopped looking at these products as American a long time ago. America is in the very air that we breathe, and because of this, we consume many of the myths that America feeds her young.

I remember the day that the first Gulf War. I was seven years old at the time, and attending a primary school in rural Ireland. Our teacher came in and announced that the war had ended. This came as something of a shock to my class since we hadn't really noticed that a war had begun. As one we asked, "Who won?" and as one we cheered when out teacher replied "America"

It was only after the cheering died down that one bright girl spoke up and asked "But teacher, who were they fighting?"

What I hope this anecdote illustrates is that if you grow up in Europe, you grow up believing that America is good and its opponents are bad. How could we think otherwise when Superman, Captain America, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker and Mr T are our heroes?

The problem is that while we devour America's myths in our youth, sometime around adolescence we regurgitate them. It's hard to stomach the idea that America values all life regardless of race, colour or creed, when it drops bombs into neighborhoods where children sleep.

When its president approves of the regular use of torture and is then re-elected, it's hard to believe that Americans value human dignity. It's hard to believe that America supports democracy when it ousts democratically elected leaders and supports dictators. When it abducts our citizens, ignores our governments and dismisses International law and opinion, you come to see that the American government doesn't value Life and Liberty, it values American Life and Liberty. The rest of us, we're merely a means to an end.

This realization generally leads to a feeling of betrayal and disillusionment. The Emperor has no clothes. Having believed in the lie, you resent the liar more than you would have had she told the truth in the first place. Russia and China never promised to save us. They never claimed to value our lives in the same way that America did. They were always the bad guys with dodgy accents who were trying to kill GI Joe. What more could you expect from them?

We all hope that one-day America will become the country that it has claimed to be, but looking around the planet, it seems as though that day is moving further and further away. Unless something changes, relations between Europe and the US will continue to cool. Whether or not that's a bad thing, only time will tell.

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Comments (5)

khalid awan:

Dear Sir / Madam

I am 46 years old, Canadian citizen and native of Pakistan (muslim). I was an immigration consultant in Canada and also member of Canadian Bar Association as part of my business , I had an office in New York.
During 2001 immediately after the Sept 11, event the US govt arrested me on Oct 25, 2001 on anonymous call, as a material witness for the 9/11 world trade centre terrorist attack. A detail investigation by the FBI and USA Naval intelligence dept was conducted and I was cleared, but even then govt put me in front of Grand jury , and I was cleared and the case was dismissed by the Grand jury of the US Federal Court .
Approximately after 2 weeks , before I was released from custody the US Govt imposed a new charges of Fraud and money laundering , under the advice of my attorney , I pleaded guilty and I was sentenced to prison for five years (which was four years more, what I pleaded). In which I had already spent 3 years in Detention jail, during the case , I had about 14 months left to finishing my sentence ,(instead of appealing, I preferred to applied for Treaty Transfer to Canada, because if the case is in the appeal, defendant is not eligible for transfer back to his home country).
While at prison, I learned from the case manager Miss Hause, that my citizen was incorrect in the FBOP’s (Federal Bureau of Prison) computer system as Pakistani instead of Canadian.
Its important to note , that all of my Canadian identifications (passport , citizenship card , S.I.N , Health card , Driving license etc) were under FBI’s possession, with a great deal of concern, I wrote a letter to the Canadian Consulate in Buffalo, N.Y to notify such mistake and requested them to fix this problem. This is especially important for Treaty Transfer back to Canada.
The Canadian Consulate official sent a letter to the jail to correct my citizenship status, however FBOP ignored the request and the citizenship status in the FBOP computer still reflect Pakistani instead of Canadian (Note:- I would be required to obtain visa to visit Pakistan) .In contrast , the deportation letter received from US Immigration dept, Contained the correct citizenship status of Canada.
At the hindsight, I believe that the FBOP intentionally left the citizenship as Pakistani, so that they could retained me at their facility, while the govt is planning to file new charges against me 3rd time.
Approximately six weeks before my released date on Jan 30 ,2006 I was notified by the FBOP that I was being transferred from Allenwood , PA to MDC (Metropolitan Detention Centre) in Brooklyn N.Y, it was explained to me, that the purpose of this transfer was in preparation for deportation back to Canada, (after few days, I signed the immigration deportation papers, with my consular Miss Chen).
But immediately after my arriving to MDC Brooklyn, I discovered during a phone call with my family in Montreal, that RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) official had contacted my sister and brother-in-law regarding the whereabouts of my wife and my current situation, there was no explanation given by the RCMP official to the purpose of the call and he left his phone number and asked my wife to call him back immediately, my wife called the RCMP official and left messages in his voice mail. Then the official contacted my brother-in-law again and had asked him to tell my wife not to call again, because there is nothing good nor anything bad.
Meanwhile the AUSA ( Astt United States Attorney) office Investigator and FBI brought me to their office to be interrogated without an attorney present, even AUSA told in the court to the judge on March 16, 2006 that he arranged attorney for me before my arrival from Allenwood PA to MDC Brooklyn, N.Y, on Transcript; page 11, Transcript line No: 14 to 23.
AUSA:-
He (Khalid Awan) was writ in the cause of a grand jury investigation. He clearly had criminal exposure. So to protect his interest I made an application to the duty magistrate for counsel to be appointed.
THE COURT:-
Initially he was brought here by a Court to testify before the grand jury?
AUSA:-
That is correct, Your Honour.
THE COURT:-
When he arrived here, you made arrangements for an attorney to be pointed to request him?
AUSA:-
Yes, Your Honour.
This interrogation started with the AUSA office Investigator stating that my family will be arrested in Canada if I refused to answer their questions.
At this point I am certain that my family is in great danger for reasons that I am not aware of. I was scared that my family would be harassed by these people along with the Canadian RCMP official, I strongly believe that the RCMP is doing this intentionally in collaboration with FBI official to further harass me to admit charges, that I never committed.
Without knowledge of the reasons why the Canadian RCMP agency was involved. I was surprised that RCMP official directly approached my family instead of me without proper explanation, and its also shocked for me, that how RCMP got the phone number of my family (because before my arrest, I don’t have any single record in any police dept, of any country).
I was intimated and pushed to the edge during this interrogation, I was determined to provide anything these USA officials wanted to make them happy even is the questions made no sense, because I want them to stop the harassment to my family.
On March 15, 2006 I completed the term of my imprisonment and was to be released from American Custody and deported back to Canada. Before that I was arrested again 3rd time, and charged with providing “material support to a foreign terrorist” and money laundering (to a organization and person, which are not designated by the USA govt and belongs to Sikh religion) , and with whom, I don’t have any single common interest, because we both are from different countries and different religions.
These charges emerged while I was still in prison and without the capability of providing any type of support. It was even difficult for me to get enough financial assistance to pay legal fees. I could not have provided any material support while I was in prison for five years and I could not launder any money because I did not have any.
AUSA filed three counts of indictment against me.
Conspiracy to provide material support.
Provide a material support to the foreign terrorist.
Money laundering to support terrorism.
(Please note, that in my previous case govt charged me for money laundering and fraud from Jan 1999 to 2002 and “its mentioned in the plea-agreement by the AUSA that no further money laundering charges will be brought against defendant from Jan 1999 to April 2002” even then govt indict me for money laundering from 1998 to Nov 2001 (Which is double Jeopardy and violation of 5th Amendment of U.S Constitution.)
In Oct 2006, during pre-trial hearing on the motion’s filed by my attorney the first two counts of my indictment were dismissed by the judge, stating that there is a lack of facts and figures.
After two weeks AUSA re-indicted me again. I believe this is a desperate act of the AUSA to cover up a huge embarrassment . Further this hastily drawn indictment was full of factual errors and creative legal theories.
Since I was first arrested by the American govt, I believe that I have been singled out, isolated `and discriminated against primarily because of my race and religion, in addition to the fact that I don’t know any information that the American govt is trying to pressure out of me.
I do not understand the American laws and this is what led to my pleading guilty in the first case. I have difficulty understanding the new charges also.
I have been charged under, section 2339(a) of Title 18 of the United States code, which makes it illegal to provide material support to a foreign terrorist.
Please understand, I am not a terrorist, I do not know any terrorist and I have had no connections with or to any known or unknown terrorist. I have been incarcerated for last 5 years and I had no money to provide or launder.
The law enforcement have in America is pressuring me to provide information to them that I really do not have or know. I am a Canadian Citizen and nearly all of my family is in Canada, including my wife and kids. I don’t know any information to tell them to help their investigation.
Because of this , I am being treated unfairly and my rights under the American constitution are being violated. I am being held here in further detention against my will for crimes which I could have never committed, because I was in prison.
I believe, that I am a victim of the discrimination that was outlined in the July 3, 2006 issue of Time magazine (Page 29, column 3). In this article section 2339(a) & (b) are discussed and criticized “as most suspects are charged under these two sections. However, the justice dept here in America admits that of the more than 218 guilty pleas that it has obtained, most are for minor investigation issues that are uncovered deeding the course of their terrorism investigation. This suggest, according to the article that the Attorney General’s office have is not concerned about the rights or fairness or the manner in which it achieves convictions for the people they arrest. Furthermore, criticizes have noted that one of the patterns to emerge from these domestic prosecutions is that suspect seen too incompetent to carry out the deeds they are accused of. The Deputy Attorney General acknowledges that the Dept of Justice’s goal is “ preventions through prosecution’s” and this is done with no regard for an individual’s rights.
I agree that these guilty of terrorism should be prosecuted . But as the above mentioned article suggest , innocent people should not be targeted because of their race or religion.
I am not a terrorist and I should not be targeted and treated unfairly and unjustly.
I need your assistance desperately in my case, as I believe that I am being treated unjustly here. I would like to send you my attorney’s contact information and provide you with legal documents related to my case, so that you may become more familiar with my situation.
Please also note, that I appeared in the court , for no guilty of my 2nd superseding indictment on Aug 02, 2006 and on Aug 03, 2006 FBOP officials placed me in the SHU (Segregation Housing Unit) out of these months, I placed in the SHU isolation from Jan 03, 2007 to March 6, 2007 for unknown “Pending Investigation” in these 215 days of my segregation and isolation, I don’t have a single phone call access to my family, no legal calls to my attorney and Canadian Council, my legal mail opened in my absence, no medical treatment for my injured shoulder (even I went for hunger strike for 3 and half day) I harassed by the various jail officials and lot of other problems too which already been submitted in the attention of the FBOP higher authorities, but no action taken on them, after writing the court, instead of receiving the response or any action on my complaints, jail officials removed /moved me from MDC federal facility to Nassau County Jail .
My suffering has gone on for far too long, and I need your help to bring my suffering to an end. I want to return home to my family, because my imprisonment was injustice and will remain a great injustice forever.
May God bless you and be with you in your efforts to champion the cause of human rights, and the suffering of innocent prisoners and restore hope, faith and love to peoples all over the world.

Sincerely,
KHALID AWAN
FBOP NO. 50959-054

Niall:

"Barring the slander-type entertainment "man on the street" clips that usually include geography quizzes of some sort, you would be very hard pressed to find an american who wholeheartedly supports "bombing civilian areas" (even if the cowards hide amongst their own women and children) or the use of torture. But I think that it's very comforting and reassuring to non-americans (especially europeans, in my experience) to believe that this is in fact the case."

Urchin, there's just one very large problem with this argument. While Americans might not like the idea of bombing civilian areas, they prefer it to sending in American troops.

If as many American soldiers had dies as Iraqi civilians, then the US would have left the country years ago and Bush would not have been re-elected.

This is not to say that Americans like bombing Iraqis or that would not prefer to take another form of action, only that they don't seem to care enough to put sufficient pressure on their government to change it.

When speaking about a nation, you have to speak about it in general. You have to make generalisations. I know that this tends to result in apparently simplistic statements, but that seems unavoidable.

Urchin Barren:

Barring the slander-type entertainment "man on the street" clips that usually include geography quizzes of some sort, you would be very hard pressed to find an american who wholeheartedly supports "bombing civilian areas" (even if the cowards hide amongst their own women and children) or the use of torture. But I think that it's very comforting and reassuring to non-americans (especially europeans, in my experience) to believe that this is in fact the case. I really think that so much of the hopelessly vast misunderstanding between americans and non-americans (again, euros especially) lies in a mutual feeling that the "other" unjustly despises and disregards them. Of course, how can one be disregarding the other when their own feelings of that sort are what is driving the seperation?

Of course, the geography quiz type clips is the archetypal example of this sentiment and one that I always point to when discussing this. When some dumb fat american on a television clip can't find wales on a map (or even state that it isn't an independent nation), the instinct of a foreign audience would be to laugh or slap their forehead at the stupid american. But, indeed, I think they know the truth, and the truth is what both drives their craving for this sort of mockery and makes the situation all the more bitter and stinging in their own minds: It's not that the american in the clip is stupid (granted, it's fairly apparent that he is, and it's the stupid people that are pursued and displayed on these programs), it's that it highlights a painful truth - that most americans (regardless of intelligence) don't need to and truly can't be bothered to know anything about wales or it's location or it's role in the uk or, to put it simply, it's very existence. Understandably, this is infuriating to many people on various levels, but it's only one relatively tame example of what I'm trying to identify. There are countless examples in countless directions involving countless societies. And of course, these are the very origins of stereotype, and the very issues we deal with in the "postglobal" society ... and this blog.

Niall:

Hey Peter. I agree with a lot of what you said, but I think both you and I need to be careful not to over-emphasise the differences between Europeans and Americans. For instance, in the case of the run up to the Iraq war, many Americans opposed it and many Europeans supported it.

However, the problem is that the proportions of people who possess particular political outlooks on certain key issues differ to the point where they are almost inversed. If 60% of Americans think that bombing civilian areas is ok, then around 40% of Europeans agree. If 80% of Americans think that the UN should be ignored, then 20% of Europeans disagree.

The problem that I find is that the majority viewpoint comes to drive policy, and it is only in terms of their actions that we can speak of nations' characters. While significant minorities within the United States oppose the use of torture and depleted uranium, that does not change the fact that America(TM) supports their use.

peter murray:

On a personal and corporate level Europeans and Americans interact economically and socially almost without reference to nationality. Globalization, cheaper air-fares, and shared value systems - personal and social - mean that this interaction is increasing and deepening.

Paradoxically however, in the areas of politics and international relations there is a deepening chasm between the US and Europe. Europeans have not bought into the so called "war on terror" as an extistensial threat. Europeans believe that this "war" was created by the neo-cons as a vehicle for the objectives which are familiar to those who read such publications as the Weekly Standard, the Washington Times, and Heritage. The neo cons have driven a foreign-policy wedge between Europe and the US.

Europeans believe that the environment and uncontrolled immigration from a third-world in meltdown are the real existensial threats. Europeans believe that Islamofascism is a label whose purpose is to demonize Muslims. The neo-cons wish to persuade us that Muslim grievances are so unreasonable, and Islamists so fanatical, that it would be futile to negotiate with them or address their grievances. In other words,the only thing they understand is the old imperial "dose of grapeshot".
Europeans believe that US policy is what is driving the terror problem, and that while there is certainly a small core group of fanatics out there, the "foot-soldiers" of Islamic terror are motivated by specific grievances and by the double-standards and hypocracy of the West in its dealings with Moslem countries.
We preach democracy but subvert it when it produces inconvenient results. We preach liberal rights, of which the right to enjoy ones private property without fear of confiscation is one of the most fundamental. Yet we turn a blind eye when US client Isreal steals the land and water of their Palestinian brothers. We claim to abhor terror, yet we see the West and its clients using modern weaponary to rain death on thousands of Moslem civilians on the pretext of a lie about weapons of mass distruction.

Europeans believe that terror is motivated by real grievances which must be addressed if we are to erode the motivation which drives a small number of young Moslems to do the bidding of a miniscule number of real fanatics who would be powerless without their foot-soldiers.

Until Europeans believe that the US is beginning to adopt policies the help cure rather than exacerbate the problem, Europe is unlikely to be interested in assisting the US in its foreign-policy interests much beyond lip-service for old times sake. In fact many in Europe are quite happy to see the US bogged down in the multi-zillion dollar quagmire of Iraq - not because we hate the US, but because the US will be less likely to embarke on any more adventures which might further undermine Western security so long as she is preoccupied with Iraq.

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