Thursday, April 19, 2007

"Do You Think You're In America?"

A few weeks ago, my friend Faisal told me that, when he was growing up in rural Saudi Arabia, a common expression was, "Do you think you're in America?"

People typically asked, "Do you think you're in America?", when a person did or said something improbably, wildly optimistic, such as suggesting they could change society for the better, or even travel to the moon.

Sadly, Faisal tells me the expression has fallen into disuse since Bush invaded Iraq. People in his hometown no longer believe in America, it's dream and it's promise.

Many Americans are no more concerned with what America represents to the rest of the world than they are concerned that American forces did nothing to stop looters from destroying the museums and hospitals of Baghdad during the initial invasion of Iraq. For those Americans, all that matters is the world fears us, fears our power, fears our military; just like the ancient world feared the Roman legions and the will of the emperors.

Yet, it's really quite petty -- even insanely petty -- to think that all America might legitimately represent to people in the rest of the world is a threat.

America has in its short history represented many things to many peoples. It has at times shown the world that a government of the people is practical and not merely a dream of idealists. It has at times shown the world that people can live freer than their princes, dictators, and tyrants tell them people can live. Indeed, it has at times been a savior of other nations, a light unto the world, and a beacon of decency, optimism, and hope.

How strange it is that some Americans think it should only be a force to be feared by the world's peoples.


Brendan said...

For a while there I was starting to wonder if I was in America any more. Seems like America is starting a comeback. Recovery's gonna be a long road though.

Paul said...

Yes, I think it could take a decade or even two of effort to undo the damage done.