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Listen up, America!

In the eyes of the world, do we know who we are?

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The following are excerpts of last week’s editorials from newspapers around the world:

“As we celebrated the Ethiopian New Year on the 11th of September, we were jolted by the news of the tragedy that has befallen the people of the United States through well-coordinated terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

As a nation that has gone through numerous man-made and natural calamities, Ethiopians very well understand what it means to lose loved ones. We grieve with the people of the United States and our heart goes out to the families of the victims of these evil acts.

America has witnessed several major tragedies in its history; the War of Independence, the Civil War and Pearl Harbor, among others. They endured these tragedies, emerged victorious and built the kind of nation that the United States now is. There is no doubt that they will, once again, persevere.”

The Addis Tribune, Ethiopia

“An age-old Chinese axiom sums up the reasoning—if there can be such a thing—behind terrorist acts. It says: “Kill one, frighten 100.” The expertly timed and callously executed attack was not meant to inflict military damage, or even to gain strategic advantage; it was meant to demoralize. The perpetrators behind the attack counted on media saturation to disseminate the images of destruction to the entire nation and the world in the hopes that such images would demoralize the United States and its citizens…

What has happened, however, has been quite the opposite. The American people have showed admirable strength and unified resolve in dealing with the immediate aftereffects of the tragedy, helping to rescue survivors and lining up to donate blood. Moreover, the branches of the U.S. government have projected an image of vigor and unity, as well as surprising restraint and clear-headedness, in their vow to find and punish those responsible. Tactically, the attack was a negligible waste of resources. As an act of war, it was undeniable.

Just as the attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago was the catalyst for events that would redefine America’s sense of place in the world, the long-term effects of this week’s attack will redefine the very paradigm of life in today’s global village, and the responsibilities of its inhabitants. As has been oft-repeated since this tragedy began, countries that harbor known terrorists will share culpability. Before long, this principle will grow to influence international relations, which will no longer be based purely on trade and economic advantage—as has been the case since the end of the Cold War—but on values, ideals and other intangible characteristics that define a country’s belief systems.

America was attacked for one reason: it is, more than any other country, a symbol of the virtue of democracy. As a purely symbolic attack, it was therefore an assault on all democracies, including Taiwan. It is for this reason that Taiwan shares America’s outrage and its determination to punish those responsible.”

Taipei Journal, Taiwan

“As a president who had traveled to Europe only once before his election, Bush would be an isolationist. Hence his scorn of multilateral treaties and gatherings like the recent anti-racism conference in Durban and disinterest in pursuing a Palestinian/Israeli settlement as vigorously as his predecessor.

But as illustrated by the devastating events this week, if America is not interested in the Middle East, the Middle East is interested in America. In pursuit of a deadly enemy who knows no borders, it is obvious America will have to rely on [its] … allies. Also, America is inextricably linked to the search for a lasting settlement between Israel and its neighbours.

But is all of this obvious to Bush, and is he up to it?”

The Star of Johannesburg, South Africa

“The American nation appears not only immensely distressed and angry about the bombings but surprised too. It cannot understand why anyone should be moved by such hatred against it and, inured from the rest of us by the isolationism of most of its political representatives and its media, it has little idea of the currents swirling against it. An event of this magnitude was not only unimagined, it was unimaginable.

Yet, long before George Bush became president with his forceful in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it attitude to the world outside on issues as diverse as global warming and anti-missile defences, America had been turning in on itself, to the point of self-destructiveness. … America right now is a repository of exhausted ideas, like dead stars.

The arrogance of power has produced its inevitable reaction. America is threatened not by nuclear-tipped missiles from unknown rogue nations, but by small groups of angry men who, although prisoners of their zealotry, know well enough that much of the world, whilst not agreeing with them, understands their frustration.

To deal with this effectively requires a new way of looking at the world. George Kennan, the late Senator William Fulbright, William Pfaff and others have been arguing what this might be for a long time. On this sad and tragic day one wishes their pens could become mightier than America’s sword.”

Jonathan Power, Jordan Times, Jordan

“Will the attack on the United States lead to a preponderance of fascism in U.S. policy or will it call the attention of peoples and governments to the disaster that neoliberalism is leading us to? The fundamental question that underlies the events of September 11 is the one which few have posed; it goes beyond asking who could have launched the attack against the United States, and that question is why. The attack showed the vulnerability of the U.S. system and, whether or not that was its objective, has brought about as a result that the U.S. people are losing, to a large degree, their confidence in their authorities and in their political, economic and social system, and could initiate what has until now been absent in the media: a process of reflection, inside and outside the United States, about the impossibility of trying to construct the well-being of one country at the expense of the exploitation of the majority of people on the planet.”

Luis Javier Garrido, La Jornada, Mexico City (Spanish translation by Scott Nicholson)

“[T]errorism, in order not to hit home, must be tackled at its very source. It is this lesson that arouses concern and anticipation. What exactly are and will be the repercussions? While our hearts must necessarily go out to the thousand of innocent lives that have fallen victims to this cowardly act, the message that terrorism can hit even the most powerful country in the world should surely also focus attention on the problem itself and its sources as well as effects upon less well-off countries who are obviously even more handicapped to tackle this problem at home. …

It will be no exaggeration to suggest that, if the more affluent countries will be the ultimate target of such terrorism, it is the less developed countries that are the more vulnerable targets, for the simple reasons of the need of a base from which to organize. Countries less equipped to resist the pressures of terrorism cannot but fall easy victim to such and provide the essential base from which the more capable countries may be targeted. Terrorism cannot operate in limbo and so worldwide consciousness and action against the possibility of terrorism assuming national proportions prior to it gaining international potentials would seem overly due. …

It is not enough, therefore, that human rights must allow society to tolerate and promote the free functioning of the right of individuals and groups to organize. For such rights to serve the people and democracy, society must be able to insure that these organizations are democratic and capable of serving the people democratically. Enabling societies the capacity to ensure that organizations have this commitment would thus seem mandatory to the health of democracy and the society as such. It will not be enough for the developed world to merely increase their security capabilities in order to defend themselves against terrorism. In doing so they would be allowing the rest of the world to fall victim to the very terrorism they defend themselves against.”

People’s Review, Nepal

“The United States has to be careful, too, that in the search for vengeance, it does not stereotype peoples and cultures and deepen its alienation from large swaths of the world, which enhances the possibility of such terrorists attacks happening again and encourages the kind of jubilation seen in the streets of several Arab countries this week. In that regard, Washington should seek to find consensus, not only with its North Atlantic alliance partners, but seek to engage, and win, acceptance from the broad United Nations system for its action.

The world’s only remaining superpower ought to be seen as behaving as the supra power. This is an opportunity, when it has the sympathy of the world, to build genuine and credible partnerships. … In our view, therefore, there is need for a structured global response. In that regard, we believe that it is time that terrorism be put back on the agenda of the United Nations for the establishment of a convention and formulation of a set of international laws against terrorism.

"This is beyond unilateral action.”

The Jamaica Observer, Jamaica

“American policy makers have made grievous mistakes against peoples’ movements for freedom. Vietnam is perhaps the most glaring of these acts of anti-third world policies for which U.S. paid dearly in the past. It is doing so now in dealing with the Palestine issue. Having perpetuated Israeli tutelage over the Palestinians by sheer might, the United States finds its path to resurrect the path of reconciliation and policy correction virtually blocked because of its earlier dictates in these regions. Consequently, West Asian lands, particularly the Palestinians, are a seething cauldron of anti-American hatred.”

O.P. Sabherwal, The Kashmir Times, Jammu, India

“Someone wrote this week that the Islamic terrorists are the new Nazis. When the Nazis began persecuting the Jews in the Thirties, the Jewish institutions tried to arouse public opinion in the Western world, but were not taken seriously. They were told: “What Hitler is doing to the Jews isn’t nice, but it’s not terrible.” But this led in the end to the Second World War.

Now history is repeating itself. We tried to arouse world opinion against Islamic terror, but as long as they only killed Israelis, the world said: “It’s not nice, but it’s not terrible.” The Americans now understand that it really is terrible. But this is only a warning.”

Yosef Lapid, Jerusalem Post, Israel

“Now is the time in the game of war when we dehumanize our enemies.

Americans don’t get daily coverage on CNN of the ongoing bombings in Iraq, nor are they treated to human-interest stories on the devastating effects of economic sanctions on that country’s children. After the 1998 bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan (mistaken for a chemical weapons facility), there weren’t too many follow-up reports about what the loss of vaccine manufacturing did to disease prevention in the region.

And when NATO bombed civilian targets in Yugoslavia—markets, hospitals, refugee convoys, passenger trains, and a TV station—NBC didn’t do “streeter” interviews with survivors about how shocked they were by the indiscriminate destruction.

The United States is expert in the art of sanitizing and dehumanizing acts of war committed elsewhere. No wonder Tuesday’s attacks seemed to many Americans to have come less from another country than another planet. The events were reported not so much by journalists as by the new breed of brand-name celebrity anchors who have made countless cameos in Time Warner movies about apocalyptic terrorist attacks on the United States—now, incongruously, reporting the real thing.

The United States is a country that believed itself not just at peace but war-proof, a self-perception that would come as quite a surprise to most Iraqis, Palestinians and Colombians. Like an amnesiac, the U.S. has awakened in the middle of a war, only to find out it has been going on for years. Did the United States deserve to be attacked? Of course not. But there’s a different question that must be asked: Did U.S. foreign policy create the conditions in which such twisted logic could flourish, a war not so much on U.S. imperialism but on perceived U.S. imperviousness?

The era of the video-game war in which the U.S. is at the controls has produced a blinding rage in many parts of the world, a rage at the persistent asymmetry of suffering. This is the context in which twisted revenge-seekers make no other demand than that U.S. citizens share their pain.”

Naomi Klein, Toronto Globe & Mail, Canada

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