THE WORLD POPULARITY POLL ON AMERICA: ONE NEBRASKAN'S VIEWPOINT
There is currently a medium hue and cry over a Pew Research Center Poll
that says, in an oversimplified summary, that a lot of people around the world, especially in the Middle East, don't like Americans. The baffling (to some) wrinkle is that those same people love American culture and American ideals. They just don't like America right now. Setting aside some of the reliability indicators of the poll (many countries' governments severely limited the questions that could be asked, for example), the poll really doesn't tell us anything that we don't know already.
Certainly it didn't come as a surprise to my friend Hassan (name changed to protect the innocent) who runs a little grill in downtown Lincoln. Hassan came here many years ago from Iran to escape the extremism of the religious right in Iran, and just to find the American dream: to set himself up in business, to make a little money, and to raise a family. You need to know that Hassan is well educated: he holds a university degree from Iran; his English, while accented and somewhat colloquial, is fluent. He also speaks French, Turkish and Arabic. He knows US history probably better than most Americans, and is very familiar with Middle Eastern history. And he is opinionated without being angry.
I sat in Hassan's grill downtown a couple of evenings before this poll was released and listened to him holding forth on the coming war on Iraq and on US policy generally:
"For twenty years that f*ker Saddam was in Iraq and he was a f*ker and killing people. We knew it in Iran -- we fought him ourselves -- the Turks knew it, everybody knew it, but the US didn't give a damn. Now all of a sudden we have to fight him. What changed?"
"We in the Middle East have always looked to the United States as the kind of democracy everybody wants. Every country that is controlled by another had help to get free. Even the US had France to help it in the revolution. We want the US to come and show us how to start the democracy, and then to get the hell out of our country and let us run it. But the damn CIA and the oil companies want to run our countries, and the damn British and French are just waiting to see if we kick the US out so they can get a turn."
"I hated Khomeini. He was f*ing crazy. You here in America don't realize that Jerry Falwell would be just like Khomeini if he had the same kind of power. Falwell said that Muhammad was a terrorist. Falwell hasn't even read the goddam Koran. But he says all Muslims are terrorists. I say Falwell is as bad as Khomeini, he just has the American constitution to prevent him from taking over. Religious fanatics are the most dangerous people in the world, and they are the worst when they have a the power of a country behind them. Khomeni was a fanatic. bin-Laden is a fanatic. The Taliban is all fanatics. The Saudis are fanatics, they just have money and take baths. Falwell and that other f*ker, Pat Robertson, they are fanatics too. If they get power, watch your ass."
"Jesus and Muhammad preached about love and being good. It was the people after them that screwed everything up."
"The United States Constitution is the greatest kind of constitution in the world. Everybody knows that. It's better than the British parliament. It's better than the Sharia [Muslim law]. The students in Iran now want the American constitution in Iran. Everybody in the Middle East wants the Constitution. They just don't want the Americans."
On American corporations in Iran: "Sure, if it's on a fair deal. Under Reza [Pahlavi] Shah, the Americans got almost all the money from the oil, and the rest of the money went to Reza Shah's family. And we didn't get to pick our own shah. The CIA and the oil companies put him in power. But if an American company wants to come in and do fair business, that's okay with everbody, they just have to be goddam fair."
Would he go back to Iran? "Hell no! Not until the government changes, and that is not going to happen."
On the 9/11 attacks: "Everybody here says 'We were innocent, we didn't deserve it.' Bullsh*t. For fifty years, or more, since the Turks got beaten after First World War, British and French, and then the Americans, have been trying to control the Middle East. People in the Middle East have been trying to tell the West about this, and nobody listens. Americans don't pay attention to what's going on in the Middle East until there's no gas for their cars. Let us run our own goddam countries
"I don't think it's right for Al-Qaeda to kill thousands of people, and those people may be innocent themselves. But American people need to find out what's going on in the world beyond Nebraska and Big Red football."
I don't think I can add anything to that last comment.