The United States: a good and honorable country

[Editor's note: this article was first published in in Al Hayat, an Arabic language newspaper in London. It is presented here for the first time in translation with the permisssion of its author. The image of the United States in the Islamic world is a matter of high importance, as evidenced by the appointment of Karen Hughes as head of public diplomacy for the United States Department of State.]

Recently, United State policy has become the subject of a continuous debate, usually ending with a heated discussion about the grave lapses of said policy. There is no doubt that Americans do make mistakes, and they are usually the first ones to acknowledge and criticize their own shortcomings. However, the Arab outlook differs from the American one, as Arabs tend to judge others from a cultural and religious perspective. An article written by Fran Heather in the American edition of Newsweek issued in January 20, 2004, recorded the impressions of an American woman about the Egyptian people and the enthusiastic greeting she received when she put on the Arab head covering! 

One wonders, if such is the criteria that Arabs use to accept or reject others, would they be able to understand the way the American nation views itself, as a nation appointed with a holy universal mission? 

Many of the forefathers who founded the United States are believed to have been evangelists who reached this virgin land to spread the Christian message; they crossed mountain chains to spread the Word across the continent and then their vision expanded to encompass the whole world. Thus, the American nation has grown filled with moral, human and religious zeal. 

On the other hand, the pilgrims and early settlers who came to the New World were fleeing from religious persecution in Europe.  And in setting up the young nation, one of their principal tenets was that of separation of Church and State. So, based on Christian principles, they established a nation that embraces democracy, human rights, and freedom of religion. They laid down the foundation for the newborn nation with this basic moral rule: 'Honesty is the best course of action to achieve success'. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word 'honesty' has several significant meanings and synonyms: justice, virtue, integrity, honor, fairness, openness, frankness and objectivity.

This ethical and admirable rule served as a foundation for the growing nation, which dedicated itself to serving just and worthy causes.

If we take a brief look at what the United States has accomplished during the last century we can confirm that, to a great extent, it has acted as an honorable super power.

1.    A Nation With No Colonial Ambitions 
Throughout its history, the US never invaded and colonized another country; quite the contrary, when it first emerged as a super power it strove to put an end to the European colonization of the Third World countries including the Arab countries. 'The League of Nations' was founded in 1920, inspired by President Wilson's program which included 14 principles, one of the most important being the right of independence and sovereignty to all states — whether great or small.

To quote David Humphrey, a disciple of George Washington:

'The old empires owe their power to shameful invasion, plunder and bloodshed. But we have learned from their example, the sins they committed, the heavy price they paid and the legacy they left behind. We are now living in a better age, and we have a constitution strongly based on freedom that encompasses the virtues of all human nations and serves the causes of all mankind.'

2.    A Nation with a Noble Humanitarian Vision
In recent history, the United States has always referred to itself as a nation with a sacred mission; and though its strategies aimed to achieve its national interests, this vision remained a basic element of the United States' dealings with the outside world. Looking back at American history we can confirm this fact.  If not for the United States, the world would continue to be under the submission of the Nazis, and Europe would still be suffering under Hitler and Mussolini.

The United States managed to free many states from the clutches of communists, and with a few exceptions, rid the world of communism. In recent years it freed the state of  Kuwait, handing it back to its own people and rulers. The same applies to Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. The United States had no designs on the riches of these countries. Indeed, if the United States was after the Kuwaiti oil, it would have not left it untouched as it did, furthermore it would have accepted Saddam Hussein's tempting offer of oil privileges in return for non—interference in Kuwait.

It is noteworthy that the United States has worked to free Christian, Muslim and Buddhist nations without discrimination.

Lately, the United States' self—appointed mission is to put an end to terror — another worthy endeavor, and one that it will, hopefully, accomplish, so peace may reign.

Theodore Roosevelt used to say that history has been flowing in a steady line beginning with a barbarian state, heading towards a civilized state, and in between the two ends is an intermediary state of autocracy. In 1900, Roosevelt divided the world into two categories, one that is enjoying civilization and another that is still suffering from barbarism and autocracy. Will the United States' coming mission succeed in ridding the Middle East from barbarism and autocracy?

3.    A Nation working for Human Sustenance and Welfare
In his State of the Union Address, the American president G. Bush stated that,

'Across the Earth, America is feeding the hungry. More than 60 percent of international food aid comes as a gift from the people of the United States.'

He requested the American Congress to commit $10 billion for the fight against AIDS in Africa, saying:

'We wish to help the afflicted, and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men. In Afghanistan, we helped to liberate an oppressed people, and we will continue helping them secure their country, rebuild their society and educate all their children, boys and girls. In the Middle East, we will continue to seek peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine.'

The size of American aid, academic grants, and humanitarian assistance is astonishing.  The United States chose to pay billions of dollars to support the peace process between Egypt and Israel, a choice that is truly beyond imagination. American aid is not exclusively offered by the US government, but also by public and private institutions and individuals, such as Bill Gates, who donated millions of dollars to help AIDS victims, Ted Turner who donated billions of dollars to help the under—privileged throughout the world, and hundreds of American institutions such as the Ford Foundation, Fulbright Program and the Carnegie Corporation. There are hundreds of institutions all around the United States which receive small donations from individuals and use them to support humanitarian missions across the globe, to fight disease and poverty and to assist the orphans and homeless. Unlike the Arab world, these donations are neither abused nor used to support terrorism. 

4.    A Religious and Tolerant Nation
The great majority of Americans (90%) believe in God, while practicing different religions. The United States has the highest rate of regular church attendance in the world. However, there is no place for fanaticism in this devout country; religious freedom is equally granted to the followers of different faiths. It is a safe bet that the Islamic countries do not grant that much religious freedom to the Muslims, let alone religious freedom to the non—Muslims who live in the Islamic world, where freedom is either highly compromised or completely non—existent. The secret of American greatness possibly lies in the fact that it is a tolerant and decent nation, which stands in defense of human rights and religious liberties across the world. To Quote President George Bush in his State of the Union Address: 'Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity'.  

5.    A Nation that Helped to Liberate and Rebuild Other Countries
West Germany, Japan and South Korea come to mind as vivid examples of the American efforts to liberate and rebuild other countries; they also stand as examples of fruitful cooperation between the United States and other countries. Today, the Japanese and German economies rival the American economy. Unfortunately, the new generations in Europe do not recall past history, young Germans have no memory of the post—war Germany, the French do not recall how the US assisted in liberating France not once but twice, and the Europeans in general have forgotten about the 'Marshall Plan' that succeeded in restoring a devastated Europe to its former glory. They may even have forgotten recent history when the US encouraged the European Union to include other states that were, just a few decades ago, at complete odds with Europe and have now become members in the European Union thanks to American support. The US is even trying to persuade Russia to become a member of the European Union. 

The US took a bold decision to interfere and change the course of events when Europe fell victim to the Nazis and Fascists and stood on the brink of total destruction.  Sadly, when confronted with a similar situation in the Middle East, Europe is hesitating, reluctant to give its support to the US endeavor to restore balance to this troubled region.

6.    A Nation that Takes Credit for the Establishment of International Organizations
The US contributed greatly in the establishment of international organizations, starting with the League of Nations, through the United Nations, the Monetary Fund, the International Bank and the World Trade Organization.

7.    A Super Power With Relatively Few Mistakes 
While the US is worthy of praise, it is by no means an ideal or perfect nation. It has committed grievous errors throughout its history, some of which can only be labeled as atrocities. However, a careful examination of human history will also indicate that the US has committed fewer mistakes than any other super power.

   The purpose of this article is to offer an alternative account of America's true image, and to counteract the distorted and ugly image reflected in the Arab media, plagued as it is by irrationality and subjectivity.

[Editor's note: this article was first published in in Al Hayat, an Arabic language newspaper in London. It is presented here for the first time in translation with the permisssion of its author. The image of the United States in the Islamic world is a matter of high importance, as evidenced by the appointment of Karen Hughes as head of public diplomacy for the United States Department of State.]

Recently, United State policy has become the subject of a continuous debate, usually ending with a heated discussion about the grave lapses of said policy. There is no doubt that Americans do make mistakes, and they are usually the first ones to acknowledge and criticize their own shortcomings. However, the Arab outlook differs from the American one, as Arabs tend to judge others from a cultural and religious perspective. An article written by Fran Heather in the American edition of Newsweek issued in January 20, 2004, recorded the impressions of an American woman about the Egyptian people and the enthusiastic greeting she received when she put on the Arab head covering! 

One wonders, if such is the criteria that Arabs use to accept or reject others, would they be able to understand the way the American nation views itself, as a nation appointed with a holy universal mission? 

Many of the forefathers who founded the United States are believed to have been evangelists who reached this virgin land to spread the Christian message; they crossed mountain chains to spread the Word across the continent and then their vision expanded to encompass the whole world. Thus, the American nation has grown filled with moral, human and religious zeal. 

On the other hand, the pilgrims and early settlers who came to the New World were fleeing from religious persecution in Europe.  And in setting up the young nation, one of their principal tenets was that of separation of Church and State. So, based on Christian principles, they established a nation that embraces democracy, human rights, and freedom of religion. They laid down the foundation for the newborn nation with this basic moral rule: 'Honesty is the best course of action to achieve success'. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word 'honesty' has several significant meanings and synonyms: justice, virtue, integrity, honor, fairness, openness, frankness and objectivity.

This ethical and admirable rule served as a foundation for the growing nation, which dedicated itself to serving just and worthy causes.

If we take a brief look at what the United States has accomplished during the last century we can confirm that, to a great extent, it has acted as an honorable super power.

1.    A Nation With No Colonial Ambitions 
Throughout its history, the US never invaded and colonized another country; quite the contrary, when it first emerged as a super power it strove to put an end to the European colonization of the Third World countries including the Arab countries. 'The League of Nations' was founded in 1920, inspired by President Wilson's program which included 14 principles, one of the most important being the right of independence and sovereignty to all states — whether great or small.

To quote David Humphrey, a disciple of George Washington:

'The old empires owe their power to shameful invasion, plunder and bloodshed. But we have learned from their example, the sins they committed, the heavy price they paid and the legacy they left behind. We are now living in a better age, and we have a constitution strongly based on freedom that encompasses the virtues of all human nations and serves the causes of all mankind.'

2.    A Nation with a Noble Humanitarian Vision
In recent history, the United States has always referred to itself as a nation with a sacred mission; and though its strategies aimed to achieve its national interests, this vision remained a basic element of the United States' dealings with the outside world. Looking back at American history we can confirm this fact.  If not for the United States, the world would continue to be under the submission of the Nazis, and Europe would still be suffering under Hitler and Mussolini.

The United States managed to free many states from the clutches of communists, and with a few exceptions, rid the world of communism. In recent years it freed the state of  Kuwait, handing it back to its own people and rulers. The same applies to Bosnia, Kosovo and Afghanistan. The United States had no designs on the riches of these countries. Indeed, if the United States was after the Kuwaiti oil, it would have not left it untouched as it did, furthermore it would have accepted Saddam Hussein's tempting offer of oil privileges in return for non—interference in Kuwait.

It is noteworthy that the United States has worked to free Christian, Muslim and Buddhist nations without discrimination.

Lately, the United States' self—appointed mission is to put an end to terror — another worthy endeavor, and one that it will, hopefully, accomplish, so peace may reign.

Theodore Roosevelt used to say that history has been flowing in a steady line beginning with a barbarian state, heading towards a civilized state, and in between the two ends is an intermediary state of autocracy. In 1900, Roosevelt divided the world into two categories, one that is enjoying civilization and another that is still suffering from barbarism and autocracy. Will the United States' coming mission succeed in ridding the Middle East from barbarism and autocracy?

3.    A Nation working for Human Sustenance and Welfare
In his State of the Union Address, the American president G. Bush stated that,

'Across the Earth, America is feeding the hungry. More than 60 percent of international food aid comes as a gift from the people of the United States.'

He requested the American Congress to commit $10 billion for the fight against AIDS in Africa, saying:

'We wish to help the afflicted, and defend the peace, and confound the designs of evil men. In Afghanistan, we helped to liberate an oppressed people, and we will continue helping them secure their country, rebuild their society and educate all their children, boys and girls. In the Middle East, we will continue to seek peace between a secure Israel and a democratic Palestine.'

The size of American aid, academic grants, and humanitarian assistance is astonishing.  The United States chose to pay billions of dollars to support the peace process between Egypt and Israel, a choice that is truly beyond imagination. American aid is not exclusively offered by the US government, but also by public and private institutions and individuals, such as Bill Gates, who donated millions of dollars to help AIDS victims, Ted Turner who donated billions of dollars to help the under—privileged throughout the world, and hundreds of American institutions such as the Ford Foundation, Fulbright Program and the Carnegie Corporation. There are hundreds of institutions all around the United States which receive small donations from individuals and use them to support humanitarian missions across the globe, to fight disease and poverty and to assist the orphans and homeless. Unlike the Arab world, these donations are neither abused nor used to support terrorism. 

4.    A Religious and Tolerant Nation
The great majority of Americans (90%) believe in God, while practicing different religions. The United States has the highest rate of regular church attendance in the world. However, there is no place for fanaticism in this devout country; religious freedom is equally granted to the followers of different faiths. It is a safe bet that the Islamic countries do not grant that much religious freedom to the Muslims, let alone religious freedom to the non—Muslims who live in the Islamic world, where freedom is either highly compromised or completely non—existent. The secret of American greatness possibly lies in the fact that it is a tolerant and decent nation, which stands in defense of human rights and religious liberties across the world. To Quote President George Bush in his State of the Union Address: 'Our founders dedicated this country to the cause of human dignity'.  

5.    A Nation that Helped to Liberate and Rebuild Other Countries
West Germany, Japan and South Korea come to mind as vivid examples of the American efforts to liberate and rebuild other countries; they also stand as examples of fruitful cooperation between the United States and other countries. Today, the Japanese and German economies rival the American economy. Unfortunately, the new generations in Europe do not recall past history, young Germans have no memory of the post—war Germany, the French do not recall how the US assisted in liberating France not once but twice, and the Europeans in general have forgotten about the 'Marshall Plan' that succeeded in restoring a devastated Europe to its former glory. They may even have forgotten recent history when the US encouraged the European Union to include other states that were, just a few decades ago, at complete odds with Europe and have now become members in the European Union thanks to American support. The US is even trying to persuade Russia to become a member of the European Union. 

The US took a bold decision to interfere and change the course of events when Europe fell victim to the Nazis and Fascists and stood on the brink of total destruction.  Sadly, when confronted with a similar situation in the Middle East, Europe is hesitating, reluctant to give its support to the US endeavor to restore balance to this troubled region.

6.    A Nation that Takes Credit for the Establishment of International Organizations
The US contributed greatly in the establishment of international organizations, starting with the League of Nations, through the United Nations, the Monetary Fund, the International Bank and the World Trade Organization.

7.    A Super Power With Relatively Few Mistakes 
While the US is worthy of praise, it is by no means an ideal or perfect nation. It has committed grievous errors throughout its history, some of which can only be labeled as atrocities. However, a careful examination of human history will also indicate that the US has committed fewer mistakes than any other super power.

   The purpose of this article is to offer an alternative account of America's true image, and to counteract the distorted and ugly image reflected in the Arab media, plagued as it is by irrationality and subjectivity.