Celebrating the misery of 'the head of the snake'
By MARCUS GEE, The Globe and Mail
Wednesday, September 12, 2001
When news reached the West Bank town of Nablus that two airliners had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, killing countless innocent people, 3,000 Palestinians took to the streets to celebrate.
Nawal Abdel Fatah, 48, wearing a long, black dress, threw sweets in the air. She told the Associated Press that she was happy because "America is the head of the snake, America always stands by Israel in its war against us."
Why do so many people in the world hate the United States? How can they hate a country so much that they cheer when American women and children meet a terrible death?
Americans were asking themselves those questions once again yesterday after a series of terrorist attacks in the Eastern United States.
For terrorists and their sympathizers around the globe, the United States is the great enemy, the "head of the snake."
The Rand Corporation says that every year since 1968, the United States has headed the list of countries whose citizens and property were most frequently attacked by terrorists.
The U.S. State Department says 40 per cent of all terrorist attacks in the 1990s were against American citizens and facilities.
The reasons are sometimes simple, sometimes more complex.
In the Middle East, the United States attracts hatred because it is the chief ally and protector of Israel. Whenever Israel does something that its Arab neighbours do not like, the United States gets part of the blame.
In other places, the United States is hated by religious extremists because it backs a secular government. In Egypt, Islamic militants despise the United States because it props up the secular regime of President Hosni Mubarak. In Iran, mullahs hate the United States because it supported the regime of the deposed shah, who opposed religious rule and urged his countrymen to adopt Western technology.
It was Iran that labelled the United States "the Great Satan."
But the reasons for hating the United States are not always political. Many religious militants hate it because it represents a decadent Western culture that they see as a threat to traditional values. It is this "cultural imperialism," spread by Disney and McDonald's, that arouses fury.
"The U.S. is the country that these people most love to hate," said Yitzhak Sokoloff, an Israeli political analyst. "To attack New York and all the symbols of American power is the ultimate liberation for those who consider themselves to be oppressed not just by American power, but by American culture."
Sokoloff, who studies Palestinian hate propaganda, carries with him a videotape of a Muslim cleric addressing believers in a mosque in the Gaza Strip. The cleric calls on them to go out and "butcher" Jews and Americans whenever they can be found.
"We're dealing with a culture that celebrates martyrdom and exults in the death of its perceived enemies," Sokoloff said.
Osama bin Laden himself has given detailed reasons why he loathes the United States. He was implicated in the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and is an obvious suspect in yesterday's attacks.
In an interview in 1997, bin Laden said the United States was itself "the biggest terrorist in the world," responsible for "occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorizing its neighbours and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples."
In the view of militants such as bin Laden, the world is embroiled in a great cosmic struggle between the forces of Islamic purity and the forces of secularism, led by the United States.
"The world is at war," bin Laden says, and in war with such stakes any measure can be justified, even the mass killing of civilians.
Mark Juergensmeyer, the U.S. author of a book on religious terrorism called Terror in the Mind of God, calls this "satanization."
"When the United States has been branded as an enemy in a cosmic war," he writes, "it has been endowed with superhuman -- or perhaps subhuman -- qualities, ones that have had little to do with the people who actually live in America."
It is a way to make a complicated and changing world make sense, Juergensmeyer says.
A cosmic war against a powerful enemy like the United States "is compelling to religious activists because it ennobles and exalts those who consider themselves a part of it," he writes. "As opponents become satanized and regarded as 'forces of evil' . . . the world begins to make sense."