The U.S. Must Learn to Listen
by Allen T. Cheng
The U.S. was terribly wronged on Sept. 11, and there is no question that the people behind the attacks must be punished. But before the U.S. launches a campaign to exact revenge, I would like to write a note to my fellow Americans.
I urge the U.S. government to show restraint, tolerance and wisdom at this time of passionate feelings. Hatred will only beget hatred. Striking out indiscriminately will only lead to more terrorist attacks on the U.S. in the future. No matter how you destroy Osama bin Laden's camps or kill him or his followers, it will be impossible to exterminate every fanatic. Even if just one survives, it is entirely possible that the movement will begin all over again -- and the next attack may not just involve hijacking airliners and ramming them into skyscrapers. It could be something as heinous as detonating a nuclear bomb the size of a briefcase in downtown New York.
Americans must try to understand the reasons for what has happened. Like my fellow countrymen, I am appalled at the senselessness of the attacks. Like them, I feel that great injustice has been inflicted upon us. But unlike most Americans, I also can see why "terrorists" like bin Laden and other Muslim fundamentalists feel so much hatred towards America.
I've been living overseas as a journalist for almost 10 years, and over these years I have come across views very different to those I had when I lived in America. I have heard that the U.S. isn't perfect; that it is self-righteous; that it preaches democracy, but doesn't act democratically in its foreign affairs; that it bullies its allies and enemies alike to get its own way; that U.S. dominance over the world is wrong.
I was born in Taiwan and emigrated to the U.S. at the age of seven. Probably even more than the average American, who grew up loving his country because that's the way it was, I had American values drilled into me. I remember my first day at Jefferson Elementary School in Carbondale, Illinois. It was in 1970, at the height of the Cold War, and all of us were supposed to begin the day with the "Pledge of Allegiance" to the flag of the United States of America. I had just arrived from the Republic of China on Taiwan, and didn't feel any sense of allegiance to my new country. My teacher noticed my intransigence. She quickly marched over and, grabbing me by the shoulders, lifted me up and forcefully put my right hand on my left breast, forcing me to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. From that moment on, I knew that if I wanted to be accepted into U.S. society, I'd better begin by professing my loyalty to America each morning.
These "love America" values were so deeply inculcated into me that when I first came back to Asia, I automatically stood up for my country whenever I felt others challenging American "supremacy" in the world. Today, however, I no longer see only the U.S. viewpoint. For instance, last year when I interviewed Admiral Dennis Blair, head of the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, I asked him whether the Americans would give some "space" to a rising Chinese navy in the South China Sea. He said they would, and that they were, in fact, looking forward to cooperating with the Chinese to promote regional peace. After the interview, it began to dawn on me that I was slowly gaining a non-U.S. view of the world.
While I lived in America, I felt the U.S. and Israel had an absolute right to minimize Palestinian aspirations for nationhood. Today, I recognize that for too long the Palestinians have seen their homeland encroached upon by Israeli settlers, and for too long the U.S. has staunchly supported conservative Jewish politicians. Whether Americans perceive it or not, much of the Muslim world is tired of this kind of U.S. domination of the Middle East, from Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip, to the CIA's staunch support of authoritarian regimes, to the economic might of U.S. oil companies. In many ways, Islamic fundamentalists are a direct byproduct of this situation. Many people who live in the Muslim world see their governments as "puppet" regimes of the U.S. and unwilling to listen to the diverse viewpoints in their respective countries.
There are similarities in Asia. When Corazon Aquino first took office in the Philippines, the CIA visited her with some "guidelines" on cooperation. It also called on Chen Shui-bian when he became president of Taiwan. The same patterns occur in Indonesia, Thailand, South Korea and Japan, and in almost every country in Asia. Whether Americans know it or not, the CIA plays a very important role in Asian affairs. The intelligence agency makes it clear to each leader: The U.S. is No. 1 in the region, and everybody had better learn the American rules.
This strategy has helped ensure that the U.S. reigns supreme in the world today. However, Americans have to understand that not all citizens of the world see this as a good thing. If the U.S. wants to prevent more terrorist attacks, it should pursue a foreign policy that practices what America preaches: equality for all and democracy for all, not just for Americans and those who share their views. In a democracy, all minority voices must be given a fair hearing. And that includes those of Islamic fundamentalists. Otherwise, what happened in New York and Washington could be just the beginning.