I’m not terribly patriotic, but I enjoy being a contrarian.
Therefore, I fly an American flag at my desk at The National, the English-language newspaper in Abu Dhabi.
The newsroom is run by ex-pats. But the Brits, Aussies, Canadians and Americans who work there do a very good job of producing a newspaper that would appear to be published by Arabs.
And that means the United States takes a lot of cheap shots in the paper.
And that’s why I’m so furious about the lunatic soldier who killed the Afghan civilians.
Over here, that’s like a boxer dropping his gloves and telling Floyd “Money” Mayweather to take his best shot at your face.
I’m sure this comes as no surprise to you, but Arab media contend that almost everything the U.S. does in the Arab World is unprincipled. We’re arrogant, disrespectful and act only in our self-interest or the interest of Israel.
Furthermore, they complain that the U.S. wields extraordinary behind-the-scenes power. If Syria’s dictator remains in power, it’s because the U.S. wants it that way. Same with Israeli settlements. Same with drone strikes in Yemen.
That’s why I’m so aggravated by the lunatic American soldier.
It’s been my experience here for the last 18 months, that Pakistani cab drivers and Egyptian security guards and Indian nurses like Americans.
For the most part, we talk to them and ask them about their kids. We greet them in their language. We tip more than anyone else. In other words, we treat them like human beings. That’s not always the case here.
Despite warnings from their teachers or clerics or family, they adore American culture. They love Kentucky Fried Chicken and Tom Cruise. They wear L.A. Laker t-shirts and listen to rap music. Most would give every penny they have for an American work visa.
But then this crazy soldier runs amok.
It’s impossible to calculate the damage he has caused in the hearts and minds of Abu Dhabi’s cabbies and clerks. Even though a coffee shop barista may consider a particular American his friend, he may resent our nation’s power and wealth. Whenever possible, the U.S. needs to be taken down a notch.
But when Libyan rebels are about to get slaughtered by Muammar Qaddafi’s troops, they shout “Where is Obama?” When Syrian rebels are getting killed, pundits are demanding that the U.S. “do something.”
I suppose it’s human nature to begrudge the powerful. But it’s damned annoying when people who benefit from U.S. diplomacy or firepower, refuse to acknowledge the help. It’s annoying that no one acknowledges that the U.S. sometimes helps simply because it’s the right thing to do.
But winning hearts and minds over here is tough. I know the world is complex and this is a simplistic view, but I suspect the world would love us more if it were exposed to us less.
If we get the hell out, then there are no rogue soldiers.
And the flag at my computer terminal would not look so forlorn.
A former managing editor of The Palm Beach Post, Tom O'Hara is a senior editor with The National newspaper in Abu Dhabi and a Middle East columnist for Florida Voices.
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