Tuesday, September 16, 2008


The world watches America: what do they think of us?

by Larry Geller

A promising website, WatchingAmerica.com, features translations of news stories plucked from around the world. Each is translated into English. Here’s a snippet (the links are not live):

Watching America

Today’s featured translation is an article from Norway discussing the apparently widespread belief in the Arab world that the US government itself was responsible for 9/11. A small snippet from the translation:

Maybe the people who executed the operation were Arab, but the brains? Not possible. This was organized by others. By the U.S. and the Israelis, says Mohammed Ibrahim, the proprietor of a clothes shop in Cairo to The New York Times. This attitude is widespread. It also reveals a failing Arab self-image. They simply doubt their own people’s ability to execute such a well planned and complicated attack against a superpower like the United States.

. . .

It is claimed that the final proof that the U.S. did it is the war in Iraq. In Arab eyes, the U.S. only needed an excuse to secure Iraqi oil. The fact that Iraq and Saddam Hussein had no connection to 9/11 whatsoever is taken as further circumstantial evidence that this was merely the reason George W. Bush and his people needed – and therefore created.

These Arab beliefs expose a very serious communication problem. It speaks of two worlds who do not understand each other, and who cannot speak in a way that increases their understanding. This is dangerous, because the gulf will only become wider unless these problems are solved.

In the wider parts of the population in the Muslim countries, the Bush administration has lost all trust. It is too late to rectify this and George W. Bush started badly. We remember the overwhelming outpouring of sympathy to America hours and days after the attacks of 9/11. This included Arab nations. But Bush did not just declare “war on terror,” he declared a crusade. It was a catastrophic use of words that instantly took the attention away from the common fight on terrorism everyone initially supported. The crusade was perceived as a war cry against Islamic culture. The attempts to rectify the blunder were never heard.

The website is quirky—I couldn’t find how to get to the news except from this URL: http://watchingamerica.com/News/. The RSS feed did not work for me either (I prefer to get news updates in my RSS newsreader). And I wish the articles showed dates before you click on them so I can see if they are fresh or not (they seem to be, and there is a date after you click).

Watching America is an ambitious undertaking. I hope they succeed—we could use a continuous reminder of how the world views us these days.

At least some of us care.


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