Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

The American "Mission" in the Eyes of the Arab People
KITAMURA Fumio / Journalist

August 26, 2003
More than four months have passed since the government of Saddam Hussein was ousted from Iraq. If all went as predicted by the American government, the collapse of the ruthless regime was to usher in a spring of democracy in Iraq. However, despite the declaration of victory by President George Bush, Iraq remains mired in confusion and deteriorating order. Ambushes against the occupying U.S. Forces continue to raise the death toll among American soldiers. Optimistic premonitions entertained by America have been betrayed by bloody incidents taking place in Iraq since the war ended. At the moment, America is perhaps faced with a bitter decision on reconsidering its policy towards Iraq.

The Iraq War vividly demonstrated America's overwhelming military power. Massive deployment of computer-guided weapons destroyed the Iraqi Forces in a mere three weeks. But material wealth and highly sophisticated technology aren't the only reasons why America is considered the most powerful nation in the world. Let me share an unforgettable experience. It goes back to when I visited a U.S. military cemetry in the suburbs of Manila. On the hill overlooking Manila Bay I saw row upon row of white tombstones marking the graves of soldiers who died in the Pacific War, continuing into the distance almost endlessly. What made tens of thousands of young American men give up their lives here? It must have been the idea of protecting "freedom and democracy" that drove them to a battlefield several thousand kilometers away from the North American continent.

The late President John F. Kennedy once proudly called his country a "Nation of Immigrants." Apart from the Native Americans, it was the immigrants who built this nation. The idea of "freedom and democracy" led victims of poverty and oppression to abandon the land of their forefathers. It was their ideals and dreams that created the artificial state of America. And because of its founding history, many Americans no doubt would like to believe their values and systems to be universally right. Subconsciously, they must nurture a sense of mission for Americanizing every nation of the world.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world is faced with the question of how to deal with America – the most powerful nation with a strong sense of mission. The Iraq War provided the first major touchstone. The war was forcibly pursued without the approval of most members of the United Nations, without the commitment of the U.N. Security Council. Such unilateral action by America has in essence rendered futile the principle of international discussion through the United Nations, which had sustained world order in the post-WWII era.

It goes without saying that stability and democratization of the Middle East region constitute the post-war goals in Iraq. My strongest concern here is that America may force its systems and values. If so, it would only sow new seeds of conflict and confusion. The value system behind the daily rules of Middle East society has qualities that are different from America’s. To give an example, while America gives higher priority to the principle of "free competition," Islamic society places greater value on the realization of "equality" in its practical codes of conduct. One of the religious duties (the Five Pillars) that lie at the foundation of Islam is "Zakat," where "the rich shall give" to the poor and weak - similar to the Buddhist principle of almsgiving.

It must also be mentioned that in the post-WWII era, America and western European countries had provided support to undemocratic, authoritarian governments in the Middle East region. The history of change in the Middle East up to the 1970s was one in which reformist groups supported by the masses overthrew a string of conservative governments considered to be pro-Europe and pro-America. Thus monarchies headed by King Faruk in Egypt, King Faisal II of the Hashemite Dynasty in Iraq and Shah Pahlavi in Iran were brought down amid expressions of hatred and resentment from the masses. It is true that American support for unpopular conservative governments was based on its global strategy of containing the Soviet Union in the midst of the Cold War era. All the same, the people of the Middle East have not forgotten that America consistently stood on the side of the oppressors.

In addition, international opinion urging Israel to withdraw from Arab territories it occupies remains thwarted by America's repeated use of its veto power at the U.N. Security Council. In the eyes of the Arab people, the idea of “freedom and democracy” so proudly championed by America seems merely to be a hypocritical idea based on double standards.

Thus America's unilateral actions, even if rooted in subjective goodwill, may be interpreted in a completely different light in the Middle East region. Bringing the goodwill of the American people to bear fruit in the hoped for stability and democratization of the Middle East would require the precondition that signs of American unilateralism be eliminated wherever possible.

Much speculation is being circulated as to the identity of the groups that have continued the bloody conflict in Iraq. It is easy to imagine remnants of the ex-Hussein regime taking their revenge on the American military occupation. However, we cannot deny the possibility that the international terrorist organization Al Qaida may have been involved in the August 19 explosion of the United Nations headquarters building in Baghdad. While the perpetrators of such bloodshed remain unknown, it is clear that U.N. action continues to be indispensable for establishing stability in Iraq. The only means for communicating the goodwill and hopes held by the international community for the welfare and safety of the Iraqi people to the Iraqis themselves is U.N. action backed by multi-national cooperation. In other words, the United Nations alone can atone for the negative legacy of American unilateral action.

The writer is a former Senior Editor of the Yomiuri Newspaper and Professor at Shukutoku University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

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2003年 8月 26日









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