International Papers

Squandered Sympathy?

Many pieces in the world press’s blanket coverage of the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks bemoaned the blanket media coverage. In a roundup of readers’ letters to Australian papers, compiled by Stephen Romei in the Australian, one correspondent complained about the Yankification of the Aussie mind: “I am concerned that such overreaction … heralds one more notch in the Americanisation of Australia. We have largely accepted their lifestyle, their language and their culture, but must we also accept their psyche? Whatever happened to good old Australian level-headedness?” Another protested the Americanization of the calendar (outside the United States, the shorthand for Sept. 11 is 11/9, not 9/11), asking, “Why are you commemorating the 9th of November?”

Several papers agreed with Britain’s Independent: “Contrary to what was widely asserted at the time … the world has not changed. … We are not a better, more thoughtful people. Indeed, our collective life over the past year has in many respects seemed even more trivial. Nor has the sense of global solidarity survived the backwash to normality. The US has become more outward-looking, but with eyes that do not see.” A Moscow Times columnist agreed, noting, “[I]n the past year we have made very little progress in understanding the essence of what happened. The discussion of terrorism and the war on terrorism has turned mundane, a series of stock phrases whose real significance no longer concerns even those who mouth them day after day.”

According to the Japan Times, Sept. 11 “forced Americans to face the gap between their image of themselves and the way they are viewed internationally.” An opinion piece in News International of Pakistan ratcheted up the rhetoric, declaring, “Americans will have to accept that their triumphalism and disdain for international law are creating enemies everywhere, not just among Muslims. Therefore, they must become less arrogant and more like other peoples of this world. American people must resist the temptation to define the world in terms of their own narrow interests—a better world is worth it even if they have to pay a little more for gas in their SUVs.”

Writing in Canada’s Globe and Mail, Nigerian writer Ken Wiwa concluded that the United States still doesn’t get it: “Even now, many Americans seem to need someone to explain why 80 per cent of the Muslim boys born last year in the northern Nigerian city of Kano were named Osama. Or why T-shirts bearing the face of Osama bin Laden are doing brisk business in countries such as Indonesia, Sudan and even South Africa.” More alarming, perhaps, is the story in the same paper reporting that when 1,003 Canadians were asked, “How much responsibility do you think the United Sates, with its policies and actions, bears for the terrorist attack on them?” 15 percent said “all,” 69 percent said “some,” and only 14 percent said “none.”

Some international commentators went so far as to claim President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are exploiting the memory of Sept. 11 to further their goal of a regime change in Baghdad. The Independent declared, “The attempt by George Bush and Tony Blair to use the events of 11 September to stoke up the war fever against Iraq is deeply disingenuous. … [T]he anniversary of 11 September 2001 is being used to rally the worst kind of US patriotism behind a war that seems destined to make the world an even more dangerous place.” The Sydney Morning Herald agreed that the victims of 9/11 have been betrayed by the U.S. administration’s choice of “the path of vengeance”: “Bush has played on a righteous anger and a sense of American victimhood. These attitudes have not helped form a coherent response to September 11. Instead, they have driven Mr Bush’s march to the brink of a new war fraught with terrible uncertainties for the peace and security of the world.” Shlomo Ben-Ami, a former Israeli foreign minister, writing in the Jerusalem Post said: “Al-Qaida is a small, evil terrorist organization, a far cry from the global terror superpower the American administration would have us believe. I submit that this balloon has been blown out of all proportion by a US president in search of an agenda: politically motivated, power-motivated.”

An op-ed in Pakistan’s Nation conceded that Pakistan has “benefited from the realignment post-September 11 in that it has preempted actual and potential enemies, and, in the process, bought itself a breather,” but worried that this comes at the expense of a “dependency mindset,” wherein everyone expects the United States to swoop in and solve the world’s problems. It concluded, “This dependency mindset is not just a sign of weakness, but it also abdicates the ruling elite from any responsibility to reform and revamp the state. More so, because the problems are essentially of our own making and need our own efforts for their resolution.”

Spain’s ABC, while fretting that the United States was wandering too far down the path of unilateral aggression, warned the coalition to stick together to oppose the common enemy: “Succumbing to a rancid anti-Americanism and breaking the anti-terrorist coalition would be a new Sept. 11 for Western democracies.” Britain’s Sunday Telegraph suggested the allies have already given in: “[I]t is astonishing how quickly memory has faded in some quarters, and moral clarity yielded to cowardly evasion. … Now … as battle with Iraq draws closer, the nodding has stopped. From the densely populated moral high ground one can hear only tutting and clucking.”