Vol. 5. Iss. 2
20 June 2004
Who Says They Hate Us?
The Rev. Peter J. Miano
Over the course of my ministry in the Middle East and the region
of the Mediterranean Sea, I have conducted an informal study of popular misconceptions
about the region of the Middle East in particular and more generally about
travel abroad. While not scientific, I am sure no one would be surprised that
I have learned that many, if not most, Americans are deeply worried that the
regions that lie beyond the borders of the United States are uniformly hostile,
especially in the recent past. This widespread perception is verbalized in
statements such as one from a fairly well traveled colleague who said, “It
must be pretty hot for Americans traveling in the Holy Land these days.”
Frequently, my mention to friends and acquaintances that I have been traveling
in Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Palestine prompts questions like, “Do people
there know you are an American?” There is almost universal surprise,
if not outright incredulity when I report that on the contrary, I have not
once experienced any sentiment that I would characterize as even remotely
hostile. These reactions are not unexpected. I have been experiencing such
responses for years. After all, the Middle East is widely understood to be
a particularly violence prone area and everyone knows that Americans are universally
despised these days. (Or do they?)
It is a bit more surprising, however, to detect that the traditional
American suspicion of Arabs and the Middle East has spread. Now, my reports
of travels to places like Turkey, Greece and Italy also elicit remarks indicating
that those places are considered unsafe. This spring, I was even asked if
I experienced hostility in England. My answer that I had not was met with
astonishment. Has it come to a point where even the English are considered
antagonistic toward Americans?
Perhaps I am not a credible witness. After all, my ministry
promotes travel for the purpose of study. Yet, I cannot help but express my
own consternation that so many well traveled, well positioned church and academic
leaders, to say nothing of rank and file, “average” Americans
seem to have uncritically accepted the notion that anti-Americanism is rampant
beyond our borders. Where did we learn this? Who says they hate us?
I should go on record at this point with my opinion that if
it is true that anti-Americanism is wide spread even among Europeans who are
generally considered US allies and not just restricted to the usual Middle
Eastern suspects, then we as Americans would be well advised to examine the
roots of this feeling. Could it be that we are doing something wrong?
On my most recent journey to Italy, I discussed these issues with two of my three groups—a total of 70 people. There was universal agreement that Americans harbor deep suspicion of foreigners, especially Arabs and Muslims and especially since September 11, yet not one person reported experiencing even the slightest personal hostility during their journeys with S.B.S. Those traveling to the Middle East this past winter registered the same sentiment.