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Blaming a Victim  
Columnist Gersh Kuntzman discusses the terror attacks with journalists from around the world—and finds them surprisingly unsympathetic to America’s losses  

    Sept. 17 —  With friends like these, who needs enemies?  

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       STILL REELING FROM that event last week for which there are not even sufficient words of horror, I accepted an invitation from the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) to take part in a recent roundtable discussion featuring reporters and columnists from all over the world.
        I guess I thought it would ease some pain to chat on the phone with my international colleagues, giving them a first-hand look at the awful emptiness that New Yorkers are still feeling and the smoking pile of debris visible from my living room window.
From almost the second I was introduced, other members of the panel went on the attack, putting me in the difficult position of having to defend decades’ worth of American foreign policy...

        As it turned out, that was a bloody stupid thing to do.
       Unbeknownst to me, a lowly American reporter, the world press is in a lather about last week’s terrorist attack on New York and Washington. All across the world, credible newspapers and columnists are unleashing a second attack on America, claiming that we are to blame for world terrorism and, for that matter, all the other problems in the world today.
        From almost the second I was introduced, other members of the panel went on the attack, putting me in the difficult position of having to defend decades’ worth of American foreign policy rather than giving me a chance to explain what my country is going through right now.
        “Isn’t it true that America bears the blame for Tuesday’s attacks?” asked one of the reporters. (I didn’t get his name because I was busy translating the British.)
        Another journalist, from an Arabic paper in Egypt, made it clear that he thought we deserved it.
        “It is your CIA and your FBI that caused this attack,” he said. He even went so far as to claim that the American government is trying to foment “anti-Islamic” sentiment by releasing the names of the hijackers.
        “They released these names because they are Arabic-sounding,” he argued. “Yet they have arrested no one!”
        I tried to point out that there was no one to arrest—they died on the planes, remember?—but the host shifted us to another topic.
        Later, I was even forced to defend my colleague Steve Dunleavy, who wrote a column in Wednesday’s New York Post that ran under the headline: “Simply Kill the Bastards.” Dunleavy’s position, I asserted, was the minority of my fellow Americans, but with everyone from President Bush to Tom Brokaw was using the word “war,” my foreign colleagues did not believe me.
        They also seemed to be upset that most Americans are seeing this as a battle between the civilized world (us and our allies) and the uncivilized world (terrorists, the nations that harbor them, and the nations that don’t care).
        During the commercial break, I wondered what all these people were talking about. After all, when I read our coverage of last week’s attacks, I hear only a steady voice of American unanimity: There is Right and Wrong in the world, and what happened to us was Wrong.
        Apparently, that type of black-and-white coverage doesn’t exist overseas. After the program (sorry, programme), I hit the Internet to educate myself about the European press and found out that I have to start using those “ironic” quote marks around the word “allies.”
        While there was plenty of support and sympathy in the foreign papers, there seemed to be a great deal of glee that some American chickens had finally come home to roost.
        “Had the U.S. not made so many enemies, innocent people might have been spared,” columnist Blake Morrison wrote in Britain’s The Guardian. Morrison added that “no one deserved to die in that way,” but concluded that “the Pentagon had blood on its hands.” He also called for “understanding” for “the Palestinians who cheered at the news [and] sympathy for other Arabs whose cities have been bombed and children starved” by America.

       Another Guardian columnist—and Member of Parliament—George Galloway, added: “When the dust from this day which shook the world settles, we will find that, though the U.S. has legions of enemies in the world, it will turn out to have sustained this devastating wound from the enemy within.”
        Even in the U.S.-loving Times of London, columnist Matthew Parris questioned America’s promise to retaliate: “Do they think a terrorist is like a pin in a tenpin bowling alley: one down, nine to go?” he asked. “Do they not know that when you kill one bin Laden you sow 20 more? Playing the world’s policeman is not the answer to that catastrophe in New York. Playing the world’s policeman is what led to it.”
        Point taken. Maybe we really are the Great Satan? But even so, in light of last week’s events, is it so wrong to offer a little sympathy for the Devil?
        I’m not so naive that I am totally unaware of the love-hate relationship that our “allies” have always had with us. In fact, I’ve shared their anger when we’ve abandoned treaties because it served our short-term interest, walked out on international conferences because we didn’t like what was being said about us, waged covert wars because we lacked the patience to wait until countries bent to our will, and gleefully exported Hollywood’s culture of death, Wall Street’s culture of greed and Middle America’s culture of excess.
        But, please, at long last: Can the world just cut us a few days of slack?
        There will be plenty of time to question America’s reaction to the events of last week, plenty of opportunity to judge whether President Bush and his father’s Gulf War hawks wage a war for vengeance alone or to actually rid the world of terrorism.
        But overseas, that judgment has already taken place.
        Guardian op-ed writer Ahdaf Soueif took umbrage at deputy Secretary of State Paul Wolfowitz’s remark that “the whole civilized world has been shocked [by the attack] and even portions of the uncivilized world have started to wonder whether they’re on the wrong side.”
        Soueif’s riposte? “How’s that for the official American view of the planet?” he asked rhetorically.
        Well, Ahdaf, from where I sit, near the smoking remains of one of the world’s greatest icons, that “official” view sounds about right.
Kuntzman: Brooklyn Vigil


Gersh Kuntzman is also a columnist for The New York Post. His website is at http://www.gersh.tv
       © 2001 Newsweek, Inc.

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