Jewish World Review Oct. 14, 2004/29 Tishrei, 5765
War on terror: winning the hearts and minds here at home
The War on Terror involves more than military or intelligence, it involves winning the ideological struggle. Not there, but here.
I once wrote about the way an elementary school teacher in Afghanistan discusses political science and history. The teacher holds up a wealth pie chart, showing that America controls this huge slice of the pie, leaving a tiny sliver for the Afghans. The teacher's point? Afghans suffer poverty because of America's disproportionate wealth.
Recently, an American public school teacher at Fratney Street School in Milwaukee wanted to show his kids how to understand the mind of a terrorist. The teacher says he doesn't "blame America," but he wanted to demonstrate to his students that overpopulation and poverty conspire to make easy recruits. He asked his fifth-grade students to stand, and he arranged them by population, on top of a huge floor world map. He then handed out cookies according to the countries' gross national product. Students in Asia, for example, received one cookie to share among 16. Three in Africa split a half cookie among them. But in North America, one kid received eight cookies.
Let's call this the Exploitation Theory: America enriches herself at the expense of other countries. America takes; others receive less. But for America's dominant, evil culture, and her extraction of wealth from others, the rest of the world could live in prosperity and happiness. America's wealth causes poverty in other countries. We win. They lose.
But the United Nations' Arab Human Development Report, written by Arab political scientists and scholars, came to a different conclusion. The scholars wrote about the comparative backward nature of 22 Arab states, covering nearly 300 million people. The Arab countries scored the lowest of all world regions as to freedom, the political process, civil liberties, political rights and media independence. The report found 65 million illiterate adults. Half of Arab women still cannot read or write. Ten million children between 6 and 15 years of age are out of school. The report describes a "severe shortage" of new writing. In the last 1,000 years, the Arabs have translated as many books as Spain translates in just one year. Only 1.2 percent of the population uses a computer, and only half of those access the Internet.
Spain, a country of 41 million people, boasts a greater Gross Domestic Product (GDP) than the GDP of all of the 22 Arab countries combined! Despite the presence of oil in many Arab countries, the region remains under-developed. The per capita income growth in the last 20 years stands at a level just above that of sub-Saharan Africa. One in five Arabs lives on less than $2 a day, and some estimate unemployment at 15 percent. Productivity declines, with research and development weak or nonexistent, and science and technology practically dormant. Intellectuals flee this repressive political and social climate that stifles "creativity."
In the Arab world, many call America "The Great Satan." Question: did not America, from 1945 to 1949, solely own the atomic bomb, then the greatest force of destruction in human history? What did America do with her power? Bomb her enemies? Steal the treasury of other countries? Forcibly annex territory?
Twenty years ago, a Canadian radio commentator talked about America's essential goodness and contributions to the world:
"This Canadian thinks it is time to speak up for the Americans as the most generous and possibly the least appreciated people on all the earth.
"Germany, Japan and, to a lesser extent, Britain and Italy were lifted out of the debris of war by the Americans who poured in billions of dollars and forgave other billions in debts. None of these countries is today paying even the interest on its remaining debts to the United States.
"When France was in danger of collapsing in 1956, it was the Americans who propped it up, and their reward was to be insulted and swindled on the streets of Paris. I was there. I saw it.
"When earthquakes hit distant cities, it is the United States that hurries in to help. This spring, 59 American communities were flattened by tornadoes.
"The Marshall Plan and the Truman Policy pumped billions of dollars into discouraged countries. Now newspapers in those countries are writing about the decadent, warmongering Americans. . . .
"I can name you 5,000 times when the Americans raced to the help of other people in trouble. Can you name me even one time when someone else raced to the Americans in trouble? . . .
"Our neighbors have faced it alone, and I'm one Canadian who is damned tired of hearing them get kicked around. They will come out of this thing with their flag high. And when they do, they are entitled to thumb their nose at the lands that are gloating over their present troubles. . . .
"Stand proud, America!"
Pass this article along to one of those "blame America" public school teachers.
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JWR contributor Larry Elder is the author of, most recently, "Showdown: Confronting Bias, Lies and the Special Interests That Divide America."
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© 2004, Creators Syndicate