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'Why Do They Hate Us?'

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People all over the world talk about how things were better when they were young. In Lahore, we got into the habit of talking about how they were better last month.

In 1988, Zia died in a suspicious plane crash. The Soviets were driven out of Afghanistan in 1989, shortly before I left Lahore for college in the United States. When I mentioned the final campaign of the Cold War to my fellow freshmen at Princeton, few seemed to know much about it. Eighteen years later, most people I meet in the United States are astounded to learn that the period ever occurred. But in Pakistan, it is vividly seared into the national memory. Indeed, it has torn the very fabric of what, when I was born, was a relatively liberal country with nightclubs, casinos and legal alcohol.

The residue of U.S. foreign policy coats much of the world. It is the other part of the answer to the question, "Why do they hate us?" Simply because America has -- often for what seemed good reasons at the time -- intervened to shape the destinies of other countries and then, as a nation, walked away.

There is so much about the United States that I admire. So when I speak of that time now, and encounter the pose of wounded innocence that is the most common American response, I am annoyed and disappointed. It is as though the notion of U.S. responsibility applies only within the 50 states, and I have no right to invoke it.

How then does someone like me reconcile his affection and frustration? Partly by offering a passionate critique. And partly by hoping for change -- by appealing, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. did, to what is most attractive about the United States, to what it claims to stand for, to what is best in its nature.

Americans need to educate themselves, from elementary school onward, about what their country has done abroad. And they need to play a more active role in ensuring that what the United States does abroad is not merely in keeping with a foreign policy elite's sense of realpolitik but also with the American public's own sense of American values.

Because at their core, those values are sound. That is why, even in places where you'll find virulent anti-Americanism, you'll also find enormous affection for things American. That's why Pakistani rock musicians listen to Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, why Pakistani cities are full of kids wearing blue jeans and T-shirts, and why Pakistanis have been protesting to give their supreme court the same protection from meddling by their president held by its model: the Supreme Court of the United States.

All of which leads us to another, perhaps more fruitful question that Americans ought to consider: "Why do they love us?" People abroad admire Americans not because they back foreign dictators but because they believe that all men and all women are created equal. That concept cannot stop at the borders of the United States. It is a concept far greater than any one nation, no matter how great that nation is. For America to be true to itself, its people must broaden their belief in equality to include the men and women of the world.

The challenge that the United States faces today boils down to a choice. It can insist on its primacy as a superpower, or it can accept the universality of its values. If it chooses the former, it will heighten the resentment of foreigners and increase the likelihood of visiting disaster upon distant populations -- and vice versa. If it chooses the latter, it will discover something it appears to have forgotten: that the world is full of potential allies.

I'm one of them. I do not currently live in the United States, but I still believe in its potential for good. And like so many who wonder how our new and more integrated world can be built on a foundation that is humane and just, I look to the land where I, a writer, first learned to write, and allow myself to dream.

mohsinhamid@hotmail.co.uk

Mohsin Hamid's most recent novel is "The Reluctant Fundamentalist."


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