The Roots of Anti-Americanism

By Asfandyar Mir

Anti-Americanism is a buzzword of sorts. I say buzzword because most people do not understand what it means. Politicians use it in ambiguous ways to explain why US policies fail to deliver in some parts of the world. It also finds its mention in the fluid and official-sounding discussion of diplomats on United State’s foreign policy.

An average American, however, may fail to understand this term, its origins, and the context to it. It beats him why anyone outside the US would hate his country. It also eludes him why people in other countries would be bothered about the US.

I would not blame him, for he never gets the real picture of the America that the outside world sees and deals with. There are many reasons for this, one of them being the way American media functions. But regardless of the reasons, it is important to note that Americans and those living outside the US have a very different perspective of how the US conducts itself outside its borders. The US tries to maintain the high moral ground within its borders but cares much less about those outside its borders. This helps to form the basis of Anti-Americanism–something that people in United States never get to see or experience.

For example, Americans have the impression that the US stands for the rule of law and the dignity of human life in all its manifestations. But Pakistanis would disagree with Americans on this–for they have found, to their cost, that the US’s understanding of rule of law and the dignity of human life is restricted to the US alone. A case in point of this is a recent incident in Pakistan involving an American named Raymond Davis .
Raymond Davis was a CIA security contractor in Pakistan working under diplomatic cover as a member of the technical and administrative staff of the US Consulate in Lahore. On Jan 27, 2011, Davis murdered two young boys in the city of Lahore with his 9 mm Glock while stuck in traffic in his car. After killing the two boys, Davis tried to flee the scene but was caught by a mob which handed him over to the police. At the same time, Davis called for help and another car of the US Consulate, driving down a one-way road while on its way to rescue him, killed a motorcyclist and successfully ran away.

The police arrested Davis and filed a case against him of murder and carrying of illegal arms. Davis in turn claimed the two Pakistanis were trying to rob him and that he acted in self-defense. There was some truth to his stance, as the police report corroborated part of Davis’s version that the boys were armed gunmen, but it denied the assertion that they acted in any way to elicit such a response.

Regardless of what actually happened at the scene, the way the US government handled the incident was even more interesting. The US embassy in Islamabad claimed that Davis enjoyed absolute immunity from legal prosecution and called for his immediate release. But Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry refused to acknowledge this particular stance of the embassy– and for good reason. According to Article 41 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963, to which both Pakistan and United States are signatories, consulate staff enjoys immunity except “in the case of a grave crime.” Davis’s alleged crime was “grave” by all standards–cold-blooded murder of two Pakistanis–and thus the Pakistani foreign ministry did not ratify the stance of the US embassy.

In the backdrop of the legal bustle, a wave of public unrest and anti-American sentiment engulfed Pakistan. A country known for chronic anti- Americanism, and which has been become increasingly flustered by US presence in Afghanistan and the negative consequences Pakistanis have had to face because of that, Pakistan did not take kindly the fact that an American, on official duty, had killed two Pakistanis in broad daylight and that in return, instead of being apologetic, the US government was demanding his immediate release. That a car of the US consulate had killed another innocent bystander made matters all the worse. Also the fact that the culprit in question was a CIA agent, not a diplomat, and yet the US government was seeking diplomatic immunity for him added fuel to fire. Many took to the streets, as politicians right and left of center latched onto the issue, and a breakdown of law and order as a result of mass public protests across Pakistan became a real possibility.

The US government, despite the outcry of the Pakistani masses, stuck to its stance. President Obama led the demand for Davis’s release on basis of diplomatic immunity and sent a special emissary in the person of John Kerry, Chair of the US Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, to secure Davis’s release. The Pakistan government brushed its hands of the entire matter by saying the case was with the courts and that it could do nothing. Upon not getting the kind of response it wanted, the US tried to pressure Pakistan by threatening to sever economic aid and restrict diplomatic interaction between the two countries if Davis was not released. This exacerbated the anti-US hysteria in the country, as it lent credence to the notion in Pakistan that US picks and dumps allies on its own terms. Eventually, the US government found an ingenious way to get Davis released. With the help of Pakistan’s notorious intelligence agency ISI, the US paid over $2 million in compensation, also called “bloody money,” to the families of the killed and secured a highly controversial legal pardon for Davis from the Pakistani courts under a provision of Sharia Law in the Pakistani constitution.

For most Pakistanis, this entire incident was a slight to their national integrity. They saw US tactics of arm-twisting, threats, and innuendoes as show of American arrogance on their soil. The disregard of American officials for the value of a Pakistani citizen’s life and the country’s due process was all the more humiliating; it gave an impression that Pakistan was a client state of the United States; it also gave rise to a feeling that if in future things do not turn out the way the American decision-makers desire, the US might even consider invading Pakistan.Thus a feeling that a country, which was more powerful, had undermined the Pakistani nation’s respect took hold in the Pakistan populace. The entire national psyche was troubled and affected by it. This was anti-Americanism – because of American arrogance.

This entry was posted in Articles for Volume 4, Issue 3, Spring 2011. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to The Roots of Anti-Americanism

  1. Nisar Mir says:

    Well articulated article which shows your understanding of the issue from a clear perspective. No doubt one has to keep national interest supreme but sometime Americans have to think from other perspective too. Had American thought from Pakistan perspective after defeat of Russia in Afghanistan then 9/11 might have been averted and anti American hatred might not have surfaced as it appears in various nooks and corner of the world. Still damage contoll meaures can extricate America from the mess in which it finds itself today. True justice is the cardinal principle which must be applied by America.

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