Sunday, December 14, 2008

Lost In Translation

Apparently there is no requirement for journalists in Iraq covering a Presidential press conference to speak or understand the English language. That seems to be the only rational conclusion to draw after Al-Baghdadiya television demanded the release of Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zeidi who was arrested for throwing shoes at President Bush. According to the station, al-Zeidi was only acting "in accordance with the new era of freedom of speech and democracy that the U.S has promised the Iraqi people." As an education moment for both al-Zeidi and his employers, the word "speech" in English does not translate as "throw shoe at".
The fact of the matter is that this is nothing more than a case of angry people claiming that their anger gives them license to act without consequences. I neither affirm nor deny that they have a right to be angry - that is for them to decide - but anger does not remove consequences.
There is not a culture in the world in which it is legal to assault a political leader because you are angry at that leader's policies. Many people from cultures outside the United States love to point out the boorish behavior of Americans but there is one thing I can tell you for certain: Had a foreign political leader been attacked while giving a press conference in America, not only would the culprit have been immediately arrested but the American government would be issuing an apology to the offended government that such an incident could ever have happened. In fact, you can feel fairly confident that the apology would come almost as quickly as the arrest. I'll even go you one step further. Had it been an American journalist who had committed the assault, the American employers would be issuing an apology almost as fast as the government. They would also probably be firing the journalist.
I am sick and tired of the arrogance of foreign cultures that says it is acceptable to treat Americans in a different (and always more negative) fashion than anyone else. I do not deny that America and Americans have made mistakes, but so has everyone else. We are not alone in political errors. We are only the most popular scapegoat.
We are also the country who is almost always the first to help almost anyone in need. The vast majority of those countries who feel it is permissible to abuse America and Americans on a regular basis have themselves been the recipients of our generosity on numerous occasions.
Perhaps it is time that we stop accepting cruelty and abuse as proper payment for our generosity. I have never been a proponent of actual isolationism (though I do strongly favor a more limited involvement in global affairs) but, if this is how our help is appreciated, I am sure that we could find more beneficial uses for our time and money at home.

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