Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2024
Ten Conflicts to Watch in 2024
Op-Ed / Global 3 minutes

Stop this racism

I did not see the BBC's Question Time last week. I would have hated it Part of the studio audience bayed at America and slow-handclapped the former US Ambassador Philip Lader, reducing that fine man almost to tears just 48 hours after his people had suffered the worst attack in their history and thousands lay dead or dying. Hundreds of viewers rang the BBC to protest. Greg Dyke was clearly right to apologise to Mr Lader.

Britain, led ably through the week by Tony Blair, has responded well to the outrage in America. The Guards playing The Star Spangled Banner at Buckingham Palace, Friday's moving and widely observed silence, and the service in St Paul's in which the country's grief was well expressed through the person of the Queen and the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, were models of dignity, compassion and support for America.

But the response of some of the Question Time audience reveals a darker side and shows the awful truth that these days there is just one racism that is tolerated - anti-Americanism. Not just tolerated, but often applauded. Like any other nation, the US makes mistakes at home and abroad. (I wrote about some of those in Indochina.)

But the disdain with which its efforts,its failures and even its successes are greeted by some in Britain and elsewhere in Europe is shocking. As some Guardian readers and columnists demonstrate, anti-Americanism often goes much further than criticism of Washington. Too often the misfortunes of America are met with glee, a schadenfreude that is quite horrifying.

On Tuesday, I sat watching television numbed by the grief, wondering if anyone I knew had been murdered. Since then, I have been devouring newspapers, attempting to learn more and more of the details. Every day, the agony gets worse. The more details we read of the last phone calls, the emails, the relatives watching those they loved as they died on television, the final “I love you messages”, the more personal and intimate this catastrophe becomes - and the more the victims, their families and their society deserve our sympathy.

But I have an awful fear that the solidarity with the US expressed at the United Nations and in Europe this week will not last long. Fundamentalist anti-Americanism will again rear its head, as it did on Question Time. The going will certainly be frightening as this gigantic crime finally forces world leaders to abandon appeasement or half measures against international terrorism, which Tony Blair described as the worst evil in the world today. That includes an end to appeasing the IRA.

Philip Lader behaved with extraordinary dignity on saying, with tears in his eyes: "I have to share with you that I find it hurtful that you can suggest that a majority of the world despises the US."

He needs no assurance from me that the majority of the world does no such thing. America is clearly hated by some, but it remains,as it has always been, a beacon of hope for the world's poor and dispossessed and for all those who believe in freedom of thought and of deed.

The bottom line is this. The US is the most important democracy on earth. It has also long been the most generous country on earth. It is the anchor of what we call (properly) the free world. That is an imperfect world but it is far better than anything else on offer - as millions of migrants attempting to join it from other parts of the world will testify.

American treasure and American blood were essential to our victory of 1945. America is the vital centre that held through the cold war and enabled the world to defeat communism, the greatest terror of the 20th century. To be sure, Washington made mistakes, but American international engagement was essential to progress in the last century.

This new century's enemies are incredibly dangerous, as last week's attacks show. The assault on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon reveal also how vulnerable the United States now is. But those who claim that the US "had it coming" should realise that the attack on America is an assault on us all - and that we are all equally vulnerable.

In the last few days, Americans have behaved with impeccable courage, restraint and dignity in the face of this murder of thousands of innocents of many nationalities. The United States has not just the right, but the duty, to seek out and punish those responsible for this act of war. The nation should be given every assistance in the fearfully difficult and dangerous decisions it has to make as to how to respond forcefully, effectively and wisely. By that I mean not just the material assistance of states. but also the moral support of all of us.

Tony Blair was right to say that we stand "shoulder to shoulder" with the US. The core of liberal democratic values was attacked last week. We are in this together. We are all Americans now.

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