If you want a sand pail, never hit another kid in the sandbox to get it. Even if the kid is hoarding sand pails. We learned this in pre-school. It's only human to resent what others have, but with the goal of becoming socially functional beings, we learn to control our jealousies and behavior.
But as we get older, economic polarization increases. The stakes become much higher, and resentment towards those with money becomes more common. Like the toddlers in the sand box, adults are forced to swallow inequality without hurting their peers. But it's much more difficult when the inequality is more significant than a sand pail.
As the Sept. 11 attacks show, the greatest economic disparity in the modern world exists between the decadent west and the impoverished east. Even more apparent since Sept. 11 is the fact that Osama bin Laden has a large contingent of followers who resent the west enough to support him.
Islam vilifies the hedonistic lifestyle of western civilization. Religious decrees aside, this message is particularly well received in the face of severe poverty. It's easy to hate a country that discards thousands of pounds of table scraps a day, while Afghanistan is hard-pressed to find food.
American decadence, in contrast with Afghanistan's destitution, also contributes to Afghans' resentment. This clash undoubtedly enrages some Afghans on a level more personal than religion. We are hated for our economic success. And the people who support bin Laden just can't suppress their resentment, seeing as they consequently hit us with the proverbial sand shovel.
The Middle East may have more than just economic reasons to hate the western world. Or at least an article in the Oct. 29 issue of the political magazine New Statesman says so. In researching the main ideas that shaped the 20th century, author Peter Watson interviewed over 150 scholars worldwide. Without exception, both eastern and western brainiacs named the same "most important thinkers and ideas" of the 20th century.
More surprisingly however, they all conferred that in the 20th century, there were no non-western ideas of note. "There is no Asian equivalent of, say, Darwin, no African Max Plank, no Arab Freud, no Japanese Picasso or Matisse," Watson argues. Sure, individual distinguished scholars of Arab, Chinese or African traditions can sally forth to repudiate Watson's claim, but it still remains that there are no Arab scientific innovations, Chinese artistic movements or African philosophies that challenge antibiotics, the atom, Surrealism or logical positivism.
According to this research, the western world is the modern world, in wealth as well as in thought. That would make the Arabs (or any other non-Western group) the losers of modernity. Not a very P.C. idea. Yet, if true, it could be a source of additional bitterness. It breeds resentment towards the west's achievements. And America, the pillar of the west, bears the brunt of this jealousy.
Of course there are reasons why Afghanistan can't get a footing in modernity, both economically and culturally. As an Afghan businessperson, it is difficult to strike deals with western businesses while your government is slaughtering westerners. Or at least harboring terrorists that do so. Extreme Islam views also stifle economic exchange. Telling non-Islam clients that they will burn in hell can turn the best business deal sour real fast.
In addition, the Afghan political system stifles intellectual freedom. If universities aren't free to pump out ideas and citizens are severely punished for teaching a woman to read, much less speaking out against the government, creativity has its arms tied.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, everyone asked "why?" Has U.S. foreign policy brought the wrath of the Third World upon us? Is Islam so mind-washing that it leads otherwise unprovoked followers to kill? Is the culture clash between America and Afghanistan so irreconcilable to provoke this atrocity? No. The mixing of east and west is more than a clash; it's a creaming. In both business and culture, the west has won in the 20th century. And with that resentments boil.
Like the kid who hoards all of the sand toys, the U.S. has paid dearly for its success. None of the toyless kids want to be our friend. And our sand toy empire is constantly threatened by flying sand clods.
Like the toy-hoarding goody-two-shoes of the sandbox, we have been put on the defensive, protecting our territory from sand-borne menaces.
We are hated for our success, fair or not. And kids don't always play fair, especially in the sandbox.
Archived article by Andrea Forker