Sunday, September 16, 2001

Good god, I'm glad I'm not in America. Not because Americans seem to be a greater target for, uh, terrorists than do Swedes. At least at the moment. (Not that Sweden hasn't had its moments, such as the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme).

No, I'm glad that I'm not there to have to look for the voices of reason amongst the overwhelming nationalistic bombast and bellicose rhetoric that is surely inescapable throughout all fifty states, in every city, in every suburb, in every small town and country village. I think I would probably be dead from a stroke on account of my blood pressure going through the roof. It's exhausting enough being here and reading about it or watching it on Swedish television.

Thinking back, I'm awfully glad that when the attack happened, the hotel in Mykonos we were at had BBC World and notCNN. Moments ago, the husband had left the t.v. here on CNN and I overheard voices calling in from New Jersey or Texas or Alabama or somewhere and I realized I couldn't stand to hear what these people might be saying.

The thing is, I greatly fear that people here are misunderstanding what I assume the U.S. leaders are thinking, not to mention the public.

Last night at dinner, the television producer, M., stayed until the wee hours after a vaguely unsettling meal with him and the priest and her sister - their father is in Uzbekistan for the next couple of weeks, refuses to come home and the family is, well, nervous, Uzbekistan being one of those countries immediately adjacent to Afghanistan - as well as the priest's boyfriend, the policeman, who is on call this weekend to protect embassies or the mosque or what have you. We talked mostly about this mess, things such as Sweden's observing a minute of silence on Friday - people had some mixed feelings about this, mostly that many, many more minutes of silence should be observed for events that are far more cataclysmic in terms of death than the recent U.S. attacks and that the motivation for it was as much economic as it was about it being some sort of attack on the so-called ''democratic way of life.'' We talked about what this war on terrorism might or should mean in places like Northern Ireland, Spain and the Basque country, Chechnya, whether these things then will possibly be resolved and by what means and by whom. Then the priest said that she thought the appropriate punishment for Osama bin Laden would be to force him to be a permanent fixture at Disney World for the rest of his life.

After everyone had left and the husband had gone to bed, M. sat and he drank his white tequila while I smoked cigarettes, and he told me that the positive thing about all this is that this has made the U.S. see that it is part of the rest of the world, that things like the Kyoto Treaty are small potatoes and the U.S. wouldn't be so petty any more about signing such a thing. He was, as he said, ultimately optimistic.

Me, I am ultimately pessimistic on this point. I cannot remember reading anything or hearing anything about the U.S. being part of the rest of the world - in the way M. means - from the parade of politicians, former politicians, security or Middle East or disaster relief analysts who have spoken or written words over the past five days. I may be mistaken, I hope I am terribly mistaken, but it seems to me that the U.S. doesn't really have any concept that the rest of the world wants this. That they want the U.S. to stop being a bully who runs away and won't play if he can't get his way. They want the U.S. to be a co-leader working hand-in-hand with its allies, and that here in Sweden at least, most people seem to want this group to function as policemen of sorts but only in so far as this means working to ensure people around the world everywhere are allowed to live their lives without fear and with fairness and justice. (Not that there aren't people here in Sweden physically attacking Muslims just as in the U.S. - the government does have an armed guard posted outside the mosque here in Stockholm. Despite this, the general sentiments seem to be as I said a sentence ago.)

My fear is that Western Europe has just said it will stand by the U.S. come hell or high water and the U.S. leadership can only take this as carte blanche to do whatever it decides is best, and current leadership is, well, not one that I really trust to do the proper thing, to act in what I think are the best interests of the world, but rather to work in the best interests of the Republican Party (I couldn't stand to watch Congress ''spontaneously'' singing the Republican National Anthem, ''God Bless America.'' On a nearly completely different tangent, for some strange reason the only time I cried was when I heard the guards outside Buckingham Palace playing the ''Star Spangled Banner,'' although perhaps that's not so strange, given that I'm living outside the U.S. so it's perhaps closer to my life somehow).

I hope I am very wrong on this, either on what the best interests of the Republican Party are (after all, Rudy Guiliani was quite amazing during all of this, surely people have already begun talking about a brilliant political future for him, code words for presidential material) or on how this will be handled by all these leaders who happen to be republicans. The president himself just seems in a daze, wondering why he ever ran for president and if there's any way he can take it back. Poor man. Poor in most senses of that word except in its meaning of lacking lucre.

I think those in the U.S. don't understand, when a taxi driver in Athens tells me that he thinks this is a CIA plot, that what this at heart means is that people in a lot of places outside of Palestine or Iraq just do not trust the United States.

And frankly, I don't blame them. I sure as hell don't trust the CIA either. Not of course that I believe this would ever be committed by them. I just don't trust them.

The Swedish word for the day is rädd. It means afraid. Strangely enough, the verb rädda means to save.

- by Francis S.

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