Viewpoint: A word of caution to Obama
I make no apology for talking and writing, in the UK, about a foreign leader. But expectations of him are so high and attention worldwide is glued to his every step as he reaches the end of his first month in office. He is the story of the moment.
I am obviously referring to Barack Obama.
Three months ago as I watched the news that could define an era, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and wonder. It could not be true that Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan, was to be the next president of the United States.
Barack Obama's election has 'turned America's image on its head'
During the previous administration's term, I'd been asked to suggest one unilateral magnanimous gesture or action that the incoming US president might make to counteract anti-Americanism abroad. I said that while there were clearly pockets of anti-Americanism around the world, this was definitely not a global phenomenon nor was it directed towards the American people.
What I certainly could attest to was substantial resentment and indeed hostile opposition to the policies of a particular US administration.
I contended, as I do now, that the two are quite distinct and separate.
An elucidating example dates back to the years of the anti-apartheid struggle. The Reagan White House was firmly opposed to applying sanctions against the South African apartheid regime, preferring what it described as "constructive engagement". Many of us were incensed by this policy and opposed it with every fibre of our being.
Black role models
I probably dismayed many people when on one occasion I was told of the latest Reagan rejection of our call for US sanctions against Pretoria. I retorted, out of deep exasperation, "The West can go to hell!" I was then Bishop of Johannesburg, and some thought it was decidedly un-episcopal language.
I was very angry toward the Reagan administration, but that did not make me anti-American. And that is the point, anger and resentment toward the policies of a particular administration do not necessarily translate into anti-American sentiment.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu's talk is the first in a series of lectures to mark the British Council's 75th anniversary
When I was nine or so, I picked up a tattered copy of Ebony magazine. I still don't know where it could have come from in my ghetto township with its poverty and squalor. It described how Jackie Robinson, a black man like us, had broken into major league baseball and was playing scintillatingly for the Brooklyn Dodgers.
I did not know baseball from ping-pong. That was totally irrelevant. What mattered was that a black man had made it against huge odds, and I grew inches and was sold on America from then on.
Remember the extraordinary outpouring of sympathy and concern after 9/11? That surely could not have happened, certainly not on such a vast global scale if people hadn't genuinely cared. Everywhere, virtually.
But what happened that all these positive warm feelings toward the United States were disrupted and turned into the negative ones of hostility and anger?
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