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Iraq

Compassion for America curdles abroad

By CHUCK MURPHY, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2003


DELHI, India -- After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Vaibhav Singh of Delhi felt sorry for the people of the United States.

But with the start of the war in Iraq, what was once compassion has turned to contempt.

"Those feelings that were there after Sept. 11 are gone," said Singh, a hotel waiter in Delhi's embassy district. "I think they are all gone for everyone now."

By failing to provide proof that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction before invading, Singh said, President Bush has caused people around the world to worry that America is intent on conquest.

"Who is to say that Mr. Bush will not like the leader here or somewhere else?" Singh said. "Then he would just move in?"

While U.S. officials have become accustomed to demonstrations and protests in the Arab world, the discontent has spread beyond traditional America haters to some longtime allies.

Everyone knows about the decision by the French, Germans and Russians to oppose the war, but there have been huge demonstrations in some of the world's other corners, too.

In Indonesia, more than 100,000 marched over the weekend to protest the war in Iraq. In Malaysia, a similar number brought traffic to a halt. South Koreans hold a nightly protest of U.S. policies that pre-dates the Iraqi war, but the conflict is now contributing to a renewed movement to seek the ejection of U.S. troops from the Korean peninsula.

Eighteen months after ejecting the Taliban and liberating Afghanistan, U.S. troops are still battling with remnants of that regime, and the attacks have increased in proportion to anger over the Iraq war.

On Sunday night, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired in downtown Kabul at a training ground used by troops. Rockets were fired at other coalition forces in Ghardez and mortar rounds were dropped on a U.S. base in the Afghanistan town of Shkin.

Almost as important as the protests themselves is the amount of coverage they receive. Star News, a cable television network broadcast in South Korea, Malaysia, India and elsewhere, devoted 20 minutes to the Korean protests on Sunday night.

The catalysts for the protests appear to be rooted in a couple of different emotions.

The first is best expressed by an editorial in Saturday's largely measured Times of India, a newspaper that also publishes a daily lighthearted spoof of Bush, a comic strip called Dubyaman (www.timesofindia.com).

"Questions have also arisen about why the Iraqi dictator, despite being relentlessly targeted, has not as yet unleashed his doomsday arsenal," the editorial said. "Nor have the Americans produced any concrete proof that one exists."

The second, as expressed by columnist Vir Sanghvi in the Sunday Hindustan Times of New Delhi, boils down to a belief that the United States is bullying Iraq, and deserves whatever hardships might result.

"The single greatest achievement of George W. Bush -- from an Indian perspective -- is to have made us overcome our love of and respect for all things American," Sanghvi wrote. "The extent of anti-Americanism among the middle class has both shocked and shaken me."

Me, too.

I was in Delhi for three nights waiting for a flight to Kabul. On my first afternoon, I asked a taxi driver to take me to some of Delhi's traditional tourist sites.

First, we went to the Qutub, a site of 12th and 13th century towers and minarets important to practitioners of both Hindu and Islam.

The place was teeming with people, as is all of Delhi, and I immediately felt hundreds of pairs of eyes on me. There seemed to be no other Americans at the site, and only one British couple I could see. It wasn't long before a group of six older teens or men in their young 20s began to shout at me.

I couldn't make out anything they said beyond "America," since they were shouting in Hindi. But the more I tried to ignore them, the more they shouted and followed me. Finally, one of them asked me to step away from the rest of the crowd, who were all ignoring the commotion. I refused and he asked me for money.

"Your dollars are my memories," he said in clear English. "Give them to me."

At that point, the cabdriver, who had been watching from a distance, stepped in and persuaded them to leave me alone. And, if not for him, it might have happened again at my next stop.

I was at the Lotus Flower Bahai Temple in Delhi and had just collected my shoes after touring inside. I was walking back to the parking lot and noticed two men following close behind me. Again, the cabdriver came to the rescue, pulling me aside and essentially forcing the men to pass.

Were they motivated by anger at Bush? Or did they just want to rob me?

I can't say for certain, and to be sure I had lots of positive conversations with cabdrivers, waiters and bartenders in Delhi (though I stuck pretty close to my hotel).

But the longer the war goes, the stickier it gets, according to Sanghvi of the Hindustan Times.

"Seldom can America have been so friendless. Seldom can it have miscalculated as massively as it did about the likely progress of this war! And when victory does come, seldom will a victor have felt so alone."

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