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Etan Thomas Headshot

They are Not Jealous of Our Way of Life...

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I was recently a part of a wonderful experience. Myself, along with Ron Artest of the Sacramento Kings, Theo Ratliff of the Boston Celtics, and Maurice Evans of the Los Angeles Lakers, had the privilege taking a journey to Kenya with the National Basketball Players' Association. The main purpose of this trip was to launch a program that will be responsible for the distribution of 11 million pounds of rice and beans to the residents of Kawangware, Kibera and Dagoretti (the poorest areas of Kenya) The NBPA, in conjunction with Feed the Children's founder Larry Jones, an amazing man, helped facilitate the distribution of the food to children in need. We also distributed food to Kermit Washington's Ray of Hope, which is an AIDs clinic right in the middle of the poorest area of Kenya, and is doing an exceptional job caring for and treating the victims of AIDs and HIV, which include children, single mothers, and entire families. The trip as a whole, was an eye-opening, life-changing experience

On the plane ride to Kenya, as I was coming out of the restroom, I heard the flight attendants talking about the war in Iraq. They were on a roll, so I just stood there and listened to them. It is always interesting to hear someone else's viewpoint. One lady saw me eavesdropping on their conversation, and continued in her characterization of America as being the epitome of evil. Then she turned to me and said, "What you would call Babylon?" I had to laugh at that one. I guess she was trying to relate to me. I wondered what she was going to say next, that she wanted to chase the bumbo claat bald heads out of town. (She later told me that she assumed I was a Rastafarian from Jamaica, or London because of my dreds, Bob Marley t-shirt and that I smelled like oil) Well, after awhile, I thought her bashing of America as a whole was a little much, so I asked her how she could possibly be so critical of the U.S., when Great Britain has been the epitome of evil for centuries.

She said, "Yea, but their evil certainly can't be compared to that of America's." I said, "Oh, really?" I explained to her that most countries that have colonized the world have done so at the price of having the native lands and people destroyed. Also, I stressed that at one time the British dominated the world. Their money (pound sterling) still dominates the world even to this day. In early times they owned what we refer to as America, India, most of the West Indies, including the island of my heritage Grenada, Hong Kong, and parts of Africa including Kenya, just to name a few. I explained that colonization was to be a means by which Britain could satisfy its lust for power and domination. What was taught to the natives they conquered centered on discipline, following without question, suppression, love and appreciation for the Queen, and no love for themselves or their own culture and history, which is in turn the epitome of evil? To have the unwavering desire to conquer land that posed no threat to you is not something to be proud of.

She answered in saying, "Oh are you attempting to compare evils?" Then, she listed a barrage of U.S. atrocities like rapid fire. She said, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Graib, the crimes the U.S. supported for years when Saddam Hussein was an ally; for arming and supporting both sides in the brutal Iran-Iraq war; the destruction of the 1991 Gulf War; strong-arming Tony Blair, who she admitted was a spineless misrepresentation of Great Britain, devastating sanctions; the humiliation and deaths caused be the 2003 invasion; and the immense pain, suffering, and damage the occupation has caused since. Then she said, I'm not even going to start on the way America has treated your people -- she threw out slavery, Jim crow, embracing reparations and land allocation for the crimes committed against Jews but not for Blacks; I stopped her and said ok, ok, ok. You made your point.

Needless to say, I lost the debate, and returned to my seat. I really couldn't come up with an argument to negate what she was saying except, you can't blame the entire country as a whole, or punish the entire country as a whole, for the actions and decisions of a faulty leadership. I made sure they knew that everyone in America did not agree with the policies of America, but other than that, I graciously accepted my defeat.

Upon my arrival to Kenya, I decided to venture out away from the group. So, I ventured out with some guys that worked at the hotel. I wanted to see the city. Not the regular tourist stuff, I wanted to see how life was for them in Nairobi. They took me to the university, because someone they knew was getting out of class and needed them to pick him up. The students at the university were in the middle of a huge discussion on the political candidates in Kenya. They were preparing for their own elections, I believe, in 2008. The first question they asked me when I was introduced to them wasn't how tall was I, although they were fascinated with my height. It wasn't do I play basketball. It was if I was a black American? Before I could get the word yes out of my mouth, they asked, "How could you do what you are doing in Iraq?" I said to them,"You? What do you mean you?" They said, "You are American, so what part of our question did you not understand?" I had to laugh at that one. But I told them to not clump me in with the decisions of the president. I voted for his opponent twice, unfortunately my guys didn't win. I added that I would be equally wrong applying responsibility to them for the method of resistance, of The Mungiki sect, which is predominantly Kikuyu. The way they terrorized and slaughtered innocent people. They were surprised that I knew that. Explaining that most Americans are ignorant of anything outside of its own borders, but they understood my analogy, and told me that I made a good point.

They then began explaining to me how in fact America is viewed, and it wasn't very good. They told me about an American Embassy there that was bombed a few years ago, and how although Al Qaeda didn't actually claim the bombing, it was well understood that they were responsible. But then something interesting happened. They began listing different aspects of U.S. foreign policy that causes Americans to be hated around the world.

One young man quoted a British playwright and essayist Harold Pinter in the conversation with me. They are still forced to learn a lot about British history which is the history of their oppressors in terms of colonialism, but that's a whole different essay. He said,"People do not forget. They do not forget the death of their fellows, they do not forget torture and mutilation, they do not forget injustice, they do not forget oppression, they do not forget the terrorism of mighty powers. They not only don't forget. They strike back." He just spit that out as if it were permanently etched into his memory. I asked him to write that down for me and what book he got it from.

Another young man even quoted Malcolm X to me saying that anything that happens to America is nothing more than "the chickens coming home to roost." He told me that although he didn't condone the extremism of the terrorists, that they had a reason to be upset. He told me about a declaration that Osama Bin Laden made citing America's treatment of Iraq in his declaration of war.

Another young man referred to Ron Paul in a recent debate. I thought that was very interesting in that many young people here don't even know who Ron Paul is. But he told me how he stood as the only Republican willing to admit that our lengthy involvement in middle eastern affairs, in particular the bombings of Iraq in the 1990s was at least part of the rationale in the terrorists attacking us.

This war definitely did not help the way America is viewed across the world. It in fact increased the resentment and anger many countries feel toward the U.S. and all allies, therefore making innocent people in these countries targets to terrorism. This was the case with the bombing at the U.S. embassy they were referring to in Kenya, the deadly attacks in Madrid on March 11, 2004, and London on July 7, 2005. Bush will tell us the reason why they hate us is because they "are jealous of our way of life" or they "hate our freedom" but in reality, they disagree and despise the impact the policies of the U.S. has not only on their lives but on the entire world.

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