Monday, October 17, 2005

Lost in Ignorance

The pleasure was all mine. The Chronicle will benefit its readers by publishing my letter in which they can see your flawed argument--that which you called a "stimulating debate".

For clarification, when I mentioned that many Americans don't speak a foreign language, I referred to the Anglo-saxon majority of the American population. Of course, immigrants coming to the US from other countries (such as myself) speak their (foreign) languages. (Thanks for pointing out the obvious, Dr. Pells!)

You made an Orwellian point that Muslims, Christians, and Zionists are all terrorists, but the Muslims are worse than the others. That, in and of itself, does not make the Christians and Zionists terrorism-free, does it?

And if I may, Prof. Pells, you have nerve to put Baghdad in the same category with NYC, London, Bali, and Madrid. Who started all the violence (or terrorism) in Iraq but your Christian fanatic president George W. Bush, his father, and their neo-cons? The retaliatory violence that the Iraqies have been showing in Baghdad is nothing but an act of self-defense against the American invasion of their country on the pretext that Sadam Hussein had weapons of mass destructions (WMDs).

In case you have not realized, there were no WMDs in Iraq, and the presentation that former Secretary of State Colin Powell made about Iraqi nukes before the UN right before the US invasion was based on false information from British intelligence authorities. As a matter of fact, the British government acknowledged that the report it gave to Mr. Powell came from an American academic, Mr. Ibrahim al-Marashi, a research associate at the Center for Non-proliferation Studies in Monterey, California. If this is not plagiarism, what is, Dr. Pells?

Finally, does it matter how the term "halfbright" has been coined? What matters is that it is so true of some Fulbright fellows, or Albright, who give ill advice to the White House, Foggy Bottom (nickname for the State Department), and the Pentagon on foreign affairs. I can only hope that you are not one of these "experts"!?

With regards, I remain,

Thang D. Nguyen

Thank you for your message. I hope the Chronicle does publish your letter, since the purpose of articles like mine is to stimulate debate, not to have everyone nodding in agreement.

But just for the record, I am aware that most Americans know little about the rest of the world. Indeed, I have written extensively about American provincialism in books and articles (including several in past issues of the Chronicle). But the present article is not about that. It is about the current failures of and opportunities for America's cultural relationships with other countries (and not just Muslim ones).

The article was also about the ignorance, or at least the simplistic stereotypes, that many people abroad have about the U.S. Unfortunately, your message reflects and repeats some of those stereotypes. For example, when you imply that few Americans can speak a foreign language, that is precisely the sort of cliche that people spout when they either don't know or aren't thinking about the contemporary nature of American society. For the past 40 years, there have been waves of immigrants coming to America. As a result there are millions of American who know Spanish (either because, as Americans, they have come from Cuba, Mexico, or Central America, or because non-native-Spanish speakers have undertaken to learn Spanish in order to deal with and understand the huge number of Hispanics in the U.S.). Moreover, there are (for the same reasons of immigration) large numbers of Americans who speak an Asian language—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese. Would that other countries, both in Europe and in Asia, were as open to newcomers in their midst.

As to Muslim terrorism, there is no doubt that others have engaged in terrorist acts over the years and centuries. But more recently, neither Christians nor the Northern Irish nor what you call "Zionists" have come anywhere near matching the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians all over the world committed by Muslim religious fanatics (imbued with the sort of totalitarian sensibilities that would have made Hitler or Stalin proud). If you don't believe that, ask the people in Bali, Baghdad, Istanbul, Madrid, London, New York, and Washington.

As to American foreign policy, sometimes it has been a force for good (as in the case of postwar Germany & Japan), sometimes it has been for bad, and sometimes it's just been plain incompetent. So what else is new? American foreign policy has been, on balance, no better or worse than the foreign policies of most other countries in the world.

Finally, regarding your snide reference to "Halfbright," you should be aware that this phrase is itself a cliche—originally coined by right-wingers in the U.S. in the late 40s who were opposed to the Fulbright Program (and who didn't have one-tenth the intelligence or global understanding that Sen. Fulbright himself had). Surely you wouldn't want to put yourself in their company.

Best Regards,

Richard Pells

Dear Professor Pells,

Greetings from the Big Durian!

Following is my letter to the Chronicle in response to your recent article reflecting your experience as a Fulbright fellow in Indonesia.

I hope you will take my letter from a constructive view and that the Chronicle will publish it.


Thang D. Nguyen

P.S. Do you think, Prof. Pells, that after having sent such qualified fellows as yourself to the world, the Fulbright program should, perhaps, be called Halfbright instead?


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1:36 AM  
Anonymous Jorg said...

"Do you think, Prof. Pells, that after having sent such qualified fellows as yourself to the world, the Fulbright program should, perhaps, be called Halfbright instead?"

I am an editor of a Fulbright blog.

I wonder whether you consider us as stupid as well...

12:39 PM  
Anonymous stevemills said...

I don't understand why someone who isn't capable of understanding the writing of Prof. Pells is engaging in a critique of Prof. Pells.

The chip on the shoulder of Thang D Nguyen is only fooling us into thinking he is blinded by subjectivity.

In reality he is a screeching anti-american fanatic. A twit in other words.

8:07 PM  
Blogger Tjipoetat Quill said...

I also don't understand why someone who isn't capable of understanding the writing of Thang is engaging in a critique against him.

12:22 AM  
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