[the international perspective]

Topic: United States

“I am absolutely disgusted. After the tsunami our people, even the ones who lost everything, wanted to help the others who were suffering,” Sajeewa Chinthaka, 36, as he watched a cricket match in Colombo, Sri Lanka. “Not a single tourist caught in the tsunami was mugged. Now with all this happening in the U.S. we can easily see where the civilized part of the world’s population is.”

This is from a Reuters article on the international reaction to what has been going on in New Orleans.

Sri Lanka was in the midst of a decades-old, deeply acrimonious civil war between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority when they were hit by the tsunami. In the afternath, Sinhalese rescued Tamils and vice versa, while the Sinhalese government negotiated an agreement with the Tamil Tigers to let relief supplies into Tiger-held areas. Granted, the post-tsunami ceasefire has frayed and the agreement on aid distribution never quite worked how it was supposed to. But we’re talking about an actual war in a third-world country.

Similarly, the disaster in the Aceh province of Indonesia led separatists and government forces to pause in their fighting to deal with the crisis at hand. That sense of cooperation helped to foster a peace agreement there, and the Indonesian government is now using that agreement as a model for trying to solve a similar conflict in Papua New Guinea.

That America and Americans have responded to the Katrina disaster in such an ugly way is deeply saddening. It brings to mind the grim “helpless giant” era of the 1970s, with gas lines, a failed war abroad, anti-Americanism on the rise and a crumbling economy. But this may be worse.

Our reputation in the world was bad enough before. When we say we want to export American values, people pictured Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo and the chaos in Baghdad. Now New Orleans can be added to that list. If we can’t manage to instill basic decency in our own people, or protect them in a crisis, what right do we have to preach to others?