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Dear America: We Watch Your Convulsions With Horror and Hope

2020-06-03 23:02:33

A 92-year-old Italian, fondly recalling the G.I.s who parachuted in to liberate his country from fascism, says he now sees the ghost of Mussolini in TV clips from the United States. In Iraq, people are sharing photos that compare President Trump holding up a Bible with Saddam Hussein clutching a Quran. In Mexico, no stranger to mayhem, a 36-year-old author worries about her relatives in New York.

With emotions that range from horror to hope, from schadenfreude to self-reflection, the world has been transfixed by the cascading crises in the United States — the coronavirus scourge, 40 million suddenly unemployed, the police killings of George Floyd and other African Americans, and President Trump’s threats of a military crackdown on protests that have convulsed dozens of cities.

In what amounts to a Dear America letter, people from around world offered The New York Times a taste of how they see what’s happening in the United States:

The scenes on mobile phones, on televisions and on the front pages have prompted some Italians to reconsider their admiration of America.

Giovanni Marzona was 16 in the summer of 1944 when he saw Americans for the first time, parachuting over the mountains to help liberate Italy from fascism. He said they brought food, weapons “and democracy.”

Mr. Marzona, 92, said what he sees now worries him. “We always looked at America as the first defender of freedom,” he said. “If they go backward we will all go backward.”

He often visits schools to warn students about “the danger of bullies,” and the importance of standing up to them. “Now Trump wants to be a bully,” he said, “but you have to stop bullies, otherwise they become little Mussolinis.”

Alessio Cotroneo, a 24-year-old student from Turin, keeps a poster of the Declaration of Independence by his bed and dreams of working in the United States. But now, he said, “I am seeing a thin vein of authoritarianism.” EMMA BUBOLA, ROME

In Kenya, one of the closest American allies in Africa and a country where police brutality has festered, some said the clips of tear-gassed demonstrators and journalists had diminished the moral right of the United States to criticize injustice elsewhere or lecture African nations on human rights.

“There are assumptions that dictatorships only happen in particular places in the world,” said Patrick Gathara, a communications specialist in Nairobi. “It’s about time we started recognizing and calling out failure even when it happens in the West.”

Njeri Wa Migwi, a Kenyan activist raising five children in Nairobi, lived and worked in Boston in 2009. She said the unrest in America had convinced her to never send any of her children to the United States, for fear of a middle-of-the-night phone call that “my child has been killed by police simply because he’s black.” ABDI LATIF DAHIR, NAIROBI

Many interviewed on the streets of Paris said Mr. Floyd’s death reinforced their already diminished view of the United States, which has been eroding since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But their message was tempered by France’s own problems with racism and police brutality.

“What happened was inhuman,” Frederic Kauffmann, a 48-year-old business owner, said of Mr. Floyd’s death.

“It shocked me,” said Alyssa Mievilly, a 17-year-old hair salon apprentice.

The anti-racism protests in America “speak to us,” said Laurence Nardon, the head of the North America program at the French Institute of International Relations, because “there are many parallels that one can draw with what’s happening here.”

That much was clear on Tuesday evening when 20,000 people converged outside the main courthouse in northern Paris to denounce police violence and racism, defying orders against large assemblies because of the coronavirus.

The protest was meant to honor Adama Traoré, a French black man who died four years ago in police custody. But it also echoed the outcry over Mr. Floyd’s death. Hundreds of people waved signs reading “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter,” and many protesters said Mr. Floyd’s killing had given the movement a new sense of urgency. AURELIEN BREEDEN, CONSTANT MÉHEUT AND THÉOPHILE LARCHER, PARIS

Bárbara Arredondo, 36, said she had been apprehensively watching the images of American protests on Instagram feeds from friends around the country and family members in New York.

“It’s personally devastating to see that no one is safe on the streets in the United States,” said Ms. Arredondo, a writer and entrepreneur based in Mexico City. The past few days she has been kept up at night.

“The language that Trump is using is key to the violence that we are seeing, and is the reason no one is safe,” she said.

Ms. Arredondo grew up about three hour’s drive from Texas and said she always admired the United States for its values and entrepreneurism. The unrest has only made her respect Americans more.

“So many U.S. citizens, no matter how they identify, are on the streets,” Ms. Arredondo said. “They are role models for social transformation.” NATALIE KITROEFF, MEXICO CITY

The protests have resonated with black communities in Britain, which say they, too, are disproportionately subjected to police violence and racial injustice.

“The same things happen here, and that’s why people in the U.K. have reacted so emotionally,” said Nadine Batchelor-Hunt, the former president of Cambridge University’s Black and Minority Ethnic Campaign. “The level of violence that we get from the police is not as severe, but the structures that facilitate it are the same.”

Thousands of protesters crowded into London’s central Hyde Park on Monday in solidarity with American protesters.

“What happened to George Floyd has happened too many times before, but what’s been really surprising this time around is that persons actually care,” said Richie Newton, 28, a musician who attended the Hyde Park protest. “They are listening, they are reacting, they are saying ‘no more’ and those messages are rippling through the world.”

“This is the first time I’ve seen so many different ethnicities come out and stick up for black people,” he added. “We have never received so much support.”

Melanie Bennett, 44, a restaurant manager who studied in Washington in 2013, said she barely recognized the America she had been watching on television. She blamed Mr. Trump.

“What we have seen in the last few days is the consequences of a leader who will just fan the flames and watch the streets burn,” she said. “It’s appalling and sad.” CEYLAN YEGINSU, LONDON

The American protests have struck a nerve in Iraq, where people are paying more attention to the events in Minneapolis and Washington than in their own troubled cities.

“Protests in America have a global impact because people consider that the U.S. is a democratic state applying all human rights conventions,” said Abdul Jabbar al-Khuzai, who teaches in a Shiite educational institution.

Protesters in Basra, Iraq’s second-largest city, drew inspiration from the American streets. “These demonstrations have painted a positive and supportive picture for demonstrators and demonstrations around the world that want to fight racism and despotism,” said Karrar Muslim, who attended a sit-in on Wednesday in central Basra.

A favorite WhatsApp meme showed a photo of President Trump holding the Bible, paired with a photo of Saddam Hussein holding the Quran at his trial as a way to emphasize his loyalty to Islam.

Soran Tawfiq, 43, a father of four who is a shopkeeper in Sulaimaniyah, in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region, said he sympathized with the American protesters and was shocked by the video of Mr. Floyd’s death.

“I wondered: ‘Is it true?’” he said. “I mean yes, there are killings in the world every day, but a policeman, who is supposed to be a protector of the law, kills a civilian, and for racial reasons? This is a difficult thing to accept.” ALISSA J. RUBIN AND FALIH HASSAN, BAGHDAD, AND KAMIL KAKOL, SULAIMANIYAH.

Katya Gazetnikova, 19, a university student majoring in sports management, said she was “very closely” following the protests in America, a subject of fascination among Russia’s young.

“I was always interested in what is happening in the United States. It is the main country in the world, all new technologies appear there, most interesting things, too,” she said. “What is happening is shaking the foundations in the U.S.”

The video of Mr. Floyd’s death, she said, was disturbing, “but it doesn’t mean that all American policemen are bad. Many of them are also protesting. Many of them are hugging protesters. They support their people.” IVAN NECHEPURENKO, MOSCOW

Ozge Siteiss, 22, a law student at Berlin’s Free University, said she had always considered the United States hypocritical.

“They go around the world promoting democracy and human rights, but can’t enforce them at home,” she said. “Among my friends, we all understand the anger, because the racism has been systemic, but are wondering, where will this end? It’s almost like a civil war.”

Still, she said, she was not expecting the scenes of American police brutality.

“I shouldn’t be surprised at what is happening, but I am,” she said. “It makes me realize how easy it is, even in a Western country, for those in power to turn against their own people.” MELISSA EDDY, BERLIN

For many Indians watching the protests in America, it’s a familiar sight. Just a few months ago, the police in New Delhi were seen thrashing students in videos taken at a predominantly Muslim university as India, the world’s largest democracy, convulsed in protest over a divisive citizenship law seen as favoring the Hindu majority.

Critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist, see many parallels between him and Mr. Trump.

Ramachandra Guha, a pre-eminent biographer of Mohandas K. Gandhi, who was arrested last year during a peaceful demonstration, saw especially clear similarities in their penchant for polarizing photo-ops.

Just as Mr. Trump held up a Bible at a Washington church, Mr. Modi posed in a saffron robe last year at a Hindu shrine deep in the Himalayas.

Both moments had a “subliminal appeal,” said Mr. Guha. “Modi saying I am a true Hindu and Trump’s appeal to his Bible belt.” KARAN SINGH, NEW DELHI


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