Thursday, June 24, 2004

I take some of it back

Yes, there's the typically stupid anti-American hatefest going on in Korea. But there's more happening than just the anti-Americanism. Many Koreans-- thousands-- are remembering who they are, and are focusing on the proper target: the terrorists.

And because I have a conscience and do strive for self-consistency, I'll note that my current cynicism about Korean reactions is partially contradicted in this post from March 17 (Saint Pat's!):

But Korea isn't Spain or any other European country, nor is it America. Most Muslims can't blend in here. There aren't many Korean Muslims; most of the Arab/Persian Muslim population, to put it politely, stands out. Just about every non-East Asian race stands out here. So if al Qaeda is planning any shenanigans in South Korea, the hammer is going to fall on these people. Koreans aren't exactly shy about their own racism and xenophobia; unlike in America, there won't be extensive hand-wringing about racial (or religious) profiling. If anything happens here, no one will make any bones about watching the Arabs and Persians closely, as well as tracking East Asian (and other Asian) Muslims. They will all be marked people.

But the paragraph that follows is consistent with what I wrote last night:

In the meantime, of course, the Spain Effect is likely to happen: should an attack occur (which I doubt), we yang-nom will be objects of resentment, at least in public demonstrations. I'm not too worried, though: during one of the heavily anti-American periods, I got around with no problem and didn't encounter any particularly resentful behavior. One dude at the gym would go on about how much he hated America, but that was about it. My being plump and not having a crewcut might be a saving grace at such times; I don't experience what our servicemen have to go through. So keep your thoughts for the soldiers who are more likely to endure petty and major slights.

As you can see, my feelings on this matter are complex. One thing I can say: it's wrong to stereotype Koreans by assuming they're all robotically conformist, which is why seemingly contradictory observations about Korean society and behavior are possible. Nearly 50 million people can't move in lockstep. Diversity is inevitable. I say this at the risk of sounding very condescending: in an attempt to get a "read" of the Korean populace, we Westerners have to acknowledge that Koreans come in all shapes and sizes. Yes, there's more conformism here than in the States-- a lot more-- but that's not the whole story and it's very unfair to reduce Koreans to that caricature.

So today, the sky is brighter, I'm a bit less moody, a bit more hopeful, and I take back some of what I wrote last night. What I hope, though, is for Koreans and Europeans (etc.) to realize that we're all in this together. And it may become necessary for all of us to stand and fight.

Read a very good post by Wooj here.


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