Americans targeted in 'Old' Europe

11th June 2004, Comments 0 comments

The re-election of US President George W. Bush brought a series of pleasantries from European leaders but, reports Sarah Morris, American expats on the old continent are still very much in the firing line over Iraq.

The re-election of President George W Bush produced the customary round of diplomatic congratulations from European leaders, though disappointment was the real undercurrent in many countries.

It belies a general feeling of animosity to the Bush administration, which is increasingly deflected at Americans who live in Europe.

One of the main causes of this hostility is the US-led invasion in Iraq and the on-going war.

Expats find they are paying the price of an unpopular war and its fallout – and for some the photos of Iraqi prisoners being tortured was the final straw.

"Americans couldn't be viewed worse in Germany," says Margaret Rankin, a press officer from Washington who has lived in Essen for the last three-and-a-half years.

"Everyone I meet can't resist saying: 'Aren't you ashamed of your country?'

"Some Germans don't even think I'm worth talking to. They think if an idiot is leading the country, we must all be idiots."

Initially, Rankin acted as an 'ambassador' to her country, listening patiently to German criticisms and responding sensitively to "cheap digs".

"I didn't defend the war. I defended my country as not exclusively a land of idiots," she says.

But, after the Abu Ghraib images, her approach changed. "I've stopped defending us as vehemently," she admits.

"There are so many things to defend, it's become boring. It's a depressing and unhappy subject."

For some, photos of Iraqis tortured in Abu Ghraib prison were a turning point

Events in Iraq have sown anti-American feeling among the Spanish, according Alberto Moreno who is half American and lives in the south-eastern region of Almeria.

"I've even seen my cousin, who's also half American, who used to cheer Americans in war movies, calling them idiots as he watches the news."
 
Anti-American feeling in Europe attracts concern among the families and friends of expats in the States.

"Everyone back home is very concerned that we are being abused," says Ellyn Eaves-Hileman, who moved to Brussels from Rhode Island two years ago.

"But the only incident I've had was when I was collecting a friend from the train station and my friend heard a man say: 'Fucking Americans'."

Hileman has travelled with her family throughout Europe and to Morocco since the invasion of Iraq. "People have been kind and just keen to discuss the war with us," she says.

"On the flip side, what I find very sad in the US now, is that if you disagree with the administration, you're labelled anti-American."

Hileman, whose husband is a naval officer who has served for almost 28 years, watched the release of the torture photos with horror. "They made me sick," she says.

"My husband and I both asked why the officers are not being called to account for this."

But for Pittsburger Charles Ruffolo, who served in the US army for 20 years, the photos were "a reflection of a small group of individuals, not of the system".

*quote1*Ruffolo, the president of Amsterdam American Business Club, appeared on the Dutch television show Nova after the publication of the photos and defended Rumsfeld and the strategy in Iraq.

"It's easy to throw rocks at a glass boat. People say to me: 'Look what's going on in that prison? How could it happen?' You have to hold these people responsible for their actions, but I believe in the American system of democracy."

Like many Americans abroad, Ruffolo gets asked: "Aren't you ashamed to be an American?" "I say 'no'. I come from a country with more individual rights than any other and I speak as an immigrant. My family emigrated to America from Italy in the 1900s. My father fought in the Second World War and my brother in the Gulf War."

British expats also get asked to justify the war, but the tone is different.

 "Whereas Americans are seen as idiots, you get labelled 'chicken'," Rankin tells me. "You have succumbed to this great monster."

Englishman Guy Grundy, a

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