World's Greatest Country

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Abraham Lincoln, United States Of America Views: 7042

Do the Facts Lie?

Prophet Muhammad said, "He is not one of us who proclaims the cause of tribal partisanship" When asked, what is "tribal partisanship," he answered, "[It means] your helping your own people in an unjust cause." [1]

"I choose to live in what I think is the greatest country in the world, which is committing horrendous terrorist acts and should stop." Noam Chomsky [2]

Interviewer to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: "We have heard that a half a million children have died [because of sanctions against Iraq]. I mean that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And--you know, is the price worth it?" Secretary Albright answered: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it." [3]

On March 21, 2003, as I headed home, a day after the United States formally invaded Iraq, I ran into a colleague from Northeastern University--a professor of the humanities--at the Ruggles train station in Boston. I was aware of his political inclinations, and he of mine, from previous encounters. Still, I thought we were on friendly terms.

"I bet you oppose the war," he greeted me, as I approached him.

"Not at all," I shot back, " I wish to see Iraq liberated as much as you."

Although, it was only the second day of the war, and the bombs and missiles were accurately on target, it appeared that the tension leading up to the war had taken their toll on our colleague's nerve. He snapped at my banter. Agitated, he began to poke his finger in my face, while lecturing me about how "thankful" I should be about living in "the world's greatest country ever." Luckily, my train arrived on time--for which I am thankful--saving me from an unhinged patriot's harangue.

This was not my first encounter with the overzealous patriotism that often dominates political discourse in the United States; and not only among members of the zany right. All too often, politicians rally their audience with inflated claims of American greatness. The United States is "the greatest country in the world." At other times, it is "the greatest country ever," "the greatest country ever conceived," or "the greatest country in the history of mankind." When the exuberance soars, America also "kicks ass!"

Nearly as often, one hears of the United States as the great Samaritan: second to none at 'civilizing' half-breed races. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, the United States is the "the last best hope of mankind," no less. More frequently, it is "the shining beacon on the hill." Recently, John Kerry, Democratic Presidential candidate, roused students at UCLA, "I believe we can bring a real victory in the War on Terror. I believe we must, not only for ourselves but for all who look to America as the last best hope of earth." I have to wonder if the Vietnamese civilians killed by Kerry and his crew also looked upon them as "the last best hope of earth." [4]

Judging from results from polls, quite a few Americans are persuaded by this rhetoric of American greatness and munificence; though my colleague from Northeastern would go into a fit over their 'fewness.' In 1955, according to a Gallup Survey, 66 percent Americans polled believed that "The United States is the greatest country in the world, better than all other countries in every possible way (emphasis added)." In 1991, mercifully, this percentage had declined to 37 percent; five years later, it held steady at 37 percent. (This looks like the proportion of steady Republicans in this country.) But there is a fly in the ointment. In response to a slightly altered question, 55 percent Americans agree that "the United States is the greatest country in the world, better than all others." On the worse reading, then, a clear majority of Americans still subscribe to the thesis of American uniqueness; though that majority is down to 55 percent from 66 percent. Shall we take comfort from this decline in the proportion of hyper-patriots in the US since 1955? [5]

In the absence of polls on the issue, I will report results from my own unrepresentative annual surveys on America's civilizing mission. For several years, I have passed out a questionnaire to assess my students' preparation for my undergraduate courses in Development Economics and the Global Economy. One perennial question I ask is about US 'foreign aid.' What percentage of its gross domestic product does the United States annually allocate as foreign aid to Third World countries? I offer my students five choices: (A) One-tenth of one percent, (B) One percent, (C) Five percent, (D) Ten percent, and (E) Twenty-five percent. Incredibly, about half the class chooses C, and most of the remaining half pick D and E. Two or three 'unpatriotic' students in each class pick A or B. The correct answer is A. Perhaps, my students think it proper and patriotic to pick a percentage that makes their country look generous.

In a sense, this talk of national greatness is unsurprising. It is the staple of a world organized--as it has been these last few hundred years--into nation states that must compete to survive and stay ahead of the pack. They compete economically, politically and militarily. Often, this competition requires sacrifices--of rights, of leisure, of safety, of lives. The ideological weapon in this competition is nationalism--creating pride and unity grounded in claims of national greatness, and matched by an equal contempt for the low or lower standing of other nations.

Perhaps the United States is distinct because of the intensity of its nationalist claims. The standard political rhetoric maintains that the US is the "greatest in the world," "the greatest ever," or "the greatest in the history of mankind." It stands at the top of the food chain. Some older nations--that have survived many cycles of history--might think this strange. Are these upstarts trying to compensate for their late arrival on history's stage? Arguably, older nations have the self-assurance of a long and often distinguished history behind them and, therefore, do not feel compelled to stake out exaggerated claims of national greatness. But there is more to it.

Nationalism is for the most part a modern phenomenon, a product of the competition between the new nation states operating in a capitalist world economy. In this competition, success and nationalist obsessions work in tandem. A nation fired with its own greatness is more willing to endure greater sacrifices; conversely, it is also more willing to inflict pain on Others. In the case of the United States, there was no shortage of successes--economic, technological and military--to fuel notions of national greatness. As these successes grew, the American establishment found it convenient to ratchet claims of American greatness. Most likely, by the turn of the twentieth century, if not before, the United States was declared to be unique among nations: the greatest country ever, populated by the noblest breed of humans, the instrument of God, and the greatest civilizing force on earth. Today, no Congressman can disavow American uniqueness and survive an election.

I could explore the sinister objectives served by these visions of American uniqueness--how corporate capital has used it to rally Americans behind imperialist wars, to incite fears of white America against Americans of color (and, hence, divide America's working poor), or to dupe American workers into surrendering their rights to corporate capital. Since all this has been done before, I will attempt something a bit pedantic, but I hope still useful. I will examine whether the United States is indeed "the greatest country in the world, better than all other countries in every possible way?" I suspect this is a thankless task, but my work will be amply rewarded if it deflates even a little some of the illusions of American grandeur.

By the most widely accepted criterion, America's economic lead looks quite secure. Measured in terms of dollars with comparable purchasing power, the US had a per capita income of $35,080 in 2002, one of the highest in the world. Only two other countries had higher per capita incomes; Luxembourg at $51,060 and Norway at $37,850. But these are small countries, with 444,000 and 5 million people respectively; and the per capita income of the richest 444,000 or 5 million Americans would easily exceed the per capita income of Luxembourg and Norway respectively. In other words, Americans can take just pride in their country's economic preeminence: the United States is the world's richest country.

The United States also commands the world's largest economy, though only by a narrow margin. Measured in terms of dollars with comparable purchasing power, the US gross national income adds up to $10,110 billion, a little more than a fifth of the global income. The European Union comes a very close second with a combined gross national income of $9,520 billion. With its rapidly expanding membership, the European Union may soon outpace the US as the world's largest economy. China places third in the world league of major economies, with a gross national income of $5,807 billion. At its present stellar growth rate, China could outstrip both the US and the European Union within two decades if not sooner. [6]

Surely the US lead in technological capacity must be larger and more secure. In its 2001 Report, the UNDP published for the first time a Technology Achievement Index (TAI) "which aims to capture how well a country is creating and diffusing technology and building a human skill base--reflecting capacity to participate in the technological innovations of the network age. This composite index measures achievements, not potential, efforts or inputs." According to this measure, the US ranks second--with a TAI value of 0.733--finishing behind Finland with a TAI of 0.744. Perhaps this makes Finland a threat to America's national security; no country that lags in technology can lead the world for long. Conceivably, the likes of Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly might urge President Bush do something about it. After all, Finland is a small country; knocking down its TAI a few places will be much less of a challenge than occupying Iraq. [7]

Perhaps the United States might regain the lead when judged against indicators of technological effort, such as R&D spending as percentage of a country's GDP, or R&D personnel per million in the country. However, this only makes matters worse. On the first measure, the United States ranks seventh, behind Togo, Sweden, Israel, Japan, Korea and Switzerland. (Yes, I too am wondering about Togo.) On the second criterion, the United States improves its rank to fourth place, still lagging behind Iceland, Japan and Sweden. [8] (Now what does Iceland do with all those scientists?) 

In a last ditch effort, to salvage America's position, I decided to extend the technology comparisons to three indicators of educational performance. But this only produced more disappointments. Judged in terms of school life expectancy (the number of years a child is expected to spend in the educational system), the US ranked fifteenth in the late 1990s. In mathematical literacy for fifteen year olds, it ranked eighteenth out of 27 countries. It's performance was only marginally better in scientific literacy, moving up to the fourteenth place in the same group of countries.[9]

The United States commands the largest lead where it matters most--in military power. At $396.1 billion in fiscal year 2003, US military spending exceeds the combined military budget of the next twenty countries. In 2002, the US outspent the seven "rogue" states (Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, Syria and Cuba) by a factor of thirty-seven. [10] With Iraq under occupation since April 2003, and Libya air-freighting the components of its would be WMDs to the United States, the ratio by which the US outspends the remaining "rogue" states must have risen still higher. Given these gaps in destructive capabilities, the United States should feel safer than any empire in recent memory. So why doesn't it?

In personal freedom, most Americans confidently place their country at the top. In a Gallup Poll taken in August 1995, Americans were asked, "how far up or down on a 10 point scale [10 being highest] would you rate each of the following nations in terms of the individual freedom granted to its citizens?" The US came out first, with 74 percent of the respondents giving it a 'high' rating (10-9-8). Canada and Britain ranked a distant second and third, with only 63 and 46 percent giving it a 'high' rating. [11] 

Experts view the freedom rankings a bit differently. The Freedom House, a conservative organization based in New York, publishes an annual report, Freedom in the World, that relies on opinions of experts to rank countries by various indicators of freedom. According to their index of civil and political liberties compiled for 2000-2001, the United States received the highest score of six (on a scale of one to seven), but this was an honor that it shared with fourteen other countries, including Portugal and Uruguay. Britain ranked 34th, well after Poland and Panama. Israel, the world's most touted 'democracy,' ranked 41st, after Bolivia and Benin. [12]

Is the United States the world leader, then, in press freedom? That too is a misconception. In October 2003, Reporters Without Borders published its Second World Press Freedom Ranking; compiled from a questionnaire with "53 criteria for assessing the state of press freedom in each country." The United States ranked 32nd, behind Hungary, Jamaica, Benin and East Timor. To make matters worse, American-occupied Iraq, only recently 'liberated' from the grip of a tyrant, ranked 135th. There is one consolation: US-occupied Iraq is ahead of Saudi Arabia, our closest ally in the Islamicate world. [13]

In many situations, it may be useful to look upon the rates of incarceration as an important indicator of un-freedom and racism in a country. For many years, USSR, 'the Evil Empire," led the world in this field with its Siberian gulags. More recently, the United States has taken the lead with the highest rate of incarceration per capita: 6.41 per thousand in 1999. Russia, the successor to USSR, remains in hot contest, with an incarceration rate of 6.37 per thousand. [14] If we add the prisoners the Bush-Ashcroft regime has taken recently under the Patriot Act inside the United States, those held in Guantanamo Bay, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those captured at our behest (under 'extraordinary rendition') by torture-friendly regimes, our leading position looks quite secure. The racial composition of those incarcerated tell their own story. Consider the percentage shares, in the table below, of African-Americans in the prison and total populations of four US states in 1996. This disproportion is common to many states. [15] 

Table One 
Share of African-Americans in State Prisons

State Prison Population %    State Population %
Nebraska  3   2
Connecticut  46 9
Wisconsin  49 6
Massachusetts  37 6

In his first inaugural address in 1993, President Clinton spoke of the United States as the "world's oldest democracy." [16] Is it? Presumably, this history starts the clock of democracy in 1787 when the Constitution was ratified. But many would consider this problematic, since this Constitution excluded as much as a sixth of the country's population--its slave population--from any of the rights of citizenship. Can we then start the clock of democracy in 1865 when slavery was abolished, or in 1868 when the Confederate states re-entered the Union with a commitment (in their state constitutions) to equal rights for all citizens? That too is dubious. 

For another hundred years, the United States was not a democracy for all its citizens. At first through terrorist methods, and, later, starting in the 1890s, through amendments in the state constitution, the Southern states pressed ahead in their effort to exclude blacks from the political process. This resulted in "the disfranchisement of nearly all black citizens and the removal from office of nearly all black legislators in the former Confederate states by 1910." [17] Arguably, we might start the clock in the 1960s, when the blacks launched the Civil Rights Movement to regain their political rights. However, this process is far from complete. Under felony disenfranchisement laws, still on the books since the days of segregation, some 4.7 million Americans are denied their voting rights. Under these laws black men are disenfranchised at seven times the rate for all Americans. [18] 

Considering the salience of sports and athletics in American culture, I would be remiss if I did not document America's ranking in this important field. Since few countries in the world have taken up America's favorite sports (surely a disappointment for a hegemonic power), we will have to examine America's standing at the Summer Olympic games. At first blush, the US appears to live up to its reputation at the Sydney Olympics of 2000, leading the world with a points total of 201, well ahead of Russia (180) and China (131). But is the points total an appropriate criterion? A fair comparison would look at points total per capita. On a per capita basis, the US position slips to 41st. [19]

We arrive finally at the compassion derby. In a recent speech, President Bush declared, "We are a compassionate country, and we are generous toward our fellow citizens." It is a favorite pitch with American politicians in both parties. But this just won't wash. In its Human Development Report, 2003, the UNDP measures a Human Poverty Index (HPI) for seventeen developed countries; it measures deprivations in four dimensions. On this index of human poverty, the US ranked dead last out of seventeen countries. [20] If we measure compassion "toward fellow citizens" in terms of income inequality--conventionally measured by the Gini index--we get the same result. The US has the largest value for the Gini index amongst developed countries. [21] By what available metric is the American political system "generous" to weaker segments of its own society?

In measuring US compassion towards other countries, I will take the more lenient view, not listing the invasions launched, regimes changed, the bombs dropped, coups instigated or sanctions imposed against the 'salt of the earth.' [22] Instead, I will compare the funds allocated to 'foreign aid,' the index by which Americans most often measure their generosity towards poor countries. The total funds allocated by the United States to 'foreign aid" amounted to 0.11 percent (note the position of the decimal) of its gross national income. That is easily the lowest ratio for the twenty-four members of Development Assistance Committee of the OECD. [23] On the ground, matters are much worse. Nearly one-third of this aid goes as grants (no obligation to pay back) to another developed country, Israel, to buy the most advanced weaponry in the US arsenal.

So the United States is not the greatest country in the world, better than all other countries in every possible way. Why have I labored to establish this rather obvious result? There is a deep, two-way connection between these claims of superiority, of uniqueness, and the efforts by the American establishment to obfuscate the inequities inside the United States and to justify the inequities it helps to create and sustain outside its borders. 

Every time America's 'leaders' speak of the "world's greatest country," behind the backs of their constituents, many, perhaps most of them are scheming to build more prisons and fewer schools, to hire more policemen and fewer teachers, to train more secret agents and fewer scientists, to fund more WMDs and fewer life-saving drugs; they are being wined and dined by Corporations who are monopolizing the media, denuding our rights, placing their profits before our lives, our children, our safety, and the natural beauty of the world we live in. In their myopic pursuit of power, these politicians would rather build the "world's greatest country" (if only they could) but populated with an impoverished, uneducated and unhealthy population, supine and undemanding of their rights.

Every time America's 'leaders' boast of the "world's oldest democracy," and of exporting democracy to the world, I can see peasants expropriated; workers shot, tortured and jailed; people's revolutions overthrown, crushed by American force, guile and lucre all across the Periphery; all to protect the unrestrained right of American Corporations to make money. Every time these mandarins proclaim that the United States is the "last great hope of earth," people all across the Periphery take cover, for they know that these words will be followed, as they have been in the past, by napalm bombs, by landmines, by cruise missiles, by daisy cutters, by shards of steel planted in their children's eyes. The people of the Periphery are all too familiar with the rhetoric of the "world's oldest democracy." They will not be deceived.

So the United States is not the greatest country in the world, better than all other countries in every possible way. What if this carefully guarded secret were to spill out? What if Dan Rather, America's favorite news anchor, were to open the CBS Evening News tonight with the announcement that some great think tank in Washington, preferably a conservative think tank, after years of carefully investigation, involving the best brains in the social sciences, had discovered that the United States "isn't after all the greatest country in the world, better than all other countries in every possible way?" Would this be another devastating blow to America's self-confidence, greater than that caused by the carnage of 9-11? Would Americans show up for work the next day or the day after? Why bother if you are not living in the "world's greatest country?" How would the President respond to this national catastrophe? What would he do to restore American confidence in their greatness? Invade Canada? Colonize Antartica? Or perhaps, ship the entire population of the Northeast to Mars?

Most Americans may well be relieved at this revelation. It was what they had suspected all along, but could never gather the pluck to tell the corporate lackeys--masquerading as leaders--who kept telling them otherwise. And now that this ruse had been exposed, perhaps, Americans will start asking the tough questions, start reclaiming their lost rights, and start rebuilding a democracy of all the people, for all the people and by all the people. Once this questioning starts, perhaps Americans will also start looking into all the ways in which their country--especially their government and corporations--impoverish their neighbors around the world, neighbors they, as Christians, should love, not reduce to poverty, dependency and misery. 

When the United States, an admirable country in many respects, collectively aspires to inclusiveness, both inside and outside its borders; when the United States places people--people everywhere--before the profits of its corporations; when the United States aspires to be the best country--under a scale of humane values--not merely the greatest; when the people of the United States want for the world what they want for themselves; then, and only then, will the world embrace Americans as their own, a good people, even a generous people, contributing more than their share to the human struggle to make our world a better place for everyone.

M. Shahid Alam is professor of economics at Northeastern University. His last book, Poverty from the Wealth of Nations, was published by Palgrave in 2000. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch's hot new book: The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He may be reached at [email protected]. Visit his webpage at

M. Shahid Alam


[1] Muhammad Asad, The principles of state and government in Islam (Gibraltar: Dar Al-Andalus, 1993).

[2] "CNN debate on terrorism: Chomsky v. Bennet,", May 30, 2002.

[3] Rahul Mahajan, "We think the price is worth it," Fair, November/December 2001.

[4] "Full text of Kerry's speech to UCLA," Sacbee, February 27, 2004: 

[5] Everett Carll Ladd and Karlyn H. Bowman, What's wrong: A survey of American satisfaction and complaint (Storrs, CT.: The AEI Press, 1998).

[6] Data in this and the previous paragraph are from World Bank, World development report, 2004 (Washington, D.C.: Oxford University Press, 2003).

[7] United Nations Development Programme, Human development report, 2001 (Washington, D.C.: Oxford University Press, 2000): 46, 48. The TAI is a composite of eight indicators, lumped into four categories: technology creation, diffusion of recent innovations, diffusion of old innovations, and human skills. 

[8] World Bank, World development indicators, 2002, CD-ROM: 

[9] The first indicator is tabulated by the UNESCO Institute of Statistics; the second and third indicators are provided by OECD. All three are reported in:

[10] Aniup Shah, "High military expenditure in some places," June 11, 2003.

[11] Ladd and Bowman (1998): 16.

[12] Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2000-2001 (New York: 2001), reported in:

[13] Reporters Without Borders, Second world press freedom ranking (October 20, 2003).

[14] UN, Office on Drugs and Crime, Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends and Operations of Criminal Justice Systems, covering the period 1998 - 2000 (UN, Office on Drugs and Crime, Centre for International Crime Prevention, December 2002). 

[15] Human Rights Watch, "United States: Punishment and prejudice," May 2000, 12, 2(G).

[16] Bill Clinton, Inaugural address, January 21, 1993: 

[17] United States Department of Justice, Introduction to Federal voting rights (February 11, 2001).

[18] The Sentencing Project, Felony disenfranchisement laws in the United States (Washington, DC: March 2004).


[20] United Nations Development Programme, Human development report, 2003 (Washington, D.C.: Oxford University Press, 2000): 248, 342.

[21] World Bank, World development report, 2003 (Washington, D.C.: Oxford University Press, 2002): 236-7.

[22] For the complete record on American 'compassion,' read William Blum, Killing Hope: US military and CIA interventions since World War II (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004).

[23] World Bank, World development report, 2003 (Washington, D.C.: Oxford University Press, 2002): 290.

  Category: Americas, World Affairs
  Topics: Abraham Lincoln, United States Of America
Views: 7042

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Older Comments:
Alam attempts to present a view of the United States familiar to all leftwing commentators. One that decries the positives in favour of the negatives. This is not unexpected given the performance of the present administration and its apparent antipathy to the plight of the muslim world. In recognising these comments, I also implore Alam to recognise also that the comments he makes are possible also because he lives in a vibrant democracy where his right to express these opinion are held sacrosanct by the constitution. Whilst we all universally deride misguided american initiatives overseas, the fact remains that for all of us leftwingers, the US is at the same time inescapably the beacon of hope (no matter how soiled it may become). Whilst its message is also misinterpreted by miguided zealots and arch-conservative fiends, the ability of this country to rise from its decay and question itself repeatedly is surely a sign of hope for us all. Substitute the "world's greatest democracy" with the any other country and you will soon realise that we are fortunate indeed that military adventurism practised by the USA is infinitely more preferable than any such adventurism by Russia, China, India, France, Germany, Japan or any other country. Give me the USA with all its warts and problems any day. At least with the USA we know that public opinion can change policy for the better - how many other countries that you know of, Mr Alam, can you say can also do the same???

Peace to you too brother Nick. Apologies for misunderstanding the word great for me personally I prefer great hearts rather than great civilizations, great countries and so on. It really worries me when I read about world statistics on aids, poverty and the abuse of human rights accross the world.

It is our human brothers and sisters out there suffering regardless of what nationality, race or religion they come from. At the end of the day they are human beings. Humanity for me is what sums up greatness. Until we can all accept our sufferings and choose to do something about it I guess no one can talk about how great his/her or her country is.

If we all leave our compartmentalization of our difference be it politics, religion and so on and look into our hearts for solution I am sure we will come up with solutions for a lot of our global problems.

Peace bro. and peace to your country and the rest of the world.


Peace Lulu-UK!

I have no problem with those who wish to change their country's foreign policies. In fact, our right to vote essentially presumes that there will be citizens who seek policy changes. That doesn't mean that we Americans can't love our country. And just because I say my country is the best, it doesn't mean I put down other countries. My love for America is not contingent on how I feel about the rest of the world.

Nonetheless, I do share your internationalist leanings to a certain extent. In the long run, I believe America is better off if we cooperate with the rest of world and vice versa. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I opposed the recent war in Iraq. But that's for another discussion...

Peace out!

Salaams. Every citizen believes that her/his country is great. America is a big country and will have their positive and negative policies. No nation is perfect. We are all humannkind and does not matter what part of the world we live in. The fact that the earth is spread across the globe should be a lesson for all us.

Small countries look upto to big countries for support. We all have good and supportive human beings in every country. America like other nations has a lot of good people who think from their hearts not from their brains. Also American citizens should have every right to believe that their country is the greatest country in the world. No one can take that right from them. It is their country. I am sure muslim citizens living in America should feel the same and feel the proudest muslims as they are part and parcel of America. Every nation should feel proud of their heritage and greatness. This is what civilization is about.

Once we finger point at each other and say my country is better than yours then we lose the big picture.

Each country should look at its international policies and try to change the policies that they are not happy with rather than putting each other down. I guess that is what is unique about the UK.

I hope Nick and the others should try to understand their common shared values as a global entity that is the humankind. Our time on this planet is timed so at the end we will all leave this world without beign tied to any country. We go back to mother earth and join the destiny that awaits everyone in the next world.

This world is a test for all of us and being connected to one another is more important than being connected to one specific country. If someone is hungry some where else in the world we should all feel the pain of their hunger. That is what humanity is for. We all have one heart and one soul but humanity is the centre that connects us all.


What gameplay!! The artist formerly known as Nick Cameron is telling us all that we need to cocentrate on our own affairs, yet he supports the war in Iraq!

Johannes no need to worry, the artist formerly known as, doesn't even know what he wants himself - a dangerous mentality of being for sticking to one's own affairs, and to somehow not stick to one's own affairs at the same time, exemplify the selective nature of many Americans who supposedly want the well being of Iraqi's...they themselves have no clue what is really going on there since they block out anything which contradicts what they want to hear. I like the examples used by some about how Canada and it's democratic system which is based on parliamentarian system, are basically adapted from Britain. Likewise, the American system is also heavily influenced on this system, except for the codification of certain principles which marks it's difference. "Democracy" itself in more recent times finds it's origins in places like Sweden, Denmark, Britain eventually did away with many of it's barbaric elements entangled in their democracy such as public hangings and decapitation, even though these were a part of the british parliamentarian system at that time.

Point being...there is no one version of democracy, there are all kinds of versions all over the world, therefore for someone to say that one nation is not a true democracy is a self defeating comment because there are no standard principles which are common among all democracies in the world. Comparing the concept of democracy in India with that of the US version verifies this. India is also based on the parliamentarian system of the British. So is the U.S. version of democracy actually a minority in the world?

Realize that...and once again hello Johannes!

Note to all:

This is an American website, specifically one based on Culver City, CA. (The webmasters can correct me if I'm wrong, of course.) Therefore, it is only natural that issues regarding America will be discussed.

Johanes says "no comment on nick", but then proceeds to comment on me. So naturally, I must take issue.

Johanes, I do not have "low standards". I just love my country. My love for America causes no one any harm, and it's certainly my right to love this country that has given me so much. I think America is the best thing since sliced bread, end of story.

Why do so many people seem to have a problem with this? They need to concentrate on their own affairs, in my opinion.

I think that this article is a "great" article. I think that articles such as this one should be required reading for anyone who asserts that their country is a "great" country.

Incidentally, I myself cringe whenever I hear my countrymen asserting that their country is a "great" country. My thinking is that if a country was endowed with a share of "greatness" then it would be entirely due to the Creator - who ought to be immediately given credit for any "greatness" by all who assert that the country in question was created to serve the Creator.

A country's "greatness" seems likely to be diminished whenever someone who benefits from such "greatness" asserts that the country in question should receive some sort of tribute, especially from the folk of other countries, for having been endowed with a share of "greatness." Also, my thinking is that if anyone besides the Creator deserves to be honored for a country's "greatness" then it would seem more likely to be those who sacrificed - that the country in question might attain a measure of "greatness" - rather than those who continue to profit by it.

salamu alaykum.
no comment on nick, kit et al .. moving on.
mr. alam, the purpose?

i'd guess it took you a month or so to put this essay together, to prove what exactly? the the united states isnt a utopia? that it isnt the greatest state to ever exist?. calmer, more rational people would assume it isnt, not even close. the united states is but the latest of empires that will crumble like the british one did post ww2. the sad part is, most americans like nick, kit etc actually believe its the greatest country on the planet! authubillah, talk about having low standards. apart from the constant propaganda on the tele, the lack of proper schooling and a wilingness to believe 'mine is better' is what creates an america. this country has a collective literacy rate of a third grade student, the absolute truth. cuba has the world's hightest, at grade 11. its no wonder most americans think this is the be all and end all - its quite easy to program an automaton.

isnt this supposed to be a forum for islamic issues anyway? ..

Salaamu alaikum professor Alam,

You hit it on the dot! I am proud of you man!
Let some ignorant and arrogant yankees know that Islaam is about telling the TRUTH to their face(this time, I am not talking about you Nick because you are below ignorant).

Btw: I have not visited your country although it's next door as I am from Toronto, Canada. So far, I prefer Canada better!!!

Allahu akbar,

America falsely tries to prove it is GLOBOCOP. It is not. It is a threat to world peace.

As an outsider, I am quite surprised to see how some Americans are so quick see things through their butter-smeared lens of patriotic zeal before giving ration and clear thought a chance to prevail. There is no doubt that American people in general are civilized. But then again, who wouldn't be if you had so much access to resources and education (thanks to some great leaders of the past). But, that's all beside the point. I'm certain that the author was not out to bash America, but rather use facts to remind those high on the drugged slogan "USA A okay" , that that there is something disturbing in America's current course of domestic and foreign action. The statistics clearly show the irony that civility is American's claim to fame, and yet to preserve it, American is going great lengths to use uncivilized means. Seeking for WMDs, by investing in and utilizing WMDs. Seeking justice for others by unjustly removing their rights. Democracy for all, but freedom for none?
The best country in the world?..Sure, I'd give my left arm any day as Kit points out. It only makes sense when you dwell in the belly of a lion.

In response to Kit Gorgan,
As an outsider, I am quite surprised to see how some Americans are so quick see things through their butter-smeared lens of patriotic zeal before giving ration and clear thought a chance to prevail. There is no doubt that American people in general are civilized. But then again, who wouldn't be if you had so much access to resources and education (thanks to some great leaders of the past). But, that's all beside the point. I'm certain that the author was not out to bash America, but rather use facts to remind those high on the drugged slogan "USA A okay" , that that there is something disturbing in America's current course of domestic and foreign action. The statistics clearly show the irony that civility is American's claim to fame, and yet to preserve it, American is going great lengths to use uncivilized means. Seeking for WMDs, by investing in and utilizing WMDs. Seeking justice for others by unjustly removing their rights. Democracy for all, but freedom for none?
The best country in the world?..Sure, I'd give my left arm any day as Kit points out. It only makes sense when you dwell in the belly of a lion.


ps: checkout this link :

Dear Kit Grogan, I find some of your comments annoying. As you stated that `Yes, people who live in other countries would give their left arm to live in the USA.` really?? is that true? I live in Japan and I would give my left arm NOT to live in the USA. Many many many people in Japan do not like Americans if you want to know.

Your other statement `Yes, people have re-vented
themselves in the USA.` What, for the worse i guess.

Perhaps you should read more news not from US media.Le Monde for instance(if you understand French).to see, to `open your eyes` to what `The Greatest Country` has done to the world.

Thank you.

Professor Alam never fails to disapoint. An excellent article. It certainly seems to got the trolls huffing and puffing. On a side note to Islamicity, please ban terrorists, american or otherwise from posting here as due to the racist and retarded nature of their posts.
Let them go to

Prof. Alam neglects to explain in his lengthy article why, in spite of all faults he can find, the United States tend to attract the best and brightest from around the Globe. Including himself, perhaps?

According to the Professor, these bright newcomers couldn't possibly be flocking to the US mainland in search of freedom and opportunity. Obviously, they became lost somewhere en route to Finland & Togo.

If the Professor prefers sectarian dominated rule by Mullahs and Clerics, he should take his textbooks and go join them. I'm sure they could benefit from his course on 'Developing Economics and the Global Economy', for free.

f.e.: I don't think that you thoroughly paid attention to the article and its message. It was not an attack on US. Mr. Shahid Alam made some research on the country's achievements and compared them to others. You cannot excede quite in everything? But in the end it's rather like NIck Cameron, put it, a matter of choice and preference. Now how come Islaam here? And yes Islaam is not only the best and greatest religion but also the ultimate one prescribed by God to mankind. Is this something to argue about? Not at all. Take it as an opinion. You attack the statement I made, you will cause Muslims believe even stronger in the statement. Not attacking it, you don't change anything. Are you getting me? It is like one trying to prove to somebody that the neighbour accross the street was better and more beautiful than that somebody's mother. Now how can you do that? You can't, period, otherwise you would have converted by now thousands of Muslims, did you? You didn't, that's what I thought, then please leave these kind of inane comparisons out of your comments, OK?
kit grogan: What is your anger all about? You are right about everything you said about US. Nobody denied that, Mr Shahid did not deny that! He just compared the US achievements, individually, to different countries of the world. What does that mean. That even if Finland exceded US in that particular area, she did not excede Us in those areas where the comparison went to another country. So after all, no country exceded US in all her achievements, did there? Of course not! Now your comment about the Arab world and Muslims in general has no place here. US was not compared with the Arab or Islamic world. And believe that that Arabs and Muslims love their countries dearly. Look at the resistence in Iraq. If what you said was true the Iraqis would beg the US to receive them as the 51st US state, don't you think? So, stop making a donkey out of yourself, after all this is an Islamic site, show a little respect.

Mr. Alam,

The analytical and empirical disection of the United States which you have painstakingly provided should be considered and pondered. Nevertheless, what is the alternative?? I know for one that when I was growing up in the Arab state I was born in, I could not even comment that the prices of bread were rising, much less talk about anything political. I felt I was growing up under the constant threat of being jailed and/or the threat of disappearance. It was hell for all those who dared speak. Up till this moment in my life and I am a married man and have kids, I tend to reminise upon the past and resent having been under those fatalistic circumstances. Most Arab leaders have offered no alternative. They live by oppression and killings. Where is Islam here? The true Islam exists here in the Great USA because we are free to practise the way we desire. We speak our free thoughts, inclinations, aspirations, and everything else we want to express. Perfection is ascribed to Allah only. The US is not perfect but still it is the best so far for hundreds of millions. Most Arab regimes like that of Syria and the neighboring states are hell on earth. I am very pleased to my core that the US, our endeared country, is liberating the Arab nations from the deadly grip of their governments. Now, it is time to do it, and it will be done; in shaa Lah. We cannot let them choke the very dreams which we all have: the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness under the guidance of Allah.

I do not wish for any one to live under most Arab regimes because they have no sense of patriotism, consideration, or compassion. All they care about is power and the annihilation of the opposing opinions of those who desire prosperity and justice for all.

Salamu Alaikum

I would think that a college professor would be smarter about writing or speaking about something if it is his intent for people to listen and learn. Does he spend 80% of a class berating and insulting his clas before he makes a good and valid point. At the end of his article he says, "When the United States, an admirable country in many respects, collectively aspires to inclusiveness, both inside and outside its borders..." etc. Now that point is really valid, unfortunately most people who love this country, warts and all, have tuned out long before this. If you really want to open people's eyes - and they really do need to be opened regarding many things, then do not spend the most time insulting them. The Prophet Muhammad, was known for his kindness and impartiality when deciding disputes, let that be a lesson to all of us. If you want to turn people to your point of view, you don't start out by whacking them hard over the head first.

BNAK said:
American People reading this article need to take the facts pusblished here by Prof Alam with a pinch of salt.

There is no disputing the fact that people here enjoy the freedom they get, including those immigrants who come here from different parts of the world, coming from different ethnic origin to lead a better life of a quality higher than they would in their own country. In the process, these people have also contributed a lot in the development of this nation.

If there is any country on planet Earth today that can be the greatest country, then it indeed is America. The facts put forth in this article unravel the potential of this country, and how that potential has been/is being wasted away by the people at helm. It also brings to light the dire effects on the world, of the course this country is headed to. The economic well-being of America has a direct impact on other nations of the world and their economies as well. But, that economic well being cannot be achieved by the means adopted by the current regime.

With it's kind of potential how much GOOD this country could have done to better not only the life of it's own people but also people of other parts of the world and could have made this world a much much better place to live. What a wasting away of such a vast potential by the handful of people who have ruled this country in the current and recent times. What a shame? What a loss?

From "Land of Opportunities" to "Land of MISSED opportunities".

Friend: Nationalism is a very normal human trait and is common to all nations of the earth - not unique to America. We love our country and that is not wrong. Fair minded people also see the problems in America. No nation - and certainly not Muslim nations - are without sin. Rampant hypocrisy exists in Washington as well as Riyadh, Tehran, Damscus, etc. Having said that, look at the quality of life in nations around the world. No one can dispute that America - with its pluralistic society and secular government - enjoys the greatest freedom and quality of life. Then look at the list of nations with Muslim-dominated theocratic governments: Iraq under Sadaam, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iran under the Ayatollahs, etc. These are examples of nations with horrific records of oppression, violence, and tyrannical rule. The results speak for themselves! I don't mean to be contentious - just expressing another opinion. I am a Christian pastor and have studied comparative religion for many years. I have read the Qur'an and have studied the life of the Prophet. I am intrigued by the history of Islam. But, unfortunately, I view Islam as a belief system centered around coercion where freedom is restricted and compliance demanded. Deviating from "the system" brings harsh results. True worship of God - not external rituals - must come from the heart and be motivated by love and thankfulness. Love and thankfulness cannot be coerced - it must come out of a human being's freedom to choose! I believe that many Muslims see America's freedom as a license to sin - and that is true in many cases. However, those of us with great freedom, yet who still choose to love God, express the greatest form of worship imaginable! Coerced worship is not worship at all! Thanks for the forum to speak my mind. I will continue to pray that God might bring peace between our great faiths and our civilizations.

Good job, Professor Alam. But, what have you
proven? That the USA is not perfect? Time
and again this is happening. Yes - but, Yes-
but, Yes -but. Yes, people who live in other
countries would give their left arm to live in the
USA. Yes, people have re-invented
themselves in the USA. People of every color,
every religion, every lifestyle live here under
the rule of law, not religious dictators. People
like Prof. Alam are always finding the "buts."
But, Finland the size of ONE of the United
States (Finland???) is technologically
superior. But, people in Uruguay have the
same amount of freedom. What are you
people trying to prove with the statistics??
That it's NOT a perfect country? Well, OK,
you're right. On September 12th, 2001 I was
in NYC at work and police were lined up
outside of a Mosque protecting it and the
people entering it. There were no riots, no
rocks being thrown, no outward threats.
Hmmm ....Professor, what does that say about
protecting freedom of all people here in the
US? So, with all your America-bashing it is
STILL the place that people aspire to be who
seek peace and freedom. Perfect justice? No.
Incompetent elected officials? Yes. Freedom
to say there are incompetent elected officials?
You bet. When countries in the Arab world can
boast of equality for all it's citizens (male and
female) education in science and technology
for ALL it's children (including girls) and a
government where officials are elected (not
where power is seized and citizens are cowed
and oppressed) then I truly believe citizens of
the United States and Europe will give those
countries and those citizens the respect they
deserve. Unless that happens, unfortunately,
the great Arab and Islamic people will
continue to be marginalized and treated as
second-class citizens by the rest of mankind.

I think this article misses the point. Statistics and polls can show on a quantifiable level that America isn't the best, so we can assume for the sake of argument that the author's polls are correct. But why does that matter? Most Americans don't believe that ours is the best country in the world because of complicated number crunching data published by "experts". We believe America is the best country in the world because we *love* this land. And when we say that America is the best, we affirm that we would rather live here than anywhere else.

So don't try to rationalize and quantify why we believe that we live in the best country in the world. We just do. If anyone from another country has a problem with that, then maybe he or she needs to work on loving his/her own country a bit more.

F.E. FROM U.S.A. said:
i don't recall hearing anyone say that america is the greatest country in EVERY way. funny though, i bet you would be more than willing to say islam is better than any other religion in every way. i also bet that would be easier to disprove than america's greatness.

BNAK said:
Assalam Alaikum Mr.Shahid Alam!
Once again a fantastic job. Excellent article that lifts the curtain off of many gound realities about the so claimed 'Greatest Country' in the world.

I would love to hear comments from those jingoistic and blinded American Patriots who still live in fool's paradise thinking their's is a greatest country in the world.

While clearing the myth of 'Greatest Country', this article also brings one fact to light and that is USA can INDEED become the Greatest Country in the world, if and ONLY if the American people wake up from their DEEP SLUMBER and take their country back from 'Thugs' and 'Assasins' who are ruining their own country and people. Wake up Americans, and teach these 'Thugs' and 'Assasins' a lesson to remember. Change the course of World History for better, for you can do it with the Help of Allah. Remember, the Help of Allah only comes to those who are sincere in their intentions. Only then can America become the Greatest country in the world and only then will indeed 'God Bless America'.

Peace out!

Nice and thorough write-up. Wish it would be emailed to all US representatives,including corporate.
The Media one place where the establishment excels in, once Media is empowered to cover more balance of America and rest of world -- it will help America reform.

Who coined the word good Samaritan? A Samaritan, according to the Bible and Qur'an, is a person who puts up idols to worship besides Allah. I will quote the following verse from
King II 17:29-33:
29-Nevertheless, each national group made its own gods in the several towns where they settled, and set them up in the shrines the people of Samaria had made at the high places.
30-The men from Babylon made Succoth Benoth, the men from Cuthah made Nergal, and the men from Hamath made Ashima;
31-the Avvites made Nibhaz and Tartak, and the Sepharvites burned their children in the fire as sacrifices to Adrammelech and Anammelech, the gods of Sepharvaim.
32-They worshiped the LORD , but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places.
33-They worshiped the LORD , but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.

So a Samaritan, or how it has been translated in American English as a National, a Patriot of sorts, is one who believes in the interest of his/her nation, and not of humanity. If this is taught to Christians through the sayings in the NIV version of the bible, surely they will not think like the Patriots/Samaritans they behave like-because the bible says that Samaritans worshipped idols along with God.

RSV (Revised Standard Version) 2 Kings 17:29 is even clearer about the what Samaritans did:

29-But every nation still made gods of its own, and put them in the shrines of the high places which the SAMARITANS had made, every nation in the cities which they dwelt.

Think and reflect...I know there are millions of wonderful Christian Americans. We can overcome this idiocy of attacks on countries unjustly, and attacks on civilians unjustly, if we join forces and put aside minor differences.

I will leave you with what the Qur'an says in the Alternative View section which describes a Samaritan: (co