The Falseness of Anti-Americanism
Pollsters report rising anti-Americanism worldwide. The United States, they imply, squandered global sympathy after the September 11 terrorist attacks through its arrogant unilateralism. In truth, there was never any sympathy to squander. Anti-Americanism was already entrenched in the world's psyche -- a backlash against a nation that comes bearing modernism to those who want it but who also fear and despise it.
"America is everywhere," Italian novelist Ignazio Silone once observed. It is in Karachi and Paris, in Jakarta and Brussels. An idea of it, a fantasy of it, hovers over distant lands. And everywhere there is also an obligatory anti-Americanism, a cover and an apology for the spell the United States casts over distant peoples and places. In the burning grounds of the Muslim world and on its periphery, U.S. embassies and their fate in recent years bear witness to a duality of the United States as Satan and redeemer. The embassies targeted by the masters of terror and by the diehards are besieged by visa-seekers dreaming of the golden, seductive country. If only the crowd in Tehran offering its tired rhythmic chant "marg bar amrika" ("death to America") really meant it! It is of visas and green cards and houses with lawns and of the glamorous world of Los Angeles, far away from the mullahs and their cultural tyranny, that the crowd really dreams. The frenzy with which radical Islamists battle against deportation orders from U.S. soil— dreading the prospect of returning to Amman and Beirut and Cairo -- reveals the lie of anti-Americanism that blows through Muslim lands.
"America is everywhere," Italian novelist Ignazio Silone once observed. It is in Karachi and Paris, in Jakarta and Brussels. An idea of it, a fantasy of it, hovers over distant lands. And everywhere there is also an obligatory anti-Americanism, a cover and an apology for the spell the United States casts over distant peoples and places. In the burning grounds of the Muslim world and on its periphery, U.S. embassies and their fate in recent years bear witness to a duality of the United States as Satan and redeemer. The embassies targeted by the masters of terror and by the diehards are besieged by visa-seekers dreaming of the golden, seductive country. If only the crowd in Tehran offering its tired rhythmic chant "marg bar amrika" ("death to America") really meant it! It is of visas and green cards and houses with lawns and of the glamorous world of Los Angeles, far away from the mullahs and their cultural tyranny, that the crowd really dreams. The frenzy with which radical Islamists battle against deportation orders from U.S. soil— dreading the prospect of returning to Amman and Beirut and Cairo — reveals the lie of anti-Americanism that blows through Muslim lands.
The world rails against the United States, yet embraces its protection, its gossip, and its hipness. Tune into a talk show on the stridently anti-American satellite channel Al-Jazeera, and you’ll behold a parody of American ways and techniques unfolding on the television screen. That reporter in the flak jacket, irreverent and cool against the Kabul or Baghdad background, borrows a form perfected in the country whose sins and follies that reporter has come to chronicle.
In Doha, Qatar, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, arguably Sunni Islam’s most influential cleric, at Omar ibn al-Khattab Mosque, a short distance away from the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command, delivers a khutba, a Friday sermon. The date is June 13, 2003. The cleric’s big theme of the day is the arrogance of the United States and the cruelty of the war it unleashed on Iraq. This cleric, Egyptian born, political to his fingertips, and in full mastery of his craft and of the sensibility of his followers, is particularly agitated in his sermon. Surgery and a period of recovery have kept him away from his pulpit for three months, during which time there has been a big war in the Arab world that toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq with stunning speed and effectiveness. The United States was "acting like a god on earth," al-Qaradawi told the faithful. In Iraq, the United States had appointed itself judge and jury. The invading power may have used the language of liberation and enlightenment, but this invasion of Iraq was a 21st-century version of what had befallen Baghdad in the middle years of the 13th century, in 1258 to be exact, when Baghdad, the city of learning and culture, was sacked by the Mongols.
The preacher had his themes, but a great deal of the United States had gone into the preacher’s art: Consider his Web site, Qaradawi.net, where the faithful can click and read his fatwas (religious edicts) — the Arabic interwoven with html text — about all matters of modern life, from living in non-Islamic lands to the permissibility of buying houses on mortgage to the follies of Arab rulers who have surrendered to U.S. power. Or what about his way with television? He is a star of the medium, and Al-Jazeera carried an immensely popular program of his. That art form owes a debt, no doubt, to the American "televangelists," as nothing in the sheik’s traditional education at Al Azhar University in Cairo prepared him for this wired, portable religion. And then there are the preacher’s children: One of his daughters had made her way to the University of Texas where she received a master’s degree in biology, a son had earned a Ph.D. from the University of Central Florida in Orlando, and yet another son had embarked on that quintessential American degree, an MBA at the American University in Cairo. Al-Qaradawi embodies anti-Americanism as the flip side of Americanization.
A NEW ORTHODOXY
Of late, pollsters have come bearing news and numbers of anti-Americanism the world over. The reports are one dimensional and filled with panic. This past June, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press published a survey of public opinion in 20 countries and the Palestinian territories that indicated a growing animus toward the United States. In the same month, the BBC came forth with a similar survey that included 10 countries and the United States. On the surface of it, anti-Americanism is a river overflowing its banks. In Indonesia, the United States is deemed more dangerous than al Qaeda. In Jordan, Russia, South Korea, and Brazil, the United States is thought to be more dangerous than Iran, the "rogue state" of the mullahs.
There is no need to go so far away from home only to count the cats in Zanzibar. These responses to the United States are neither surprising nor profound. The pollsters, and those who have been brandishing their findings, see in these results some verdict on the United States itself — and on the performance abroad of the Bush presidency — but the findings could be read as a crude, admittedly limited, measure of the foul temper in some unsettled places. The pollsters have flaunted spreadsheets to legitimize a popular legend: It is not Americans that people abroad hate, but the United States! Yet it was Americans who fell to terrorism on September 11, 2001, and it is of Americans and their deeds, and the kind of social and political order they maintain, that sordid tales are told in Karachi and Athens and Cairo and Paris. You can’t profess kindness toward Americans while attributing the darkest of motives to their homeland.
The Pew pollsters ignored Greece, where hatred of the United States is now a defining feature of political life. The United States offended Greece by rescuing Bosnians and Kosovars. Then, the same Greeks who hailed the Serbian conquest of Srebrenica in 1995 and the mass slaughter of the Muslims there were quick to summon up outrage over the U.S. military campaign in Iraq. In one Greek public opinion survey, Americans were ranked among Albanians, Gypsies, and Turks as the most despised peoples.
Takis Michas, a courageous Greek writer with an eye for his country’s temperament, traces this new anti-Americanism to the Orthodox Church itself. A narrative of virtuous and embattled solitude and alienation from Western Christendom has always been integral to the Greek psyche; a fusion of church and nation is natural to the Greek worldview. In the 1990s, the Yugoslav wars gave this sentiment a free run. The church sanctioned and fed the belief that the United States was Satan, bent on destroying the "True Faith," Michas explains, and shoring up Turkey and the Muslims in the Balkans. A neo-Orthodox ideology took hold, slicing through faith and simplifying history. Where the Balkan churches — be they the Bulgars or the Serbs — had been formed in rebellion against the hegemony of the Greek priesthood, the new history made a fetish of the fidelity of Greece to its Orthodox "brethren." Greek paramilitary units fought alongside Bosnian Serbs as part of the Drina Corps under the command of indicted war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic. The Greek flag was hoisted over the ruins of Srebrenica’s Orthodox church when the doomed city fell. Serbian war crimes elicited no sense of outrage in Greece; quite to the contrary, sympathy for Serbia and the identification with its war aims and methods were limitless.
Beyond the Yugoslav wars, the neo-Orthodox worldview sanctified the ethnonationalism of Greece, spinning a narrative of Hellenic persecution at the hands of the United States as the standard-bearer of the West. Greece is part of NATO and of the European Union (EU), but an old schism — that of Eastern Orthodoxy’s claim against the Latin world — has greater power and a deeper resonance. In the banal narrative of Greek anti-Americanism, this animosity emerges from U.S. support for the junta that reigned over the country from 1967 to 1974. This deeper fury enables the aggrieved to glide over the role the United States played in the defense and rehabilitation of Greece after World War II. Furthermore, it enables them to overlook the lifeline that migration offered to untold numbers of Greeks who are among the United States’ most prosperous communities.
Greece loves the idea of its "Westernness" — a place and a culture where the West ends, and some other alien world (Islam) begins. But the political culture of religious nationalism has isolated Greece from the wider currents of Western liberalism. What little modern veneer is used to dress up Greece’s anti-Americanism is a pretense. The malady here is, paradoxically, a Greek variant of what plays out in the world of Islam: a belligerent political culture sharpening faith as a political weapon, an abdication of political responsibility for one’s own world, and a search for foreign "devils."
Lest they be trumped by their hated Greek rivals, the Turks now give voice to the same anti-Americanism. It is a peculiar sentiment among the Turks, given their pragmatism. They are not prone to the cluster of grievances that empower anti-Americanism in France or among the intelligentsia of the developing world. In the 1920s, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk gave Turkey a dream of modernity and self-help by pointing his country westward, distancing it from the Arab-Muslim lands to its south and east. But the secular, modernist dream in Turkey has fractured, and oddly, anti-Americanism blows through the cracks from the Arab lands and from Brussels and Berlin.
The fury of the Turkish protests against the United States in the months prior to the war in Iraq exhibited a pathology all its own. It was, at times, nature imitating art: The protesters in the streets burned American flags in the apparent hope that Europeans (real Europeans, that is) would finally take Turkey and the Turks into the fold. The U.S. presence had been benign in Turkish lands, and Americans had been Turkey’s staunchest advocates for coveted membership in the EU. But suddenly this relationship that served Turkey so well was no longer good enough. As the "soft" Islamists (there is no such thing, we ought to understand by now) revolted against Pax Americana, the secularists averted their gaze and let stand this new anti-Americanism. The pollsters calling on the Turks found a people in distress, their economy on the ropes, and their polity in an unfamiliar world beyond the simple certainties of Kemalism, yet without new political tools and compass. No dosage of anti-Americanism, the Turks will soon realize, will take Turkey past the gatekeepers of Europe.
WE WERE ALL AMERICANS
The introduction of the Pew report sets the tone for the entire study. The war in Iraq, it argues,"has widened the rift between Americans and Western Europeans" and "further inflamed the Muslim world." The implications are clear: The United States was better off before Bush’s "unilateralism." The United States, in its hubris, summoned up this anti-Americanism. Those are the political usages of this new survey.
But these sentiments have long prevailed in Jordan, Egypt, and France. During the 1990s, no one said good things about the United States in Egypt. It was then that the Islamist children of Egypt took to the road, to Hamburg and Kandahar, to hatch a horrific conspiracy against the United States. And it was in the 1990s, during the fabled stock market run, when the prophets of globalization preached the triumph of the U.S. economic model over the protected versions of the market in places such as France, when anti-Americanism became the uncontested ideology of French public life. Americans were barbarous, a threat to French cuisine and their beloved language. U.S. pension funds were acquiring their assets and Wall Street speculators were raiding their savings. The United States incarcerated far too many people and executed too many criminals. All these views thrived during a decade when Americans are now told they were loved and uncontested on foreign shores.
Much has been made of the sympathy that the French expressed for the United States immediately after the September 11 attacks, as embodied by the famous editorial of Le Monde‘s publisher Jean-Marie Colombani, "Nous Sommes Tous Américains" ("We are all Americans"). And much has been made of the speed with which the United States presumably squandered that sympathy in the months that followed. But even Colombani’s column, written on so searing a day, was not the unalloyed message of sympathy suggested by the title. Even on that very day, Colombani wrote of the United States reaping the whirlwind of its "cynicism"; he recycled the hackneyed charge that Osama bin Laden had been created and nurtured by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Colombani quickly retracted what little sympathy he had expressed when, in December of 2001, he was back with an open letter to "our American friends" and soon thereafter with a short book, Tous Américains? le monde après le 11 septembre 2001 (All Americans? The World After September 11, 2001). By now the sympathy had drained, and the tone was one of belligerent judgment and disapproval. There was nothing to admire in Colombani’s United States, which had run roughshod in the world and had been indifferent to the rule of law. Colombani described the U.S. republic as a fundamentalist Christian enterprise, its magistrates too deeply attached to the death penalty, its police cruel to its black population. A republic of this sort could not in good conscience undertake a campaign against Islamism. One can’t, Colombani writes, battle the Taliban while trying to introduce prayers in one’s own schools; one can’t strive to reform Saudi Arabia while refusing to teach Darwinism in the schools of the Bible Belt; and one can’t denounce the demands of the sharia (Islamic law) while refusing to outlaw the death penalty. Doubtless, he adds, the United States can’t do battle with the Taliban before doing battle against the bigotry that ravages the depths of the United States itself. The United States had not squandered Colombani’s sympathy; he never had that sympathy in the first place.
Colombani was hardly alone in the French intellectual class in his enmity toward the United States. On November 3, 2001, in Le Monde, the writer and pundit Jean Baudrillard permitted himself a thought of stunning cynicism. He saw the perpetrators of September 11 acting out his own dreams and the dreams of others like him. He gave those attacks a sort of universal warrant: "How we have dreamt of this event," he wrote, "how all the world without exception dreamt of this event, for no one can avoid dreaming of the destruction of a power that has become hegemonic…. It is they who acted, but we who wanted the deed." Casting caution and false sympathy aside, Baudrillard saw the terrible attacks on the United States as an "object of desire." The terrorists had been able to draw on a "deep complicity," knowing perfectly well that they were acting out the hidden yearnings of others oppressed by the United States’ order and power. To him, morality of the U.S. variety is a sham, and the terrorism directed against it is a legitimate response to the inequities of "globalization."
In his country’s intellectual landscape, Baudrillard was no loner. A struggle had raged throughout the 1990s, pitting U.S.-led globalization (with its low government expenditures, a "cheap" and merciless Wall Street-Treasury Department axis keen on greater discipline in the market, and relatively long working hours on the part of labor) against France’s protectionist political economy. The primacy the United States assigned to liberty waged a pitched battle against the French commitment to equity.
To maintain France’s sympathy, and that of Le Monde, the United States would have had to turn the other cheek to the murderers of al Qaeda, spare the Taliban, and engage the Muslim world in some high civilizational dialogue. But who needs high approval ratings in Marseille? Envy of U.S. power, and of the United States’ universalism, is the ruling passion of French intellectual life. It is not "mostly Bush" that turned France against the United States. The former Socialist foreign minister, Hubert Védrine, was given to the same anti-Americanism that moves his successor, the bombastic and vain Dominique de Villepin. It was Védrine, it should be recalled, who in the late 1990s had dubbed the United States a "hyperpower." He had done so before the war on terrorism, before the war on Iraq. He had done it against the background of an international order more concerned with economics and markets than with military power. In contrast to his successor, Védrine at least had the honesty to acknowledge that there was nothing unusual about the way the United States wielded its power abroad, or about France’s response to that primacy. France, too, he observed, might have been equally overbearing if it possessed the United States’ weight and assets.
His successor gave France’s resentment highly moral claims. Villepin appeared evasive, at one point, on whether he wished to see a U.S. or an Iraqi victory in the standoff between Saddam Hussein’s regime and the United States. Anti-Americanism indulges France’s fantasy of past greatness and splendor and gives France’s unwanted Muslim children a claim on the political life of a country that knows not what to do with them.
THE BURDEN OF MODERNITY
To come bearing modernism to those who want it but who rail against it at the same time, to represent and embody so much of what the world yearns for and fears — that is the American burden. The United States lends itself to contradictory interpretations. To the Europeans, and to the French in particular, who are enamored of their laïcisme (secularism), the United States is unduly religious, almost embarrassingly so, its culture suffused with sacred symbolism. In the Islamic world, the burden is precisely the opposite: There, the United States scandalizes the devout, its message represents nothing short of an affront to the pious and a temptation to the gullible and the impressionable young. According to the June BBC survey, 78 percent of French polled identified the United States as a "religious" country, while only 10 percent of Jordanians endowed it with that label. Religious to the secularists, faithless to the devout — such is the way the United States is seen in foreign lands.
So many populations have the United States under their skin. Their rage is oddly derived from that very same attraction. Consider the Saudi realm, a place where anti-Americanism is fierce. The United States helped invent the modern Saudi world. The Arabian American Oil Company — for all practical purposes a state within a state — pulled the desert enclave out of its insularity, gave it skills, and ushered it into the 20th century. Deep inside the anti-Americanism of today’s Saudi Arabia, an observer can easily discern the dependence of the Saudi elite on their U.S. connection. It is in the image of the United States’ suburbs and urban sprawl that Saudi cities are designed. It is on the campuses of Harvard, Princeton, and Stanford that the ruling elite are formed and educated.
After September 11, 2001, the Saudi elite panicked that their ties to the United States might be shattered and that their world would be consigned to what they have at home. Fragments of the United States have been eagerly embraced by an influential segment of Saudi society. For many, the United States was what they encountered when they were free from home and family and age-old prohibitions. Today, an outing in Riyadh is less a journey to the desert than to the mall and to Starbucks.
An academic in Riyadh, in the midst of an anti-American tirade about all policies American, was keen to let me know that his young son, born in the United States, had suddenly declared he no longer wanted to patronize McDonald’s because of the United States’ support of Israel. The message was plaintive and unpersuasive; the resolve behind that "boycott" was sure to crack. A culture that casts so long a shadow is fated to be emulated and resented at the same time. The United States is destined to be in the politics — and imagination — of strangers even when the country (accurately) believes it is not implicated in the affairs of other lands.
In a hauntingly astute set of remarks made to the New Yorker in the days that followed the terrorism of September 11, the Egyptian playwright Ali Salem — a free spirit at odds with the intellectual class in his country and a maverick who journeyed to Israel and wrote of his time there and of his acceptance of that country — went to the heart of the anti-American phenomenon. He was thinking of his own country’s reaction to the United States, no doubt, but what he says clearly goes beyond Egypt:
People say that Americans are arrogant, but it’s not true. Americans enjoy life and they are proud of their lives, and they are boastful of their wonderful inventions that have made life so much easier and more convenient. It’s very difficult to understand the machinery of hatred, because you wind up resorting to logic, but trying to understand this with logic is like measuring distance in kilograms….These are people who are envious. To them, life is an unbearable burden. Modernism is the only way out. But modernism is frightening. It means we have to compete. It means we can’t explain everything away with conspiracy theories. Bernard Shaw said it best, you know. In the preface to ‘St. Joan,’ he said Joan of Arc was burned not for any reason except that she was talented. Talent gives rise to jealousy in the hearts of the untalented.
This kind of envy cannot be attenuated. Jordanians, for instance, cannot be talked out of their anti-Americanism. In the BBC survey, 71 percent of Jordanians thought the United States was more dangerous to the world than al Qaeda. But Jordan has been the rare political and economic recipient of a U.S. free trade agreement, a privilege the United States shares only with a handful of nations. A new monarch, King Abdullah II, came to power, and the free trade agreement was an investment that Pax Americana made in his reign and in the moderation of his regime. But this bargain with the Hashemite dynasty has not swayed the intellectual class, nor has it made headway among the Jordanian masses. On Iraq and on matters Palestinian, for more than a generation now, Jordanians have not had a kind thing to say about the United States. In the scheme of Jordan’s neighborhood, the realm is benign and forgiving, but the political life is restrictive and tight. When talking about the United States, Jordanians have often been talking to their rulers, expressing their dissatisfaction with the quality of the country’s public life and economic performance. A pollster venturing to Jordan must understand the country’s temper, hemmed in by poverty and overshadowed by more resourceful powers all around it: Iraq to the east, Israel to the west, and Syria and Saudi Arabia over the horizon. A sense of disinheritance has always hung over Jordan. The trinity of God, country, and king puts much of the political life of the land beyond scrutiny and discussion. The anti-Americanism emanates from, and merges with, this political condition.
With modernism come the Jews. They have been its bearers and beneficiaries, and they have paid dearly for it. They have been taxed with cosmopolitanism: The historian Isaac Deutscher had it right when he said that other people have roots, but the Jews have legs. Today the Jews have a singular role in U.S. public life and culture, and anti-Americanism is tethered to anti-Semitism. In the Islamic world, and in some European circles as well, U.S. power is seen as the handmaiden of Jewish influence. Witness, for instance, the London-based Arab media’s obsession with the presumed ascendancy of the neoconservatives — such as former chairman of the Defense Policy Board Richard Perle and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz — in the making of U.S. foreign policy. The neocons had been there for the rescue of the (Muslim) Bosnians and Kosovars, but the reactionaries in Muslim lands had not taken notice of that. Left to itself, the United States would be fair-minded, this Arab commentary maintains, and it would arrive at a balanced approach to the Arab-Islamic world. This narrative is nothing less than a modernized version of the worldview of that infamous forgery, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. But it is put forth by men and women who insist on their oneness with the modern world.
A century ago, in a short-story called "Youth," the great British author Joseph Conrad captured in his incomparable way the disturbance that is heard when a modern world pushes against older cultures and disturbs their peace. In the telling, Marlowe, Conrad’s literary double and voice, speaks of the frenzy of coming upon and disturbing the East. "And then, before I could open my lips, the East spoke to me, but it was in a Western voice. A torrent of words was poured into the enigmatical, the fateful silence; outlandish, angry words mixed with words and even whole sentences of good English, less strange but even more surprising. The voice swore and cursed violently; it riddled the solemn peace of the bay by a volley of abuse. It began by calling me Pig . . . ."
Today, the United States carries the disturbance of the modern to older places — to the east and to the intermediate zones in Europe. There is energy in the United States, and there is force. And there is resistance and resentment — and emulation — in older places affixed on the delicate balancing act of a younger United States not yet content to make its peace with traditional pains and limitations and tyrannies. That sensitive French interpreter of his country, Dominique Moïsi, recently told of a simple countryman of his who was wistful when Saddam Hussein’s statue fell on April 9 in Baghdad’s Firdos Square. France opposed this war, but this Frenchman expressed a sense of diminishment that his country had sat out this stirring story of political liberation. A society like France with a revolutionary history should have had a hand in toppling the tyranny in Baghdad, but it didn’t. Instead, a cable attached to a U.S. tank had pulled down the statue, to the delirium of the crowd. The new history being made was a distinctly American (and British) creation. It was soldiers from Burlington, Vermont, and Linden, New Jersey, and Bon Aqua, Tennessee — I single out those towns because they are the hometowns of three soldiers who were killed in the Iraq war — who raced through the desert making this new history and paying for it.
The United States need not worry about hearts and minds in foreign lands. If Germans wish to use anti-Americanism to absolve themselves and their parents of the great crimes of World War II, they will do it regardless of what the United States says and does. If Muslims truly believe that their long winter of decline is the fault of the United States, no campaign of public diplomacy shall deliver them from that incoherence. In the age of Pax Americana, it is written, fated, or maktoob (as the Arabs would say) that the plotters and preachers shall rail against the United States — in whole sentences of good American slang.
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