the falseness of anti-americanism -yak

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    THE FALSENESS OF ANTI-AMERICANISM
    Fouad Ajami
    Foreign Policy, September-October 2003

    “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… The embassies targeted by the masters of terror and by the diehards are besieged by visa-seekers dreaming of the golden, seductive country…

    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 [delivered a Friday sermon on] the arrogance of the United States and the cruelty of the war it unleashed on Iraq… 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. [His] way with television…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…

    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… 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 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… Takis Michas, a courageous Greek writer with an eye for his country's temperament, traces this new anti-Americanism to the Orthodox Church itself… 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… The Greek flag was hoisted over the ruins of Srebenica's Orthodox church when the doomed city fell. Serbian war crimes elicited no sense of outrage in Greece… 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...

    Lest they be trumped by their hated Greek rivals, the Turks now give voice to the same anti-Americanism… 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 [even though 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 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… But these sentiments have long prevailed in Jordan, Egypt, and France… 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…

    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 [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. [Colombani] described the U.S. [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…

    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] 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."…

    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 [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… 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…

    To the Europeans, and to the French in particular, who are enamored of their laïcisme (secularism), the United States is unduly religious… 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…

    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 [ushered the country] into the 20th century… 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... For many, the United States was what they encountered when they were free from home and family and age-old prohibitions… 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…

    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] acceptance of that country--went to the heart of the anti-American phenomenon. [What] he says clearly goes beyond Egypt: “…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… 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] 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.”…

    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 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… 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 [and] 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… 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… 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… 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…

    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 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] 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. [Moïsi] 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 [and 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.

    (Fouad Ajami is the Majid Khadduri professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and a contributing editor at U.S. News & World Report.)
 
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