Tuesday, September 09, 2003

The Falseness of Anti-Americanism

There's a nice essay by Fouad Ajami up on the Foreign Policy website. He does a good job of pointing out the schizoid manner in which so many of those who rail against American culture, goods and policies do so while using the very tools of modernity brought to them by American activities. Take, for instance, the following passage:

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.

So then, America is the devil's representative on earth, and yet the good Sheik finds it acceptable for three of his offspring to attend educational institutions of the Great Satan! The hypocrisy of people like this is simply breathtaking. One finds oneself wondering what, if anything, they believe at all, other than money and power can be had by keeping the masses perpetually whipped up into a frenzy of anger.

But wait, there's more! Here's what he has to say about Greek and Turkish anti-Americanism:

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 Srebenica'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.

So, too bad about the Greeks and the Turks, but what about old allies like the French? Surely their criticisms can be taken at face value:

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."

Oops! On second thought, perhaps not.

I don't wish to give the wrong impression: there really is a great deal to criticize about American foreign policy, but the thing to keep in mind is that the same can be said of the foreign policy of every other nation on this planet. America is uniquely prominent and powerful at this point in time, but it is not uniquely selfish or evil in its' pursuit of its' own interests. To single out America alone as worthy of criticism, even when one's own country is engaged in actions that ought to bring shame to the face of any decent person, is nothing more than a ridiculous prejudice; to seek to blame America for all the evils of the world, or even to accuse it of executing outrages against itself in order to further some sinister agenda, is a marker of rampaging paranoia.