Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Ever present anti-Americanism

Following the fifth anniversary of 9/11, there have been many articles claiming President Bush managed to drain the reservoir of sympathy and good-will the terror attacks built up for America. And caused rampant anti-Americanism.

Not true.

Anti-Americanism was born on 5 July, 1776, and existed under other names before that. Whatever the reason behind it: fear, envy, or unfamiliarity, the fact of anti-Americanism has long been noted.

The invasions of Afganistan and Iraq neither created, diminished, nor ended the dislike of the US. The support in the immediate aftermath was transient and vaporous, consisting largely of platitudes. In short, there was little good will to lose.

Via American Future is this recent Anne Applebaum opinion piece in The Telegraph:
[…] Nevertheless, I think it's worth looking back at what people really felt on September 11, 2001, because not everyone felt the same, then or later. Certainly it's true that, five years ago, Tony Blair spoke of standing "shoulder to shoulder" with America, that Iain Duncan Smith (remember him?) echoed him, and that Jacques Chirac was on his way to Washington to say the same.

But it's also true that this initial wave of goodwill hardly outlasted the news cycle. Within a couple of days a Guardian columnist wrote of the "unabashed national egotism and arrogance that drives anti-Americanism among swaths of the world's population". A Daily Mail columnist denounced the "self-sought imperial role" of the United States, which he said had "made it enemies of every sort across the globe". […]

The dislike of America, the hatred for what it was believed to stand for – capitalism, globalisation, militarism, Zionism, Hollywood or McDonald's, depending on your point of view – was well entrenched. To put it differently, the scorn now widely felt in Britain and across Europe for America's "war on terrorism" actually preceded the "war on terrorism" itself. It was already there on September 12 and 13, right out in the open for everyone to see. […]
More insight on anti-Americanism from the Fall 2003 issue of Foreign Policy:

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. […]

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. […]

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. [….]
To go further back in history, I’ll excerpt from an excellent article found through the Atlantic-Review website (internal citations and footnotes removed):
[It] is […] quite clear that there never was a “golden age” in which European elites genuinely liked America. To be more precise still, there never existed an era in which European intellectuals and literati – European elites – viewed the United States without a huge residue of ressentiment,[defined as: including dimensions of envy, jealousy and above all lingering hate arising from a certain degree of impotence--P] […]

[T]his goes back all the way to 1492 and the so-called “discovery” of the so called “New World” – what was to become America and the Americas – by Christopher Columbus. As Ira Strauss argues in a perceptive paper, a simpler, pre-ideological fear of and ressentiment towards America emerged among Europe’s elites – both the aristocracy and the clergy – who understood all too well that the changes in the world that Columbus’s journeys wrought could potentially undermine their established positions and ordered views. Well before America had any power, and well before it was an independent country, tropes emerged in its perception that were to become mainstays of European anti-Americanism to this day: venality, vulgarity, mediocrity, inauthenticity but also a clear sense of danger in its undefinable but clearly evident attraction. […] [E]ven when the United States had virtually no power, certainly when compared to the big European players such as Britain and France, Europeans bore hostility towards this new entity. From the very beginning until today, European elites have continued to view America as this threatening parvenu. By the eighteenth century, Europeans begin to depict America as “degenerate,” which is particularly odd since the country had barely been born.

[…] European antipathy towards America can easily be traced to July 5, 1776, the beginning of the republic. […] No lesser observer of the United States than the French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville completely understood – and in part reflected – this European ressentiment towards America which already by the early nineteenth century bespoke a clear fear of a loss of control on the part of the Europeans, which rested partly in America’s potential as a powerful country but also in its undeniable – almost irresistible – attraction, especially to Europe’s masses, surely not the aristocracy’s friends. […] From the get go, there was something eerily attractive about the place well beyond the new life that it offered to millions of Europe’s masses. It was similar, yet different; weak, yet powerful; repellent, yet attractive. In notable contrast to any other country, from the very beginning the enemy for European elites was not “America the Conqueror – not the ‘Imperial Republic’ – but America the Beguiling.” [….]
The author supplies countless examples of the historic roots of anti-Americanism, focusing particularly on Germany. Well worth the read. Also worth visiting are the websites Atlantic Review and David’s Medienkritik; the latter specializes in German examples of anti-American bias.