Even America's Worst Enemies Are Striving To Attain The American Way
Being disliked is an America thing.
A number of advisory groups are now working to improve the image of the United States abroad, in particular to "get the word out" to the Arab world that America is not really the Great Satan of censored Middle Eastern media. These are important tasks and all Americans should hope that our best and brightest can be enlisted in the effort in "global communications" to provide balanced reporting about the United States. Yet I do not think in the end even the most comprehensive and best-intended media campaign will have much effect in making such peoples fond of us — at least publicly.
The problem is not that we are imperialistic, ruthless, murderous, and oppressive toward allies and neutrals, but, in fact, mostly the opposite. We welcome rather than suppress criticism. Despite our enormous military advantages we do listen to and, as disinterested brokers, try to mediate a variety of complaints — Indians versus Pakistanis, Greeks against Turks, Spanish and Moroccans. Foreign critics realize that their grumbles are heard and so often publish in American journals and newspapers.
Our recent interventions abroad are rarely to gain territory or lucre, but rather, as we saw from Panama to the Gulf, to put down dictators who are robbing and killing their own people and threatening neighbors to the extent that the entire stability of a region is threatened. It is hard to see how the much criticized operations in Grenada, Haiti, Somalia, or Kosovo gained the United States much profit or valuable territory.
Coupled with these high-profile and often caricatured efforts to mediate, adjudicate, and intervene are the unique position of the American economy and the ubiquitous culture of the United States. Both are as preponderant on the world scene as are our military forces. You see today small children high-fiving each other in rural Greek villages and University of Texas sweatshirts in the Amazon basin. Crass TV reruns of Gilligan's Island and Love Boat, bad 1970s movies, near-pornographic fashion magazines, and the Internet — all of that and more smother indigenous culture worldwide. And this domination is not accomplished by some sinister corporate conspiracy. But much worse, it is a natural result of the very egalitarian and democratic logic of American popular culture — an insidious addiction that is designed to appeal to the widest popular audience without prerequisite education, training, or knowledge.
Our own elites whine that we have dumbed everything down to the lowest common denominator Maybe, but the world's billions have responded by voting with their feet, pocketbook, and remote control for almost everything American. It is precisely this media and consumer tidal wave, when coupled with the omnipotence of the American military, that has an ambivalent effect on most in the world — one that plays out on the personal level absurdly as a mixture of desire for all things American and yet shame for that very craving.
Martina Navratilova slurs her adopted America by suggesting it is not unlike former Communist Eastern Europe. Yet she apparently has no desire to return to even her freed country over a decade after it was liberated — largely through a half-century of dogged American opposition to murderous Communism.
Thousands of Palestinians are desperately trying to immigrate to the United States, and finding it difficult since their usual route of transit — the hated Tel Aviv airport — is now closed to them. Such would-be refugees may voice overwhelming support for Saddam Hussein, celebrate the news of September 11, and in polls attest their dislike of America. Yet, given the chance, thousands would gladly move to the country they profess to despise. And why not? Where else would they have freedom to say what they please, pursue their dreams of economic security — and protest that their newly adopted country is both amoral and shortsighted in its Middle Eastern policy.
The current Journal of Palestine Studies has a splashy ad for a new sympathetic history of Hamas — an official terrorist organization according to our own State Department. Before we get too worked up over this and its other nonsense, we should remember that the entire journal is published only through the auspices of the state-subsidized University of California Press. Critics may praise our enemies and rail against our government — but they still don't turn down help from our state-funded universities. Again Palestinians profess Arab solidarity and voice anti-Americanism; yet they are not emigrating to Kuwait which once ethnically cleansed 300,000 of them after the Gulf War, but instead seeking to open businesses in the Bronx.
I recently perused the catalogue of a University of California, Santa Barbara campus and discovered 62 classes in Chicano Studies with titles like "Methodology of the Oppressed"; "Racism in American History"; "Popular Barrio Culture"; "Chicano Spanish"; "Chicana Feminisms"; "Body, Culture, and Power" and so on. Thematic in these classes is that America is a rather hateful place that has made life horrific for Hispanic emigrants. But I also live in a state where millions of undocumented aliens from Mexico reside, and millions more want in — despite the purported sins so amply documented by tenured professors. A few of our elites say America is a rather bad place; millions of poor abroad disagree and apparently instead think Mexico is.
A Greek member of parliament from the socialist and often strident-anti-American PASOK party recently retired. The news accounts noted that she was a former Harvard professor. Such a contradiction between the life one actually lives and professes is not an anomaly when we realize that the first family of Greek anti-Americanism, the Papandreous, have a long and close relationship with the United States — one manifested over generations by them working, living, teaching, and going to school in America.
But then apparently Mr. Musharraf's own son also likes us. Until September 11, Mr. Musharraf had pretty much let Pakistan be overrun be murderous fundamentalists who professed undying hatred for America. One wonders if that included the city of Boston, where the younger Musharraf is employed. Even Saddam Hussein's stepson was found in the United States, and unofficial reports circulated that a few offspring of both the Taliban and the mullahs in Iran were living in America. We, of course, also remember that dozens of close family members of our archenemy Osama bin Laden lived in the northeast. Their renegade brother pledged to kill every American on sight; did his threats apply only to passport holders or random resident strollers in Boston like his own kin?
Anti-Americanism is as deeply psychologically as it is politically motivated. Many observers of the phenomenon have commented that such hostility, especially in Europe, arises out of envy and jealousy. Of course it does, but the animus is still deeper and all the more virulent because it is a war of the heart versus the head.
Professed hatred toward America for millions too often cloaks an inner desire for the very culture of freedom, material security, and comfort of the United States — like Saudis smirking over bin Laden as they push their carts in faux-American supermarkets among Pepsis and Sugar Smacks. In that regard, it all reminds me of tenured academics, who send their kids to private schools, vacation in Europe, and live in tasteful tree-lined suburbs — and then in the lounge damn the very institutions that have provided their universities with such bountiful capital to make their lives so comfortable. They are perennially unhappy because what they castigate has given them everything they treasure, and they are either too weak — or too human — to confess it.
What can we do to rectify this illogical dislike of the United States? If the history of the Athenian, Roman, and British empires — all of them far more aggressive, imperialistic, and uncompromising than us — offer guidance, not that much. If we can believe Thucydides, Tacitus, and Churchill, earlier powers accepted human nature for what it was — mercurial, emotional, contradictory, self-centered, and deeply paradoxical — then shrugged, and went on with their business.
Rather than creating new programs to teach others about America, I would prefer that our government instruct Americans about the exceptional history of America, reinaugurate civic education in the schools, explain that racism, sexism, and prejudice are endemic in the human species — but under the American system of government can be identified, discussed, and then ameliorated. If we could instill in our citizens a tragic rather than therapeutic sense of the world, they would understand that utopia is not possible on this earth, but that the Constitution and institutions of the United States are man's best hope for eradicating the evil and ignorance that plague us all. If we could do all that, then Americans might project a sense of self-confidence in their history and values that would admonish others that we are proud of rather than ashamed of being different — and that we care far more about the principles for which we fight than the applause of the day from the fickle, insecure, and mixed-up.
So yes, we must remind the Arabs that we saved Muslims from Afghanistan and Kosovo to Somalia and Kuwait. Yes, we must reiterate that we are at odds with dictatorial Mr. Arafat and Mr. Hussein, not with the Palestinian and Iraqi peoples, that we want democracies for them, not their land or money. And yes, we should explain to the world why U.N. resolutions do not represent collective wisdom, but often the reinforced biases and private agendas of dozens of autocratic, theocratic, and tribal regimes who vote only in New York, never at home. And if we are more imaginative still we can point out that the American fleet keeps the peace cheaply for others in the Pacific and Mediterranean, that American companies and universities provide the world with life-saving medicine, medical treatments, and critical technology. And so on.
But ultimately we must expect that the anger of many millions will remain, because the pathology lies unresolved and deep within them, not us.
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