Monday, January 31, 2005

Anti-Americanism's Hollow Motives

Writing more than a year ago in Foreign Policy, Fouad Ajami, Majid Khadduri professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, makes some fascinating observations regarding the cyclical tides of international anti-Americanism.
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.
In Greece and other Orthodox Christian countries, Mr. Ajami notes, anti-Americanism has a surprising source:
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.
Of course, few countries have functioned as consistently as a fountainhead of anti-American thinking as France. Though the French initially appeared to respond to the September 11th atrocities with sympathy, Mr. Ajami points out that their goodwill disipated within weeks of the attack. For example, Jean-Marie Colombani, publisher of Le Monde, who wrote the famous "Nous Sommes Tous Américains" ("We are all Americans") editorial in the wake of the attacks on New York and Washington managed to pepper that note of sympathy with charges that the US had created bin Laden and criticisms of America's cynical foreign policy. Within a couple of months, Mr. Colombani's sympathy had given way to the usual French complaints.
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.
But Colombani is a moderate compared to many other French intellectuals.
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."
Mr. Ajami quotes Egyptian gadfly and playwright Ali Salem, who wrote of the Egyptian and broader Arab reaction to the US in the New Yorker:
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.


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