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From the December 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48, No. 12)

Eye on the United States

America Unloved


Alain Frachon, Le Monde (liberal), Paris, France, Nov. 24, 2001

From Bogotá to Beijing, it seems anti-Americanism is still alive and well. After the initial emotions sparked by the Sept. 11 attacks subsided, international public opinion has shifted Americans from the status of victims back to that of defendants.

At Oxford University, Chelsea Clinton is feeling blue. And it is not because of her studies. [Former U.S. President] Bill Clinton and [U.S. Senator] Hillary Rodham Clinton’s daughter is working on her master’s degree in international relations in the studious comfort of University College. A certain European ambiance reigns there: “Hardly a day goes by that I am not confronted by one form of anti-American sentiment or another,” writes Chelsea in the U.S. magazine Talk (December-January).

In Washington, at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, George W. Bush is also wondering. The president of the United States, who is 55, has never spent more than three weeks in a foreign country. But from where he sits in the White House, he is experiencing the same feelings as his predecessor’s daughter.

People are willing to demonstrate against America, but not against its movies.
At a press conference on Oct. 11, one month after the attacks in New York and Washington, he said about anti-Americanism, “Like most Americans, I cannot believe it, because I know how honorable our intentions are.”

Chelsea Clinton, the Democrat, and George W. Bush, the Republican, share the same astonishment: They are sincerely astounded and somewhat hurt. It is hard for them to comprehend that hardly had the grieving passed and no sooner had the military operations in Afghanistan begun when international opinion began to turn against them. Sympathy for the [Sept. 11] tragedy was followed, almost in the same breath, by denunciation of American foreign policy, particularly in the Arab and Muslim world.

The phenomenon of anti-Americanism should really be expressed in the plural, because different forms of anti-Americanism exist. As a method of interpretation, anti-Americanism is both a system of thought and a lens for reading events; its political manifestation links the attacks of Sept. 11 to the Cold War.

In Mexico’s La Jornada, the writer Eduardo Galeano articulates what we have read elsewhere in Latin America or in Asia these last few weeks. He observes that the United States claims to be against terrorism, but it also supports, hypocritically, the state terrorism that raged “in Indonesia, in Cambodia, in Iran, in South Africa,...and in the Latin American countries that lived through the dirty war of the Condor Plan.” [The Condor Plan was established in Santiago, Chile, in 1975 by South American military dictatorships whose governments combined efforts to hunt down real and perceived leftists who sought refuge in neighboring countries.—WPR]

There is also an economic strain. Economic anti-Americanism attributes part of the misery of the world to the market economics and free-trade policies promoted by the United States. Some of the foremost economists vigorously dispute this view. James Tobin and Amartya Sen, for example, consider the liberalization of commercial and financial exchanges over the last 20 years to be one of the crucial factors that ensured the economic take-off of part of Asia, lifting it out of poverty.

Cultural anti-Americanism, equally present on the right and on the left, stigmatizes the successes of a triumphant pop culture. Promoted by a half-dozen conquering media giants, American popular culture is said to be leveling everything to the lowest common denominator, while choking out all other cultures. This is an old story, tinted with the resentment or the jealousy of certain European elites.

Instead of pitying the United States, people across the globe reveled in schadenfreude—seeing that, for once, omnipotent America had been dealt a major blow at home. This sentiment is the anti-Americanism of those condemned by history.

The nonstop media machine has done a good job of covering current events since Sept. 11 and conveying various forms of anti-Americanism. The Beijing regime keeps open some Web sites that serve as vehicles for Chinese ultranationalism, which demonizes, screen after screen, “haughty” America. The former prime minister of Japan, Yasuhiro Nakasone, calls on the United States to “renounce an arrogance that makes them behave as though they are the masters of the universe” (Asahi Shimbun). And Hugo Chávez, the populist president of Venezuela, rejected the ultimatum issued by Washington: “Those who are not with us [in the battle against terrorism] are against us.”

In the Old World, America has found some of its strongest supporters in the East, from Bronislaw Geremek of Poland to Vaclav Havel in the Czech Republic; there, more than anywhere else in Europe, people remain committed to the idea of maintaining a strong trans-Atlantic link.

But anti-Americanism runs on a composite fuel, a mixture of hatred and fascination, repulsion and attraction. Ironically, in the Arab-Muslim world where anti-Americanism has been the most virulent these last few weeks, Hollywood is still filling up movie theaters. From Cairo to Jakarta, the top box-office hits were Titanic, The Mask of Zorro, Godzilla, Jurassic Park, Independence Day, The Mummy, and so on. Bombings in Afghanistan notwithstanding, it seems people are willing to demonstrate against America, but not against its movies. Perhaps Chelsea could see this as a reason to smile again.


 
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