The last acceptable prejudice

Janet Albrechsten:

BY all means unfurl the banners, dust off the placards and prop up the distorted effigies of George W. Bush. Start practising those chants of "Down with America" and "America, the Great Satan" and stop bathing and brushing your hair (a less commented on pre-requisite for some protesters) for another anti-American protest. With US Vice-President Dick Cheney in Australia next week, it's not an opportunity to be missed for those who hate the US.
But before the crowd tail-gates Cheney as he meets Australian political leaders, maybe it's time to check what it is that drives animosity towards the US. It is not anti-American to disagree about US policies in Iraq or on Kyoto or in Guantanamo Bay; reasonable people can differ over how the Bush administration handles critical issues. And if protesting in the streets is your thing, go ahead. Ain't democracy grand?

But the problem with what Martin Amis calls the rodeo of anti-Americanism drawing crowds across the globe is that the antagonism is fuelled not just by what America does but also, in no small part, by what America is. It's here that rationality vanishes among even the most intelligent Westerners. British author Margaret Drabble summed it up thus: "My anti-Americanism has become almost uncontrollable. It has possessed me like a disease. It rises in my throat like acid reflux."

Actually, it's more akin to reflex than reflux. And a new book on anti-Americanism in Europe offers an insight into the reflexive hatred of the US: a hatred that has travelled beyond its traditional home of European elites.

Andrei S. Markovits, author of Uncouth Nation: Why Europe Dislikes America, is no neo-con Bush cheerleader. Markovits told The Australian he is a card-carrying progressive signing up to every seminal Left issue. But he cannot stomach the toxic anti-Americanism, a staple of his side of politics. A bunch of people opposing US policies is not anti-Americanism. Instead, something new has emerged, he says. "European anti-Americanism is becoming an unprecedented Europe-wide lingua franca" - a "key mobilising agent" for a common European identity. It has, quite literally, become the last acceptable prejudice, sanctioned by the highest levels of government. Europeans may bicker over an EU constitution, but they can agree on who they hate. They hate America.

Where once it was relegated to the far Right and the far Left to despise American culture and capitalism in equal doses, now it's become part of the respectable mainstream. Markovits augments countless surveys and opinion polls with myriad examples of quotidian life in Europe where anything nasty is blamed on the US, from the Americanisation of European accounting practices, electoral campaigns, urban planning and credit card use to the US infecting sport, film, music, language, habits. If it's nasty, it's America's fault. Even reality television is bagged as an American blight. (For the record, Europeans invented that gem of a genre.)

Anti-Americanism has less to do with US politics and policies and more to do with what Markovits calls the "perfectly respectable human need to hate the big guy". Half a century ago, Hannah Arendt commented on the same psychology of mistrust aimed at the US. It was, she said, the inevitable plight of the big, rich guy to be alternately flattered and abused, remaining unpopular no matter how generous they were.

And so Norwegian Nobel laureate Knut Hamsun hated the US for being too big and too fast. Anti-Americanism has morphed into a desire to bring America to heel, something that coincides with the goal of Islamists. But if the big, fast rich guy retreats, it's worth asking who will step up to the plate when the West needs things fixed. The dawdling burghers of Europe may recall that small and slow did not help the Kuwaitis, Bosnian Muslims, Kosovars, Afghanis or the tsunami victims.


Anti-Americanism cannot be explained simply by US policy stances or as anti-imperialism either. The US was hated during its isolationist periods and under its pacifist presidents. Under Bill Clinton, the US was a hyperpower according to French foreign minister Hubert Vedrine. (Clinton is now lionised by European elites as a effete kind of non-American). The hapless Jimmy Carter, so cautious of bloodshed that 52 hostages were held captive in the US embassy in Tehran for 444 days, was equally despised. Should he become president, even Barack Obama will also incur the anti-American wrath.

Janet makes more important points elsewhere in her piece. If there was one event in the Bush administration that made the elites of Europe and elsewhere cringe it was the realization that after the attacks of 9-11 the US was not going to be restrained in its defense by people outside the US. It was not going to let the Euro wimps tell it where it could and could not fight the enemy. That is what much of the opposition tot he liberation of Iraq is about. The Euros were happy to have the US stop a bloody civil war in Bosnia, but they cringe at overthrowing an genocidal despot in Baghdad.


Popular posts from this blog

Should Republicans go ahead and add Supreme Court Justices to head off Democrats

29 % of companies say they are unlikely to keep insurance after Obamacare

Bin Laden's concern about Zarqawi's remains