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Resentment of America starts at home

Posted by Helen Tuesday, January 18, 2005

A week ago the Wall Street Journal Europe published a letter from an American in Frankfurt am Main.

He suggested that the revered German Marshall Fund, in its own words, "an American public policy and grant-making institution dedicated to promoting greater co-operation and understanding between the United States and Europe", should turn its attention away from the endless tut-tutting as to why Americans do not seem to present themselves more favourably to Europeans and what they should do about it.

Instead, he felt that it should look at "why the US is systematically portrayed in the German media as irrationally naïve, hegemonic and even foolishly stupid". (I take it this is the same German media that gets rightly upset or bitterly ironic at the British TV's tendency to protray the Germans as stupid and obsessed with power, i.e. hegemonic.)

What made me laugh out loud was the title the sub-editor put above the letter: Please Shed Some Light on Der Bushbashismus.

The subject of Der Bushbashismus or just plain old resentment of the United States fascinates American commentators for obvious reasons. (It also fascinates European commentators who simply love pointing out how well-deserved all this America-bashing is and how unpleasant all Americans are, what with being so stupid and naïve and so rich and so successful and so determined to foist their ideas on the world and so reluctant to look outside their own country and so… well you put in your own favourite anti-Americanism.)

Yesterday's International Herald Tribune had an article from one of their regular columnists, Thomas L. Friedman. Entitled Give young Muslims the luxury to ignore America, it deals with the problem Americans have to face: they have been generous beyond belief towards the victims of the tsunami, many of them Muslim; their soldiers have risked their lives “to save the Muslims of Bosnia, the Muslims of Kuwait, the Muslims of Somalia, the Muslims of Afghanistan and the Muslims of Iraq” (plus a few more). Yet all they get for their pains is accusations of being anti-Muslim.

There is nothing the Americans can do about this, says Friedman, adding:

I believe the tensions between America and the Muslim world stem primarily from the conditions under which many Muslims live, not what America does. I believe free people living under freely elected governments, with a free press and with economies and education systems that enable their young people to achieve their full potential, don't spend a lot of time thinking about whom to hate, whom to blame, and whom to lash out at. Free countries don't have leaders who use their meda and state-owned "intellectuals" to deflect all of their people’s anger from
them and onto America.
To prove his point Mr Friedman explains that "young people in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Poland and India" may have views on America but these are not an obsession, because those young people are more anxious to get on with their lives and make them better. Besides, they can express any opinion they want, "pro-American, anti-American or neutral".

That leaves western Europe or the older part of the EU. They, too, according to Mr Friedman, are free-market democracies but still they hate America. But it is merely a hobby, says Mr Friedman, whereas for far too many Muslims it is a career.

Having agreed with the rest of the article, I must take an issue here. Anti-Americanism has become an obsession, a career for far too many Europeans and this, too, can be put down to domestic matters.

We do not live under the sort of oppressive, tyrannical and kleptocratic regimes most Muslims do but a feeling of frustration is seeping through European life (and yes, I do include Britain as well).

The frustration is to do with the fact that, while nominally democracies, all members of the EU are in fact, part of a vast managerial, dirigiste political structure and there is nothing we the people, the voters can do about it.

The frustration is to do with the fact that slowly but surely Europe is losing economic advantages and there seems to be no way of dealing with this, while those in charge continue to weave their thick web of rules and regulations, committees and co-ordinations.

Finally, and especially in Britain, the frustration is to do with the hidden knowledge that so much of what is good and and admirable has been lost and given away. All that is left is a mindless repetition of an obviously false belief that at least, we are all more intelligent, more subtle, more sophisticated than the Americans.

For many it is an obsession; for all our "public intellectuals", of whom Europeans are so proud and of whom many are, indeed, state sponsored or EU sponsored, it is a career. For the moment it pays well. But is it really a good idea in the long term to devote quite so much creative energy to the blame game?