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Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Our Opinion

Anti-Americanism and Anti-Europeanism

On April 7, The New York Times published yet another report — simplistic and uncomprehending to a tee — about Greek anti-Americanism (see “Anti-Americanism in Greece is Reinvigorated by War” by Anthee Carassava). Despite the fact that this is one horse that has been pretty much beaten to glue (or steak for those French surrender monkeys), this particular US journalistic mantra apparently has no end (and we, the public, have no respite from it). Presenting it as some kind of astounding revelation that should somehow separate Greeks from any notion of decent humanity, the newspaper referred to a recent poll that showed that 94 percent of them were opposed to the war in Iraq. Furthermore, the newspaper reported, according to another survey — and one could read the Claude Rains-like “shock, shock” between its lines — “more Greeks had a positive view of Saddam Hussein than of Mr. Bush and…a majority of those polled believed that the United States was as undemocratic as Iraq.”

We are delighted to attest to the fact that, yes, the United States of America is infinitely more democratic than what passes as Iraq at the present time — at least for now. As for the choice between Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush, there must be more to democracy — not to mention humanity — than that. In the event, the point to such innately ridiculous comparisons, which are as meaningless as they are provocative and even offensive, is their symbolic meaning for the rest of the world. Who, in his right mind, would prefer Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — or even Iraq now — to Dubya’s America, such as it (still) stands? That is not the point, however. When the French, Germans, British, Arabs, Brazilians, Chileans, Indians, Chinese, South Africans, Nigerians, Kenyans — and, oh yes, Greeks — were being asked just a couple of months ago who they thought represented a greater threat to the peace of the world, the fact that there seemed to be a majority against the “oldest democracy” (to echo Colin Powell) was actually not at all an unreasonable conclusion.

As for polls — and Greek exceptionalism — a recent poll in The Toronto Globe and Mail reported that 70 percent of Canadians think that George W. Bush is the worst president in the history of the United States (so much for the Alien and Sedition Acts, Teapot Dome, or the C-in-C who gave new meaning to the concept of plumbing). Other recent polls showed one-third of the French hoping for an Iraqi victory. As for the “moral equivalence” between Saddam Hussein and George Bush, the fact is that poll after poll in country after country before the US invaded Iraq showed that there was a relative split down the middle as to who the citizens of this planet thought was worse. Indeed, polls in the US just a few months ago reported that a third of this country’s citizens thought that their president was as dangerous as — if not more than — the former Iraqi dictator.

So much for polls. What is truly astonishing in all this is why the European opposition to the war against Iraq caught the American media so flat-footed intellectually. That being the case, however, we are not surprised that they reacted the way they did: focusing on what they perceived to be an exponential increase in anti-Americanism. The fact that the term has been so readily and superficially used as a synonym for Europe’s continental antiwar movement betrays a monumental failure of understanding.

There’s anti-Americanism and there’s anti-Americanism. The generic and indiscriminate use of the term does nothing to advance knowledge or, more important, wisdom. It is one thing to perpetrate violence against American citizens, quite another to attack symbols of American corporate global domination (McDonald’s), and quite another yet to demonstrate peacefully — and massively — because of profound opposition to US foreign policy. The purposeful muddling of all these different impulses and perspectives under the monolithic — and, in that sense, incoherent — notion of “anti-Americanism” is cynical and dangerous, and creates the utterly fraudulent perception in American eyes that Europeans are, as a body, vehemently opposed to Americans and to anything American. If we may be blunt: This is a classic example of the Big Lie, unworthy of any citizen, let alone journalist or policymaker, of a democratic society.

There is another important distinction to make here: that between cultural anti-Americanism and political/historical anti-Americanism. Cultural anti-Americanism represents Europeans’ — and many Americans’ — abhorrence of and opposition to certain salient aspects of the American way of life, from its commercialism and materialism to its seemingly deep contempt for culture as a public good. The attacks against McDonald’s in France — or the worldwide dismay concerning SUVs — as well as the French fear of American popular culture obliterating both French culture specifically and European culture as a whole, are examples of cultural anti-Americanism. Political criticism of American policies in Europe and the rest of the world, and of American complicity in subverting democracy in country after country, is what characterizes the political/historical expression of anti-Americanism.

When it comes to Greek anti-Americanism, these distinctions are critical. Those familiar with Greece know that the country’s anti-Americanism is strictly political and historical. Criticism of the United States does not express itself either as a critique of American culture or of the American way of life. Both remain exceedingly popular in Greece (which is actually unfortunate in both cases). The condemnation of the United States by the overwhelming majority of Greeks occurs in the political and historical arenas. The opposition to the war against Iraq, and Greek sentiments regarding the US government, are motivated by the painful memories of the decades-long American complicity in Greek domestic and foreign affairs. As this complicity remains fairly fresh in the memory of many Greeks, it is absurd to believe that the self-serving rhetoric continually emanating from the US embassy in Athens is enough to pacify such a catholic reaction.

In the end, of course, the relevant issue here is whether Greeks can be accurately described as anti-American at all. The notion that political opposition between democratic societies constitutes some kind of inappropriate and malign hostility is a unique form of political evil in itself. It is an attempt to control dissent and to limit political debate, not only outside the United States, but, more significantly, within the United States, since opposition to the specific policies of specific administrations is immediately denounced as anti-Americanism in general. How can peaceful dissent and political opposition be characterized as anything other than what it is? It is clear where this continuing emphasis by the American media on European opposition to the US is headed: to a truly irrational anti-Europeanism that is not only deaf to reason and coherent debate, but that essentially turns its back on and walks away from those European values on which — and in whose defense — the United States was created.

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