(Icon Books, £7.99)
Why Do People Hate America?, by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies
High words and low deeds
Thursday 04 July 2002
One of the high (or low) points of black comedy in the liberation of Afghanistan came on 14 October, a week after the start of the American bombing campaign. The exalted CNN anchorman Wolf Blitzer cheerfully asked a correspondent in Peshawar about a poll to determine whether the locals supported the Taliban or the US. The outcome was 81 per cent to 3... in favour of the bad guys. For once, Wolf was speechless.
Three days earlier, George Bush had whimpered in a press conference: "I'm amazed that there is such misunderstanding of what our country is about that people would hate us... I just can't believe it, because I know how good we are." Both incidents point to a long-term niggle for the War on Terrorism. No matter how often the mantra of "freedom" is chanted, no matter how many security alerts are sounded, there seem to be many who retain an animosity towards the American Way.
While the US government and its supporters examine "Why do people hate America?" by characterising those people as crazed Islamic fundamentalists or naive "left" accomplices, Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies focus on "America". In this concise study, the authors make telling observations about the contradictions between values and policy: "American freedom to act on a global stage has left many trampled in [its] wake." Their conclusion challenges the rhetoric and actions of the War on Terrorism: "Pure evil has no solution. It can only be eradicated, and attempts to eradicate evil generate as many problems as they solve."
The book's best passages are on the culture that underpins American power. Its careful dissection of The West Wing should be required reading for devotees who believe the series offers a "liberal" alternative to Bush's crusades. In the end, its kinder, gentler America still has to fight wars and sanction covert action. The anti-communist liberalism of the 1950s has evolved into the anti-terrorist liberalism of the new millennium.
I fear, however, that Sardar and Davies are preaching to the converted. Precious few outside the dissenters' congregation will bother to listen. I found my own sympathy doubly limited. They portray an American cultural imperialism, equated to the Aids virus, that eradicates indigenous cultures. But the embrace of some American products – say the internet's best "newspaper", The Onion – can bolster the challenge to Americanism and its foreign policy. What's more, the global sweep of pax Americana is not omnipotent. The Yanks can't replace local beer and they can't yet take the World Cup.
More seriously, the authors' cultural critiques, and even their depiction of America's economic position, are too detached from the hyperpower of the US state. I can stand a culture where George Bush runs a bad baseball team; I get worried when he heads a state that believes it can dictate who can be elected to run a country.
Yet this remains a valuable book. At its heart is the necessary assertion that "America" is an impressive but dangerous combination of innocence and arrogance, of ideology and power, of high words and low deeds. Happy Fourth of July, everyone.
The reviewer is Professor of American and Canadian Studies at the University of Birmingham
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
- 2 James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
- 3 People all over the world are getting semicolon tattoos to draw attention to mental health
- 4 Van driver who comforted Clark Carlisle and called 999 after suicide attempt dies age 24
- 5 Baby rescued 1km out to sea after parents forgot about her
Bad luck, One Direction: Paul McCartney doubts success of The Beatles will ever be matched again
This is surely the best way to watch Jaws
The Crystal Maze: Richard O’Brien confirmed to return as more details revealed about show's rebooted format
James Blunt was special guest on the highest-rating Top Gear episode ever
Guillaume Tell's gang-rape scene caused uproar at the Royal Opera House – but the portrayal of extreme sex and violence on stage is nothing new
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Greece crisis: IMF was pushed around by Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy – and now it is being humiliated
'I wish the BBC would stop calling it Islamic State' – David Cameron unleashes frustration at broadcaster
Forget little green men – aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert
Greece crisis: The wider lesson is that it’s time to abandon this failed experiment in currencies
Girl, 7, stares down hate preacher at Ohio festival with pro-LGBT rainbow flag gesture