(Icon Books, £7.99)

Why Do People Hate America?, by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies

High words and low deeds

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

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test