(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

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
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.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum