Friday Discourse (175)
America and the World
Among the best books written in the af-termath of 911 is Why Do People Hate America written by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies in 2002. The book is an international bestseller which drew favour-able comments from notable publishers and scholars. Noam Chomsky, said it “contains valuable information and insights that we should know, over here, for our own good, and the world’s.”
The horrible event of 9-11 provoked my thought: Why this level of hate for America and not for any other country of the world? And what do we do about it? The book is the first to contain a satisfactory analysis on the issue. “Our purpose in this book”, wrote the authors, “is to argue that hatred is the worst possible basis for human relations, espe-cially relations between nations… Hatred is never simply one-way traffic. It is a rela-tional, reactive condition. It affects how judgements are made about what actions are permissible, appropriate and warranted on both sides of the divide of distrust. It can be-come a mutually sustained cycle of defen-sive reaction, a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating prophesy.
“So, we need to go beyond hatred”, the authors continued. “The problem of America is everyone’s problem. Finding an answer depends on making visible the nature, condi-tions and dimensions of the problem so that new debates, new constituencies of dissent that bridge the divide between America and the rest of the world, can be built.”
What I have for my readers today is ob-viously not the whole book, but what I con-sider as its most essential part: “The four main reasons for objecting to the USA.” But before the presentation, it is important to clarify one thing, that is, people do not hate Americans, as the authors rightly said. “What most people hate,” they wrote, “is America, the political entity based on auth-oritarian violence, double standards, self-obsessed self-interest, and an ahistorical na-ivety that equates the Self with the World.”
As the reader will see, the reasons given by the authors for the hatred that exist be-tween America and the rest of the world lies outside the diversionary ones given by the American political establishment, which says America is hated by others because of its freedom and democracy. The causes, as noted by the authors, are more fundamental:
“1. The first reason is existential. The US has simply made it too difficult for other people to exist. In economic terms, this is a stark reality for the majority of the world’s population. As we have seen, the US has structured the global economy to perpetually enrich itself and reduce non-Western soci-eties to abject poverty. ‘Free markets’ is simply a euphemism for free mobility of American capital, unrestrained expansion of American corporations, and free (unidirec-tional) movement of goods and services from America to the rest of the world… couple this with the US control of interna-tional financial institutions such as the IMF, World Bank and WTO, and we see how the world economy functions to marginalise the less-developed world. We are moving to-wards a world in which global markets in such basic things as healthcare, welfare, pensions, education and food and water are supplied and controlled by American corpo-rations. The ability of developing countries to provided universal access to basic social services has been systematically and ruth-lessly eroded.
“Politically, two simultaneous processes are reducing the choices and freedoms of the rest of the world. The process of enlarge-ment, the expansion of the reach and influ-ence of America – through trans-national economic regimes and multinational capital as well as aggregation of power from sup-posedly multilateral institutions such as the World Bank, IMF and WTO to the United States is simultaneously, in effect, a process of hierarchical integration of the rest of the world. The world is being integrated in the shape of a rigid, iron-clad pyramid. Those at the bottom of the pyramid are not just eco-nomically excluded, they are also politically contained. So their political existence is as perilous as their economic reality.
“Moreover, American-led globalisation has also shrunk cultural space. Even the most economically and politically disadvan-taged people seek cultural expression and fulfilment. But the pyramid-shaped globe al-lows little room for other cultures to exist as such, let alone permit the full expression and flowering of the non-Western cultures.
“2. The second major reason for ob-jecting to America is cosmological. In the conventional cosmological argument for God, is derived originally from Aristotle, God described as the cause of everything; this is why some versions of this argument are called the ‘first cause’ argument. In to-day’s globalised world, America is seen as the prime cause of everything. Nothing seems to move without America’s consent; nothing can be solved without America’s in-volvement. Only America can resolve the conflict between Palestine and Israel; only America’s intervention can lead to some sort of resolution between India and Pakistan over Kashmir; and it was America’s in-volvement in Northern Ireland that brokered a political settlement. Without American ratification, the Kyoto Treaty on carbon di-oxide emissions is not worth the paper it is written on; without American nod, nothing moves at the WTO or World Bank; and without America, the UN ceases to be a United Nations. At the global level, America is both the first cause and the sustaining cause.
“The cosmological grounds for resent-ment also relate to the ‘gigantism’ of Amer-ica itself. A Chinese proverb says that the tallest tree attracts the most dangerous winds during a typhoon. As a tree with branches that touch every corner of the globe, Amer-ica is a natural target. But this is com-pounded by the hubris that is an integral part of the cosmological structure that America cannot see. Western empires – Roman, Spanish, British – were concerned with sus-taining and enhancing their control of sub-ject populations. America has taken this principle to a new quantum level: American empire is a colonisation of the future that becomes a total consumption of all space and time – rewriting history, changing the very stuff of life in our genetic structure, shifting weather patterns, colonising outer space, indeed changing the course of evolu-tion itself! It is this height and breadth of ar-rogance that startles and, not surprisingly, terrifies most of the world. If there are no limits, what is there to stop the US from ac-tually consuming the non-American people of the world? Inducted in the cosmological structure of America, the rest of the world will vanish…
“3. The third main reason for anti-American feeling is ontological – that is, re-lating to the very nature of being. Once again, this takes us back to standard argu-ments for God. The ontological argument for God’s existence, attributed to St Anselm, goes something like this: God is the most perfect being; it is more perfect to exist than not to exist. Therefore, God exists. It is, of course, a circular argument. Ontological ar-guments infer that something exists because certain concepts are related in certain ways. Good and evil are related as opposites. So, if evil exists, there must also be good. America relates to the world through such circular, ontological logic: because ‘terrorists’ are evil, America is good and virtuous; the ‘Axis of Evil’ implicitly positions US and its allies as the ‘Axis of Good’. But this is not simply a binary opposition: the ontological element, the nature of American being, makes America only good and virtuous. It is a small step then to assume that you are cho-sen both by God and history. How often have we heard American leaders proclaim that God is with them; or that history has called on America to act?
“By appropriating goodness to one’s self, and then doing evil, spells hypocrisy to others. Bruce Tonn, Professor in the Dept of Urban and Regional Planning at the Univer-sity of Tennessee, Knoxville, notes: ‘People around the world constantly ask why the US says one thing and does something totally opposite; why the standards it wants to im-pose on others do not apply to the US itself. How can the United States claim to be the repository of Goodness yet have such dis-dain for the poor and deny them the basic right to food and water? People dying of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa wonder why Americans can afford super computers and stealth bombers but cannot help them afford AZT and other drugs… European cannot fa-thom why the United States does not support global environmental protection, land mine treaties, or strong provisions to control bio-logical and nuclear weapons or why the United States insist on selling Europeans meat and grains that are tainted with steroids and the result of genetic engineering… Rus-sians and East Europeans do not understand why America insists on imposing economic measures on their countries that increase in-equality by every criteria known to hu-manity. Canadians rue the impact of Ameri-can culture on their own society.’
“Then there are hypocritical elements of American society itself. The O.J. Simpson trial highlighted the institutionalised lying that forms the basis of American trial law for the entire world to see… The Clinton impeachment trial demonstrated the hypoc-risy of the political establishment: conserva-tive politicians, many of whom were also guilty of sexual ‘misconduct’ had no qualms in their attempt at political assassination. The Florida election debacle highlighted America’s hypocrisy concerning democracy: not counting everyone’s vote is only an egregious sin if it occurs in fledgling democ-racies of the developing world. All the peo-ple of the world duly noted that the US Sup-reme Court decided the outcome of the elec-tion by finding reasons not to recount all of the votes.
“4. The fourth major reason for hos-tility towards America has to do with defini-tions. America is not just the lone hyper-power – it has become the defining power of the world. America defines what is democ-racy, justice, freedom; what are human rights and what is multiculturalism; who is a ‘fundamentalist’, a ‘terrorist’, or simply ‘evil’. In short what it means to be human. The rest of the world, including Europe, must simply accept these definitions and fol-low the American lead (which, in most cases, Britain does faithfully). But America defines all these things in singular terms – in terms of American self-identity, history, ex-perience and culture, and, more often than not, in term of American self-interest. So when President Bush, for example, says in his 2002 State of the Union address, ‘America will lead by defending liberty and justice because they are right and true and unchanging for all people everywhere’, he takes it for granted that American ideas of liberty and justice are the only ones that there are. There is no scope for these values to be interpreted and practised in different ways; no sense that the history and experi-ence of other cultures may have generated their own notions of freedom and justice.
“We can see this most clearly in terms of human rights issues. The Western, liberal notion of human rights equates it solely with individual political and civil freedoms. The US has reduced it further and redefined it in terms of market forces and ‘free trade’. Des-pite enormous efforts by developing count-ries for over two decades, the US refuses to acknowledge that the right to food, housing, basic sanitation and the preservation of one’s own identity and culture are far more important than the preservation of market forces…
“But the American definition of human rights is not immutable; it is a moveable feast. Thus, the US considered the struggle of Muslims in East Turkistan against China as a ‘human rights issue’, yet it rejects the proposition that the struggle of Chechen Muslims against Russia has anything to do with human rights…
“The much vaunted universal precept of ‘freedom of the press’ gets similar treatment. When it comes to other countries, it is defined as a universal imperative. When freedom of the press ends up with criticism of America, it becomes dangerously subversive. So the US went out of its way to stop Qatar-based Al-Jazeerah… from broadcasting from Afghanistan. It placed enormous pressure on Qatar to ‘rein in’ Al-Jazeerah, and eventually bombed its office in Kabul…
“The uniquely self-interested way in which America defines and redefines human rights and then uses them as an instrument of its foreign policy, sends a dual message to the world. It suggests that, on the one hand, abiding by the constraints imposed by human rights is mainly for others, not for America; while on the other hand, it delivers a clear message to developing countries: adopt economic policies recommended by America, even at the expense of human rights. Nor surprisingly, this approach generates a great deal of hatred for the US.
“The power to define also extends to representation: America defines the way in which other people should be seen and characterised. The US is the storyteller to the world. For the most part, the stories it tells are either based on its own experience or, if appropriated from other cultures, given a specifically American context. This power to define others in terms of American perceptions and interests often leads to the demonisation of entire groups of people. Consider the way in which all Arabs are seen as ‘fundamentalists’, all those who question the control of science by American corporations as anti-science, or those who question American foreign policy as ‘morally bankrupt’, ‘nihilists’ or ‘idiots’…
I will conclude this page by quoting from the last words of the authors: “The key to viable and sane future for us all lies in transcending hatred. Since America is both the object and the source of global hatred, it must carry the responsibility of moving us all beyond it. America needs to unwrap itself from the flag, and envelop itself in the prayer of St Francis of Assisi:
“O Master, grant that I may never seek/ so much to be consoled as to console/ to be understood as to understand/ to be loved, as to love, with all my soul.”
We will return next week to discuss the self-succession of Obasanjo.