The Church Theory
All the world hates America. That’s what we’re told, or at least that’s what the MSM would have us believe. This is, according to those sections of the MSM that have short memories or aren’t into that whole objectivity thing, a relatively new phenomenon. People may have kind of disliked us before, or perhaps found us annoying, but only recently (lets say, in the last, uhm, four years or so) have they really begun to hate us. And if you don’t believe that, there is always the helpful quote from some French garbage man, German coffee house intellectual, Kenyan dingleberry gatherer, or Palestinian street sweeper to solidify the impression.
Well, what the MSM is telling y’all is not entirely accurate.
Contain your surprise.
I’m not saying that anti-Americanism doesn’t exist, or that there aren’t people in this world who genuinely dislike America and Americans. In my time in the Foreign Service, I’ve lived in places with a long and proud tradition of anti-Americanism, and I’ve traveled through some parts of the Middle East, where anti-Americanism, along with anti-Semitism, is the common denominator in political discourse. Yet in none of those places was I afraid to tell people that I was American. I’m sure that if I had gone to the right (or wrong) neighborhoods, I would certainly run into some rough characters who disliked America and Americans and who would no doubt deal with me quite harshly, possibly even to the point of dirtying their Nikes, if they knew I where I came from.
A far more typical reaction, however, when someone found out I was American, was for my interlocutor to make one of the following three statements:
a) “I’ve been to the US and I loved it there!”;
b) “I’ve always wanted to go there!”; or
c) “My aunt/uncle/cousin/brother/whatever is a mandolin-string salesman in Austin. Have you ever been to Austin (or whatever city)?”
After a while, I even stopped cringing in anticipation after I told people I was American.
Another exchange, though not typical, which warmed my heart, took place in Egypt; one of the locals asked where I was from.
“America,” I told him.
“I must ask you to do me a favor,” he said.
At this point, I could not help but gird myself for a question about visas. The “visa reflex” is a reaction that many FSOs develop when strangers in foreign countries tell them things like “I need you to do me a favor” because that “favor” usually involves some kind of assistance with a visa for themselves, a friend, or relative. So I started to get ready to give my standard response about visas when I realized that a) I don’t live in Egypt, and b) this guy had no idea what I do for a living.
Instead, my interlocutor said, “You must go back to America and tell all your friends to come to Egypt.”
By the way, if you ever get a chance, you should go to Egypt.
Sometimes I just have to scratch my head when the MSM reports how hated we are around the world. To be sure, it is always easy to dredge up some quotes from some random guy in the street or to refer to a poll to show how much America is hated, but I believe that there is a kind of uncertainty principle at play here that undermines such reporting whereby the mere fact that a reporter or pollster is talking to an individual influences the individual’s response. This has led me to formulate what I’ve taken to calling the “Church Theory of Anti-Americanism.” Let me explain it in more detail.
First, let me start with the admission that the Bush administration, through some blunders early in its administration and the war in Iraq, has inadvertently helped increase one type of anti-Americanism, what I will call political anti-Americanism, by giving fodder to those who have something to gain from triangulating off of America. By political anti-Americanism, I mean the dislike of American motives and/or policy in the political arena, and its subsequent manipulation for political purposes. For example, the Bush administration did a poor job of handling the withdrawal from Kyoto, even though it was fairly obvious that the Senate would never ratify the treaty. This type of action allowed all manner of people to paint the Administration as evil, corporatist, anti-environment, etc.
Let me continue, however, by noting that political anti-Americanism did not originate with George Bush. It has been growing since the end of the Cold War, and even though many Europeans admired Bill Clinton, severe splits between the US and Europe had begun developing prior to the inauguration of George Bush.
Given the tremendous disparity in wealth and military power between the United States and the rest of the world, and the perception that the US was indeed a “hyper power” it was inevitable that politicians the world over began blaming the United States for all the problems in their respective countries. In some parts of the world, this kind of triangulation has existed for decades, to the point where American evil is the sine qua non of political discourse. In these countries, belief in the wrongness of America has, in fact, taken on a religious dimension, to the point where mere facts can not deter it. This kind of thinking has long existed in the Middle East and other parts of the developing world; parts of Europe are now beginning to become “converts” as well.
This is where the “church” part of my theory comes into play. If you’ve ever been to a church on Easter Sunday or Christmas, you’ll likely notice the church is quite full – certainly more full than it would be on virtually any other day of the year. Some of the people in the church no doubt believe firmly and devoutly in God and the Scriptures. Some of the people, however, are not so devout – they are there because going to church on that particularly is what they think they should do, i.e. they are there to keep up the appearance of faith.
So it is with political anti-Americanism. Many nations’ polities have political anti-Americanism so deeply inculcated within them that they will, if asked publicly, loudly and proudly sound off the myriad evils of Washington even if, privately, they don’t agree or even care. I know this because I’ve done some time on the visa lines, an FSO rite of passage, in places where protesting outside the Embassy is always considered a good way to spend the day. The misguided zeal to protest notwithstanding, nearly all of the applicants I spoke to evinced great joy at the prospect of going to the US, often stating that it was “the dream of a lifetime.” And they weren’t just going to New York. Oftentimes they’d be going to visit relatives in a place that couldn’t be considered a tourist destination, like Scranton or Toledo (note: I’m not trying to put those places down; I’m just saying they’re not considered tourist destinations by most people). And many people would privately tell me, in hushed tones, after looking over both shoulders, that they absolutely loved America and that I should just ignore all that silliness that the politicians say.
Yet I have no doubt that if a Reuters, AP or BBC reporter stuck a microphone in those people’s faces, or if the CNN/Gallup people introduced themselves and asked a few questions about what those people thought of America, the answer would be the same tired old rhetoric about the US being behind all of the world’s ills. And then they would pack their bags, go to the airport, and hop on a flight to see their relatives in Scranton.