February 22, 2005
The Economist (Part I): Special Report on Anti-Americanism
This week's print issue of the Economist (Feb. 19-25, 2005) has a three-page analysis of world perceptions of America and Americans, in the aftermath of two recent polls (one conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, previously discussed here; and another from the BBC). The article is premium content, but the site sometimes runs free-access days sponsored by advertisers (as is the case today, Feb. 22). In any case, it's an intelligent, well-written analysis of the current state of anti-Americanism around the globe -- well worth locating in print if you can’t get it online. (Excerpts inside.)
Though anti-Americanism spans the globe, the phenomenon is not everywhere the same. It mutates according to local conditions, and it is seldom straightforward.
No wonder. Most people's feelings about America are complicated. "America," after all, is shorthand for many other terms: the Bush administration, a Republican-dominated Congress, Hollywood, a source of investment, a place to go to study, a land of economic opportunity, a big regional power, the big world power, a particular policy, the memory of something once done by the United States, a set of political values based on freedom, democracy and economic liberalism, and so on. It is easy to be for some of these and against others, and some may wax or wane in importance according to time, circumstance, propaganda or wishful thinking. So it should be no surprise that some people can hold two apparently contradictory views of America at once. The incandescent third-world demonstrator, shrieking "Down with America!" in one breath and "Can you get me a green card?" in the next, has become a commonplace.
The piece begins with France, which it calls "the locus classicus of anti-Americanism." One source of anti-Americanism here, the author writes, is
the rivalry between France and America, based on their remarkably similar self-images; the two countries both think they invented the rights of man, have a unique calling to spread liberty round the world and hold a variety of other attributes that make them utterly and admirably exceptional. Jealousy also plays a part ... French anti-Americanism tends to rise when France has just suffered a setback of some kind, whether a defeat at the hands of the Germans, a drubbing in Algeria or the breakdown of the Fourth Republic.
The author then goes through many of the world's nations, from Angola to Vietnam, examining the state of anti-Americanism and identifying underlying causes in each:
In Iran, for example, anti-Americanism is a tool exploited by the regime "to divert attention from its many failures."
In Indonesia, it’s "largely an armchair affair."
The piece concludes by pointing out that recent polls show anti-Americanism in many cases may have much to do with the reelection of George W. Bush and policies specific to the current administration, then saying:
That is the, perhaps short-term, view of some non-Americans. It is accompanied by another view, increasingly common among pundits, which holds that America is losing its allure as a model society. Whereas much of the rest of the world once looked to the United States as a beacon, it is argued, non-Americans are now turning away. Democrats in Europe and elsewhere who once thought religiosity, a belief in capital punishment and rank hostility to the United Nations were intermittent or diminishing features of the United States now see them as rising and perhaps permanent. Such feelings have been fortified by Mr Bush’s doctrine of preventive war, Guantánamo, opposition to the world criminal court and a host of other international agreements. One way or another, it is said, people are turning off America, not so much to hate it as to look for other examples to follow—even Europe’s. If true, that could be even more insulting to Americans than the rise in the familiar anti-Americanism of yesteryear.
Posted February 22, 2005 02:08 PM
Great entry. I think the part about splitting up sentiments toward America in the suggested categories is an excellent exercise. This could be used as inspiration for the conduct of future polls. If one wants to understand anti-Americanism it seems very important to distinguish between America as “the Bush administration, a Republican-dominated Congress, Hollywood, a source of investment, a place to go to study, a land of economic opportunity, a big regional power, the big world power, a particular policy, the memory of something once done by the United States, a set of political values based on freedom, democracy and economic liberalism”. It addition to these different aspects it could prove useful to further distinguish between different (foreign) policy issues such as Iraq, Iran, North Korea, the Middle East, the environment (Kyoto), the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, human rights (Guantanamo), terrorism, AIDS/HIV prevention, poverty, human relief, and other issues. By making a poll asking people about their feelings toward America on all these different issues, I am certain one would get a better understanding of what makes people more positive and negative toward the United States. Such a poll could provide quantitative material for increasing our understanding of this simultaneous love and hate many people feel for America.
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