February 09, 2007

Chinese Resisting Starbucks

A web blog post by Rui Chenggang, an English news anchor with China’s CCTV-9, titled “Why Starbucks Needs to Get Out of the Forbidden City?”, has stirred heated debates among Chinese netizens and been picked up by China’s local and national media. According to the Beijing News , Rui believes that having a Starbucks within the Forbidden City makes a mockery of Chinese traditional culture because an icon of a foreign mass-consumption fast food culture is discordant with a sacred symbol of Chinese civilization. Covering over 7 million square feet and housing 1.5 million relics, treasures and artifacts spanning five thousand years of Chinese history, the nearly 600-year-old former Chinese imperial palace (now known as the Palace Museum) is China’s most comprehensive historical museum. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The Starbucks outlet is located close to the Hall of Military Eminence, where imperial military officials gathered as the Emperor held court. Perhaps that’s what makes it the company’s only store that is un-mappable. The same newspaper article quotes Rui publicly confronting Jim Donald, Starbucks Chairman and CEO, at the 2006 Yale CEO Leadership Summit. “I wonder if you have plans to open stores in Taj Mahal, Versailles or Buckingham Palace,” Rui said. “But, first, please remove your outlet from the Forbidden City.”

Donald responded to Rui’s letters of protest, writing that Starbucks has shown “great sensitivity to, and respect for the heritage of the Forbidden City since it was invited to open a store there by museum officials six years ago.” Eden Woon, Starbuck’s Vice President for Greater China, tells the Beijing News, “As our contract with the museum has not expired, we have no plan to move out. Rui Chenggang’s proposal is only his personal opinion.”

Museum officials, though defensive, have taken note of the controversy. They tell the Beijing Morning Post that negotiations are underway between the museum and Starbucks, and expect the dispute to be resolved within the first half of this year. Amid the strong support of Rui’s stand on preserving national cultural integrity in the age of global integration, increasing questions are being raised about the management of China’s increasingly market-driven cultural institutions.

An article from China Daily reports that pressed by local dignitaries in 2003, a KFC outlet bid farewell to Beihai Park, an imperial garden in Beijing, after the expiration of a ten-year contract. Rui told the Beijing News that he hopes Starbucks will do the same. If Starbucks voluntarily moves out of the Forbidden City, he wrote in his blog, it will gain the heart-felt respect of the Chinese people who deeply love their traditional culture. He also notes that his personal protest is not a one-off occurrence. He believes that at present the West frequently misreads China, mostly due to the silence of the Chinese people. He says that he voices his opinion this time in order to help eliminate those misunderstandings, and will continue to do so in the future.

See related photo slideshow for this story.

Posted 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

January 16, 2006

MLK's legacy undone?

The Guardian marks the 20th celebration of Martin Luther King Day with an examination of what many consider to be one of his most lasting legacies, the racial integration of American schools. Despite the widely-held belief among Americans (78% of whites and 66% of Blacks) that progress is being made towards greater integration, the article references a new Harvard study that indicates there has been a steady increase in school segregation over the last 15 years.

[T]he percentage of black students attending schools where most students are non-white increased across the US from 66% in 1991 to 73% in the 2003-2004 school year, according to the report by Harvard's Civil Rights Project and released at the weekend. In the south, where the desegregation effort was concentrated, the number of black students in schools where most students are non-white rose from 61% to 71% over a 12-year period. More than three-quarters of intensely segregated schools serve children from poor families, the report said.

School desegregation is one of the signal achievements of the 1960's Civil Rights movement, both within the US and throughout the world. That there could be increasing segregation, even a return to late-60's levels, strikes at one of the great symbols of America's commitment to racial equality and domestic reform.

Posted 10:17 PM | Comments (0)

December 03, 2005

Watching America a model?

After listening to today's BBC's "The World" program, I was struck by the similarities between Watching America web site/portal and WorldAndUs.

For those who aren't familiar with it, the site is described as a reflection "of global opinion about the United States, helping Americans and non-Americans alike understand what the world thinks of current issues that involve the U.S. This is done by providing news and views about the United States published in other countries."

The interview with the site's founder, Robin Koerner, hits upon a number of shared problems including:
* Objectivity and the dilemma of finding content in international news media that portrays the United States in a "positive" manner.
* Whether the particular politics of a given news source should be identified in a posting
* How is it being received by its audience.

In terms of objectivity, Koerner says that though the Watching America crew trys to pick up on as many "5-10%" of the supportive stories available on the web, this has grown increasingly difficult as the current White House is seen with less and less approbation as time goes on (Iraq, perceived disregard of international institutions, etc.) Needless to say that a country and its government are oftentimes conflated. In any case, he says that the site reflects a wide diversity of opinion when it can.

This is something that WorldAndUs has struggled with since its inception. Some of our members are not as concerned that posts have a dialogic element to them, but it is clear that being thorough in our search for sources is at a premium. In other words, every time there's a post on CIA black sites it's not necessary to find a source that defends torture or "Torture Lite", but there are some stories, however limited, which aren't altogether condemnatory.

The issue of labeling news sources by either their political persuasions or their press status is something "we're working on," says Koerner. He says that given the immense trawling that WA does each day for international stories, it would be difficult to pigeonhole everything. Yet, he says that his team is keeping a database of all such data and that perhaps the site would incorporate it in the future.

I have always thought the model of the World Press Review was a workable one, in which a news source from any given country is noted as centrist, independent, state-controlled, etc. There is inherent subjectivity here, however, and one of our own expressed his disdain for the way most Americans view discrete political categories. Nevertheless, I don't think we are served by linking to a story from China's The People's Daily and then granting it the same credibility as the The New York Times. This point might be the most contentious.

Finally, Koerner spoke about the media provided on his site. WA has audio, photographs, and text available to the reader, all of which is possible given its forum, not to mention the time and resources available to its administrators. I and others occasionally make use of political cartoons, but otherwise our content is strictly textual. Is this a problem? Is that, in fact, the niche of this blog?

Watching America continues to get great coverage, so it is the standard bearer in posting stories about global perceptions of the United States. And without being written off as redundant, I think this interview illuminated some issues that our blog shouldn't skirt.

Posted 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2005

Map of the rios in France

THis is a map of the places where riots have taken place. It was published by Le Monde on November 7th.

Posted 01:31 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2005

Two Perspectives on America in the West

Two high-brow American boutique publications - Harper's magazine and the New York Times magazine - have recently published two radically different takes on the ambivalent place of the United States in the Western community of nations.

The New York Times' James Traub starts with the recent awarding of the Nobel Prize in literature to Harold Pinter, a British playwright who "views the United States as a moral monster bent on world domination." The Swedish Academy's decision, Traub argues, is emblematic of the mood in Europe, where "the anti-American left is far more intellectually respectable" even in "the highest reaches of European culture." He names names - John Le Carée, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy - and cites the harsh criticism of these "implacable ideologues" to US intervention in Serbia, Iraq and elsewhere as proof of "a virulent strain of anti-Americanism."

He suggests the route cause is the resentment of the European left when confronted by the "socialist debacle" at home and American power and prosperity abroad. His solution? Broadening the war of ideas being waged in the Middle East to now-hostile European territory.

William Pfaff, writing in Harper's, takes an almost opposite approach. Rather then beginning with the fact of European hostility towards the US (prevalent, at least, among the intelligentsia), he starts instead with specific parts of US policy, most significantly the use of torture in the war on terror.

Pfaff notes that there are few significant value differences between America and the other Western nations. One concerns international law - most Western nations view international organizations as legitimate and beneficial, and multilateral agreements, especially on human rights questions, as sacrosanct, while the US tends to view these things instrumentally and suspiciously, preferring to safeguard its sovereignty. Conversely, there seems to be a consensus on the human rights protected - on both sides of the Atlantic, these rights are considered to represent the highest ideals of the West. Under normal circumstances, these differences would not cause severe friction - there is more keeping the West together than pulling it apart. But, Pfaff argues, after Sept. 11 normal circumstances came to an end in the United States.

Instead, he describes a Manichean worldview held by American political leaders, pitting their country against an objectively "evil" terrorist threat. The depravity and seriousness of this threat justified anything in the effort to counter it - disregard for international law, undermining traditional institutions and alliances and, most seriously, the widespread use of torture. Pfaff's accusations are not new - he cites the existence of secret prisons abroad, the practice of extraordinary rendition and, of course, the indefinite detainment of prisoners in Guantanamo and Iraq - but his conclusions, in light of the brazenness of US authorities - are startling.

International illegality, the deliberate repudiation of international law, and torture, gratuitously employed in defiance of the moral intuitions of ordinary people, all show that the Bush Administration has chosen to place itself outside the moral community of modern Western democratic civilization.

If this is being published in Harper's, maybe Traub's war of ideas needs to be taken to the home front as well.

Posted 01:11 AM | Comments (0)

October 20, 2005

Burning Bodies: Another Abu Ghraib?

While it has become almost gospel in the Muslim world that American troops are culturally insensitive, news that US troops in Afghanistan burned the corpses of enemy combatants does not portend good things.

The background here is that an Australian news service broadcast footage depicting burning corpses atop hills near the village of Gondaz, north of Kandahar, all of whom were allegedly killed by US soldiers the night before.

The footage shows flames emanating from bodies with members of the 173rd Airborne Division looking on impassively. According to Aljazeera, the following was declared:

You allowed your fighters to be laid down facing west and burnt. You are too scared to retrieve their bodies. This just proves you are the lady boys we always believed you to be.

You attack and run away like women. You call yourself Talibs but you are a disgrace to the Muslim religion, and you bring shame upon your family. Come and fight like men instead of the cowardly dogs you are.

This is explosive in a variety of ways: The bodies were left out for 24 hours, contrary to standard burial practices in Islam, and further desecration of bodies (burning, westerly positioning of a cadaver) is perceived as apostasy...but generally only if you're a talib, in the estimation of contemporary Muslim luminaries.

It is clear that this footage has the potential to engender even stronger anti-American feelings, in Afghanistan as well as Iraq and the Middle East as a whole, but the desecration of American security workers in Falluja brings into question a glaring problem: When does religious doctrine become convenient for political ends? Ulterior motives would seem to abound.

A good primer on this issue can be seen here, and if the rhetoric of these clerics is salient, it stands to reason that this could initiate a new cycle of violence epitomized by new forms of symbolic resistance.

One desecration begets another in this formula.

Posted 02:38 AM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2005


At the celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the creation of the Food and Agriculture Organization, in Rome two days ago, Zimbabwe’s dictator Robert Mugabe and the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez strongly accused the Us of being «a threat to the world and to the survival of the planet». Italian newspapers gave rather little space to their speeches, and far from the first pages. Most of the times they reported their words and ironically called it «a show». Mugabe actually stated that Blair and Bush are like Hiltler and Mussolini. «They formed a deplorable alliance to attack an innocent country(Iraq)», papers report Mugabe’s outburst.
“La Repubblica”, in an article by Giampaolo Cadalanu, explains that these radical words risk weakening the aid process towards developing countries, even though what they said about Us’ insufficient help to tackle hunger and poverty might partly be true. Flavia Amabile on “La Stampa” quotes them, but doesn’t give any space to comments or explanations, focusing on the anniversary instead. “Corriere della Sera”, the most sold Italian newspaper, highlights that the conference turned out to be anything but dull and boring, a mixture of embarrassing accusations and uncommon, histrionic demagoguery.

More extreme papers, on either side of the political spectrum, pay more attention to the men’s accusations and depict the atmosphere surrounding them here in Italy. The left-leaning “L’Unità” describes the Venezuelan as «courageous and proud» and heads: « Chávez defies Bush, oil is ours». The leftist “Il Manifesto” reminds its readers of the African president’s contradictions and define as «more legitimate» Chávez’s words, besides dedicating the lower part of the page to the description of his Italian stay. By contrast, the rightist “Il Giornale” talks about an anti-American rhetoric. According to the journalist Pasolini Zanelli the two presidents have shown their arrogance in a country like Italy, so close to America. Especially because Chávez met the Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi - «one of the closest allies of president Bush» - and they even shook hands, as the picture confirms.

Posted 01:21 AM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2005

"On Guilty Knees"

Special thanks to Prof. Hammer Ferenc for bringing this to my attention:

A columnist for the Croatian daily Slobodna Dalmacija chooses to draw an interesting parallel between the issues of Katrina's devastation and its effects on the social fabric of the United States--and the issues relevant to an European audience.

"Katrina revealed what the real image of the USA is-- derision of the poor and its 2/3 African American population who did not vote for President George Bush...They are being perceived as state's excess baggage on which nobody's private interest can be made profitable."

He goes on to criticize the Bush Administration for its ideological principles in governing, rather than dwelling on what he perceives to be the requisite leadership "local leaders omitted," by using the oft-cited statistic of a 17% rise in poverty under his tenure. His argument is equal parts racial tract and class thesis.

But the insight comes in his last paragraph in which he launches a host of questions: "How much do Europeans really care for the Roma? Are the buildings in Paris filled with immigrants burning down just because they are worn out? Is everybody in Croatia running to the help of those aforementioned Roma, who live in settlements that have been without water, electricity, and sewage systems for roughly a decade?"

Posted 12:56 AM | Comments (2)

September 17, 2005

The New Republic: Dutch Lessons

The New Republic (requires subscription) contrasts New Orleans with the Netherlands, a country similarly vulnerable to catastrophic flooding, with much it set on “saucer-like flood plains just like… New Orleans.” But while the US approach to flood prevention was mainly to build higher levees, the Dutch have come up with more innovative strategies:

[T]hey developed an unprecedented multi-billion-dollar concrete-and-steel dam and seawall project, which was praised in scientific journals as an engineering miracle when it was completed. In 1995, after abnormally severe river flooding necessitated a massive, unwieldy evacuation, Dutch officials didn't just reinforce existing dikes; they again set out to rethink their whole approach to flood protection. Hydraulic engineers hatched a scheme to breach levees on purpose during critical flood conditions, releasing pressure from high waters into areas where flooding would be less disastrous, like fields lying fallow. This required a major psychological switch for the Dutch, who'd had 700 years to get used to the idea that building up, not intentionally opening, levees is how to protect yourself from water.

CBS and CNN likewise praise the Netherlands’ efforts, especially the willingness of the Dutch to undertake such a spectacular financial commitment ($8 billion in an economy a fraction the size) and noting that their preparations resulted in a flood risk 40 times smaller than that of New Orleans. The New York Times (requires subscription) elaborates on the cost of upkeep and the commitment to maintenance:

The Netherlands maintains large teams of inspectors and maintenance crews that safeguard the sprawling complex, which is known as Delta Works. The annual maintenance bill is about $500 million. ''It's not cheap,'' Mr. de Haan [a senior engineer with the Dutch ministry responsible for flood control] said. ''But it's not so much in relation to the gross national product. So it's a kind of insurance.''

But differences were not limited to preparation – the New York Times noted that, during the catastrophic 1953 flood that the Dutch refer to simply as “the Disaster,” a ship captain sunk his vessel to seal a breach in a levy, a reaction far different than firing on helicopters trying to do the same thing.
Trying to explain the difference between Dutch planning and New Orleans anarchy, the New Republic’s Eve Fairbanks suggests that culture may play a role. Capturing the New Orleans mentality, she quotes New Orleans’ Times-Picayune columnist Betty Guillard: “If they know they'll be drowning soon," she said, "they'll just have a party.”

Posted 07:30 PM | Comments (0)

June 05, 2005

From Giacomo Chiozza on Anti-Americanism

Giacomo Chiozza is a post-doctoral fellow at Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, Harvard University. He will join the faculty in the Department of Political Science at UC-Berkeley in the Fall of 2005. In this letter, Chiozza answers three questions posed by Worldandus.

WorldAndUS: Why is it interesting to study perceptions of the US in the world (or anti-Americanism)?

GC -- Anti-Americanism appears to be a pervasive phenomenon of our times. But despite all the attention that it receives in the media, in the statements of political leaders, and among policy pundits, it still remains a poorly understood phenomenon. We should first acknowledge that anti-Americanism subsumes patterns of behavior and attitudinal stances that span the entire spectrum from the murderous hatred of the 9/11 hijackers to the fleeting and superficial opinions of ordinary people captured in opinion polls. And we should also acknowledge that when we say America, we evoke a large array of images, sentiments, aspirations, and ideals. This combination of competing and contradicting feelings makes the study of anti-Americanism particularly interesting.

A second set of reasons should also be considered. When we study international politics, we focus on the distribution of power and the patterns of interests. These two variables indeed help us understand a great deal of what happens in the international arena. But, as we try to understand the features and characteristics of the American world order, we very well observe that such an international order entails more than power and interests. It entails a normative and ideational dimension. The study of foreign attitudes towards the United States allows us to grasp such an ideational and normative dimension insofar as it tells us what is accepted and what is rejected, under what political conditions, by ordinary people.

-- WorldAndUs: Which effects might be expected from rising anti-Americanism?

GC -- We don't really know much about the political consequences of anti-Americanism. Conjectures abound about how popular opposition to the United States would affect the ability of the United States to pursue major policy initiatives and how such an opposition would create an international political context detrimental to American security. Several scholars have pointed out how the exceptional position of the United States in the current international system is buttressed by a special feature of America's, its soft power, to use Joseph Nye's catchy expression. If popular anti-Americanism is mounting, it might very well undermine American soft power, one of the pillars of the American world order. But, I think, we should avoid the temptation to draw immediate and linear connections between mass level negative attitudes towards the United States and the state choices in the international arena.

-- WorldAndUs: How is it possible to study the evolving nature of this phenomenon in a way so that it can be used as a policy tool?

GC -- When we think of the policy-implications of the scientific and academic research on anti-Americanism, we have to keep two aspects into consideration.

On the one hand, we have the aspiration to a "Decent Respect for the Opinions of Mankind," which is enshrined in the Declaration of Independence.

On the other hand, we have the statements of policy makers in the realpolitik tradition, such as Dean Acheson, who argued about 40 years ago that American political leaders should disregard any infatuation with the image of America abroad and, instead, place the course of America's foreign policy on the firm ground of the pursuit of American national interest. In more recent times, the neoconservative intellectuals who have framed American foreign policy under the reign of George W. Bush have made a similar argument and claimed that America should be "unapologetic" and not concerned about the views of foreign publics.

In other words, the policy implications of the study of anti-Americanism are indeed a politically contested battleground. But, regardless of the view we adopt, the knowledge produced by systematic analyses of anti-Americanism would have much more relevance if it followed from well-crafted research design. All too often the treatises on anti-Americanism simply "sample on the dependent variable," that is, select only instances of opposition to America for their analysis. In so doing, they do not show how mass attitudes vary over space and time and over the infinite features of the United States.

Once we start to analyze the rich variation in how America is perceived and appreciated abroad, we can start having a more realistic understanding of the phenomenon. We can start understand what exactly riles opponents and detractors of America, and what about America appeals to so many people. No sound policy advice can follow from analyses that only focus on the "hate" part, and miss out that America is also much loved as well.

Posted 10:27 PM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2005

Stem Cells, Bush disappoints Italian rightist intellectuals

Italian rightist intellectuals, politicians and thinkers are disappointed with Bush’s recent appearance on the media with a group of children born from frozen embryos.
The right-leaning newspaper Il Foglio published an article written by Jeff Israely , a journalist for Time Europe, thus strongly supporting his view of the matter.

"The U.s. President - states the journalist - is against research on embryonic stem cells, like the Italian supporters of law n.40, but this time their moral stand is much higher because they condemn embryo freezing as well. Being Bush convinced the embryo is a life, how can he allow it being frozen without any guarantees of a safe and certain implantation in a woman’s womb?"

This comment reflects the atmosphere that is dominating Italy at the moment, two weeks before the referendum which could modify or radically change the law which regulates medically-assisted procreation. The country is split between the deeply religious, pro-life voters or non –voters (they are calling on people not to go to the polls and so fail the quorum) and the ones who are in favour of research on embryonic stem cells and of in vitro fertilization with egg or sperm donation.

In recent years rightist intellectuals have always turned to George Bush, their ‘natural ally’, for moral, religious and also practical behaviours, but this time, in the scramble for votes, they can’t help supporting the attack on what they consider to be a contradictory position.

Posted 07:36 AM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2005

Can a French “no” to the EU be a “yes” to the US?

To approve or not to aprove? What a question.

To be European, perchance to be anti-American?

It depends…

French are asked to vote on the EU Constitution this coming Sunday, and polls indicate a likely victory of the “no.” It comes after, among others, a Spanish “yes” that WorldAndUS has already commented.

Many reasons are given: opposition to Chirac and his Prime Minister, fear of Turkey’s possible membership, push of the nationalist extreme right (and of the old nationalist left), lack of social policy in the Carta Magna, anti-globalization sentiments, personal calculation by Laurent Fabius, the main advocate of the “no” inside the Socialist Party which has officially opted for the “yes,” etc.
The central argument for those who oppose the Constitution in the left is that it is too market-driven, that it neglects social issues.

Less obvious, the relation to the United States remains at stake.

“Has anti-Americanism become the Europeanism of the fools?” asks Philippe Corcuff, a professor of political science, in a column published by Le Monde on May 20th. To this question his answer is unmistakably “yes.”

Corcuff prefers « an American dream, a certain American dream. Not American imperialism, not the American elites’ arrogance, not the aseptic culture sold worldwide! The American dream such as it appears in the films that have fed our imaginaries.” Not the reality, just the dream.

He wants to weaken one of some pro-European arguments: the need, the will to stand as a “different” voice in today’s world.

The nature of this difference is subject to significant nuances. In today’s editorial Jean-Marie Colombani, Le Monde’s director, laments that after a “no” from France “Europe would certainly cease to be a ‘provocation’ to George Bush’s America.” An allusion to an exchange the US President had with Tony Blair in the summer of 2001 in which he took his British guest desire to see Europe succeed as a “provocation.”

The demographer and anthropologist Emmanuel Todd takes a broader approach in an interview published on March 27 in which he explains his intention to vote “yes”:

“[…] because I am aware of the geopolitical context, and of the need for a good European entente in a period in which the United States are adrift. France only has 60 million inhabitants and will loose some of its power in this 450 million Europeans set. But 60 million people are insufficient in front of the United States, India, and China. And I consider that there is a way to remain faithful to one’s nation while accepting not to believe that it is the center of the world.”

What do you think?

Posted 01:36 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2005

Sixty Percent American and Calling Bush an Asshole

The controversial Danish film director Lars von Trier this Monday premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in France with his film “Mandalay” in the competition for the prestigious Golden Palm. His film set in the 1930s is about slavery and racism in the United States, a country von Trier never visited but still feels part of.

This film is the second part of his trilogy about the U.S. – the first film was “Dogville” starring Nicole Kidman. Von Trier decided to set "Mandalay" in the U.S. because its culture is so dominant, he said according to the Washington Post.

"America is kind of sitting on the world. There's no question about it. It's sitting on the world, and therefore, I'm making films that have to do with America, because America fills about 60 percent of my brain… And I'm not very happy about that. Sixty percent of my life is America, so in fact, I am an American. But I can't go there to vote. I can't change anything because I'm from a small country, and we sit there and be American.”

as David Germain quotes von Trier for saying in his May 16 article in the Washington Post. He continues quoting von Trier:

"We are a nation under the influence, and I think under the very bad influence, from America I would say right now; also because I think Mr. Bush is … an asshole that is... doing a lot of completely idiotic things."
However, the words "an asshole that is” is not part of Germain’s quote in the Washington Post article. Supposedly, it is inappropriate to use such a word in the WP, at least while speaking of the President.

In Denmark, however, the very fact that von Trier used the word “asshole” to describe George Bush immediately became a lead story in the media and provoked headlines such as “Trier: Bush is an Asshole”, found similar in Swedish newspapers.

This story is interesting for two reasons. First, American culture seemingly can come to dominate foreigners’ identity, but these affected foreigners do not feel able to influence America back, and that creates frustration and in some cases even hate. Von Trier is a good example of that. Ironically, he now is influencing America back through this trilogy. Second, why can’t an American newspaper quote a prominent cultural personality for calling the U.S. President an asshole? Isn’t that kind of censorship compromising the freedom of speech? And isn’t this very provocation a worthy news story in itself?

Last year, Michael Moore won the Golden Palm for his Bush-bashing “Fahrenheit-911”. If Trier wins this year’s Palm an interesting pattern might be evolving. It’s not a favorite, though.

Posted 02:06 AM | Comments (1)

May 04, 2005

Madrid-Massachusetts: Could the "gay-link" make us closer?

Parejahomosexual-elmundo.jpgSir, do you take this man to be your husband? Lady, do you take this woman to be your wife? Male-male and female-female weddings will be a common thing this summer in Spain. It is not likely to improve the relationship between George W. Bush and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, his Spanish counterpart.

The Socialist government has just passed a law that makes Spain the third country in the world to allow gay marriage with the same rights as heterosexuals, after Holland and Belgium. And many couples are now preparing to say: "sí quiero" (yes I do) to their long time non-recognised partners. Taxes, inheritance and even child adoption -which is only allowed in Holland- are some of the rights gay couples have finally accomplished in this country.

Though the bill still has to pass through Senate, where the Conservatives hold the mayority, it's taken for granted that the proposition will become law around this summer, as even if its rejected at the Upper House of the Spanish Parliament it has to return to the Congress again, where it has a secured mayority.

The move comes almost a year after the Supreme Court of Massachusetts allowed gay marriages in that state, the only one in the US that legally recognises homosexual unions. Could this become a link uniting both countries? Hardly, I'm afraid.

George W. Bush has clearly declared his firm opposition to this kind of weddings, and the Spanish decision will likely not improve the -little- sympathy the US president has for his Spanish counterpart José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

Critics of gay marriage have also flourished in Spain, mostly in the ranks of the Catholic Church. The Church had recently lost a battle where it demanded that homosexual unions not be certified as “marriages” as it believed that only unions from the opposite sex could fully deserve such terminology.

Also, the Vatican, which has just welcomed a new Pope who has already
vowed to continue the same conservative line that defined John Paul II's papacy, hasn't waited long to condemn (once more) the Spanish leftist government for this measure. Colombian cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo, president of the Family Council in the Vatican, said that gay-marriage is an "inhuman" law that amounts to the "destruction of the family". The Vatican also urged the Spanish civil servants not to accept carrying out gay marriages, which would infringe the law.

The main Spanish opposition party, the Partido Popular (PP) of former
president José María Aznar, a close friend of Bush, isn't happy, either. Only one of its members of parliament voted affirmatively for the law. And its new leader, Mariano Rajoy, hasn't yet condemned the "disobedience-appeal" of the Church. Some local mayors of his party have already announced that they won't marry gay couples.

Fortunately, though, it's quite possible that more US gay citizens will decide to spend their next holiday in Spain, doing much good to Spanish tourism and, probably, to the better understanding of both
countries, at least between the "liberal" members of them.

Posted 11:11 AM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2005

Happy McBirthday

“A BigMac contains 3.5 grams of onion and two pickles. It has spread throughout 119 countries, because it also tastes like freedom. It has survived both anti-Americanism and health fetishism”, writes Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende in celebration of McDonald's 50th Anniversary on April 15th.

Apart from Santa Claus, Ronald McDonald is actually the figure children all over the world are most familiar with. McDonald’s Golden Arches can be identified by more people than the Christian cross. And The Economist uses its well-known BigMac index to compare purchasing power in different countries.

Although a BigMac is a BigMac wherever you go, McDonald’s has won a lot by adapting to local circumstances. In Israel you can get a Kosher Burger, in the Middle East a McArabia Sandwich, and in India a Chicken Maharaja Mac. Professor in International Relations, Joseph Nye, in his book Soft Power describes the important power of influencing others by culture. And McDonald’s image is definitely McSoft Power par excellence. Nye describes to Berlingske Tidende how an Indian couple recently told him that “going into a McDonald’s is like getting a little piece of America”. A bite of a BigMac is a bite of the West, a taste of freedom, democracy, capitalism, and the opportunities waiting around the corner.

McDonald’s has benefited from being the Western symbol of globalization: Each year USians (a name for "Americans" suggested by Galtung) consume 1.5 billion Double Cheese burgers, there are 31,561 restaurants world-wide, the largest market outside the US is Japan with 3,700 restaurants (of course serving Teriyaki burgers), and one of the largest restaurants with room for 700 customers is found in Beijing, China.

No doubt, McDonald’s is one of the most visible commercial symbols of the United States. But even though rising anti-Americanism and skepticism toward globalization has led to a huge amount of broken restaurant windows, McDonald’s has been successful in adapting to local conditions. In France, for example, it is possible to get a Croque McDo. Many remember the French José Bové, who became a national hero by harassing McDonald’s, according to Joseph Nye, but the interesting thing is that this didn’t affect sales. The French kept on eating Ronald’s burgers.

Finally, here are two questions for the blog: Does a McArabia Sandwich contribute to the spread of democracy? And how does the global success and spread of McDonald’s affect perceptions of the United States in the world?

Posted 12:49 AM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2005

New French tactics against American cultural domination

Expatica, a site for expats, recently published a story on French reaction against Google’s electronic library project: Gallica.jpg

French President Jacques Chirac has vowed to launch a new "counter-offensive" against American cultural domination, enlisting the support of the British, German and Spanish governments in a multi-million euro bid to put the whole of European literature online.
The president was reacting this month to news that the American search-engine provider Google is to offer access to some 15 million books and documents currently housed in five of the most prestigious libraries in the English-speaking world.
The realization that the "Anglo-Saxons" were on the verge of a major breakthrough towards the dream of a universal library seriously rattled the cultural establishment in Paris, raising again the fear that French language and ideas will one day be reduced to a quaint regional peculiarity.

The basic issue, as seen by National Library president Jean-Noel Jeanneney who published an OpEd piece in the daily Le Monde on the subject is “the risk of a crushing American domination in the definition of how future generations conceive the world.” [Published on January 22nd edition, the article is not available for non suscribers. You will find most elements translated and annotated on this page].

Expatica reminds us of the existence of a “complex web of laws and subsidies” to defend its cultural products. An attitude that might remind us of the “Maginot line” of sinister fame for its incapacity to defend France against the Panzers in 1939. Walls are still less effective on the web.

What is new and interesting is the apparent decision to take the offensive and put more French texts and cultural material on the internet. There is a small program at the Bibliothèque de France called Gallica. But, according to this story, its budget is one thousandth of what Google will put to develop its own.

Aware of this the French will intend to involve British, Germans, and Spanish in a European counter-offensive.

Opposing the flows of American cultural products on the web might seem ridiculous to some, but understanding that – when dealing with content at least - it takes flows to combat flows indicates a significant move forward.

Posted 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2005

Bush burning, and rapprochement of sorts in Caracas

BurningINCaracas.jpg Following a well established tradition (in its 64th year) people gathered in several Caracas cemeteries and public squares to burn a few images. George W. Bush was among the victims.

It can hardly be seen as a friendly gesture. But there might not be as much anti-Americanism in it as one might think. The US president was surrounded by a group of unpopular local politicians and celebrities who suffered the same fate.

The rite is called “Judas burning” and takes place on Easter’s Sunday. To make the punishment more acceptable, some Caraqueños (Caracas dwellers) refused to give a person’s name to their effigy, and called it “the interventionist,” explains El Universal a local daily newspaper.

At the very same moment Bush was burnt in a pro-government neighborhood, Hugo Chavez went in flames in an opposition quarter. They had never been so close.

Posted 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

March 26, 2005

The American Dream vs. the European Dream

American author Jeremy Rifkin was interviewed Friday in Deadline, a Danish news program, about his book “The European Dream”, in which he claims that a newly emerging European dream seems more appealing to many than the better-known American Dream (read his October 2004 article in the Washington Post).

Rifkin thinks president Bush is “starting to wake up to the fact that he cannot ignore Brussels”, indicated by his latest visit to Europe (see earlier entry). The European Union’s GDP was larger than he United States’ a year ago, the EU is the largest exporting power in the world today, the EU has the largest commercial market, and 61 out of the 140 world’s largest companies are European, whereas only 50 of these are American. Further, the EU now leads in key industries like banking, insurance, chemicals, aero space, and engineering. All this makes the EU a possible challenger to US world dominance, which is why the ideology or dream of Europe becomes important.

The American dream sees America as the land of opportunity: if you can get a good education and if you work hard, you can become a success in your life. That dream has been robust for at least 150 years. Even as late as in 1960 the US was the most middle-class egalitarian country in the world. Unfortunately, according to Rifkin, today the American dream has seriously unraveled. Today, the US ranks 24th among industrial countries in income disparity – the gap between rich and poor. Only Mexico and Russia have greater disparity in income. Today, polls show that only 51 percent of Americans believe in the American dream, and more to the point one third say they don’t believe in the dream at all. In Rifkin’s mind, the basic problem with the American dream is that it is founded on the individual, which is problematic in an increasingly globalized world.

There is a new dream emerging in Europe, however, which in many ways present an alternative. According to Rifkin, a lot of young people around the world are beginning to look to this European dream the way so many generations looked to the American dream in the last century. Whereas the American dream aims for “personal success in life”, the European dream aims for “a good quality of life for one’s family and community”. Rifkin lays out the European dream as incorporating:

1) Inclusivity: the idea that no one should be abandoned totally by society, and that we have an obligation to our fellow human beings; 2) Respecting multicultural diversity; 3) Promoting a good quality of life for the community; 4) A strong commitment to sustainable development, the environment, and the earth; 5) Promotion of social rights and universal human rights; 6) Balancing work and play; and 7) Peace and harmony.

Hard to live up to, and a somewhat naïve and optimistic dream some may say. Rifkin admits this, but points out that this is the first “dream” that attempts to create a global consciousness in a globalized world: “It may be too ambitious, but it’s an extraordinary departure”, says Rifkin.

In my opinion, this story is interesting to our blog since Rifkin’s book contributes to an understanding of what the EU project is also about: creating an alternative to the American project, which many seem to dislike for numerous reasons. Are the emerging conflicts between the US and EU (Kyoto, ICC, multilateralism and so on) really a clash of ideas based on different “dreams”, or do the two powers simply have different interests?

Posted 12:32 AM | Comments (0)

March 23, 2005

Conference on "Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism"

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, organizes a conference on "Islamophobia and Anti-Americanism: Causes and Remedies," to be held May 13-15, 2005, in Washington, D.C.

CAIR writes:

This conference will explore the root causes behind the twin phenomena of Islamophobia and anti-Americanism. To tackle these important issues, we have assembled a group of leading experts, including university professors, authors, researchers, community activists, and faith-based leaders. The conference is expected to initiate serious dialogue on both issues and will also seek positive and practical solutions.

Posted 04:37 PM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2005

An American Student in Spain: Reflections on Anti-American Sentiment

I recently had the chance to interview Carmen, a student from the University of California, who has been studying abroad in Spain since last fall. I posed a series of questions to Carmen, who responded to me via email. At times Carmen wrote eloquently yet painfully of some of her recent experiences as an American student living in Spain. What follows are some of the questions and answers from my interview with Carmen.

To what extent do you find Spanish public opinion positive or negative towards the United States government?

I have found Spanish public opinion to be extremely negative towards the US government. It is a daily topic of discussion in the streets and on the news. The incumbent president, Zapatero, is noted as one of the most Anti-american presidents Spain has ever had. During a Spanish congressional hearing, the President was asked about US relations; he stated the the US and Spain have always had good working relations, but due to US bigotry, Spain was deciding not to have relations at this moment. During another hearing, he made a few jokes about not needing the US. Though most people are fed up with the incumbent president, his Anti-American resonance lives in his people.

To what extent do you find Spanish public opinion positive or negative towards American citizens living in Spain?

When I arrived, I believed that I would face Anti-Americanism towards our policies and not towards our people. This I found was a mistake. ...When I voiced that I was American, they turned their backs on me. I volunteered for a language exchange program to help Spanish students practice their English. When I began speaking they noticed I didn't have a British accent; they immediately closed up and began voicing back every American stereotype that existed that they believed would be indicative of me. For example, "you're from the states so you have a lot of money and don't care about us poor Spaniards", "all Americans are conservative oil grubbing people, especially if they're from Texas", and "Californians are idiots because theyre being led by movie stars." I was also knocked for my "American" accent a few times for being unrefined. I thought that this might be a big city view of Americans since I am living in Madrid. However, I went to a tiny town in the southern region called El Campello in the region of Jaen. This town has about 400 people in it. ...Once I was discovered to be American, people closed off to me. ...It was hurtful because they knew me to be a nice person, until they found out I was from the US. I encountered the same in the northern region of Spain as well.

That Carmen has felt a strong wave of Anti-American sentiment in Spain is unquestionable. As to the extent to which we may generalize about her experiences, I am unsure. On the one hand, there clearly seems to be deep-seated resentment against Americans living in Spain. On the other hand, perhaps the wave of Anti-American sentiment is only temporary. It still remains to be seen if other students such as Carmen will continue to feel the sting of Anti-American sentiment, or if the tide of negative public opinion in Spain will eventually subside.

I want to thank Carmen for her comments and insights. I hope the experiences she has shared can serve for further discussion. What do you think about Carmen's experiences? Please post your comments.

Posted 11:59 PM | Comments (1)

February 22, 2005

The Economist (Part II): The Old Slur

A second article in this week's Economist, "Anti-Americanism, the American left and the American right" (a sort of companion piece to the special report previously discussed here), examines the meaning of "anti-American" inside the United States.

(Once again, this is premium content; for the full text, you'll have to wait for a sponsored free-access moment or purchase it outright.)

There is no thunderbolt that the American right likes hurling at its foes more than the accusation of "anti-Americanism". Most of its targets are foreigners. But, from the right's point of view, there are plenty of unAmerican leftists at home too. Conservative congressmen labour over laws to prevent leftists from burning the American flag. Conservative talk-show hosts are for ever uncovering anti-Americanism at Harvard or on National Public Radio. And conservative activists are forever shouting at liberals: "Why don't you move to France?"

"How widespread is domestic anti-Americanism?" the columnist wonders. "Is it really a doctrine that pervades the American left, as many conservatives charge? Or is it an eccentric phenomenon blown out of proportion by a vicious conservative attack-machine?"

(More inside.)

The writer considers several recent cases of lefties who've been labeled anti-American: University of Colorado professsor Ward Churchill, who described victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as "little Eichmanns"; CNN news exec Eason Jordan, who was accused of saying that the U.S. military had deliberately tried to kill journalists in Iraq; as well as two notably vocal critics of the United States, filmmaker Michael Moore and the late writer and intellectual Susan Sontag.

The piece is typical of the Economist in that it combines sophisticated leaning-conservative-but-balanced analysis with a cutting British wit:

Comrades Sontag and Moore would insist that they were opposed to American foreign policy, not America; but, to put it mildly, they were pushing it. They also represent a private tradition on the American left of rubbishing their countrymen as vulgar morons, especially when set alongside sophisticated Europeans. (If you doubt this, don a tweed jacket, assume a British accent, invite yourself to a dinner party in an American university town and wait until the Pinot Grigio takes hold.)

The columnist then makes an interesting point: that "loud-mouth critics of American policy on the right" are hardly ever labeled "anti-American":

The American Conservative is as rude about American imperialism and the Iraq war as the Nation -- but nobody really accuses Pat Buchanan of anti-Americanism. As for dismissing American culture, Mr Moore is less acerbic than one of the right's patron saints, H.L. Mencken. The Public Interest and the New Criterion worry about popular culture. Robert Bork thinks America is slouching towards Gomorrah. Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell agreed that September 11th was a punishment for America's liberalism on abortion and homosexuality. Was that less anti-American than Ms Sontag?

The article draws one central conclusion, that the American left is every bit as patriotic as the right (witness Democrats' draping themselves in the flag at every opportunity). Rather, the thesis here is that the left loves the United States every bit as much as the right; it simply has different reasons for its patriotism:

Liberals think that America has been defined by its commitment to equality of opportunity (hence their worries about cutting inheritance tax); by its commitment to the separation of church and state (hence their worries about faith-based social policy); and by its enthusiasm for human rights (hence their worries about torture). When liberals created People for the American Way, they did not see it as a covert People for the French Way. The real battle-line in the culture wars is not between pro-Americans and anti-Americans; it is between two groups of patriots who have very different ideas about what makes America America (with the regional battle-lines, incidentally, bearing some similarity to those in the civil war).
This carries a warning for two very different sorts of people. The first is anti-American foreigners: they should not take clowns like Mr Moore or Mr Churchill as typical. Americans are a patriotic bunch -- and, for the most part, this patriotism stretches from one end of the political spectrum to the other. The second is the American right. So far, conservatives have played the unAmerican card extremely well; but when it comes to unAmerican purges there is always a danger of overreach.

Posted 11:57 PM | Comments (0)

February 06, 2005

Measuring Anti-Americanism in the World

In the process of tracking, understanding, and discussing anti-Americanism in this group blog, we can learn a lot from the comprehensive international survey conducted by BBC in the summer of 2003. The survey was carried out in 11 countries asking 11,000 people different questions about their views and opinions towards America to be used in the television program What The World Thinks of America. The countries included in the survey were the UK, France, Russia, Indonesia, South Korea, Jordan, Australia, Canada, Israel, Brazil and the US.

The results show that there is a huge difference in people’s attitudes towards America and towards George W. Bush (please click here to watch the graphs). This clearly indicates that the policies of the present US administration matters a great deal to the world, and might even contribute to the level of anti-Americanism. Therefore, I think we need to dig into the question of which policy issues turn people on - and off.

The survey shows that people from the 11 countries to a fair extent agree with US policies on the spread of HIV/AIDS, and to a lesser degree on the fight against terrorism. The world, on the other hand, disagrees with US policies on the issues of world poverty, global warming, nuclear proliferation, and especially on the Israeli/Palestinian question. The general skepticism regarding the latter might explain the very positive reaction, in at least the Danish media, to Bush’s state of the union announcement this Wednesday of a $350 million contribution to the Palestinian cause. The survey shows that all but the Americans are unsatisfied with the US policy towards Israel and Palestine, including Israel.

But how does the world perceive Americans? The respondents think that Americans can best be described as free, arrogant, united, and religious. But the picture here is not very clear. This point towards that identifying values and labels for a whole population is a complicated endeavor.

On the question of the big dangers in the world, an average of 46 percent think that America is more dangerous than Iran. Among the respondents 48 percent think that the superior military power of the US makes the world a more dangerous place, whereas only 12 percent of Americans think the same.

In sum, there seems to be a great divide in the world perception of the US, most often with the US on one side of the table and the rest of the world on the other. Not a very fortunate situation for the world’s greatest power. The world seems to be more frustrated with US policies than with Americans as such. This indicates that the roots of anti-Americanism aren’t to be found in American values, but rather in the actual conduct of US foreign policy regarding the global issues of poverty, environment, and conflict solving.

Posted 11:25 PM | Comments (0)