The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, August 10, 2003

Hegemony and the hamburger
Shelley Walia

Why do People Hate America?
by Ziauddin Sardar and Merry Wyn Davies. Icon, Cambridge, UK. Pages 231. £ 7.99

Why do People Hate America?ON the streets of Paris or along the Rhine flowing through Germany, on the banks of the Tigris or in the streets of Teheran, the anti-American wave blows all the more stronger in the post-Twin Tower debacle. America’s unmatched military strength, its corporations and popular culture coalesce into what Ziauddin Sardar and Merry Davies call, a ‘hyperpower’ that influences indigenous cultures around the world. The hamburger culture overwhelms the Third World indigenous cultures.

American experience is felt worldwide through its political and foreign policy, military action, cultural products, a frightfully prejudiced diet of unawareness and distortion spun out by the media, consumer and lifestyle products and educational institutions; name it and it is tangibly present in the remotest corners of the world. It is an ‘immensely coherent whole’ in spite of the diversity of American culture; the entire system is an integral part of the hamburger experience. Though the media and the Hollywood film is responsible to a great extent in bringing about "cultural and representational straitjackets encasing the globe," it is this very media that works to keep the American people closed to experience and ideals from the rest of the world and "thereby increases the insularity, self-absorption and ignorance that is the overriding problem the rest of the world has with America."


Power without informed democratic control is not accountable, and ‘knowledgeable ignorance’ is central to the complex relationship of America to the rest of the world. Take for instance the case of the Middle-East conflict. Edward Said puts it rather succinctly when he blames this ignorance and misrepresentation on the body of study and expertise called Orientalism which has "cowed far too many of us into believing that Arabs really are an underdeveloped, incompetent and doomed people, and that with all the failures in democracy and development, Arabs are alone in this world for being retarded, behind the times, unmodernised and deeply reactionary. Here is where dignity and critical historical thinking must be mobilised to see what is what and to disentangle truth from propaganda."

And still America remains impervious to any foreign influence. It exports democratic values and yet remains a threat to individuality and to the militarily week nations around the world. The rule of International Law is flouted across the board, setting up client regimes wherever the need arises, dethroning any leader who challenges its hegemony or economic interests. It is an intoxicated power that pays little heed to the egalitarian impulses. Weather it is Iraq or Nicaragua, democracies cannot be manufactured at will; the complex history of a nation cannot be ignored. And it cannot be denied that democratic cultures grow from within and can never be affected from the outside. The treatment of the rest of the world at the United Nations, its control of global institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation throw sufficient light on its relationship with the rest of the world and the grievances against its hegemony. And yet many Americans feel they can do no wrong. A miniscule of the American population feels that their country is responsible for the "bitter polarisation between haves and have-nots" and almost 90 per cent feel that they are disliked by the rest of the world because of their power and wealth.

A country that depends on its commercial ventures for its obscene power, and its authority emerges through backing authoritarianism around the world cannot escape this wave of anti-Americanism. Asians and Africans, French and Germans, Muslims and Arabs all hate America. The Koreans, the Turks and the Palestinians, the people of Pakistan and Jordan, all detest Bush and America in general. Disparities of wealth, power, freedom and opportunity have given rise to anti-globalisation protesters and numerous other movements for justice and peace.

But does this boil down to hating American poetry or music, drama or its films? The authors of the book argue that you can hate America without hating its culture and its arts. America is not a monolith. The binaries of good and bad, us and them, are the concoctions of the conservative Right and have no foundations accept a kind of jingoistic attitude that tends to propagate the ‘civilising mission’ of a neo-imperialist nation that uses such stereotypes to undemocratically control the world economy and the free flow of capital and labour. Cultural hegemony of this kind spawns hatred, but the common American remains blissfully ignorant of the negative effects of the American foreign policy which rests on the "burden of the American (gunfighter) hero" or the American myth depicted in the image of a John Wayne asserting: "Got to do what a man’s got to do." Is not innocence and self-righteousness central to the American self-image? This is the relational aspect of its identity springing from its view of the ‘other.’ The authors rightly point out that out of the image of oneself comes the definition of "the idea of America as the future, everyone’s future, (which) is an arrogant denial of the freedom of others, of the potential of the present to create alternative futures in the complex image of the whole world and all its peoples."

The post-September 11 mood in the US has been of "an extraordinary new American refusal to go along with the official line the growing, angry awareness among Americans that they were being lied to, and deceived," according to Robert Fisk, the Middle-East correspondent. The arrogance of Bush, the ruthless bombardment of Palestinian civilians and the number of CIA engineered coups around the world are more than enough to provoke this worldwide animosity. This book is not about 9/11, but the political milieu and the context of questions that existed before the gruesome event. It examines America’s own perceptions of itself and provides an essential input to a debate, which needs to be tackled by people of all nations, cultures, religions and political persuasions.