Thursday, July 03, 2008

Ajami's Hall of Mirrors

Hate America?

No you don’t, insists Fouad Ajami. Or at least the headline on his latest essay in the Wall Street Journal reads: ``Anti-Americanism Is Mostly Hype.’’ I couldn’t agree more, but for different reasons, which I’ll come back to later.

Ajami’s subject is ostensibly a new Pew Research Center survey showing more people than ever say they distrust America. I say ostensibly because in fact, he just uses the survey to bash American liberals. His attempt is doomed, but telling. Why would someone try to use a poll showing a vast, growing majority of the entire world agrees with the American liberals’ worldview to bash those same liberals?

Ajami is so invested in his own hype, he doesn’t understand how he undermines his own argument.

He is drawn to the theme of anti-Americanism out of a belief that it is a magic epithet that can vanquish at a stroke any systematic criticism of the Bush Republicans or American military aggression. The problem is that this is a cudgel right-wing Americans use against the majority of Americans who disagree with them on most issues. The Pew evidence is about what foreigners think. Not to worry, Ajami writes, what the foreigners think is really a kind of liberal trick.

He claims liberals use the opinions of foreigners to say what they dare not about America. Setting aside whether that’s true or meaningful, the point of the Pew results is that foreigners distrust America, regardless of how American liberals feel about that.

If you read the entire Pew report, it becomes clear that the Pew results show that people don’t hate America, per se. They hate Bush. They hate American chauvinism, which shouldn’t be surprising. Nobody likes a chauvinist, least of all people on or near the receiving end of it.

Ajami's misunderstanding of this has been costly. He was among the go to talking heads on Fox TV, CNN and other mainstream media for a pro-war "Arab" view. Among his keen insights was the the invasion of Iraq would be celebrated by Iraqis. The U.S. would be welcomed, first in Iraq and then, when democracy was established there, across the Middle East. Could have have possibly been any more thoroughly wrong? Yet now, we find him peddling the exact same tripe on the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

He writes:
``We were once loved in Anatolia, but now a mere 12% of Turks have a "favorable view" of the U.S. Only 22% of Egyptians think well of us. Pakistan is crucial to the war on terror, but we can only count on the goodwill of 19% of Pakistanis.’’

The difference between hating America and hating Bush seems to escape Ajami, which is probably the main reason he steps directly into such a large, stinking mound of his own thought crap. His self-contradicting conclusions:

1. Foreigners don’t really hate America.
`` Egyptians railing against America are giving voice to the disappointment that runs through their life and culture. Scapegoating and anti-Americanism are a substitute for a sober assessment of what ails that old, burdened country.’’

2. Foreigners really do hate America, but this shouldn’t matter because liberals use this fact to support their own worldview and, even, to make criticisms of American they’d be afraid to make on their own.
``American liberalism is heavily invested in this narrative of U.S. isolation.’’ The Pew survey results are ``an old trick, the use of foreign narrators and witnesses to speak of one's home.’’

3. Foreigners do really hate America, but it’s not Bush’s fault, because they have always hated America.
``I grew up in the Arab world in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and anti-Americanism was the standard political language.’’

4. Foreigners don’t really hate America, but, well, maybe they do now, but only because Islamists are poisoning their brains.
``Turkey has become the "torn country" that the celebrated political scientist Samuel Huntington said it was, its very identity fought over between the old Kemalist elites and the new Islamists.’’

5. We shouldn’t care what foreigners think. They’re “hysteric.”
``Nor should we listen too closely to the anti-American hysteria that now grips Turkey.’’

6. We should care what foreigners think. Some of them like George W. Bush, so of course their opinions matter.

``Europeans who ponder the burning grounds of the Islamic world know the distinction between fashionable anti-Americanism and the international order underpinned by American power. George W. Bush may have been indifferent to political protocol, but he held the line when it truly mattered, and the Europeans have come to understand that appeasement of dictators and brigands begets its own troubles.’’

``Anti-Americanism” is indeed hype. It’s the right’s Orwellian term for anti-chauvinist or anti-rightist. If you oppose their vision of American, you’re “Anti-American.” It’s plain silly.

Go to any right-wing magazine or blog or talkradio and find the seething dismay with American diplomacy, the Supreme Court, American higher-education, Hollywood, pop culture, the American news media. All of it GARBAGE, they howl. The derision and dismissal is non-stop, yet it never occurs to any of them, apparently, that all their venom could be construed as anti-American. And, indeed, liberals are not in the habit of calling these criticisms anti-American, because most of us recognize that it’s simply another world view.

No one loves America more than I do.

No comments: