26 September 2006

Americans just don't get it

In an article on the Clash of civilizations, James Pinkerton writes:
It's true, of course, that the General Assembly contains many dictatorial and tyrannical governments, but Iran and Venezuela are democracies, more or less. And in their demagogic way, Ahmadinejad and Chavez represent huge constituencies, not only in their countries, but around the world. Those two men don't hate America - and our allies, such as Israel - because they aren't free. They hate America because they hate America and its allies, period.

We live in a world in which not everyone gets along, for a combination of reasons - theological, historical, personal, legitimate, illegitimate. That's politics, because that's human nature.

So of these four leaders - the pope, Ahmadinejad, Chavez and Bush - the odd man out would seem to be ... our own president. He has his faith that he is right, but the others have their faiths, too. Hence, the Clash.
Such ignorance is scary. It is quite clear that many Americans appear to believe, like Pinkerton, that "they hate us because they hate us". Not "they hate us because we (or our our allies) bombed them, or keep threatening to do so". Not "they hate us because we have attempted to overthrow their democratically-elected governments by engineering a coup", but just because they hate us with an irrational uncaused hate.

One of the things about human nature is that if you bomb people out of their homes, destroy their livelihood and kill their friends and relatives they are unlikely to be overflowing with love and gratitude towards the people who do these things. This is not an irrational "they hate us because they hate us" hate. They hate for a reason. And the fact that they do so shows the limits of reason, which points to one of the shortcomings in Roman Pope Benedict's Regensburg address. The Christian injunction to love those who hate you goes well beyond the limits of reason.

This is not how clashes of civilizations start, but it is how clashes of all kinds continue and escalate.

New every morning is the love
with which our ministers approve
devices new and up to date
for fostering the same old hate.

8 comments:

Nathan said...

We've never bombed Venezuela. Or Iran. It is perhaps questionable whether we've attempted to instigate a coup in Iran, but we certainly haven't in Venenzuela. Idle conspiracy-mongering certainly isn't proof.

The Iranians hate us because of religion. They percieve (mostly wrongly) that the United States is a Christian nation. And they understand their religious mandate to therefore involve America-hatred. Then of course, there is Israel, but that's vastly more complicated than either you or Pinkerton are making this issue.

The Venezuelans hate us because Chavez has found it is profitable to direct hatred against an outside entity in order to take his people's minds off the squalor they live in. He ran for office attacking the middle class of his country, and now he's just looking for another scapegoat.

Though there are confounding factors, hatred of the US by these smaller, poorer, less successful countries is largely based in jealousy. America is far and away the biggest economy, the biggest exporter of culture, and the most powerful nation on earth. Nobody likes a consistent winner except the winner's side. Just look at the New York Yankees. :)

So yes, Pinkerton is oversimplifying, but I think you are as well. And the fundamental fact is that the West is hated largely because of things we see as good: secularism, materialism, power. I'm not going to insist these are unmitigated goods, but they are certainly preferable to the socio-communist or neo-caliphate alternatives.

Steve Hayes said...

Hmmm, I don't seem to have expressed myself very well, do I?

I did not mean to suggest that the US had bombed Iraq or Venezuela, though it has threatened to bomb Iraq and one US political leader called for the assassination of the elected president of Venezuela. It also deposed the democratically-elected President of Haiti.

Anonymous said...

Nathan. You say: "...hatred of the US by these smaller, poorer, less successful countries is largely based in jealousy."

That is typical of most Americans. You like to think that's why you're hated so universally.

It's a simple, smug, answer that avoids having to look at the terrible things your country does to other peoples.

I live in Australia, where bombastic people from your country are referred to as "Septic Tanks". (That's from London's Cockney rhyming slang.)

Steve Hayes said...

Yes, indeed, the idea that hatred of the US in many parts of the world is largely based on jealousy is the primary symptom of the "not getting it" syndrome.

To think that it is jealousy, and not US foreign policy, and especially the proclivity for waging wars of aggression and bombing people out of their homes and jobs, is a pretty clear indication of "not getting it".

Nathan said...

I said "largely based" not "wholly based." That may be smug, but it certainly isn't simple. As I tried to point out, the complicating factors are different in each case. Chavez is simply a thug, and we simply happen to be his target de jour. With Iran and the rest of the Muslim world, the conflict is much deeper. I actually think the title of the article Steve quoted here was right on, it is a clash of civilizations. Islam and the West have been fighting since Tours. Even before. But Europe has realized since then that it is a fight for survival, and though the realiziation has waned in recent years, I think awareness is reawakening. The Muslim world has never forgotten, which is why people like the Dean of Islamic Studies in Umm Al-Qara University in Mecca will say things like "It is not the world against Iraq. It is the West against Islam." And he said that in 1990. It has been so for a very long time, and it is indeed simplifying to attribute the conflict solely to jealousy. But it is also simplifying to assume that if the West was less willing to stand up for its interests, the conflict would go away. It will last as long as each side exists. Unless something dramatic changes in the Islamic mindset, and they come to grips with a world in which Islam is not the only religion.

Steve Hayes said...

I don't know if Chavez is a thug. He hasn't yet waged a war of aggression against another country, as Bush has. Chavez is the elected president of Venezuela. Whatever his good points or his bad points, it is the Venezuelans who have to put up with him. I think he lacks discrimination, as he supports thugs like Muggabe.

The clash of civilizations thesis is an interesting one, and I think it has managed to explain a lot about the post-Cold War ere. It was seen most clearly in Yugoslavia, which involved three civilizations, and events there seemed to support the thesis.

But it depends on how you look at it. If it is a kind of deterministic predictor, where everything is predestined and inevitable, then we will probably destroy the human race in wars.

But I don't think it is that. If the thesis has any use, at least to Christians, then its use is to help us to see where clashes are likely to take place, or be aware of the fault-lines between civilisations, and to try to defuse the conflict. And the main cause of conflict is fear and insecurity, played as a zero-sum game, when people believe that the only way they can live in peace and security is by making other people insecure.

As one speaker at a conference a few years ago put it, "It is not ancient hatreds that cause wars, it is wars that cause ancient hatreds."

The Scrivener said...

I'm late to this conversation, but certainly there are different stripes of anti-Americanism, yes? I seriously doubt that Ahmadinejad and Chavez hate America for the same reasons. America is a big enough target for a thousand arrows at once.

Why do the Brits hate America? What about the French? Certainly, we're not in the business of fostering coups or threatening bombing campaigns in western Europe. But the US is a bully, oftentimes, and that's reason enough for many.

Why do populists in Latin America, like Chavez, hate the US? Well, again, the US has a long history of bullying in Latin America, plus economic manipulation, plus political and military intervension. It's all a bunch of leftovers from the Monroe doctrine. We treat the New World largely as if it were our backyard to landscape as we wish.

Why do Muslim states and populations hate America? It's another, different story. Some hate America for the "culture" we export, and for our long reach, for a history of military and political intervention, etc. But for many in the Muslim world I think it's clear that hatred of America blends into a more general hatred for western culture, secularism, Christianity, etc..

So what's a superpower to do? Isolationism isn't really an option anymore (though sometimes I really wish it were). The only other option is engagement of one sort or another, either with the aim of cooperating in our own dismantling (though the collapse of empire is always messy and effects those outside its borders too) or maintaining our hegemony. What world power in history has ever willingly taken the former route?

Steve Hayes said...

Concerning Venezuela:

"A good place to start is the short-lived 2002 coup in Venezuela. While the United States publicly denies any role in the coup, numerous published reports show that at the very least the United States had a cozy relationship with many of the opposition figures who allegedly planned the coup and immediately welcomed the overthrow of the democratically elected
president.

The U.S. government, through the National Endowment for Democracy and
ominously named Office of Transition Initiatives, has funneled millions of dollars to some of the most radical elements of domestic opposition in Venezuela, including political parties. Do you think President Bush and Karl Rove would be upset if the tables were turned and Chavez were funding a 527 group supporting the Democrats in the mid-term elections?"

From the Miami Herald

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