Why do they hate us?
lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Sep 17 07:24:58 MDT 2002
The Telegraph, Sept. 17, 2002
When in doubt, blame the US
Noel Malcolm reviews The Eagle's Shadow: Why America Fascinates and
Infuriates the World by Mark Hertsgaard and After the Terror by Ted Honderich
"Why do they hate us?" is, we are told, the question that most Americans
were asking themselves in the immediate aftermath of September 11 last
year. The "they" that mattered here turned out to be an unrepresentative
ultra-extremist organisation, and so the question may have lost some of its
force. But, put another way, it is still a question worth asking: what are
the origins of anti-Americanism, and why is it capable of attaining such
virulence, such extremes of hatred?
A well-researched cultural and ideological history of anti-Americanism,
exploring its history, its different strands - Leftist, Rightist,
Euro-nationalist, Cold War, Islamic, Third Worldist and so on - and, above
all, the strange interactions and cross-fertilisations between them, is a
book that I would dearly like to read. But, if one is being written as a
response to September 11, do not expect it to appear just yet. Serious
research requires more than the six months' writing time that went into
most of the current crop of anniversary publications.
Instead, what we have is writers on the hobby-horses that they had already
mounted, long before the Twin Towers were hit. These two books, by the
American journalist Mark Hertsgaard and the Canadian-British philosopher
Ted Honderich, are dressed up as meditations on the significance of that
terrible event: their titles hint at it portentously, and their
dust-jackets have sombre photographs of US flags and vapour trails, the
Statue of Liberty and a pall of smoke. But a truer subtitle, in each case,
would be: "As I Was Going To Say, Before I Was Interrupted".
Mark Hertsgaard did at least have one major advantage: by September last
year he was already more than half-way through a lengthy round-the-world
tour, collecting interviews and impressions for a book about popular
attitudes to America. Some of that material (though not much - his
publishers should look again at his expense claims and try calculating the
unit cost per anecdote) has found its way into this slim volume. He has
discovered, for example, that young people round the world like watching
pop videos on MTV, that American tourists abroad can sometimes seem loud
and pushy, and that many people still want to emigrate to the United States.
But the main purpose of this book is not to unveil these and other such
remarkable findings. Rather, it is to tell readers (American ones,
primarily) what is wrong with America in Mr Hertsgaard's opinion - an
opinion that was formed, evidently, quite a long time before he reached the
departure lounge. His previous publications include a book about the
dangers facing the global environment, and one entitled On Bended Knee: The
Press and the Reagan Presidency. Sure enough, this book contains tirades
about the global effects of American consumerism, the pro-corporate bias of
the American press, and the general evils of Reagan, Bush and Bush.
What has all this got to do with September 11? Since the al-Qaeda
terrorists were not, so far as we know, protesting about greenhouse gas
emissions, or about the stage-management of White House press conferences,
or even about Reagan's tax policies or the vote-counting procedures in
Florida, the answer has to be: not much.
Professor Honderich has tried to stick closer to the really big issues.
Instead of anecdotes and vox pops, his book (Edinburgh UP, £15.99, 160 pp)
is filled with abstract argumentation about moral philosophy, the nature of
democracy, the definition of political violence, and so on. As a result,
this book is able to be bad in a much more serious way. Indeed, I think it
is one of the worst books I have ever read.
The key points of the argument are as follows. There is no real difference
between an act of omission and an act of commission. This means that each
time I fail to give money to Oxfam to save the lives of starving Africans -
for example, each time I spend money on a holiday - I am responsible for
killing people. Therefore we are all, in a real sense, murderers, and the
West is collectively responsible for the elimination of human life on a
colossal scale. (Western interventions to help starving Africans, such as
the ill-fated American operation in Somalia, naturally pass unmentioned here.)
If terrorists were to try to correct this injustice by murdering thousands
of people in New York, that action would not be justified - because it
would be "irrational", that is, not likely to achieve its intended effect.
(Note in passing that if a more rationally calculated method could be
devised - eg kidnapping the children of rich Westerners and demanding
ransoms - this argument would apparently support it.) But even so,
Honderich insists, if such terrorists did massacre people in New York in
such an unjustified way, we, the people of the West, would bear "moral
responsibility" for their actions.
By this point, readers may be wondering whether Professor Honderich
believes that Osama bin Laden, in attacking the World Trade Center, was
trying to persuade the West to feed Africans. The answer seems to be "yes".
But he cannot quite bring himself to say this, resorting instead, in one of
the most weaselly paragraphs of the book, to a rhetorical question ("Is it
possible to suppose that the September 11 attacks had nothing at all to do
with . . . Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Sierra Leone?") and a nudging
hint ("In thinking about it, remember that the attacks on the towers were
indeed attacks on the principal symbols of world capitalism").
At last, the real enemy is in view. In the final part of the book,
Honderich attacks those people who argued that the American military
campaign in Afghanistan was justified because America represented
capitalism. So far as I know, nobody did argue that, but never mind -
Honderich certainly doesn't. He lists the standard arguments in favour of
capitalism and the market economy (for example, that they embody some real
freedoms), and then demonstrates that they are all worth "about nothing".
And how does he demonstrate this? He says that if those arguments were
true, it would follow "that the world is OK, maybe as good as possible";
since the world is not OK, it follows that all arguments in favour of
capitalism are worthless.
It is just bewildering, and deeply depressing, to think that an eminent
professor of philosophy can produce this sort of stuff. Not spending £15.99
on this book is one act of omission we should all feel impelled to commit.
From Ted Honderich's website at: http://www.ucl.ac.uk/~uctytho/ATTinbrief.html
Take the nine countries of United States, Canada, the United Kingdom,
France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Denmark and Japan. Compare them with the
four African countries of Malawi, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Zambia. The
individuals in the first group of countries, our group, have
life-expectancies or average lifetimes of about 78 years. Those in the
second group live for an average of 40 years.
That means that many individuals in the second group, those who pull the
average down to 40, have half-lives at best.
This is only partly owed to a certain fact, but it is a fact that needs
attention for itself. In the United States and like countries, for every
1,000 live births, the number of children who die under the age of 5 years
is about 5 or 6. The number of dyings for the second group is about 200.
The proximate or immediate explanation of the difference, and the full
lives as against the half-lives, and of other things to be mentioned, is
material means to well-being. We in our group of countries have means worth
an average of $24,000 a year. The individuals in the African countries have
means worth an average of $220 a year.
Compare the economically best-off 10th of population in our group of
countries with the worst-off 10th of population in the four African
countries. The average lifetimes in our best-off 10th are about 80 years.
The individuals in the worst-off 10th in the other group live for an
average of about 30 years.
So most of those in the latter 10th who bring the average down to 30 have
quarter-lives at best.
Consider the individuals in the worst-off African 10th, and the question of
whether their average lifetimes might have been increased. You could keep
in mind that in part of the 20th Century, the life-expectancy of American
whites increased by about 5 years a decade. That happened, so to speak,
without trying. If we in our countries had made a deliberate and real
effort to help, would those Africans now alive in the worst-off 10ths live
an average of 15 years longer? 10? Say only 5.
There are about 10 million individuals in the worst-off 10th. So there is a
loss of 20 million years of living-time. Losing living-time, maybe 50 years
yourself, is not the same as being killed. No one makes that mistake. No
one needs to make it in order to reflect on the number.
In thinking after September 11 of our part in the story if any, as it seems
to me, the first and largest subject must be our omissions. We have omitted
to help those who die early. However, there are also our positive acts,
so-called, our commissions -- or rather, there is the other end from
omissions of the range of our actions considered in terms of
intentionality. Here is one case.
In 1900, within something close to living memory, there were about 500,000
Arabs and 50,000 Jews in Palestine. Many of the latter had arrived recently
on account of the barbarism of anti-Semitism. The subsequent horror of the
mass murder of European Jews in the Second World War did not issue, as in
justice it ought to have, in a protected Jewish state carved out of Germany.
After the war, according to a United Nations resolution, Palestine was to
be divided into 2 states. There were about 749,000 Arabs and 9,250 Jews in
what would be the Arab state, and 497,000 Arabs and 498,000 Jews in what
would be the Jewish state. It was a moral necessity, in my morality, that a
Jewish state be founded somewhere. That it be maintained as it was founded,
partly by way of Zionist terrorism, was also such a necessity.
There has since been no Palestinian state but rather 50 years of
obstruction and the rapacious occupation of more and more land by Israel.
Most Arabs have been driven out of their homes, partly by means of
state-terrorism. In the years 1989 to 1991, there were between 250,000 and
400,000 Jews settled on Arab land. Of about 7 million Palestinians, about
half are now outside of Palestine.
All this history, and the actions by Israel after September 11, have been
importantly owed to the policies and actions of the United States in
particular. The resolutions of the United Nations against Israel have come
to nothing because of the United States.
These accounts of deprivation by omission and by commission, our parts in
Africa and Palestine, give rise to large questions. Our present concern,
however, is the general understanding and defining of bad lives and good lives.
Let us not struggle with the matter, say, of whether a life can be bad in
virtue of being frustrated just in terms of the good of culture. Let us
rather resolve, if that is the right verb, that those with half-lives,
dying children, quarter-lives, those who lose 20 million years of
living-time -- that these individuals have bad lives. It is worth noticing
that this judgement seems to be both indisputable, a matter of fact, and
yet as good as in the old category of value-judgements. So too, we can take
it, do the Palestinians have bad lives, first because of being denied the
great good of freedom and power in a homeland.
PLEASE clip all extraneous text before replying to a message.
More information about the Marxism