Why do they hate us?

Louis Proyect 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.



Louis Proyect
www.marxmail.org



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