Book review: Why Do People Hate America?

Admittedly I wasn’t entirely neutral to US foreign policy when I chose to read this book, but other titles such as ‘Saddam, King of Terror’ weren’t going to be particularly objective either. ‘Why Do People Hate America?’ may prove a bitter pill for some Americans (especially those of the right-winged variety) to swallow, but it is certainly an eye-opener.

Some disturbing facts are highlighted by this book, for example:

Pole positioning

A recent IHT poll indicates that 58% of non-US respondents attributed hostility due to US government’s foreign policy, as compared to only 18% of US respondents. 90% of Americans felt that they were disliked primarily because of their power and wealth, while the rest of the world felt the US was responsible for the widening gap between rich and poor.

Split personalities

The rest of the world sees the US as a dual entity: The America we love is rich, glamorous, freedom-loving and magnanimous. The America we have come to dislike is increasingly arrogant, deterministic and misguided. For instance, the book points out that one of its biggest contradictions is its democracy – where half its people don’t bother to vote, and the outcome of the most recent Presidential elections was determined by a group of judges.

Let the sinless cast the first stone

Interestingly, the US and Iraq actually have one thing in common: both have not ratified the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The US has also consistently violated the World Convention against Torture (eg. Vietnam war, CIA’s torture of Soviet operatives, training of other countries’ intelligence services in torture methods). Think about that the next time the US criticises Saddam Hussein’s policies. Or anyone else’s.
Not that we should let infringements go unpunished either, but we should recognise that nobody has a totally clean slate here.

Green is … the colour of money

Ditto for ecology – think of the government’s u-turn on the Kyoto Protocol , which gave way to vested commercial interests. Admittedly it was a Clinton initiative, but we see the US as a whole – even if Junior doesn’t give a hoot what the Democrats think.

Locals, go home

Conversely, where intellectual property (read: commercial) rights are concerned , US biomedical companies have had free rein – namely by patenting traditional methods of producing medicines, thereby barring native farmers from making their own traditional remedies.

Isaac and Ishmael – beyond the West Wing

I don’t believe I am particularly ‘for’ or ‘against’ Jews and Muslims. However the Muslim world feels that the US frequently allies itself with Israel at the expense of Palestine – to the extent that Palestinian retaliations are now labelled as acts of terrorism as well. But has anyone stopped to consider what drives people to such desperation, that they choose to become human bombs?

Glitz blitz

The authors note that Hollywood too is partially responsible for reinforcing the American public’s mistaken views on outsiders. The movie, ‘Rules of Engagement’, for instance, portrays Arab civilians as gun-toting Islamic militants – even the women and handicapped children, thus justifying their deaths under Marine gunfire.

Last words

One thing about the book I was uncomfortable with, however, was its extended descriptions of TV and movie plots and the similarities drawn between fact and fiction. America’s vast cultural influence should not be ignored, but more time could have been spent elaborating on other more serious topics instead. Perhaps it’s just a question of style. Otherwise, the book is a simultaneously disturbing and enlightening read, and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in the future of global politics.
The world is facing an increasing polarisation of political viewpoints, and the US is standing at one extreme, jolted by the tragic September 11 attacks, putting other countries in a quagmire. As saddened as I was by the loss of innocent human lives, it’s really not a simple battle between Them and Us. Labelling people as ‘evil’, calling other western opponents ‘Old Europe’ and using money to influence other countries’ decisions – to me, that’s plain propaganda. And it’s certainly not proper.