Defining anti-Americanism

August 21, 2008 at 6:50 am | Posted in British Politics, U.S. Politics | Leave a comment

You know times are tough for a global superpower when someone devotes a large amount of time and money producing a blog in solidarity with you. America in the World is a new project from Conservative Home’s Tim Montgomerie which aims to act as a bulwark against anti-Americanism by dispelling myths, extolling the country’s virtues and arguing that a world without America as a dominant force is not a notion anyone should want to entertain. If done right, the site serves a decent enough purpose, and the content certainly seems well-researched and attractively designed. But the sticking point was always going to be how they define anti-Americanism, and in this respect they threaten to alienate a significant number of people.

Here’s what annoyed me the most: On their page profiling the ‘varieties of anti-Americanism’, they list ‘liberal idealists’, ‘social justice activists’ and environmentalists alongside jihadists and anti-Semites. Hardly the most pleasant company to keep, is it? Now, I’m not going to deny the existence of anti-Americanism on the left; no one who became politically active during the Bush era could’ve escaped the odd intemperate loon whose Bush-bashing was barely masking his/her contempt for the country he governs. But the key distinction between the anti-Americanism exhibited on the left and that which is most violently spewed by Jihadists and Jew-haters is that caring about human rights, social justice and the environment does not make you anti-American, and nor does criticising an administration for its failures in these areas. It’s only when your criticisms involve such desperate flailing that they turn into attacks on the American people that you become a certified anti-American, but by then most people have stopped listening to your argument anyway.

By contrast, being anti-American is pretty much intrinsic to the ideologies of both the Jihadist and the anti-Semite. You’re not going to meet an Islamist who wishes to destroy the ‘great Satan’ before qualifying it with ‘well, I’m really just speaking metaphorically; I’ve always wanted to visit Disneyland.’ Equally, you won’t find someone who rails against the Great! Jewish! Conspiracy! who’ll then talk for hours about the vibrant culture of New York. Those ideologies are based on a hatred of America, whilst the ideologies of the environmentalist or the social justice advocate are anything but, and throwing these wildly dissimilar groups together in one basket, as Montgomerie & co do here, is as clumsy as it is politically dubious.

Anti-Americanism is real, it’s ugly and it’s often used as a front for thoroughly illiberal and undemocratic ideologies, but grouping some fairly benign left-wing positions in the same sewer as a bunch of hateful fanatics just seems like a right-wing ploy to inoculate the country from criticism by casting all those critics as potential ‘haters’. In so doing, they risk shunning people who might otherwise have been allies.

Photo by Flickr user jarnott (Creative Commons)

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