Mar 2006

The madness of anti-Americanism

Tony Blair has just called me “mad”. What a bastid. And talk about your pots and kettles!

Also, I notice he flew all the way to Australia to do it. Clearly decided to put some distance between us before unleashing the insults. Probably afraid I’d lamp him. And lamp him I would if I were ever within arms-length of the freakin’ psycho.

Y’know, when Orwell was asked – soon after the publication of Animal Farm, and his subsequent leap in fame – why he’d changed his name from Eric Blair, he is quoted as replying that he had “a premonition” that “one day the name Blair will be associated with infamy”, likening it to “… Hitler or Stalin. And what writer would like to see his work beneath the name Eric Hitler?”*

Many moons ago, on a blog not unlike this one, I wrote a piece entitled “Why I’m anti-American”. I shall reiterate the main points of that, as I feel they bear repeating on a day Tony Blair dismisses those who disagree with him as clinically insane (and presumably in need of sedation) rather than worthy of engaging in debate.

Firstly, let’s make it clear what being anti-American is not about. It isn’t about disliking Americans. There’s already a word for that… “bigotry”. Disliking or discriminating against someone because of their nationality or skin colour just means you’re an obnoxious tosser. It doesn’t make you “anti-American” in the sense I’m using the phrase.

And because anti-Americanism isn’t about disliking people, there’s thankfully no danger of it ever manifesting as a desire to murder a whole bunch of Americans indiscriminately. So I utterly reject the idea that anti-Americanism of itself has a logical extension in what happened on September 11th 2001. What you had there was anti-Americanism mixed up with a whole bunch of other stuff. The anti-Americanism chose the target, but it was the other stuff that chose the tactics.

Needless to say, I favour different tactics, and I’m just as opposed to the other stuff; the stuff that justified thousands of murders in the eyes of extremists; as Dubya Bush and Tony Blair are. But that “with us or agin us” crap? It doesn’t wash with me. My enemy’s enemy is not always my friend.

“Anti-American”ism / Anti-“Americanism”

Most people would agree that there is a genuine difference between being anti-Islam and being anti-Islamist. No such distinction currently exists in our language between anti-American and anti-Americanism. Though perhaps one should.

Whatever the intentions of the Founding Fathers and a succession of constitutional scholars may have been; in the eyes of much of the world the United States no longer stands for what most Americans are taught it stands for in school. Schoolchildren throughout the days of Empire in Britain were taught that colonialism was all about bringing “civilisation” to the savages. The savages saw it as rape, murder and the theft of their land and resources. These days it’s America and not Britain, and it’s “democracy” and not civilisation. The savages still use the same words though.

And that’s very much part of the problem. The whole “we confer upon you lesser people the right to rule yourselves” thing. It’s so much bullshit. And it’s transparently bullshit. There’s no moral high ground here.

The Iraqi people know that for half of Saddam Hussein’s rule he was supported by exactly the people who ousted him. And the Iraqi people, more than anyone, know just how brutal he was during that time. The Iraqi people also know that when – after the first Gulf War – they were urged to rise up against the regime, those who did were left dangling by US forces ordered not to help. And finally, after more than a decade of crippling economic sanctions causing poverty, misery and death; reducing a once-functioning nation to a “failed state”; these same erstwhile friends of Hussein decided that Shock And Awe, followed by a three year occupation – launched from corrupt and compliant dictatorships next door – was the best way to help the poor Iraqi people who can’t run their own affairs… and shepherd them towards democracy.

If I were Iraqi, I’d probably mutter something about how if you’d only left us alone 100 years ago, then maybe we wouldn’t be in this mess. And how being carpet bombed and subjected to a further period of occupation is probably NOT WHAT WE NEED RIGHT NOW! Although that said, the average Iraqi is probably too busy trying to track down enough fresh drinking water without being blown up or having his head chopped off to be thinking very much about historical context. Life in Baghdad is probably focussed very much on the next few minutes, rather than the last hundred years.

What Tony Blair is unwilling to admit or too thick to understand is that the vast majority of people who he’d describe as anti-American are actually anti-Americanist. They may have American friends and love a lot about America but they are against what America has come to stand for. Not what it says it stands for; but what its actions demonstrate.

Americanism is a kind of rapacious, aggressive capitalism willing to ignore all ethical concerns in the desire for global dominance. Americanism is a willingness to unilaterally use a military machine unrivalled in all of human history to reduce entire nations to rubble which it designates, falsely, to be a threat. Americanism is the arrogance of power… “freedom is occupation”… “democracy is compliance”. It’s all a bit You Know Who.

And speaking of Orwell, can I just cite a short passage from Politics and The English Language to better illustrate this point…

The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice, have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of régime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using the word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.

I wonder has Tony Blair ever read that essay? I don’t imagine Dubya Bush has, but you’d think someone might have sent a copy to Blair by now. After all, it was written in 1946.

The point being that when Blair accuses anti-Americanism as being “mad”, he’s essentially saying that anti-Americanism translates as anti-freedom and anti-democracy. But the freedom being exported by America is the freedom to have US corporations make billions off the back of Iraqi misery. And the democracy is limited to electing those approved by America.

It’s Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay for crying-out-loud. It’s secret “rendition flights” shipping suspects to central Asia for torture. And because these are not ‘blips on the radar’ or ‘a few bad apples’, but instead clearly represent the policies of modern America, then it is necessary for all those who believe in a world without state torture, secret police and “the military option” to label themselves anti-American.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things [… that] can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them. Consider for instance some comfortable English professor defending Russian totalitarianism. He cannot say outright, “I believe in killing off your opponents when you can get good results by doing so.” Probably, therefore, he will say something like this:

While freely conceding that the Soviet regime exhibits certain features which the humanitarian may be inclined to deplore, we must, I think, agree that a certain curtailment of the right to political opposition is an unavoidable concomitant of transitional periods, and that the rigors which the Russian people have been called upon to undergo have been amply justified in the sphere of concrete achievement.

The inflated style is itself a kind of euphemism. A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outlines and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns, as it were instinctively, to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as “keeping out of politics.” All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.

* That paragraph is a lie.

Posted in: Opinion