Ajami Slays the Ventriloquists

In a resounding and refreshing article in today’s Wall Street Journal entitled The Anti-Americans, Do foreigners really hate us–or is it just pollsters?, Fouad Ajami gives me yet another reason to dream of going to Johns Hopkins for my PhD.
The article itself is too good to cut up, too good to quote, and too deep to summarize. Nevertheless, for those with short time, here is a part I feel is the very definition of an academic T.K.O.:

“Nations follow the religion of their kings,” an Arab expression has it. The anti-Americanism of Egypt is the malignant strain that leaders wink at. You can’t rail against Hosni Mubarak; so anti-Americanism is the permissible politics. Where the dream of modernism atrophies, as it has in Egypt, and a culture of abdication settles in, a people are easy prey to any doctrine that absolves them of responsibility for their own world. Anti-Americanism is the placebo. There is no need in a culture of this kind to ask the crowd for consistency, to query the academic who does well by American foundation grants why he harbors such hate for America. The Pew pollsters fall for a legend and an evasion that those who rail against America often put forth to pretty up their anti-Americanism: It is not individual Americans they hate, but the United States! This is pure sophistry, but the pollsters report it as credible sentiment.

“America is everywhere,” Ignazio Silone once observed. An idea of it, a fantasy of it, hovers over distant lands. In the days that followed the attacks of Sept. 11, a young Palestinian gave expression to the image America holds out in places where its shadow falls: the boy passing out sweets in celebration of America’s grief wondered aloud as to the impact of the bombings on his ability to get a U.S. visa. He felt no great contradiction. He had no feeling of affection or loyalty for the land he yearned to migrate to. He grew up to the familiar drums of anti-Americanism. He had implicated America in his life’s circumstances. You can’t reason with his worldview. You can only wish for him deliverance from his incoherence–or go there, questionnaire in hand, and return with dispatches of people at odds with American policies. You can make foreigners say the sort of things about America you wanted to say yourself. It is an old literary trick. Everyone knew that Montesquieu’s “Persian Letters” were indeed Parisian letters, a writer’s device to chronicle France’s foibles in the early 18th century. His “Persians,” Rhedi and Usbek, spoke of France. It is our American pollsters we hear speaking to us through those Turks and Arabs and Frenchmen who, on cue, were ready to speak of America’s alienation from the rest of the world.

Go to it, read it, and enjoy.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Comments are closed.