Despite the shock following the attack on the Twin Towers, hostility and resentment against America are resurfacing all over the world: the reasons vary from country to country.
One of the most shocking side effects of the 11th September attacks has been the revival of anti-Americanism, at the very time in which, for the first time in two centuries, the Americans had been treacherously attacked under their rooftree. At the beginning, the public rejoicing for the Twin Tower slaughter appeared to be confined to the Gaza Palestinians and the Kandahar Taliban, with the rest of the world (Russia and China included) unanimously aligning with the United States. But it was a mistaken impression, created by the media, by politicians’ statements, by the requirements of “politically correct” protocols. Indeed, subtle distinctions soon started to surface: “I sympathise with all these innocent victims, but Bush really asked for it!”, was one of the comments you would hear more often, together with a list of the real or alleged faults of the Americans towards the Third World. In private conversations, many people even refused to acknowledge Al Qaeda’s responsibility in the attacks, and traced back their paternity to the CIA, Mossad or Stock Exchange gamblers. The tendency to dissociate from America became more marked when the attack on Afghanistan started, and materialised in the use of inappropriate terms, such as “revenge” or “retaliation”, and later on in open disagreement as to the legitimacy of the intervention. The most recurring slogan, in certain European left-wing circles, became “Neither with Bush nor with Bin Laden”. The developments within the Islamic world were even worse. For hundreds of thousands of Muslims Bin Laden actually became a hero, while America, that hounded him with its super-bombs on the Tora Bora mountains, increasingly took on the appearance of the “Great Satan”, as it had already been named twenty years earlier by ayatollah Khomeini. Papers and television networks almost vied with each other to display the pictures of the civilian victims of the conflict, to stress the continuous mistakes of the intelligent bombs and to expose the crudeness of the action. As soon as the possibility of Washington widening the conflict to other countries involved in terrorism loomed, complaints started coming in thick and fast. From the tone of certain editorials, it almost seemed as if Al Qaeda was a story made up by the White House to superimpose, with weapons, its supremacy over the world. Despite the huge merits acquired by the United States, first by rallying, twice in half a century, to the aid of European democracies, and then supplying them with a shield against Soviet expansionism, anti-Americanism is certainly no news to the Old Continent. With the possible exception of Great Britain, where the ancient fraternity has always prevailed in the end over occasional differences, no country has been exempted from this. Although this attitude was particularly deep-rooted in the left wing, which viewed in the American presence in Europe the chief obstacle to the triumph of communism, the right wing did not exactly remain in the background. One example will be sufficient, that is General De Gaulle’s decision to get France to exit NATO. In Italy, anti-American feelings existed not only within the Communist Party (PCI), but also amongst the Christian Democrats (DC), the Right-Wing party (MSI) and even among the Socialists (PSI: see Sigonella). The greatest tension developed during the Vietnam War, which Italians rightly or wrongly regarded the product of a new form on Imperialism. During the terrorism years that followed the 1968 revolution, the habit of blaming America for the greatest turpitudes, such as accusing it of secretly supporting right wing terrorism or of having played a role in Moro’s kidnapping, was extremely widespread, especially when the White House lodged a Republican. However, as long as the cold war lasted, the majority of Italians realised that only the United States’ protective umbrella could secure us from external aggressions, even though we spent for our Defence only a fraction of the amount we ought to have spent. Even Enrico Berlinguer acknowledged this, at a certain stage. “These Americans are terrible” people used to say “but they are the only Americans we have”; and despite some flirting with Moscow or with the Arab countries, when we were actually put with our back to the wall we always ended up siding with them. Indeed, when the crucial moment of the Reagan – Gorbaciov confrontation came, we accepted to have Cruise missiles installed in Comiso; during the Gulf War, the main objections to the intervention against Iraq came, following the Pope’s stance, from the catholic circles. The end of the bipolar world has paradoxically exacerbated the disagreements between the two sides of the Atlantic. Instead of being grateful to the Americans for pulling down the Wall, for getting rid of the Evil Empire and creating in this way the premises for the reunification of Europe, we have taken up a critical position towards them on many fronts. Their now being the only superpower in existence, without whose consent and cooperation it is difficult to take any initiative, has caused them to become unpopular. If they intervened in other continents’ affairs, they were charged with arrogance; if they washed their hands of it, they were charged with indifference for the ills of the world. The success of the “no global” movement is mainly due to its clear anti-American connotations, such as in the anti-MacDonald campaign. The tendency to shift on the United States all the blame for the occasionally real, but most times imaginary, damages caused by the triumph of liberalism in the world has gradually taken root. For many young people, victims of partisan and unscrupulous politics, America is not only the cradle of racism but also the first to be blamed for Third World famine and diseases. As long as Clinton occupied the White House, this criticism was somehow diluted by his reputation of being “progressive”. But since Bush has taken his place, controversies have increasingly exacerbated, made worse by a certain unilateralist attitude of the new republican administration in taking its decisions: for instance, the denunciation of the Kyoto protocols against the greenhouse effect, the persistence in pursuing the space shield objective despite the European objections, the support persistently granted to the State of Israel in its fight against the Arabs. It seemed that the surge of solidarity that followed the September 11th attack could reverse this trend, but in fact, within a few months, quite the opposite has occurred, as proved by the gradual drop in the approval, by European public opinion, of the participation in the war against terrorism, which nevertheless represents a threat for us all. Outside Europe, this phenomenon is even more palpable. In Latin America, the “gringos” have never been very popular, so much so that their only declared opponent, Fidel Castro, has managed to survive till now and still has a great number of supporters: although a lot of water has passed under the bridge since the American firms regarded the countries to the south of Rio Grande as conquered land, and since the CIA used to plot coup d’états whenever the threat of a hostile regime loomed, distrust towards Washington is still very strong, especially among the people. In turn, Asians are rather intolerant of American “Protection”, which is still associated with the memory of the Vietnamese “adventure”, although they realise how essential it is to contain China’s growing pressure. But the real nucleus of anti-Americanism has for some time, now, been the Islamic world, despite the alliance network that links the United States with some of the main Arab countries. The dichotomy here is really outstanding: for governments such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Emirates and several others, the connections with America are absolutely essential for their survival. Should King Fahd not have the United States’ military protection, should Moubarak not receive every year two and a half billion dollars from Washington, had “Desert Tempest” not saved Kuwait, this region’s geopolitical map would be very different. Nevertheless, these countries have only formally been able to adhere to the great anti-terrorism coalition, since the majority of their population, and even certain media that are more or less controlled from the top, shamelessly supported (and continue to support) Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. The evidences gathered in this regard by the western press are striking. Joseph Lelyveld, of the New York Times, interviewed a great number of Egyptians, Palestinians, Yemenites and Sudanese, who were ready to enrol in Al Qaeda and lay down their lives to cause America a new “humiliation”. Bernardo Valli writes on La Repubblica that, in a number of conversations he had, during a trip from Afghanistan to Cairo, also with high society people, he perceived an almost visceral hatred towards America, fomented by its friendliness towards Israel, by its lack of concern for the Arab casualties and by its claim to impose its values on the Islamic world. Bin Laden is admired as “the Muslim who was able to wound the American power” and has “destroyed the symbols of such a power”. Even in Egypt, which has been on peaceful terms with the Jewish State for almost thirty years, the most popular song at the moment is entitled “I love Amr Moussa (the secretary-general of the Arab League – publisher’s note) and I hate Israel”, and it is also full of hostile remarks about the Unite States. Even Saddam Hussein, who was once hated by most Arabs, has become popular, because, despite bombing and sanctions, he has been able to antagonise the American superpower for ten years; and should Washington attack him, nowadays, a great share of public opinion would be on his side. An in-depth analysis of the causes of anti-Americanism is not easy, as, of course, they vary from one country to the other. For the Arabs, the situation is more straightforward: it is sufficient to listen the Usama Bin Laden’s latest video, whereby he accuses the West of “hating” Islam: the main reasons why this imaginary hatred is so violently reciprocated are, on one side, the support granted to Israel, and, on the other, the violent contrast between two civilisations which are in substance incompatible. For Europeans in general and Italians in particular, this analysis proves more complex, and it leads us outside the boundaries of politics, almost into the region of psychiatry. One reason for resentment certainly lies in a rather arrogant attitude that Americans display towards us, ranging from Mrs Luce’s dictates imposed on the De Gasperi government in the early post-war period to Washington’s slightly “colonialist” behaviour after the Cermis tragedy. Another one has catholic-communist roots, so to speak: the American economical model, with its combination of efficiency and social Darwinism, is disliked by broad strata of public opinion, which in fact range from extreme Left to several circles moving in the orbit of the Church. A third one relates to the administration of justice: it is no coincidence that Italy is in the forefront in fighting capital punishment, going so far as to transform cold-blooded murderers sentenced to electrocution into sacrificial victims, or even heroes, as in the case of that Mr O’Dell to whom Leoluca Orlando has conferred freedom of the city of Palermo. But it is sufficient to have a chat with people to discover other reasons, sometimes trivial, sometimes over-sophisticated, sometimes completely rootless. Here is a sample collection of opinions, put together after the fatal September 11th. “America substantially feels contempt for the rest of the world, which results in its sense of distrust towards UNO, in the presumption to interfere in the domestic affairs of every state, in its non availability to endanger its soldiers’ lives, whereas the existence of other people has little or no significance.” “I never trust Americans’ noble intentions: wherever they intervene, they only do it to safeguard their own interests, especially to control worldwide oil. NATO itself is only a tool in their hands”. “Americans are a merciless people, as you can see not only from the way they handle relations with the rest of the world, but also from how they treat their minorities, their poor and dropouts. Those who do not have money in America may just as well die”. “The American claim to impose their own culture on the rest of the world is ridiculous and impudent. It is only a by-product of our own culture, and it would have very little value if it was not backed by the power of the dollars”. “I do not conceive a dislike for Americans, but envy: with a population made up of the other continents’ discards, they have managed to put together a state capable of dominating the whole world for God knows how long”. Based on the above, it is not difficult to predict that anti-Americanism will continue to accompany us for quite a long time, and that it may even influence the attitude of the European Union, should the latter acquire a greater political standing. Yet, Americans themselves do not seem to worry about it that much. They know that, for better or worse, in Tokyo as in Cairo, in Berlin as in Buenos Aires, the saying “they are the only Americans we have” is always valid; and, from their point of view rightly, they do not see why they should change for the only purpose of pleasing critics and opponents.
(trad. Interpres sas Giussano)