by Ziauddin Sardar and Merryl Wyn Davies
New York: Disinformation Company Ltd., 2002, 232pp. pb
U.$. white intellectual of Jewish descent Noam Chomsky has praised this book that "contains valuable information and insights that we should know, over here, for our own good, and the world's." At MIM, we believe there is a specific audience that would benefit from this book, namely Amerikans who watch the "West Wing" television show or other TV programs while not being informed much politically.
Sardar and Davies attempt to interact with Amerikan popular culture as a way into the central political questions of our day. It's not that they hit people over the head with so many facts right away, but rather they try to answer questions that Amerikans have asked since 911 and which even Bush echoed "Why do they hate us?"
According to Sardar and Davies there are no simple answers and instead there are many factors. They offer help to Amerikans seeking to interpret various questions. Partly as a result of the focus on explanation and interpretation the book veers slightly into academic language and agendas, whereas, given the title of the book, MIM would have preferred an even more accessible approach.
Sardar and Davies are absolutely right in providing the long list of over 100 U.$. military interventions around the world to the people who are sincerely wondering what caused the hatred behind 911. They also provide a summary of the diplomatic conflicts leading up to 911 that contributed to a global unease with Amerikkkans.
Something we agree with especially is their repeated concern for a question of why Amerikkkans do not want to know more about the world than they do. They refer to theories of "knowledgeable ignorance," by which Amerikkkans consciously choose not to know more about "foreign policy" or the world in general.
For the whole world, Amerikkkan levels of ignorance regarding global political and economic questions are shocking. After all, Amerikkkans are rich, can afford education and are "free" enough to obtain information, if they really want it.
Sardar and Davies have asked the right question, but they have erred toward providing the old, conventional answer about ignorant Amerikans: "The United States may be a democracy, but Americans do not have much input on US foreign policy, they do not choose the allies and adversaries of their government. Americans do not vote on the foreign aid agenda, there are no referenda on whether Israel should or should not be supported in all cases or whether the US government should veto this or that UN resolution. Americans have a fundamental sense of fairness, says Toensing, but they rarely have accurate information about the effect of their country's foreign policies. So, to what use, the young Egyptian could legitimately have asked, do you put your democracy and freedom?"(p. 48)
The usual bogeymen in this case will be the media and apathy, but given the lasting facts of Amerikan ignorance, the real question is why media offering information do not obtain support and replace the existing media. What causes Amerikan apathy to these questions is another question.
MIM provides two answers. The first is to be found in the concepts of the "labor aristocracy" and "gender aristocracy" that MIM provides, the first concerned with global exploitation enjoyed even by common Amerikans and the second, the distractions of leisure-time dynamics also enjoyed by the common Amerikan public. Without knowledge about the facts of the labor aristocracy and gender aristocracy it will be impossible to understand why Amerikkkans do not even want to know what they don't know.
With regard to the "gender aristocracy" and the dynamics of leisure-time, the world knows of Amerika through Hollywood, but unfortunately, the Amerikkkans know of the world through Hollywood as well. Not only does MIM's website often receive more hits from video game boards (and not referring to our video game reviews either) than high school history debate forums, but in general Sardar and Davies are justified, because of a point made by a film critic at the Christian Science Monitor: "'Public views of retaliation, revenge, and warfare may come more from decades of popular entertainment than from sustained reflections on history and morality.'"(p. 181) That is to say, Sardar and Davies may be correct in coming at these issues as cultural critics--because that is where the Amerikkkans are at anyway.
To those who would say there are European societies with comparable economic and gender aristocracy privileges, MIM would reply by adding two more factors-- the frontier past and military power that encourages arrogant views of the rest of the world. In fact, there are few peoples in the world who undergo serious social change without the defeat of war first. The Vietnam War started that process in Amerika, but obviously was not enough by itself to bring a complete and radical change. In most regards then, the European imperialist populations and the Amerikkkans are similar, with a few peculiarities of Amerikkkans, namely their military power and settler past, that separate them from European imperialist country populations.
For Sardar and Davies the answer is some kind of pacifist pluralism, something not possible until the distant future. We at MIM do not agree and we do not agree with equating the evil of U.$. domination with the evil of 911. U.$. domination is vastly greater in scope and intensity of evil. Various Third World nationalists hating the United $tates are in no way morally equivalent to people allowing their government to kill millions from 15,000 feet and higher above the ground.
We also do not think for example that it is merely a sentiment that the Russians did most of the fighting against Hitler. That is a fact which should not receive pluralistic manipulation (p. 183). Hence, we do not agree with the approach of making everything a matter of interpretation or cultural review. It is only a start. The discussion can start with Sardar and Davies, but without Lenin and Mao on politics, economics and war, the result will be paralysis.
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