|Europe vs. America
By Edward Said
The Black World Today
Although I have visited England dozens of times, I have never spent
more than one or two weeks at a single stretch. This year, for the first
time, I am in residence for almost two months at Cambridge University,
where I am the guest of a college and giving a series of lectures on humanism
The first thing to be said is that life here is far less stressed and
hectic than it is in New York, at my university, Columbia. Perhaps this
slightly relaxed pace is due in part to the fact that Great Britain is
no longer a world power, but also to the salutary idea that the ancient
universities here are places of
If you sit in Washington and have some connection to the country's power elites, the rest of the world is spread out before you like a map, invitingbintervention anywhere and at any time. The tone in Europe is not only more moderate and thoughtful: it is also less abstract, more human, morebcomplex and subtle.
Certainly Europe generally and Britain in particular have a much larger
and more demographically significant Muslim population, whose views are
partbof the debate about war in the Middle East and against terrorism.
So discussion of the upcoming war against Iraq tends to reflect their opinions
And being on the other side means no less than supporting Saddam Hussein
and being "un-American". Both of these ideas are abhorrent to Arab and
Muslim-Americans, but the idea that to be an Arab or Muslim means blind
support of Saddam and Al-Qa'eda persists nonetheless. (Incidentally, I
The second major difference I have noticed between America and Europe
is that religion and ideology play a far greater role in the former than
in the latter. A recent poll taken in the United States reveals that 86
per cent of the American population believes that God loves them. There's
been a lot of
But what is most odd is the vast number of Christian fanatics in the
US, who form the core of George Bush's support and at 60 million strong
represent the single most powerful voting block in US history. Whereas
church attendance is down dramatically in England it has never been higher
It is the coincidence between the Christian Right and the so-called neo-conservatives in America that fuel the drive towards unilateralism, bullying, and a sense of divine mission. The neo-conservative movement began in the 70s as an anti-communist formation whose ideology was undying enmity to communism and American supremacy. "American values", now so casually trotted out as a phrase to hector the world, was invented then by people like Irving Kristoll, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, and others who had once been Marxists and had converted completely (and religiously) to the other side.
For all of them the unquestioning defense of Israel as a bulwark of
Western democracy and civilisation against Islam and communism was a central
article of faith. Many though not all the major neo-cons (as they are called)
are Jewish, but under the Bush presidency they have welcomed the extra
support of the Christian Right which, while it is rabidly pro-Israel, is
also deeply anti-Semitic (ie these Christians -- many of them Southern
Baptists -- believe that all the Jews of the world must gather in Israel
so that the Messiah can come again; those Jews who convert to Christianity
will be saved,
It is the next generation of neo-conservatives such as Richard Perle,
Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleeza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld who are
behind the push to war against Iraq, a cause >from which I very much doubt
that Bush can ever be deterred. Colin Powell is too cautious a figure,
There is no trace of this sort of thing in Europe that I can detect.
Nor is there that lethal combination of money and power on a vast scale
that can control elections and national policy at will. Remember that George
Bush spent over $200 million to get himself elected two years ago, and
More than any other country today, the United States is controlled at a distance from most citizens; the great corporations and lobbying groups do their will with "the people's" sovereignty leaving little opportunity for real dissent or political change.
Democrats and Republicans, for example, voted to give Bush a blank check for war with such enthusiasm and unquestioning loyalty as to make one doubt that there was any thought in the decision. The ideological position common to nearly everyone in the system is that America is best, its ideals perfect, its history spotless, its actions and society at the highest levels of human achievement and greatness. To argue with that -- if that is at all possible -- is to be "un-American" and guilty of the cardinal sin of anti- Americanism, which derives not from honest criticism but for hatred of the good and the pure.
No wonder then that America has never had an organised Left or real opposition party as has been the case in every European country. The substance of American discourse is that it is divided into black and white, evil and good, ours and theirs. It is the task of a lifetime to make a change in that Manichean duality that seems to be set forever in an unchanging ideological dimension. And so it is for most Europeans who see America as having been their saviour and is now their protector, yet whose embrace is both encumbering and annoying at the same time.
Tony Blair's wholeheartedly pro-American position therefore seems even
more puzzling to an outsider like myself. I am comforted that even to his
own people he seems like a humourless aberration, a European who has decided
in effect to obliterate his own identity in favour of this other one, represented
by the lamentable Mr Bush. I still have time to learn when it will be that
Europe will come to its senses and assume the countervailing role to America
that its size and history entitle it to play. Until then, the war approaches