how the world sees america

Author Mohsin Hamid: Restrain the American Giant

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Maybe if the whole world could vote for the next President of the United States, people would be a little less anti-American. That's what Pakistani-born author Mohsin Hamid says. He's the author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist which was recently nominated for the Man Booker Prize. Check out the video to see him describe America as a friendly giant, good for the world, but in need of occasional checks on its power.

In brief, Mohsin's book is about Changez (“Chang-eez”), a young Pakistani who comes to America to study at Princeton University. Hungry for success, he makes it to the top of his class and then shoots up the ladder of corporate America as a consultant. Changez's family loses status in Pakistan, but he more than makes up for it on Wall Street.

The plot sounds a lot like Mohsin's own life: He comes from an established Pakistani family. Left to study at Princeton. Graduated and went on to consult at McKinsey's New York office. Excelled and went on to Harvard Law School, where he wrote his first book.

Back to the book: When the towers fall on 9/11, Changez changes, becoming increasingly aware of the distance between him and other Americans. He grows a beard and questions the ethics of his job. Personal frustrations also take their toll. Changez has longed for a white girl named Erica, but she will only open herself to him if she closes her eyes and pretends Changez is her deceased white boyfriend. That hurts.

americaplease.jpg
Baywatch: More America, please.
Fed up sexually and socially, Changez leaves his lucrative job and returns to Pakistan. He can't take America any more.

But America doesn't leave him just because he's crossed the border. America maintains its grasp. The author explains, “In a globalized culture, where everyone sees Baywatch and Cops, everybody is a little American." The world incorporates a bit of America into their daily lives so that eventually no one "can really, fully reject America, because that would be rejecting themselves. A rift forms inside people...so the majority of people become anti-American and pro-American at the same time.”

Mohsin offers his solution: "People can better deal [with this love-hate tension] if they have some control over it." The problem with America, Hamid says, is that global citizens cannot escape America but cannot influence it either, forming "a democratic deficit.”

When people feel they can't influence global government through legitimate channels, they are more likely to form new alliances, often hostile ones, and seek out illegal ways of achieving their demands (reader Tom Wallach left an excellent comment on this point here).

America must use its muscle to confront enemies, but also must acquiesce certain tasks to global channels to diffuse ownership, spread the stakes, and if necessary, minimize blame. Mohsin retains hope in resurrecting and restructuring multilateral organizations like the UN to help correct the "democratic deficit."

America needs these checks and balances for another reason, he says, "because in many ways, America’s virtues are its vices.” American meritocracy is an enormous virtue, but while America rewards its most successful individuals, "it leaves others behind: The wealthiest country in the world does not have universal health coverage, and 12 million illegal immigrants work effectively as serfs." Similarly, America's dynamic position on the "frontier of the world" also leads it to "run roughshod over others."

In the end, the protagonist Changez chooses to leave America for his home in Pakistan. There, he narrates his story of disenchantment to an American stranger at a cafe in Lahore. The reader is forced to interpret the conclusion of his monologue. Is the American listener a CIA operative out to kill Changez, "the fundamentalist," or does the Pakistani kill the innocent American? Check out the full interview below.

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Comments (24)

wardropper:

Don't forget that a great many people from many other countries can see quite clearly that there are plenty of Americans who see themselves and their society every bit as clearly and impartially as the outsiders who are looking in.

They can also see that it is wrong to judge Americans by Bush, Fox News and other Jingoists who think that the coincidence of being born in America is something which automatically commands respect. They know that their opinion of Americans is not always disagreed with by Americans themselves either.

Stereotyping just doesn't work, and the intelligent people of all countries realize this. That is where we start, when we get serious about rebuilding this ruined nation.

Vic van Meter:

Sorry I've got you guys hooked and I'm working on projects. Busy weekend, this one.

LMAO, I'll admit as much as the next guy that the next guy and I don't see eye to eye very often. In fact, if you hadn't thought of it already, there aren't many AMERICANS as odd as I can be on a daily basis. We're a nation bitterly divided on a margin right down the middle, hence why so many of our elections are so commonly split.

But we do have a national identity, even a regional one if you get right down to it. And as creepy as the thought is, you think a lot like the guy sitting next to you without ever realizing it. It took me a while to figure that out, but we here in the States can be incredibly combative in just about EVERYTHING! Take a look at our peace demonstrations! We're a very intense people.

Which brings me into number two. While the causes of war are many, human nature is the root of all conflict. At the base of the conflict is a civil war. True, it is more complex. America and Al'Qaida are throwing oil on the fire, Iran may (or may not be, I'm not giving Bush the benefit of the doubt anymore) moving in weapons of their own, Islam is conflicting with secularism, Shiites are trying to keep as much of their majority power as they can as the Sunnis practice damage control, the list can keep going on. But at the core is the civil war. You can reduce any war down to one point of conflict and watch other factors blow it out of control, but it never changes the base.

A good case study is the American Civil War. There were a lot of underlying factors. The South's slave-based agricultural economy versus the North's wage-based industrial economy (neither being very good for the workers) had been driving up the stakes for many, many years before the war broke out. The establishment of slave-owning versus slave-free states was not the only factor. Regionalism was taking control, irritation with the other side of the Mason-Dixon line that even continues to this day at times formed the core of the war. North vs. South, this was the base. All it took was a spark and a whole lot of firepower to blow the hatred into a full blown war.

So, yes, there are certainly mitigating circumstances. But if the Shiite-Sunni-Kurdish identity clash didn't form the base of the war, the Iraqi people would be united in getting the US out of their country and would be resenting us in a much more national fashion.

( As a disclaimer, I'm pretty good-natured, so sometimes you'll see things I say that are either sarcastic or ignorant. Err me on the side of sarcasm. After a debacle a bit ago, I should remind you that I type everything with a grin, so don't jump on me if I say something like the last sentence of the last paragraph. It's a joke. )

As for your second number two point, libs and republicans both deserve a lot of credit for building the armies of those dictators and mock democracies. American government of both stripes believed that the enemy of my enemy is my friend around the Cold War, so we and the Soviets are very responsible for the attrocities over there. Luckily, things have changed drastically in the Middle East. Now we're really giving weapons only to those neighbors we know we can really trust!

We're continuing the same policies under Bush. The Saudis are responsible for a lot of the same attrocities we like to bash other countries in the Middle East for, but we're still backing them pretty well. If we're going to cut back on our diplomacy and bring the big stick, though, we're going to have to be careful how we do it. Remember Brad Pitt giving instructions in Fight Club? One fight at a time, fellas. We should have at least had all our loose ends cauterized in Afghanistan before we decided to voice our displeasure of Iraq. Obviously, our military can't handle two guerrilla wars at once. It's too expensive.

Point three is only true if we're recognizing international treaties, cooperations, and respecting the opinions of foreign powers. You'd never believe what I wrote, actually, unless you take the time to gather what information is declassified on our military's current stable of arms. Look at the Iraq war if you don't believe me offhand. Their military was overhyped before the fight (which is kind of like watching football, when you think about it), but it proved where we have strengths and weaknesses. It took two weeks to overpower the country, if that. We would have made Rommel jealous. It's not like the Iraqi military was that poor, it's just that they fought us the way we're meant to fight. And we steamrolled them.

But two weeks of conventional warfare gave way to five years of battling insurgents, limiting militias, and generally keeping thugs from muscling around Iraqi civilians. This sort of thing we aren't as prepared for. All our technology is built for size. We're doing surgery with chainsaws. Recently, you can see devleopments in armaments going the other way. The M16 has given way to the M4, sacrificing length and long-range accuracy for short range mobility and control. Take a look at the new popularity of bullpup-designed assault weapons that essentially turn what was once a cumbersome long-arm into something not much larger than an older submachinegun and a submachinegun into little more than a glorified pistol. We're getting smaller, more specific, and much more tactical. It's just taking time, a lot of it. And we're still paying for the transition time in collateral damage.

No arguement on point 4. It's amazing how politicized we've become about our military. Dems are criticizing the Republicans for their leadership and using the military too liberally, stretching it too thin, attempting 'nation-building' that has proven disasterous in the past. Republicans hammering Democrats about being soft on terror, on not respecting the military, and on pulling punches on dictatorial regimes. It's all so absolutely sickening. The Democrats have to do more than simply bomb nations into submission when they think its' appropriate. There are a lot of places we should be putting our military right now. Unfortunately for Republicans, Iraq probably isn't the highest on that list. I mean, sure Hussein was demonic (though a bit of that results from demonization by the administration and the media... ever notice that the media just can't win?) but is he worse than the monstrous killings in Africa, North Korea and their nuclear tests, or Iran? Not even saying we SHOULD invade these places. There are other considerations in place on this. Then again, maybe we nailed Hussein first because he didn't have many friends. Maybe we really are a bully. Would have been worse, except Hussein didn't have friends for a good reason. Not many were sorry to see him go.

Point five is a matter of perception. Do you make sure your own nation doesn't torture anyone first or do you deal with the most inhumane stuff on the planet first? We do a lot of the latter with other issues. It's kind of a hippocritical stand. Other nations do torture much worse than we do. But the simple statement that we, to a lesser degree, do as well is kind of distasteful to me. I mean, I'm no dove, but it's just a little disgusting that we're resorting to such tactics that give us a lot of unreliable leads. I sure wouldn't want to be waterboarded or sleep in a place kept unnaturally hot or cold intentionally. If those things happened to me, I'd consider myself tortured. I personally think it's more important to cease the actions ourselves first. But like I said, that's more a matter of where you stand on opinion. Obviously, both need to stop.

Unfortunately for the sixth points, now we're back on the subject of our political system. I said 'countries' as an exaggerated joke, but it's not too exaggerated. I don't personally believe that Bush is drumming up a war with Iran right now (that would be the last straw for a lot of us here in Ohio who just want to let Iraq go and watch it spin), but he's certainly covering his bases in case something happens. Hopefully we've learned from the Iraq debacle that if we preemptively attack a country, it's called a conquest. Not having any of those WMDs that he talked a big point about nor any evidence that their scientists had made or economists had secured those weapons has been the sword in Bush's side. He's been stumbling ever since. I know that's where I drew the line. I initially supported the war based on nothing but the trust that Bush knew what he was talking about and that Iraq had WMDs. Then he didn't use them on us at all, and I was skeptical. Then we found out he had none, and I felt lied to and betrayed.

So let the Dems hack it out with the Republicans over how the war gets fought and if it gets fought. That's how our government is. They start an arguement and we start spitting fire at each other about it. Our combative personalities around here, those ones I was talking about earlier, are pretty bad in and of themselves. If you thought human nature put those conflicts at the base of most wars, imagine our conflicts. Our lives are two sides hammering each other until one wins and dominates. Reconciliation isn't in our nature either. Which might be sad, but it's how it is. Our military is going to end up doing what the next president tells them to do, and until then, it behooves everyone present to raise the mercury on the arguement and try to shape it in their way so they can make the most gains.

Which brings me to the last point, which is the good one at its core. We're there, now what? Well, we've got a few options. They've been extensively covered in the Post, so I won't rehash them. But there is one overriding theme. No matter what we do, something bad is definetely going to happen. If I won't get my posting banned for saying so, we're damned if we do and damned if we don't on all counts. The Iraq situation has simply become a no-win situation because of the circumstances.

The most popular proposals are all the same, though. Focus on Al'Qaida. Either train the Iraqi security forces (which aren't reliable) or leave the country to its own devices (which will create a whole lot of 'security forces' that we like to call gangs).

The Iraqi invasion has become the counterpoint to Afghanistan. The fight with the Taliban has a lot more international support than the fight to stabalize Iraq because we're the ones who destabalized Iraq on false pretenses. At least that's what I get from our foreign friends. And that one simple fact, in the world's eye, puts Afghanistan and Iraq on two ends of our spectrum. With international support, we're capable of great things. Without it, we're capable of great attrocities. Iraq and Afghanistan have a lot in common, but the majority of the disagreements come from the pretenses of the war. They create completely different global situations based on why we went in and what we did when we invaded. The reason Afghanistan is still somewhat functional and Iraq is quagmired is all based on why we went in to free who from what.

But this all goes back to America's position in the world. Maybe it's true. Afgahnistan looks much more likely to become a sucessful country than Iraq (though both could use a few prayers). But our Iraqi coalition is decimated and distrustful. Our support on Iraq is broken and burned because we went in against popular opinion and, on the count of our effect, we were proven wrong. Now THAT emboldens terrorism. Us invading a country on charges that turned out to be false.

The war has become nationally unpopular, oddly enough, mostly because of how the war was MANAGED, not that the war was waged. In fact, I doubt most Americans would have seen it as anything other than Bush's great redeeming point if Iraq had become a resounding success.

I'm going to start talking about American people again (which I know you don't agree with), but hear me out. We, as Americans, are an incredibly warlike people, comparitively. We more often than not confirm political well-being with military success. If Bush had succeeded in Iraq, his popularity would most likely have sky-rocketed (though the Dems would STILL hate him). Since he has failed, his war has become a referendum on him. Bush's one and only issue now is the war, because that is our focus. Our one, driving focus. Not NCLB. Not the border. Not even Afghanistan. Iraq was his baby, and he dropped it. Why he did it is a job history will tell decades down the line when we've unearthed more classified data. But he invaded, he's let it settle into a quagmire, and as unfair as it is, he's going to burn for a long time for it no matter what his actual contribution was.

Not because he went. Not because he was wrong. the Mexican-American war was exactly the same, a war drummed up on false pretenses. But Bush failed. And for that, the American people have largely shunned him and looked into their respective parties for someone who might succeed somewhere Bush failed. Even Republicans won't be bothered to bring him up. His success as a President is predicated on his success as a military commander in the eyes of America. And popular opinion has it that he's blown it.

Winning a war in another country doesn't automatically make it a right war. But in America, your war is your political legacy. How you handled foreign conflicts and the military is on every politician's lips. Even Clinton, who dodged the military even before becoming President, was held up to a microscope on how he treated the military. We didn't just look at him and say, "well, what has he done?" Obviously, he wasn't a military guy. But we bashed him for not being one. We expected him to be a military guy. We expected him to have defense on his mind, no matter what our circumstances. Even the Dems brought it up a few times.

Crazy when you think about it, how important the military and our crushing power in foreign affairs is to our political process. Lord knows that the military's muscle isn't brought up that often in the French election. In fact, one of the biggest points of that last French election was what Sarkozy would do WITH us. When your military power is so important that it's in a foreign electorate's considerations, you've got a mean right hook.

The problem is, because of the point you mentioned, that we're already engaged, a lot of people make moot the point of how we got there. It's Bush's success or failure as a military commander, not his failure as a diplomat, that is the major focus of his current critics. Why we went is a moot point because we, as Americans, think "Well, we're there." I can tell just from the debate. This is a mistake we're going to repeat.

Give it five, ten, or even twenty years. Even YOUR country might have WMDs/Political Differences/A Bad Day.

Tom Wallach:

LMAO:

First, i want to comment on the stunning evolution of your comments here, which went from background noise to extremely cogent, thoughtful arguments from a different perspective in the blink of an eye.

Second, I wanted to address the notion of "meddling" by civilian leaders in the military. As far as I am concerned, this is categorically impossible. The Military exists to serve our civilian leadership. This is why intelligent men and women are forced to take incredibly poor courses of action for the Bush Administration, because it is not their job to make policy, only to execute it. This is one of the most important protections in our society, as it protects us from coup and military interference in our society and government.

Accordingly, as much as I hate to see amateurs telling professionals what to do, this is fundementally neccesary and never wrong. What is wrong, to me, is this newfound glorification of our armed forces that has emerged out of the last twenty years.

The professional core of the American Army used to be seen as the last refuge for drunkards, thieves, and failures, a home for those who could not take care of themselves. This perception lasted all the way from the beginning of our nation to the second world war. Why is the US Army now, in the last twenty years, AFTER the collapse of the one outside institution with the true power to destroy our nation and our society, untouchable? How has the Army, a massive group made up of military families and under-educated Americans, become our face to the world.

Please do not misunderstand, i respect the army, and those who serve in our armed forces. I respect their sacrifice, and their courage. That doesnt mean i think that by definition, their morals, conduct, or policy are unimpeachable, and i would like my government, and my society, to recognize the same thing. Glorification of the Army is the first step towards militarizing our political hierarchy, by making appeasment and support of the "troops" a main priority.

The best thing about the army, is that they have typically resisted this sort of glorification and policy elevation, and have stayed loyal in obeying the wishes (however misguided) of the government which it exists to serve.

Amar C. Bakshi:

Vic, LMAO, just wanted to say your back and forth has me hooked. In Turkey, the idea of military-v-political control is crucial to the history and development of this state, and so I've been mulling over it quite a bit, and wondering how to raise questions that get at America split btw civilian/military control and theres. Your thoughts are always appreciated, but I'll keep reading and not interrupt unless I have something fruitful to say.

And Mike Sephar, the whole idea of this project, putting together a vast patchwork of viewpoints that get us to see the breadth and complexity of an issue so we don't caricature it, is equally important when looking into America. Well said.

Anonymous:

Two quick comments.

First, Mohsin said, "America’s virtues are its vices to a certain extent. The meritocracy: enormous virtue. But the sheer inhumanity of the American system: a country that does not provide universal health coverage but has so much wealth. A country where there is a 12 million strong illegal immigrant population that are effectively serfs. They could be easily given rights. But they aren’t. And they’re not sent out because a large part of our lower sector jobs are dependent on them. Those are very disturbing, but they’re all part of a meritocracy to a certain extent."

They're NOT "serfs" - they came here voluntarily to reap the benefits. A much better description would be "gold diggers." The fact that they came here illegally doesn't seem to matter to him, at least not as long as it's only America's laws that they've broken.

What other nation gladly allows citizens from all other nations to come in, underbid jobs, take that wealth without paying all the taxes on it, and then gives them the same rights and benefits as tax-paying citizens?

Second, he also talks about a "democratic deficit." The problem here is, America is a sovereign nation. It (like other nations) is not beholden to the rule of the rest of the world. And America is NOT a democracy. It is a republic. A democratically elected republic, but a republic just the same. In order to participate in American elections, one must first meet certain appropriate requirements. Among those requirements is the necessity of being a citizen - not of the world, but of the United States of America.

Anonymous:

"I don't believe our citizens make very good soldiers; we only know how to shoot!"

you can't be that hopelessly clueless about the sorts of people..from top to bottom....who make up the military...can you?

lmao:

vic....

1) I reject the very notion that the wider conflict can be segregated into neat geopolitical quadrants. The idea is questionable when viewed from the perspective of a mobile adversary using asymmetric techniques abetted by multiple nation states in the theatre (and by all appearances globally).

2) Iraq is more than just a civil war: trace the movement of people, contracts, money, communications, resources, weaponry, direct and indirect nation state relationships some time. It's infinitely more complicated than the liars you see daily on MSNBC or CNN would ever have you think or understand.

2) No one is arguiing that diplomacy doesn't have its place. I would submit, however, that diploacy has been singularly unsuccessful in that part of the world. An unfortunate state if you happen to be on the receiving end of say...genocidal gas attacks....mass execution style shootings....pervasive torture....you know...all the good things liberals had infinite patience for in Iraq because they believe in the power of words and concepts....but no moral responsibility unless there is political advantage or sexual liberties involved.

3) I think you over-simply the make-up of our force structure. It is very often the case that it is political and legal contraints and not the capability to apply force and information in a synchronized manner that is the limiting factor.

4) I will agree that there are significant senior leadership issues. It is pathetic how senior Flag officers have allowed themselves to be corrupted by politically motivated interlopers who wish only to exploit a situation rather than improve it (think Reid, Pelosi, Waters, Stark, Murtha, Edwards, Clinton...and on). I cannot recall a time when this has been so pronounced.....the media..btw.....don't matter as much because they have always been largely disingenuous if not outright untrustworthy.

5) Have you ever seen the makeshift torture chambers that were set up in Kuwait? Pretty ghastly. While washington post polemicists.....excuse me.....journalists doggedly play language games with the Bush administation.....they are totally oblivious and ineffective when it comes to real torture practiced in the real world.

6)Your notion of diplomacy needs to be extended to the home front combatants who are exacerbating problems for the warfighter - if not ouright encouraging/emboldening the enemy to kill Americans (military and civilian). nWhere is the accountability for these people?

6) Let's not get caried away...one country..not countries.....was preemptively attacked.

The real issue is that we are engaged. There is no turning back so we can rellocate funds to pet domestic causes like income rdistribution, carbon tradeoffs, medicare inefficiencies, universal health care expopriations, union payoffs and the myriad other special interests that the Democrats (like the Republicans) are beholden to (and which apparently suits the government master/citizen slave political philosophy Democrats seem so comfortable with). This is a real war - albeit one the Left has no role/burden sharing part in - that is going to persist whether we meet our obligations to the Iraqi people or not (it's not just them meeting some ridiculous checklist of "honey dos" we toss over to them). It's not that crass mistakes were't made in pre-war strategic planning or that there weren't fundamental flaws in the crucial process of leadership selection..there were....rather obviously. The problem is how to correct those mistakes and see through a decision/commitment that...once made...cannot be undone. This has been totally absent from the conversation in the headlong rush by the Left to sell out the warfighter.

You seem to be thoughtful on th subject. Stick to your guns (so to speak).....just be aware that beyond comfortable abstractions and generalizations...there may lie a fulsomely different reality that the pinheads of the world(e.g., michael moores, keith olbermanns) cannot and will not recognize or understand.

JRLR:

Vic van Meter writes:

"... our problems aren't military, they're political... That's why the world has diplomats. And look how well our diplomats have done recently!"

That's Talleyrand's to Napoleon all over again: "It is a marvel, Sire, all you can do with bayonets. Alas, not even you can sit on them!"

Vic van Meter:

LMAO, I'm surprised! You're treating me like I didn't wholeheartedly support invading Afghanistan! Trust me, anytime we get to roll into a nation still using the AKs the Soviets sold in the 50s to try to down B1s, I put CNN on the second I get home. In fact, there weren't many people who didn't figure us rolling into Afghanistan and backing us on it. That's pretty much where America needs to be. That was a situation we get to wreck things.

Our whole mentality runs into ruts when we start preemptively invading countries for having things they don't have and overextending our means of repair with the havok we wreck. I like blowing stuff up as much as the next guy, but they have accountability in the modern age. Annoying, yes, but modern times yield more cosmopolitan wars where we're expected to do most of the cleaning up of the mess.

Which brings me to Chaotician. Of course we've had huge problems in our wars with guerrilla combatants. Korea ended up turning out alright and a few police actions had some positive results. Our relative lack of success isn't attributed as much to our nation as it is to our military's goal. All the technology and equipment we use is meant to fight in a conventional war with a large opposing force in a uniform. For more than half a century we built a military meant to fight the Soviets.

Which would be fine, except the Soviets never fought us. Instead we now have a lot of technology we'll most likely never need and we lack the gear we'd need to develop. And nothing's changing soon. Check out how Congress's last few contracts are still buying strike fighters for bombing runs even though we barely use and kind of toss-bombing anymore. I mean, if you aren't hitting a tank or an airbase, a relatively cheap laser-guided bomb from a dedicated bomber is more than sufficient. Unfortunately, we're still buying our strike fighters and none of the things we really need.

So look at the ground-zeros of our combat. Our military is built to take on opposing militaries and leave nothing but big holes in the ground. So big military or not, you've got a lot of craters. Putting things back together? Not only is our recent record spotty, but we've got weapons that do the exact opposite of what we need them for in the current day.

I do take issue with saying our people don't make good soldiers. That's what soldiers do is their jobs, and as the son, brother, and friend of servicemen (you'd be talking to one too, if they wouldn't have cut my hair; I have an issue with that) I can say that our problem militarily isn't at the bottom. The problem is that, at the top, they're being sent to do things they can't really do. You can't force, say, Iraqi reconciliation with soldiers. You can try with whatever degree of success to limit casualties and police the nation, but you can't make people get along. It's those unfair expectations that cause a lot of our problems.

In that sense, our problems aren't military, they're political. Hence why I wrote the piece above. Even if we could shoot straight as lasers, drop satellite guided bombs into people's back pockets, and hear the breathing of insurgents in the mountains, we'll never achieve a great many political goals with our soldiers. That's why the world has diplomats.

And look how well our diplomats have done recently!

Anonymous:

So, Mohsin Hamid thinks that Baywatch and Cops cause foreign viewers to be "somewhat American," which causes an inner conflict because America is foreign to them, but they'd feel better if they could vote in American elections. Good thing the Booker is a prize for fiction.

Anyone ever seen a Japanese game show? Talk about foreign. Does that make you want to vote in a Japanese election?

And I can't quite agree that most Americans wouldn't want to vote in Pakistani or Indonesian elections, especially if there were candidates who were truly committed to rooting out Islamic terrorists.

mike s:

Mohsin Hamid both identifies and perpetuates the problem here when he speaks of "the broad concept of America." Huh? America is not a concept; in the context we speak of here, it is a nation.

Freedom is a concept. Democracy is a concept. Hypocrisy is a concept. The United States of America is a big, free, English-speaking, democratic nation-state with a powerful military, a vibrant economy, lots of legal immigrants from all over the world, etc.

If you understand the difference, then perhaps you can avoid saying ridiculous things like: "individual freedom is also used as an excuse for things like allowing people to carry guns and blow each other away..." Yes that's right...in America you have the freedom to blow other people away. This guy didn't really go to Harvard Law, did he?

mike s:

Cantankerous:

Priceless. I now predict a torrent of Britsnobs sniffing about retrograde American culture, and the shocking ignorance of Americans about their beloved Booker prize. Pay them no mind.

Pat Riot:

I object to the washington post allowing anti-American writers to argue the pro-terrorist position and say America is the root of all evil in the world. we freed iraq from saddam the terrorist and freed afghanistan from taliban. if you have a problem with MY country, go bring your nonsense to al jazeera. they support the terrorist position.

13571113:

Cantankerous

Well said.

Cantakerous:

The newswires have just reported that scores of Pakistanis have died from a terrorist bomb in Islamabad, apparently a failed attempt to kill former PM Bhutto as crowds gathered to welcome her return from exile.

I predict that the followers of the Bakshi posts eventually will place this political crime at the doorstep of the United States and lecture Americans on the evils we introduced to Pakistani society with Baywatch, Cops, Princeton educations, and easy white women. They will tell us that we need to listen to what the world is telling us, be sensitive to foreign cultures, ease up on our Christian prudery, tame our scandalous prurience, take charge of our Jews, lead more, follow better, give more, help less, and quit making the sun rise in the east.

Maybe a Pakistani author will write a book about it that will be nominated for the Man Booker award--whateverthehell that is.

Amar C. Bakshi:

JS, Mohsin was referring to sexual minorities feeling persecuted in their countries of origin, or people who felt they couldn't express the range of their sexuality in their country of origin. He's not saying all, but he's saying to some that liberty within America is very important. Race, I do not think, is the primary issue driving his statement.

Chaotician:

Vic,
You been watching 2 much hollywood! While I certainly agree we excel at destroying things; we are very poor at putting things back together! If I look at what has happened over the last 60 years; after the great generation of WW2 and things like the marshall plan; our results are pretty poor! With the possible exception of Yugoslavia, still undecided really, everything has pretty much been a very expensive failure militarily! Perhaps the military can claim some credit for the collapse of the USSR, but this is largely a result of the economic cost of matching our absurd military expenditures; not any battles!

I don't believe our citizens make very good soldiers; we only know how to shoot!

lmao:

vic.....thanks for the grand advice.....I'll remember it next time someone flies into a building and murders 2000+ people: we'll be patient because others have proved so adept at managing these sorts of minor distractions.

Mike Spehar:

A very large part of anti-Americanism is simply due to misunderstanding its nature. People often mistake America's gigantic influence as evidence of imperial designs. They then wonder why America often seems so inconsistent, even inept, in international affairs.

The truth is that America, as a political entity, is not imperialistic in intent or inclination. What many mistake as a conscious striving towards hegemony is actually the combined effect of many individual efforts. There is no overarching imperial design. Instead, there are tens of thousands of Americans all out to conquer their own small piece of the world, whether that small piece be selling a DVD or saving the oceans, building a factory or stopping AIDS. We don't have a plan, we have a thousand "enthusiasms," all being pursued with abandon, many in conflict with one another.

That is not to say that America has no permanent interests - we have a myriad interests. But even our interests usually lack complete consensus, leaving each to be sought after by separate groups of enthusiasts, whether they be China hands, EU buffs, globalists, friends of Israel, neocons, Arabists, or "realists." Each of these interests gets their share of attention, sometimes combining and reinforcing, sometimes competing, but never completely dominating our political will.

No wonder we are resented and admired, opposed and envied, and mostly misunderstood. What some mistake as the smothering cloak of a monolithic empire is actually a quilt of a hundred different cloths, all being sown enthusiasically, but without any single guiding purpose, save, perhaps, the desire to succeed.

lmao:

laughable...any notion of an "America"...of a shared ethos or people united in some common cultural, intellectual, spiritual bond.....is blind to the obvious. it's a comfortable abstraction that serves its critical purposes...but one only has to review cursorily what is happening in our Congress, courts and media to understand that THERE ARE NO UNIFIING AMERICAN themes or leaders.

as for the conflicted Mohsin...he can stick it where the sun don't shine. his efforts would be better directed toward becoming a change agent in a Middle East led by despotic, murderous autocrats - for decades on end - than on whether or not the police powers of the American government should be used to extract even more labor hours from me to finance universal health care.

Vic van Meter:

America's a beautiful place to live. It's probably also produced the most cynical people on Earth. Lord knows in fifty years all those people who grew up not trusting their government are going to be all that are left running it. Which is going to lead to an interesting conundrum.

It's funny, because the things most foreigners hate about America, Americans REALLY hate about America. Your average American wouldn't care much about the Middle East as long as the oil keeps coming and no one flies a plane into us. I know I don't shed daily tears about the state of life down there (not that I don't think it's horrible, I'm just being honest here). So I'd say the majority of people in America would like to forget about humanitarian crises and just draw out of world affairs.

It's not that easy, though. I don't often think of America as a giant nation compared to little nations. We aren't THAT big. Our mindset is different. I think a while back, I compared us to Spartans. If Europe represents the world's Athens, America is its Sparta. Our whole lives are built around struggle, discipline, and a rather martial approach to life. In America, respect is shown if you forget about your things and strive for great heights of respect. And that's just because honor is out of style. I have no doubt that if we wound back the clock and America had come about in the 1200s, we would have been the most warlike people of our day. As it is, we're constantly looking for something to triumph over and fight. It's drilled into our heads from our infancy.

Ambition is an attribute in the rest of the world, in America it is a religion. And that's why we'll never leave people alone. No matter how much we hate this part of us that makes us step into foreign affairs, it is rooted in our very nature to see something, think it is wrong, and make it right. I'm usually a pretty sarcastic guy, but even I look at Burma and wish we weren't in Iraq. It's not even a conscience decision. It's a way of life.

In the old days, warrior cultures fought for treasure, power, and fame. Americans nowadays can't go on quests of conquest. But what we can do is go out for power, fame, and respect. Maybe that's what we should be treated in the context of.

We're a poor leader when we are not in times of war because our national mindset is reactionary and strewn with banners. In peacetime, Americans are seeking injustice to fight, which cuts us loose all too often. We really do need something watching over us, holding back the war hounds so that diplomacy can be given a chance. Then, when the world agrees to fight, that is when the Americans should take the lead. Perservering over others is our strong suit, but this is not suited to diplomacy (obviously a place where everyone comes out happy when everyone comes out ahead with something).

I've always looked at my long line of heroes. Less of them are like Jesus, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King, though I give these men their dues. What truly fills me with inspiration are the stories of Leonidas, the French Resistance, Alan Seeger, Achilles and Hector. Even our national heroes are warriors. Men go from military service now to government posts later (of course, our last few Presidents have bucked the trend, mostly being war dodgers). And there is not a single American citizen that would ever say "this is the fault of the troops." Our troops are our projected selves in war, and whether we agree with the war or not, these men are our heroes.

So, to tie this all together, the reason our world leadership has not always been perfect has to do with our status in the world. People want to be led by the sons of Ares. But there is no place for us in the current diplomatic strife in the Middle East until the world finds us one.

I suppose that if I could give Americans one piece of advice about world policy, it is to be patient. We have plenty of time to fight amongst ourselves before we cheer another army into the field. We don't need to take the lead when nothing is happening. This is the place of other nations with more diplomats than soldiers. Our demands and threats aren't helping.

Someday, somewhere, someone will do something so heinous, or so outright threatening, that the world will finally retract its left arm offering peace and send its right arm favoring war. And we are the fist, arm, and shoulder of that limb of the world.

In the meantime, at least other nations are paying us to entertain them. Other nations drink up the stuff of America because our gratuitous nature is easy for them to drink. I think that, if anything, people in other cultures respect one thing about America that comes out the most in our media (our movies, books, music, and TV). Elsewhere in the world, you always need a reason to stand up for something. In America, you are encouraged to stand up for yourself, face the world around you with an angry eye, and get ready for war. Not because someone else tells you to, but because that is who you are. A warrior.

JS:

>>>Amar: How important is race and sexuality in the experience of America?

>>>A lot of people I know who have stayed in America have done so often for reasons that are sexual.


That's pretty amazing. The author must have interesting friends. I'm an immigrant from India, and most of my friends, and I, are economic migrants, not looking for some sexual thing we couldn't get at home. I take it "sexual reasons" is code for white women ?

Tom Wallach:

Quote from previous entry:

While I agree that everyone should spend far more effort listening to the world around them, I am not sure that this is the primary issue. The United States spent 50 years ignoring everyone around it, and being far more sensationally arrogant and abusive of smaller nation states, and emerged out of that time as the champion of the "Free World." Our Foreign policy, in a theoretically Unipolar world, is actaully far more restrained because we have in many ways volunteered to be constrained, whether by domestic public opinion or foreign. While the ignorance of our population is tremendously sad, ultimately the US is far more tied down by its global responsibilities than it ever was before, primarily because there is no more "Evil Empire" to serve as both justification and threat.

Accordingly, the Brand Name is weakening because there is far less demand! our allies in thee struggle against communism, from Pakistan, India, China, Japan, to Germany, dont need us to defend them from the big bad soviet boogeyman, and with our increasingly globalized and wired global society, the foibles of American society are seen far more clearly than the once glowing attributes of our fabled "City on a Hill."

In the end, the weaknesses described as "not listening" are endemic to every society. People worry about their own lives. Since American's dont feel a threat from anyone except for anonymous middle eastern terrorists (not the truth, just the perception), they strike out blindly part of the time, and focus on American Idol for the rest. Since everyone else has no choice but to stare at the fairly silly American Collossus (and be a bit upset that we dont have a better idea of what we are doing) we become a focal point, as the power both behind, and with the power to fix, all of their issues.

The real key to restructuring and rebranding the United States is to do it within the framework of international law and organization. As John Eikenberry puts it, the United States needs to voluntarily constrain itself, and let "the lilliputians" tie down the giant with a million tiny strings. By voluntarily constraining our power, we reduce the urge to challenge it, and the assumption of direct responsibility. By re-immersing ourselves in NATO, APEC, ANZAC, the WTO and by pushing for more global security regimes, with stringent rules which a) limit and b) neccessitate action in clear cut ways (aka, not the UN, which is an atrocity of busybody and weightless politics), we can find productive and useful ways of excercising our power and status in a way that does not generate nearly such widespread resentment. This will be fundamentally neccesary if we hope to curtail the rising power of Authoritarian governments worldwide (yeah, i mean authoritarian governments. Terrorists are a threat to everyone, but not a great threat (unless you are in the middle east). China and Russia are threats to everyone, and quite large ones as well, unless everyone else has forgotten the damage nuclear weapons can do.)

Not to say we shouldnt listen however, but how is that going to happen. We have forgotten how to read.

Amar C. Bakshi - Interview Transcript with Mohsin Hamid:

Here is an interview transcript with author Mohsin Hamid:

Amar: Quite simply, what is Anti-Americanism? How central is the concept to your work?

Anti-Americanism, very simply, is resentment and anger toward the United States and toward the country of the United States. There is also a separate angle of resentment toward the American people as individuals, but I think that’s often very different. But generally when you think of anti-Americanism, it is directed toward a broad concept of America rather than individuals.

But I struggle a little with the notion of anti-Americanism. It seems like a very blunt instrument to describe things. In the book, there isn’t anti-Americanism as such; there is an individual who has a complex relationship with America that eventually leads him to leave America. He has a certain degree of envy and resentment toward America, but also an affection for it. So in a way it’s most useful to talk about individual components of anti-Americanism rather than it as a whole.

If we’re talking about negative feelings toward a broad concept of America, these can come from many things. Economic: losing a job to an American company. Culturally: your children are dressing differently in styles they have taken on board from watching American fashions they discovered on TV. Very personally: being humiliated at a checkpoint when passing into the United States. Each is different, and often multiples forms are in play at the same time.

There is a rift inside people themselves. It depends on situation which sentiment comes to the fore. We are talking about a rift within the individual. The majority of people are anti-American and pro-American at the same time.

Changez [the protagonist] talks about setting up a wall and the inability of setting up certain walls, largely because he thinks America blunders. And if one is exposed to American ineptitude, it will cause harm. But at the same time he acknowledges that he can’t really leave America behind. In a globalized culture, where everyone sees Baywatch and Cops, everybody is a little American, everybody being defined as the satellite owning, TV watching part of the world. In the TV shows they see, a huge proportion of the world is somewhat American. So the conflict is within themselves. So there is a sense where they can’t really, fully reject America, because that would be rejecting themselves. At the same time, they can’t accept America because that’s something alien and foreign to them.

There is a democratic deficit when it come to America. America shapes the lives of people in many countries, yet they have no say in what takes place in America. If there was a global election for what goes on in America, this is something many people would want to take part in.

America affects the lives of many people around the world. They have no way of inputting into the way America does that. If they could cast votes in the American election they would probably do that. Whereas no American or very few Americans would cast votes in the elections of Indonesia or Pakistan.

So that’s the first thing. There is a desire to influence a place that influences you. And the second thing is America’s movement away from multilateralism. If America had harnessed itself more to something that other people could influence, the UN or some other world government organization like the WTO on the trade side; if people had institutional mechanisms in their own country to influence the larger multilateral mechanisms through which America acted, to a certain extent the democratic deficit would go away. But in a unilateral America which feels unencumbered, there is great frustration in: Here’s this country acting on its own, shaping our country, without our being able to shape it.

Amar: What are the virtues and vices of America seen from abroad, from Pakistan, from your point of view as a foreign-born, American-educated, Londoner?

America’s virtues are its vices to a certain extent. The meritocracy: enormous virtue. But the sheer inhumanity of the American system: a country that does not provide universal health coverage but has so much wealth. A country where there is a 12 million strong illegal immigrant population that are effectively serfs. They could be easily given rights. But they aren’t. And they’re not sent out because a large part of our lower sector jobs are dependent on them. Those are very disturbing, but they’re all part of a meritocracy to a certain extent.

Similarly the individual freedoms, and the fact that in America you can say many things and do many things is an enormous strength, but that individual freedom is also used as an excuse for things like allowing people to carry guns and blow each other away and behave in all sorts of strange ways.

And similarly, the sense of being a nation at the forefront, pushing ahead of the world, and leading the agenda. Coupled with that is a kind of disdain for the rest of the world, an arrogance, a willingness to run roughshod over the rest of the world. The virtues and vices come from the same things, the same impulses.

America must rope itself into an increasingly globalized world, which it helped create in the first place.

Amar: Is the American dream reliant on moderation then?
Well the American dream is something Americans are beginning to question. Is the middle class of America who should be living the American dream more or less able to live it in the past. Their ability to live it or not is increasingly dependent on Chinese savers willing to fund their deficit. This getting wrapped into a global economy: Mexican laborers, Indian IT engineers, Chinese savers, European markets. At the same time America continues to act as if its not so deeply wrapped up. And it continues to exercise its foreign policy and military policies through mandarins, through a professional political military class who don’t have a very good reporting structure to the rest of the population, and this has lead Americans to some very unpragmatic decisions, which is contrary to the American tradition of pragmatism.

Amar: How important is race and sexuality in the experience of America?

A lot of people I know who have stayed in America have done so often for reasons that are sexual. Whether because of orientation or because of number of partners or simple attitudes of being treated as a sexual being. A lot of people have stayed for sexual reasons in America. Though Pakistan can be surprising as well.

There are many elements of Changez which are not un-American. The idea that there are people in America who have similar shyness toward sex, which is someway discriminated against by mass culture, or people who are sensitive liberal arts graduates who are thrust into a very harsh corporate environment and undergo a crisis of conscience in that context. This happens to non-Muslims, non-Pakistanis, non-foreigners all the time. So hopefully Changez is something upon which many American attributes can also be hung.

MOHSIN HAMID FROM THE VIDEO:
It’s a bit like: Say you have the strongest, but in some way the most liked guy in your village and if he goes around bashing up criminals and helping out old ladies, you’re quite favorably inclined, but you’d much prefer they did it as part of some village government, especially if occasionally he runs amuck and starts bashing regular people who seem to have done nothing wrong. That’s the situation we have when it comes to America.

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