The Philosophical Origins of European Anti-Americanism

By Weitkunat, Rolf | Contemporary Review, July 2002 | Go to article overview

The Philosophical Origins of European Anti-Americanism


Weitkunat, Rolf, Contemporary Review


ANTI-AMERICANISM in Europe is different from that in the Islamic world. The two forms have different sources. Islamic anti-Americanism is inextricably related to the political Middle East problem. The European version is not foremost political but cultural in nature. Yet it might end up in increasing political dissonance between continental Europe on one side and England and the US on the other.

In May President Bush made a trip to the three most important continental allies, Germany, France and Italy as well as to Russia. The President saw demonstrations against his policies in all three of the NATO countries, but he also was able to come to some better understanding with his allies. Nevertheless there remains a climate of anti-Americanism among many European intellectuals.

Although most commentators who write about continental anti-Americanism base most of their reflections on France, here I shall concentrate on Germany. Shortly after the attacks of September 11, thousands of German demonstrators and samba drummers protested against any war in Afghanistan. The demonstrators, with only a few exceptions, did not see the war as one imposed by the terrorists and their backers, but as a war waged against innocent people by the US. Performers, writers, feminists, artists, scientists and intellectuals of all types rivalled each other for inadequate statements reflecting not exactly sympathy to the US. The most immediate one was that from the Catholic theologian, Eugen Drewerman. On the evening of the attacks he reminded radio listeners of the 'embargo politics against the Iraq' and even of 'Hiroshima'. Berlin's Secretary of Culture felt reminded of phallus symbols by the twin towers. The historian Wolfgang Benz considered them as a sign of arrogance, the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen described the terrorist attack as the biggest piece of art possibly imaginable. Roger Willemsen, a kind-of famous talk master, ostensibly matched the moral qualities of George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden and reflected on the sublimeness of the devastation. A somewhat similar comparison was drawn by Ulrich Wickert, Germany's most famous TV-news front man in the magazine Max. The German Writers' Union felt that German writers had a special duty to resist the campaign, originating from the Bush administration, to hold whole regions and nations responsible for the attacks. In Der Spiegel, the writer Botho Strauss coined the phrase of the 'fight of the bad against the bad'. His colleague, Martin Walser, said that failures and aberrations could not be corrected by war. The dramatist Franz Xaver Kroetz feared that Germany with its military participation would be back on the way to the war-crime business. The previous German Minister of Finance, Oskar Lafontaine, a supporter of the anti-globalization organization 'a ttack', wrote in Die Zeit that he had earlier expressed his scepticism against military interventions, because the 'attacked' could respond with terrorist strikes against the homeland of any intervening troops. Indeed there were banners held up in demonstrations saying 'Terror is Coming Home'. The German Nobel Prize winner Gunther Grass is rather notoriously known for anti-American statements, having said in the 1980s that he was ashamed that the United States were allies of his country. Grass announced that America would now be surprised that a tiny fraction of people who have seen an opulence of disaster movies had now turned into terrorists. Unsurprisingly, he opposed Germany's unconditional solidarity with the US, which the German Chancellor had expressed.

Overall, all sorts of multi-purpose explanations, for why the US and its allies are the 'aggressors' and why the attackers were the 'victims' were brought forward. The two main lines of argument were: First, the origin of the whole misery is rooted in Israel; second, the origin of the whole misery is rooted in the exploitation of the Third World by Western countries, especially by the US. …

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