What They Think of Us: International Perceptions of the United States since 9/11

What They Think of Us: International Perceptions of the United States since 9/11

What They Think of Us: International Perceptions of the United States since 9/11

What They Think of Us: International Perceptions of the United States since 9/11


It has never been more important for Americans to understand why the world both hates and loves the United States. In What They Think of Us, a remarkable group of writers from the Middle East, Europe, Asia, and Latin America describes the world's profoundly ambivalent attitudes toward the United States--before and since 9/11.

While many people around the world continue to see the United States as a model despite the Iraq war and the war on terror, the U. S. response to 9/11 has undoubtedly intensified global anti-Americanism. What They Think of Us reveals that substantial goodwill toward America still exists, but that this sympathy is in peril--and that there is an immense gap between how Americans view their country and how it is viewed abroad.

Drawing on broad research and personal experience while avoiding anecdotalism and polemics, the writers gathered here combine political, cultural, and historical analysis to explain how people in different parts of the world see the United States. They show that not all anti-Americanism can be blamed on U. S. foreign policy. America is disliked not just for what it does but also for what it is, and perceptions of both are profoundly shaped--and sometimes warped--by the domestic realities of the countries where anti-Americanism thrives. In addition to analyzing America's battered global reputation, these writers propose ways the United States and other countries can build better relations through greater understanding and respect.


At Andalas University, Padang, Sumatra, the students were not overly impressed with MTV, KFC, or any of the other pleasures American culture served up in Indonesia. Nor were they particularly interested in the lecture topic offered by the American Fulbright lecturer (me) on the U.S. presidential election process. They wanted answers to harder questions. Several displayed a detailed knowledge of American policy toward Israel and wanted someone to explain why the American government hated Palestinians. The wording of many of the questions—often in English—made measured responses both necessary and difficult to formulate. The bad news, as I saw it, was that the students had little faith that the American government intended to do right by Islamic people. The good news was that they very much still wanted to talk about what they perceived to be the problematic relationship between the United States and themselves.

That conversation took place before the war in Iraq. I don't know if students in heavily Islamic Sumatra would be so patient and generous with an American Fulbright scholar today. Probably they would be; at the time I was struck by how overwhelmingly polite and friendly the students were even as they fiercely challenged American foreign policy. In so many parts of the world in which large majorities are appalled by American policy, people remain remarkably friendly to individual Americans. They find much about the United States—and the American people— appealing, entertaining, and even worthy of emulation. But as the essays in this book demonstrate, that goodwill is at risk.

During the Cold War, especially in the 1950s and early 1960s, American policymakers carefully registered international opinion and aimed . . .

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