Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

War on Terror's Other Front: Cleaning Up US Pop Culture

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

War on Terror's Other Front: Cleaning Up US Pop Culture

Article excerpt

Anti-Americanism comes in different varieties. The European kind emphasizes the "evils" of "red" America: a shoot-first, ask- questions-later cowboy in the White House, and Bible- toting fundamentalists walking around the corridors of power.

The Muslim variety is very different. Many Muslims point to the "horrors" of "blue" America: homosexual marriage, family breakdown, and a popular culture that is trivial, materialistic, vulgar, and, in many cases, morally repulsive.

This latter view is dangerously - and justifiably - common in many traditional cultures across the globe. Because it feeds their perception that American values are inimical to their way of life, this attitude can blossom into the kind of anti- American pathology that partly fueled the 9/11 attacks. Any serious effort to shore up American's security must include steps to edify American culture.

Reacting to a distorted projection

Both the European and Muslim brands of anti-Americanism, of course, are focused on only one side of America. They are reacting not so much to America per se as to the often distorted projections of US policy and culture across the globe. Americans know that there is a big difference between US pop culture and the way they actually live. But most foreigners don't. The America they see in movies and on television is often the only one they know.

Critics of globalization complain that the US is corrupting the world with its multinational corporations and its trade practices. But surveys such as the Pew Research Center studies of world opinion show that non-Western peoples are generally pleased with American products.

In fact, the people of Asia, Africa, and the Middle East want more American companies, more American technology, and more free trade. Their objection is not to McDonald's or Microsoft but to America's cultural values.

These sentiments are felt very keenly in the Muslim world. As an Iranian from Neishapour told journalist Afshin Molavi, "People say we want freedom. You know what these foreign-inspired people want? They want the freedom to gamble and drink and bring vice to our Muslim land. This is the kind of freedom they want."

Muslim critics of American culture are quick to concede its fascination and attraction, especially to the young. Some time ago, I saw an interview with a Muslim sheikh on TV. The interviewer told the sheikh, "I find it curious and hypocritical that you are so anti- American, considering that two of your sons are living and studying in America."

The sheikh replied, "But this is not hypocritical at all. I concede that American culture is appealing. If you put a young man into a hotel room and give him dozens of pornography tapes, he is likely to find those appealing as well. What America appeals to is everything that is low and disgusting in human nature."

The most powerful of all the American offenses recited in the lands of Islam, argues preeminent Middle East expert Bernard Lewis, "is the "degeneracy and debauchery of the American way of life."

A major reason why some Muslims focus their anger on the United States is because it is American culture - not Swedish culture or French culture - that is finding its way into every nook and cranny of Islamic society.

Cultural blowback

There is a cultural blowback against America that is coming from all the traditional cultures of Africa, South America, the Middle East, and Asia. This resistance is summed up in a slogan used by Singapore's former prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew: "Modernization without Westernization." What this means is that traditional cultures want prosperity and technology, but they don't want the values of American culture.

The Islamic radicals are the most extreme and politically mobilized segment of this global resistance, and they are recruiting innumerable ordinary Muslims to their proclaimed jihad against the values America represents. …

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