I would be willing to wager that just about every social activist and dissident has at one time or another been charged with the so horrific crime of “anti-Americanism.” One simply cannot within the rotting economic and reactionary social climate today so prevalent present damning analysis and critique of state power without large segments of society, most likely proto-fascist segments, instantaneously spewing forth hysterical charges of “anti-Americanism” and other related slurs and rhetorical bile.
What is “anti-Americanism” and just what qualifies one as being “anti-American” or “un-American”? Simply asking this question and searching for an adequate answer goes a long way in demonstrating that “anti-Americanism” is simply empty, reactionary propaganda and smut, derived straight out of the ideology of totalitarianism.
In a totalitarian society the state, party or dominant institution of concentrated power, used to exert the ruling elite’s dominance over the larger population - through the military, guerilla death squads, massive ever-present propaganda campaigns and so forth – is the mafia Don and any attempt to challenge the Don’s position of power is met with an immediate reaction, in many places imprisonment, torture and murder; in other places, propaganda campaigns to marginalize and demolish the theorists and their analyses and critiques through media networks owned by massive multinational corporations running twenty four hours a day.
When one searches for the answer to the questions previously posed one finds that what constitutes anti-Americanism ranges anywhere from organizing terrorist attacks on innocent civilians, such as the attacks of 9-11, perpetrated by al-Qaida, all the way down to the act of exposing and criticizing the United States for its egregious abuses of state power; a recent example being the murderous bombing of Basra, which has so far led to the deaths of more than 300 people. Which illustrates rather well one of the underlying assumptions and fallacies of the ideology which supports the charges of anti-Americanism, that there is no distinction to be made between state power, the government and its affiliates, and the general population and that any action by the state power is by definition just.
This gross conflation causes many problems and allows the possibility that the state power will be defended over and against general populations and mass social movements, even when the state’s actions are illegitimate or when the state is itself illegitimate, as all states ultimately are. This view, which reflexively adopts the positions of the state and the powerful, many times in direct opposition to social movements and the general population, is also expressed in international law.
As Noam Chomsky observed, “international law is, in many respects, the instrument of the powerful: it is a creation of states and their representatives. In developing the presently existing body of international law, there was no participation by mass movements of peasants. The structure of international law reflects that fact; that is, international law permits much too wide a range of forceful intervention in support of existing power structures.”
This is of course not to undermine all of international law, which is arguably the best and most enlightened attempt to create a coherent system by which to defend human rights and so forth; as Chomsky goes on to say, “in fact there are interesting elements of international law, for example, embedded in the Nuremberg principles and the United Nations Charter, which permit, in fact, I believe, require the citizen to act against his own state in ways which the state will falsely regard as criminal. Nevertheless, he's acting legally, because international law also happens to prohibit the threat or use of force in international affairs, except under some very narrow circumstances, of which, for example, the war in
Returning to the conflation of state power with the general population and culture at large, Arundhati Roy illustrated the absurdity of the conflation, which is inherent within the charge of anti-Americanism, by asking what anti-Americanism actually means. She asks “[d]oes it mean you are anti-jazz? Or that you're opposed to freedom of speech?...That you have a quarrel with giant sequoias? Does it mean that you don't admire the hundreds of thousands of American citizens who marched against nuclear weapons, or the thousands of war resisters who forced their government to withdraw from
This sly conflation of
But there are many Americans who would be mortified to be associated with their government's policies. The most scholarly, scathing, incisive, hilarious critiques of the hypocrisy and the contradictions in
The doctrine that underlies the charge of anti-Americanism is better understood within a broader context. Chomsky provides the context thusly:
“The people who are called ‘intellectuals’ are those who pretty much serve power. Others may be equally intellectual, but they're not called intellectuals. And that goes all the way back to the origins of recorded history. Go back to the Bible; who were the people who were respected, and who were the people who were reviled? Well, the people who were respected were the ones who, a thousand years later, were called false prophets. And the ones who were reviled and jailed and beaten and so on are the ones who years later were called prophets. And it goes right up until today. In the
Anti-Americanism, a derivative of anti-nationalism, as Arundhati Roy points out, is fallacious on the basis that it assumes the person so classified “is against his or her own nation and, by inference, is pro some other one. But it isn’t necessary to be ‘anti-national to be deeply suspicious of all nationalism, to be anti-nationalism. Nationalism of one kind or another was the cause of most of the genocide of the twentieth century.”
In the final analysis the charge of anti-Americanism, hurled with such vitriol, is but one extension of imperial power and the propaganda which serves this power; dissidents, no matter the support they enjoy, and critics of excesses of state power and abuses of human rights and so forth, are automatically deemed “anti-American” and are thus marginalized and dismissed before their analyses and arguments are even heard. The charge is thus used as an ideological weapon, derived from the ideology of totalitarianism, by which critics of state power are bludgeoned into marginalization, in the very same way Soviet dissidents were treated with the charge of being “anti-Soviet.”