Category Archives: anti-Americanism

Parsing Obama

So, here comes Barack Obama’s long-awaited speech to the Muslim world, to decidedly mixed reaction.  I am not going to dwell at the moment on the specifics of his Israel policy (for a very pessimistic assessment see this post by Ron Radosh, though there are many Israel supporters who do not share Ron’s endorsement of the settlements).  I also agree that the part of the speech dealing with Iran was rather weak, full of lofty sentiment signifying nothing.  But some of the scathing criticism directed at Obama strikes me as rather misguided.  For instance, Charles Krauthammer found it to be infected by “self-absorption”; but was Obama’s talk of the aspects of his personal story that were relevant to the issues at hand all that different from what, say, Ronald Reagan did?

Does it really matter that Obama never used the words “terror” or “terrorism,” referring instead to “violent extremism”?  The power of the T-word has been somewhat diluted by overuse; besides, to many (non-terror-sympathizing) Muslims it is undoubtedly a red-flag word, due to their common belief that the West looks at a Muslim and sees a terrorist.  I think it was a positive thing to say, and drive home the point, that terrorism by any other name would smell as foul.

The President’s powerful affirmation of the memory of the Holocaust, and firm condemnation of Holocaust denial, was a key part of the speech.  Some believe that, by transitioning immediately to the plight of displaced Palestinians, Obama drew a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and Palestinian displacement.  Re-reading the speech, I see no such equivalence (though someone who wants to believe the two tragedies are equal could read it that way).  I think Obama was simply saying that the Palestinians have their own history of suffering which cannot be denied.  Should he have said more to acknowledge the Palestinian (and Arab) leaders’ own responsibility for perpetuating this suffering?  Probably.  Did he go too far in suggesting that each side’s view of the conflict was equally valid?  Probably.  But here’s an important point: the speech was intended as outreach to the Muslim world.   To say “Israel is 100% right and the Palestinians bear 100% of the blame,” even if it were true (and I don’t believe it is) would not be very productive.  Confronting a Muslim and Arab audience with the fact that Israel’s stiff-necked stance has something to do with “the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond” is a pretty good start.

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Filed under anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, Barack Obama, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Muslims, religion, religious freedom, September 11, terrorism, US foreign policy, West

From Russia, with nuttiness

Anti-American nuttiness in Russia, a subject I have previously plumbed, is the gift that keeps on giving.

Now there’s this:

For a decade, Russian academic Igor Panarin has been predicting the U.S. will fall apart in 2010. For most of that time, he admits, few took his argument — that an economic and moral collapse will trigger a civil war and the eventual breakup of the U.S. — very seriously. Now he’s found an eager audience: Russian state media.

….

Prof. Panarin, 50 years old, is not a fringe figure. A former KGB analyst, he is dean of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s academy for future diplomats. He is invited to Kremlin receptions, lectures students, publishes books, and appears in the media as an expert on U.S.-Russia relations.
Mr. Panarin posits, in brief, that mass immigration, economic decline, and moral degradation will trigger a civil war next fall and the collapse of the dollar. Around the end of June 2010, or early July, he says, the U.S. will break into six pieces — with Alaska reverting to Russian control.
In addition to increasing coverage in state media, which are tightly controlled by the Kremlin, Mr. Panarin’s ideas are now being widely discussed among local experts. He presented his theory at a recent roundtable discussion at the Foreign Ministry. The country’s top international relations school has hosted him as a keynote speaker. During an appearance on the state TV channel Rossiya, the station cut between his comments and TV footage of lines at soup kitchens and crowds of homeless people in the U.S. The professor has also been featured on the Kremlin’s English-language propaganda channel, Russia Today.

That’s from the December 29 Wall Street Journal. Meanwhile, on the same day, the website of the pro-government Izvestia, which originally publicized Panarin’s … shall we say, fanciful claims on November 24, ran a short piece titled “Now, America also knows it’s due for a collapse.” While the title is somewhat sarcastic, the piece, apparently, is not. It claims that Panarin’s interview sparked “a stormy discussion and many articles both in Russia and around the world,” and notes that “even White House spokeswoman Dana Perino had to fend off questions about the disintegration of the USA.” (According to the WSJ: “The article prompted a question about the White House’s reaction to Prof. Panarin’s forecast at a December news conference. ‘I’ll have to decline to comment,’ spokeswoman Dana Perino said amid much laughter.”)

Izvestia goes on to say:

A heated discussion also raged on the WSJ website, in which, however, the most common arguments were along the lines of, “Those stupid Russians!” Incidentally, a similar “convenient” stance was adopted by our own “pro-Western” electronic media, which hastened to declare that “not one serious publication has given the professor’s amazing forecast any attention.” The WSJ, too, prefers to view everything through the lens of Russia. And doesn’t bother to explain why this interview elicited a huge response in the USA, rather than here.
Panarin’s view “reflects a very pronounced degree of anti-Americanism in Russia today,” the WSJ quotes TV host Vladimir Pozner as saying. “It’s much stronger than it was in the Soviet Union.” It would also be really good to understand where this anti-Americanism came from. Could it be due to the American position on missile defense or South Ossetia? But alas, the WSJ is not interested in digging that deep.

I’m sure it would be news to most Americans, even those who keep up with the Zeitgeist, that Panarin’s ravings “elicited a huge response” in the US. (The “response” consisted of a Drudge Report headline and a flurry of blogposts, mostly in the “news of the weird” department.) And is it just me, or is Izvestia admitting, in a roundabout way, that the Russian media are trumpeting this apocalyptic nonsense as “payback” for disagreements over Georgia and missile defense systems in Eastern Europe?

In reality, the promotion of Panarin may be a kind of Freudian projection of much more plausible concerns about the disintegration of Russia (which, unlike the US, does have problems with separatism, including an ever-growing body count in the regions of the Caucasus — Ingushetia, Dagestan, Northern Ossetia). In a recent survey by the Ekho Moskvy radio station, nearly 70% of those voting online and nearly 80% of call-in voters agreed that “Russia could suffer the same fate as the USSR.” While this was not a scientific poll, it does suggest that a significant portion of the Russian public thinks the disintegration of Russia is possible.

And more from the annals of nutty Russian anti-Americanism, circa 2007: a persistent claim that former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright has expressed the opinion that it’s unfair that Russia should have exclusive ownership of a region as rich with natural resources as Siberia. Based on a fake quote, and a 2006 interview with a retired major general of the FSB (former KGB) who claims that Russian intelligence was able to do a psychic reading of Albright’s mind in 1999 (seriously) and detected a “pathological hatred of Slavs” as well as intense resentment at the fact that “Russia held the world’s largest reserves of natural resources.” This interview was not published in the Russian equivalent of Weekly World News but in Rossiskaya Gazeta, the official publication of the Russian government.

(To quote the Russian comedian Mikhail Zhvanetsky: Слов нет — одни выражения. Which translates loosely into English as: “Words fail. Printable ones, at least.”)

The “Albright” line about the injustice of Russia’s sole ownership of Siberia has also been attributed to Condoleezza Rice. Take this December 14, 2005 report on the political analysis website Kremlin.org, about public hearings on “New federal initiatives for the modernization of Siberia”:

The absence of such a [modernization] strategy at present does not allow Siberian regions to develop in a stable way and leads to stagnation, and in the long term, to the possible loss of Siberia.

This was discussed by the vice president of the Novosibirsk Chamber of Commerce, Yuri Voronov. In his words, “there is powerful pressure to take Siberia away from Russia. Even Condoleezza Rice has declared that Siberia is too big to belong to a single state.”

Pretty soon, Hillary Clinton will have said it, too.

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Filed under anti-Americanism, Russia