The United States of America is the most powerful country in the world therefore dealing with America is not easy for some nations and countries. The bigger problem, however, is the Americans’ perception of their place in the world. Understanding the delicacies and complexities involved in relations with the USA and with the West in general can be challenging, especially for non-Western cultures.
Pakistan is bursting with anti-Americanism. Burning US flags and making fiery speeches against America is common in Pakistan. For religious parties and the Pakistani media America is a soft target. Nonetheless, it appears that the media and some politicians provoke the Pakistani public against America without doing proper homework. Generalizations and sweeping everybody in the US and in the West with the same brush often cause embarrassment for Pakistan on the public relations front.
Knowing English is not enough to comprehend subtleties of the Western mindset.
When the US dropped atomic bombs on two Japanese cities in 1945, and when the Soviet Union tested a nuclear bomb in 1949, the era of hot war was replaced by a new phase — the Cold War. During the Cold War, words were used as weapons and thus words became effective tools of war. By using the media Western ruling elites applied psychological warfare and mind games to influence public opinion against the Soviet Union.
Revolution in telecommunications that occurred near the end of the Cold War brought new and sophisticated propaganda techniques. In an increasingly interconnected world, influencing global public opinion is as important as wining the domestic one. The age of Internet, live television and instant communications has forced western policy makers and the media to use new ways to forward their agendas and influence public opinion.
Opposition to policies of the Western elites on the media and public diplomacy fronts needs careful assessments. In the words of a leading communication expert: “You have to be behind the enemy lines and should learn about the psyche, historical and cultural background as well as the mindset of your rival or opponent”.
Today’s Western politicians are like actors who perform in front of cameras. They are very careful in the use of language and in their selection of words. Body language, fiscal gestures and appearance of Western leaders can be orchestrated for cameras. Media are the latest tools of influencing public opinion. It is very important for Western leaders to appear honest and fair before the public. As politicians they require voters’ approval for their actions and policies.
The mainstream Western media are controlled and owned by a very small number of large business corporations. Such corporations are powerful conglomerates connected with big businesses, military establishments, politicians and governments. Besides, holding shares in the media companies, several large corporations are also involved in other businesses. For example, General Electric produces military hardware such as engines of fighter jets, Apache helicopters, U2 Bomber, tanks and numerous types of military equipment. At the same time General Electric, owns media outlets that include TV networks and the internet platforms as well as magazines and production companies. NBC news, CNBC (Arabia, Asia and Europe) MSNBC and msn.com are among the many media outlets that are either owned by General Electric or they have stakes in those media companies.
News Corporation is another company that is owned by an Australian born American, Rupert Murdoch. He owns more than 800 media companies in the world. That also includes Fox television network, which is very popular in the USA. Fox has a clear right-wing bias and it is accused of preaching hatred and religious and political intolerance. News Corporation also owns Sky TV network, Star TV and many more. It owns newspapers such the Times of London and the most popular British tabloid the Sun too. Mr. Murdoch is said to be a devout Christian and he believes in the power of Enterprise Capitalism.
Another media giant Walt Disney sells dreams and promotes a certain set of moral values. Critics say that mainstream Western media are tools for maintaining the status quo. Noted American scholar Noam Chomsky calls it, ‘manufacturing consent’.
The real face of Western governments and institutions is often hidden behind polite manners and friendly gestures of their leaders. In their public speeches and statements, Western leaders, diplomats and commentators use courtesies and references from history and literature to appear cultured and civilized. Refined arguments and a superficial sober behavior are key elements of Western political and cultural discourse. Howvere, at times hypocrisy is vivid in politicians’ behavior in the West. For example, the institution of marriage has been declining in the West. Thousands of couples live without marriage and have children yet Western politicians drag their spouses at public appearances to prove that they are responsible family men and women.
Similarly, public display of anger, grief and other emotional responses are discouraged in the West. Such feelings are signs of weakness in the Western dictionary of public mannerism. Leaders should hide their feelings and should perform in sophisticated, cultured and civilized ways before the public.
Former US President George W. Bush was criticized for his crude manners and slips of tongue in the public. A polished New Yorker Bill Clinton, and the likes of him in the US and Europe, felt uncomfortable because wild Bush was a PR disaster, and he represented the true face of the majority of Americans. Cultural arrogance of Western elites did not accept George W. Bush.
In Western educational systems and in the Western media, sometimes in very subtle ways, non-Western people are portrayed as emotional and loud thus ‘less civilized’. Angry and violent reactions are usually associated with non-Western cultures. Some in the West imply that anti-Western sentiments among non-Western countries are result of ignorance and incompetence that are common in those cultures. Others claim that anti-West feelings are because of jealousy as the Western way of life is superior to others.
Scenes of angry Pakistanis and Muslims screaming and burning US flags on TV screens confirm the above stereotypes presented by the Western media and ruling elites. Such stereotypes help those who play fear-politics in the West by claiming that Muslims, especially Pakistanis are anti-West and they support terrorism.
The actual roots of anti-West feelings in many parts of the world are associated with the loot and plunder of Europeans during the colonization period. People feel bitter about the United States as well because in the middle of the 20th century, the US replaced Europeans as a new imperial power in the developing world and it continued policies of the old masters.
The USA built its post Second World War foreign policy by dividing the world between ‘them and us’ or ‘USA VS them’. The 1942 Anglo-American charter was based on the superiority of Western values. It indicated that Western system would dominate the post WWII world. From the creation of the United Nations to the Bretton Woods Agreements, which gave birth to the IMF and the World Bank, the USA was determined to impose its will upon the rest of the world.
In March 1947, the US President Henry Truman explained a complex and multi-cultural world in black and white terms. The Truman Doctrine supported by Winston Churchill of Britain, laid the foundations of the ‘Cold War’. The main theme of the West’s new war was the struggle between ‘good and evil’ where America and its allies were the goodies.
The Soviet Union played the main and crucial role in defeating Germany but the US stole the credit of the Second World War victory from the USSR by media manipulations and political propaganda.
Truman presented the USA as the symbol of freedom and liberty and asked the world to follow American values and to believe in the ‘American Dream’. The purpose was to deceive the domestic and foreign audience.
Truman was pioneer of fear-politics in the United States. His policy created ‘Red Scare’ in the US when a Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy launched a witch hunt against the alleged presence of Communists in the US government. The anti-Communist campaign of 1950s helped the US government to get involved in the Korean War. Once the US government and the US media created an anti-Soviet sentiment in the country it was easy for the US politicians and the military to drag the country into the Vietnam War in 1961.
The propaganda about the supremacy of the US system and US values has created a mindset in America where those who do not confirm to the American orthodoxy of goodness are viewed as enemies.
It is an irony that America, a land of immigrants and different cultures, does not like diversity. The ruling elites have helped create a mentality in the US, which is driven by stereotypes and generalizations. The public is led to believe that they live in a paradise that is created by the American Dream. The public as well as the rest of the world is told to follow the American way of life. The unquestioned belief in the finality of American system and values is dangerous.
The faith in the American way is so strong that leaves little possibility for alternate ways or solutions. The supremacy of the American way and the orthodoxy of the American Dream seem to have blinded many members of the American intelligentsia, policy makers and the media. Their policies have left ordinary Americans, and to some extent the Western public, on the mercy of the few. Like most people in the world, ordinary Americans, too, are simple and kind hearted people who believe that their country is a force of goodness in the world but some evil or bad people want to stop or even destroy America. They cannot comprehend the true nature of their government’s policies because the mainstream US media do not provide them with all perspectives and a proper context in which tragedies and events happen.
Arrogance, gung-ho culture and knee jerk responses have been hallmark of the US foreign policy, especially in the recent years. The result is that American ruling classes are increasingly failing to realize that the world has changed, and that they are no more at the center of the universe. Rather than realizing their own failings and engaging with the world, the American policy makers and their allies such as Britain try to point fingers at others.
It has been a challenge for other nations and particularly for Muslim countries to understand the mindset of the ruling Western elites and correct the Western media distortions. Nevertheless, the bigger issue is how to reach the US people and the Western public directly.
Winning the hearts and minds of ordinary Americans was not as important as it is now. Burning flags and cursing and threatening the whole West will only exacerbate the situation. The Western public is victims of decades of settled propaganda. Many people in West are financially insecure and socially isolated. Creating further fear among such people will push them to accept their rulers’ solutions that are based on division, hatred and violence.
A desire for the long lasting peace and human prosperity requires long term solutions. Misunderstandings can be clarified by using new and innovative ways to connect with people, especially with the US public. The Internet offers some of those possibilities which can help in smoothing out differences between the West and the rest.
Shiraz Paracha is an international journalist and political analyst. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org