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The roots of global anti-Americanism

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Psy’s “Gangnam Style” made YouTube history today with 1 billion views. Another song by the rising South Korean megastar,”Hey American,” sparked controversy with blunt lyrics described by some as “anti-American.” Psy has issued an apology.

Nevertheless, let’s hope the controversy has helped cut through the thick fog of self congratulatory propaganda that has led many Americans to  believe it is Muslims who “hate us for our freedom,” rather than our hypocritical, aggressive foreign policies and relentless military intervention. Welcome to the global backlash, Gangnam style.

The roots of global anti-Americanism

by Murtaza Hussain, Al Jazeera

The incongruity of it seemed to be nothing short of a betrayal. After lightheartedly dancing his way into the hearts of Americans and gaining entrance to the inner sanctum of their cherished cult of celebrity, the Korean rapper, Psy, whose song “Gangam Style” became the most watched video in the history of YouTube and made him a pop culture sensation, has been revealed to have a politically active past which places him directly at odds with the American mainstream worldview and which violently decries its most basic articles of faith. The man whom they enjoyed as an unthreatening, comically light-hearted foreigner dancing for their enjoyment was revealed to have only years earlier been a vociferous public critic of American policies and the country’s role in the world. In a 2004 performance, the rapper famous for his “invisible horse dance” denounced the United States in a song called “Hey American”:

Kill those f—ing Yankees who have been torturing Iraqi captives

Kill those f—ing Yankees who ordered them to torture

Kill their daughters, mothers, daughters-in-law and fathers

Kill them all slowly and painfully

For an American public conditioned to the type of unquestionable worship of the military embodied in the phrase “Support the Troops”, Psy’s words represent nothing less than sacrilege. This song however was not his only offence.

In a previous performance, he had come on stage to protest the presence of 37,000 US troops in South Korea and smashed a miniature American tank in protest over the killing of two South Korean schoolgirls by American forces stationed in the country.

As it turned out, the Asian pop-star whom Americans had enthusiastically embraced, arguably the first entertainer to bridge the continental divide so successfully, brought with him not just a culturally unique style of song and dance, but also a worldview which is threateningly alien to most Americans.

If even an innocuous pop singer from a country perceived as benign could espouse views the typical American would attribute to menacing terrorists such as al-Qaeda, it begs serious questions about the pervasiveness of global anti-Americanism as well as to what informs it.

A legacy of violence

While the stories of American brutality in places such as Korea are unknown or ignored by the overwhelming majority of Americans, they are less quickly forgotten by the citizens of the countries which have suffered and continue to suffer horrific atrocities at the hands of US troops.

A 2009 investigative film revisiting the massacre documented the words of one Korean survivor who recalled how US troops had indiscriminately murdered men, women and children:During the Korean War, American troops were believed to have been responsible for hundreds of instances of mass-killings of civilians, including the infamous No Gun Ri massacre in which members of the US 7th Cavalry Regiment massacred hundreds of Korean civilians under a railway underpass over the course of three days.

“Children were screaming in fear and the adults were praying for their lives… they never stopped shooting.”

Another Korean War survivor described the common American tactic of firebombing villages with napalm in a scorched-earth campaign which killed countless civilians:

“When the napalm hit our village, many people were still sleeping in their homes…. Those who survived the flames ran…. We were trying to show the American pilots that we were civilians. But they strafed us, women and children.”

The wanton disregard to Korean lives during America’s global campaign against Communism continues to extend to the present day in the form of rape and murder directed towards Korean civilians by US soldiers stationed at bases throughout the country.

In one 2011 incident, emblematic of long-documented practices by US troops in the country, a 21-year-old soldier, Kevin Flippin, broke into a Korean woman’s hotel room and raped and tortured her for several hours before robbing her of the equivalent of roughly US $5 and fleeing back to his base.

Sexual violence and murder has been a recurrent theme throughout the decades of American military presence in Korea and reflects longstanding behaviour in countless other countries across the world subject to US military basing and occupation.

Widespread American unfavourability

While the virulent undercurrent of anti-Americanism which was briefly glimpsed in the revelations surrounding Psy’s political history have their basis in incidents such as these, Korea is far from being the most anti-American country in the world.

Polls of regions such as Latin America have shown anti-American sentiment to be even more rife; a legacy of US military interventionism in the continent which has been most vividly expressed in the form of torture, murder and the subversion of democratically elected leaders over the past several decades.

However, a 2012 Pew Research poll showed the least favourable perceptions of the US today to be in countries within the Arab and Muslim worlds; negative views which are thought to have briefly abated upon the election of Barack Obama but which can now be seen to have returned to their historic lows during the George W Bush era.

Among countries polled the bottom echelon are exclusively countries with Muslim majority populations. Even those such as Turkey and Jordan whose governments are traditionally allied with the US showed overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards America, with the latter polling at a mere 12 per cent favourability.

Tellingly, Jordan also happens to be home to a massive population of refugees from the American invasion of Iraq, the civilian victims of a war who have been forgotten by Americans but continue to live on in desperation and misery in many countries scattered throughout the region.

While an incredible amount of research has gone into formulating complex theories to explain this widespread disdain for the US, Occam’s Razor, the logical principle that the simplest explanation is most often the correct one suggests that the American militarism which once ravaged Korea and which has now been set upon the Muslim world is the cause of this growing antipathy.

Pakistan, which polled at roughly 9 per cent favourability towards the US in a 2010 BBC World poll, once had a vibrantly pro-American polity where Jacquelyn Kennedy was mobbed in the streets with flower garlands by thousands of admirers during a state visit and where American popular culture was once widely revered and emulated.

In recent decades however, all of this has changed, as Pakistanis have been left to witness the staggering human cost of US warfare in neighbouring Afghanistan as well as to deal with the millions of refugees that conflict has sent into Pakistan.

Pakistanis themselves have also increasingly become the direct target of American violence; being gunned down in the streets by rogue CIA officers, murdered by remote operated drones and renditioned for torture at clandestine “black-sites” throughout the world.

By starting a massive war and occupation in Afghanistan which caused widespread destabilisation and social chaos in Pakistan, a country which shares deep ethnic and religious bonds with its neighbour, the US has helped turn a once reasonably benign relationship into an increasingly dangerous one which has fuelled virulent anti-Americanism even among liberal and secular Pakistanis.

The degeneration of American popularity in Pakistan is however only one illustration of a broader trend where wanton militarism has generated negative popular perceptions towards the US.

Arrogance and atrocity

For Americans who are commonly feted with reassurances of their country’s benevolent role in the world, it may come as a surprise that half of all refugees on the planet today are running from American wars.

The wanton, industrial-scale violence, which the US has unleashed upon the civilians of countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia has naturally generated a tidal wave of negative feeling within these countries which many Americans utterly fail to grasp.

Episodes such as the gang rape and murder of a 14-year-old Iraqi girl and her family by US troops are emblematic of the fundamental sadism of American policy towards the region. However, in a type of bizarre dark comedy, popularly elected American leaders continue to question the lack of gratitude among the populations upon whom they have let loose this violence.

What this appears to represent is a type of brazen ignorance and egotism which has come to represent mainstream government policy; the type of myopia under which a country can launch a full-scale war, invasion and occupation of another sovereign nation under entirely false pretences, kill hundreds of thousands in the process and create millions of refugees and still at the end sincerely ask the question “Why they do hate us?”

While the US military, whom the American public puts forth as the unquestioned heroes and proud symbols of the apex of their society, finds new and innovative ways to inflict violence upon the populations of Arab and Muslim countries – including wanton, lawless and often completely anonymous target killings, and even recently the sanctioning of killing so-called “hostile children” in Afghanistan, the popular reputation of America as a country naturally sinks to new depths among the countries in the Middle East and around the world.

An illustrative example of the essentially self-destructive arrogance of US policy in the region pertains to that of Afghanistan; where the US in 2001 categorically refused to negotiate with the Taliban when the latter expressed a desire to co-operate with the full spectrum of US objectives and hand over Osama bin Laden, on the rhetorical grounds of “refusing to talk to evil.”

Fast forward 11 years – with tens of thousands of lives lost, trillions of dollars wasted, and America is doing exactly this, negotiating with the Taliban exactly as it could have done a decade earlier were it not for flagrantly irrational government policymaking informed by a mixture of arrogance and bloodlust.

For the self-proclaimed preeminent global power to behave in such a shockingly ignorant and destructive manner and to still express wonderment over others’ negative perceptions of it speaks to a deep lack of national self-awareness and perspective which could seriously impede the country from operating an effective foreign policy in the future.

An increasingly poisoned relationship

Even among those within the Arab and Muslim worlds and beyond who admire purported American values such as secularism, free speech and free enterprise, the past decade of increasingly wanton and unrestrained violence has worked to permanently stain the reputation of a country which was at one time held in high esteem across social strata.

American policy towards the Middle East today is popularly perceived to be informed by a cruel, arrogant and fundamentally racist worldview in which subject populations are essentially lesser peoples whose suffering is an accounted-for externality of hegemonic policies.

The type of brutality which Americans inflicted upon Korea decades ago still manifests in the undercurrent of anger held by many Koreans today, so it bears asking how long it will take for negative perceptions of America in the Muslim world to dissipate.

As long as unchecked American militarism in the region continues, these negative perceptions will only escalate and the phenomena of anti-Americanism will continue to spread and damage the ability of the US to find necessary allies in a strategically-important part of the world.

Regardless, as evidence has shown even when such negative feelings are sublimated for the sake of pragmatism, they seldom truly cease to exist. When its history is written, the US will have to come to terms with the legacy of global disdain, distrust and resentment it has engendered over its time as a superpower – a history which may very likely be unkind and incongruent with the image most Americans hold of themselves and of their country.

Murtaza Hussain is a Toronto-based writer and analyst focused on issues related to Middle Eastern politics. Follow him on Twitter: @MazMHussain


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  • Chameleon_X

    By ignoring how much the U.S. supported Saddam’s regime and how instrumental the U.S. was in establishing it (as Ilisha pointed out), you are trying to promote the phony mythology that the U.S. was the “savior of freedom” rather than the cause of misery that it is only trying to mop up with more atrocities, whether you state so or not. There is a big difference between a savior and an incompetent janitor, I am afraid.

    I never rebutted the facts regarding where Saddam’s weapons came from, since those facts are simply not relevant. You are only falsely assuming that selling weapons to Saddam is the only way to support that regime. Why would the U.S. need to sell Saddam weapons when he clearly had many other sources to buy them from — including from U.S. allies? But this does not mean the U.S. did not support Saddam, as even Weintraub plainly admits. The U.S. and many others should be ashamed of this support, as Weintraub further admits. You are just barking against historical facts.

    And then you admit how the U.S. supplied so much munitions to Iran. So how does this shameful, disgusting act help your argument? The U.S. was playing both sides, with the only logical reason to do so being to destabilize the region, slaughter innocent Muslims and to increase U.S. influence over weakened states. Do you always stick your foot in your mouth like this?

  • Your hyperbole aside it seems we’re done here, if any replies to me I won’t reply since I’ve stopped checking.

  • Kirook

    Ok, I will. Thanks for the tip.

  • Please by all means everyone visit my Tumblr site.

    Yea I praise the PFLP. Am I sorry for it? NO. I am a revolutionary. Not everyone’s a reactionary douche, Harry. Some of us have differing views of the world.

    I defended the song simply because it’s Psy’s way of expressing his very righteous anger towards an imperialist behemoth who he feels he has been wronged by. I know Harry, you feel the need to impose your will on everyone and that you think you’re doing them a favor, but not everyone feels that way. Some of us don’t like your boot on our throat.

    Not everyone lives in that same reactionary bubble of delusion that you do, Harry. Take a look outside that bubble for a change and you’ll see plenty of pissed-off people like Psy and myself who want to break free of your occupations and don’t buy into your colonialist claptrap.

  • Check out the right-wing trolls on Alternet, you will see many species of loon.

  • Chameleon_X

    Yes, we all know Saddam was a bad guy, Henry. Please don’t bore us. But how does this justify war crimes by the U.S. against the Iraqi people? You are just creating a phony argument about how the U.S. was the independent savior of freedom and was not responsible for any of this mess in Iraq, before the wars and afterwards. But the reality is that the U.S. got its hands very dirty both before, by supporting this oppressive regime, and then after when it tried to mop up the mess with its war crimes. Even if your mythology were true about how the U.S. didn’t have its hands dirty beforehand, it does not in any way excuse the war crimes of the U.S. afterwards. But what is so funny is that even Jeff Weintraub admits your mythology about what happened beforehand is simply not true, per your own linked page:

    “The relationship between the US and the Iraqi Ba’ath regime did shift during the Iran/Iraq war of 1980-1988, especially after 1982. And at times during this period, the US did behave quite shamefully (along with just about everyone else).”

    It was only when U.S. interests came into conflict with Iraqi interests that the U.S. decided to turn against their pet dictator.

    Again, we are still waiting on your stated claim. State your claim, and quit rambling.

  • Chameleon_X

    “The point was the inconsistency in lisha’s post. Sanctions were central in ending that regime which wasn’t nearly as bad as Baathist Iraq yet llisha describes sanctions against Iraq as ‘starving Iraqis.”

    How was Ilisha being inconsistent? Just because she is against apartheid does not mean she supports sanctions that starve the general population. That is yet another logical fallacy. It is called a faulty analogy. Again, history shows that the internal resistance was what really brought down South African apartheid, not sanctions, which the U.S. and Israel didn’t even support up until the 11th hour (when the regime was already in tatters from this resistance) because of their selfish economic interests. Even if the sanctions did work to some extent, the poor South Africans were not starved in the process because they could not eat enough conflict diamonds. Finally, there is no moral equivalence between sanctions and invasion/occupation by a unilateral imperial power like the U.S., the latter of which is covered directly by the Nuremberg Precedent as a war crime (Ilisha’s point). Do you get it yet?

    “I wasn’t using a tu quoque argument.”

    Your intention is irrelevant. It was an obvious tu quoque argument and hence has no merit. Moreover, there is no moral equivalence to aggressive invasion, and your analogy was faulty, as I already showed.

    Again, state your claim or state the claim you are rebutting. As far as I can tell, you have no claim left, and you are just fumbling with whatever words you can salvage from quashed arguments.

  • Chameleon_X


    You are babbling. State your claim or state the specific claim you are rebutting. For example, what the hell does the isolated opinion of Thomas Aquinas have to do with the accepted definition of an international war crime per the Nuremberg Precedent today? There is simply no comparison. Does your Aunt Sally’s opinion count too? As for your “international law” on genocide, it only allows stepping in to stop genocide that is imminent or in progress, and it would still require UN resolutions to do so. Such a fact scenario did not apply to Iraq (Saddam’s attacks on Kurds occured long before, and this was not even stated by the U.S. as the reason for invading and occupying Iraq).

    Just as another small example, you state “loonwatch glorifies the anti-apartheid struggle”. OK, wonderful, so 1) Where are the facts to back this up? and 2) Should apartheid be glorified or celebrated instead?

    As yet another example, how does the tu quoque argument of how many innocents were killed by Nazis justify how many innocents were killed by the U.S. in Iraq?

    Even your facts are bogus. Decades of resistance from within brought down apartheid, not sanctions. Take this quote, which is supported by primary sources cited with this quote (from

    “In Switzerland the Swiss-South African Association lobbied on behalf of the South African government and in the 1980s, both the Reagan and Thatcher administrations, in the USA and UK respectively, followed a ‘constructive engagement’ policy with the apartheid government, vetoing the imposition of UN economic sanctions on South Africa, justified by a belief in free trade and a vision of South Africa as a bastion against Marxist forces in Southern Africa. Thatcher declared the ANC a terrorist organisation,[99] and in 1987 her spokesman, Bernard Ingham, famously said that anyone who believed that the ANC would ever form the government of South Africa was “living in cloud cuckoo land”.[100]”

    Oh, and here is this little gem about how easy it was for the apartheid government not only to avoid sanctions (as is the case today when sanctions are tried), but they were still able to negotiate the purchase of nuclear weapons (!) from none other than Israel, another apartheid state:

    “Considerable effort was put into circumventing sanctions, and the government even went so far as to develop nuclear weapons, with the help of several different sources, these sources allegedly include Israel.[106] In 2010, The Guardian released South African government documents that revealed an Israeli offer to sell Apartheid South Africa nuclear weapons.”

  • Thanks. I knew there was a word for it. I didn’t know what it was though.

    I admit I do it sometimes too, no, I do it often, but only against racist loons who have shown themselves incapable of holding a logical and reasoned discussion.

  • Kirook

    Last I checked, it was called ad hominem, and it and its variant “tu qoque” (“you, too” or the “hypocrite” version) are favorite tactics of loons everywhere.

  • “I mentioned Arab because I’m not Muslim. I’m Palestinian, though.”

    I mentioned Muslims, as I said, because I felt it was more topical to LoonWatch in general (though the issues often overlap). I would also like to state that I’m generally glad you responded to my challenge about your comments well, rather than getting more defensive. It’s nice to have such a thing, especially since I seem to be poking at something that hurts you in a personal manner. Thank you for that.

    “They don’t know what they did to earn the contempt of the Americans,
    which was demonstrated by the US’s support of the creation of Israel in

    The U.S. supported Israel, as did many after WWII, for the reason that they felt guilty about not taking the Holocaust seriously. The issue of reintegrating the Jews back into Europe (with half of it under the curtain of the USSR anyway) would be a logistical nightmare. President Truman also had to deal with the fact that FDR turning back that boat full of Jews in New York Harbor was such a potent symbol of the failure of American foreign policy at the time, that he likely felt he *had* to ‘make up’ for it.

    Discrimination played a role, of course; ‘they’re just Arabs,’ but after the collapse of Berlin in 1945, open anti-Semitism was an indefensible position. They chose to put, in their eyes, the lesser of two evils and call it a day.

    Not to mention: the Arthur Balfour Declaration pretty much gave the Jews a blank check in regards to settlement in the Mandate of Palestine. The Brits’ share of blame in this regard is no small part.

    “We didn’t ask to be treated like crap. Nope, Americans just took it upon themselves to do that!”

    People do tend to forget that Morocco was the first nation in the world to recognize the United States, that’s true. But the question isn’t really complex: Arabs are 1) ‘Them,’ not ‘Us’ and 2) their religious, cultural and social backgrounds make them hard to relate to; both of which tie into one another. There is, again, the issue of discrimination on an ethnic basis (‘race’ being a 19th century term). Humans tend to find it hard to relate to those that aren’t like themselves. It’s why sustained protests against certain issues (especially ones regarding foreign nations) are so hard to maintain. It’s very easy for the average American to be appalled when blond-haired Christina is rescued from a child pornography right; less so when Fatimah is listed as being a victim of a U.S. drone strike.

    Religious competition plays an uncomfortable position in any such discussion as well, even now. The above sociological fact combines with the notion that their positions regarding spirituality are fundamentally wrong. If you go from that, any misfortune that befalls them, on a level for some, becomes that much easier to justify.

    Thanks for the heads up about the new comment sytem (Ilisha as well).

  • Lord of the Rings is one of my favorite pieces of literature. When I feel lonely I just watch one of the movies to escape.

    It’s kinda sad that I get bashed for not living up to a stereotype. One of the trolls over there actually said something to that effect of how I’m “supposed” to behave, and since I don’t behave that way, I must be a fake account. That was one of the JIDF thugs patrolling that site.

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