I write to echo an excellent recent article in The Guardian by an American journalist named Mark Hertsgaard, entitled “Why We Still Don’t Get It, One Year On.” Everyone can and should read this article at http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0911-05.htm.The gist of the article is that people around the world misunderstand Americans, to be sure, but Americans understand others far worse. Mr. Hertsgaard rightly points out that Americans live in a media bubble of sorts, in which the most widely available news information is little better than “semi-official propaganda.”
The American news media suffer in particular from a poor and lopsided coverage of world affairs and American foreign policy.
This results in an incongruity between the foundations of political discourse in America and such foundations around the world. In other words, some ideas that fall somewhere between controversial and anathema in American discourse are, by contrast, largely seen elsewhere as fundamental and matter-of-fact in discussions of world politics. (Dare I use the word paradigm?)
Mr. Hertsgaard and I suggest that the media filtration that shapes American minds and opinions is largely to blame for the fact that many Americans are not on the same page with the rest of the world when it comes to the question of “why people hate America.”
This is not to say that there is nothing Americans can do about this. If we were under an authoritarian regime, as are, for example, some denizens of the “Axis of Evil,” our media options might be genuinely limited. In the case of America, where the Internet flourishes, one can only point to a lack of initiative.
There is no better way to tap into world political discourse than to hop onto RealPlayer and listen to a variety of excellent international services, such as BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corp., Deutsche Welle English Service, Radio Netherlands English Service, Radio Australia, etc. Also, our library subscribes to a variety of international newspapers and periodicals, which, I fear, largely go untouched.
If we are truly the “leaders of the free world” and the shining beacon of “freedom” and “democracy,” then we need to exercise something approaching democratic leadership on the world stage, by listening to and learning from our allies, and even those who are at odds with us, before casting votes that send us down paths of unilateral violence.