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The late Edward Said on America: "The Nation is Not United"

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  • Tarek Fatah
    Friends, He was born in Palestine, but he died in the US, his adopted home. Edward Said had a unique insight into America as much as he knew the pulse of the
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 25, 2003
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      Friends,

      He was born in Palestine, but he died in the US, his adopted home. Edward
      Said had a unique insight into America as much as he knew the pulse of the
      Palestinians.

      In March this year he wrote about the USA. As we mourn the loss of this
      great human being, I would like to share this piece he wrote for
      CounterPunch magazine.

      Read and reflect

      Tarek Fatah
      ----------------
      March 21, 2003

      The Nation is Not United: The Other America
      By EDWARD SAID
      http://www.counterpunch.com/said03222003.html

      A small item in the press a few days ago reported that Prince Ibn Al-Walid
      of Saudi Arabia had donated 10 million dollars to the American University in
      Cairo to establish a department or centre of American Studies there. It
      should be recalled that the young billionaire had contributed an unsolicited
      10 million dollars to New York City shortly after the 11 September bombings,
      with an accompanying letter that, aside from describing the handsome sum as
      a tribute to New York, also suggested that the United States might
      reconsider its policy towards the Middle East. Obviously he had total and
      unquestioning American support for Israel in mind, but his politely stated
      proposition seemed also to cover the general American policy of denigrating,
      or at least showing disrespect, for Islam.

      In a fit of petulant rage, the then Mayor of New York (which also has the
      largest Jewish population of any city in the world), Rudolph Guiliani,
      returned the check to Al-Walid, rather unceremoniously and with an extreme
      and I would say racist contempt that was meant to be insulting as well as
      gloating. On behalf of a certain image of New York, he personally was
      upholding the city's demonstrated bravery and its principled resistance to
      outside interference. And of course pleasing, rather than trying to educate,
      a purportedly unified Jewish constituency.

      Guiliani's churlish behaviour was of a piece with his refusal several years
      before (in 1995, well after the Oslo signings) to admit Yasser Arafat to the
      Philharmonic Hall for a concert to which everyone at the UN had been
      invited. Typical of the cheap theatrics of the below average American big
      city politician, what New York's mayor did in response to the young Saudi
      Arabian's gift was completely predictable. Even though the money was
      intended, and greatly needed, for humanitarian use in a city wounded by a
      terrible atrocity, the American political system and its main actors put
      Israel ahead of everything, whether or not Israel's amply endowed and highly
      mobilised lobbyists would have done the same thing. In any case, no one
      knows what would have occurred if Guiliani didn't return the money; but as
      things turned out he had nicely preempted even the well- oiled pro-Israeli
      lobbying apparatus. As the celebrated novelist and essayist Joan Didion
      wrote in a recent New York Review of Books article, it has become a staple
      of US policy first articulated by FD Roosevelt that America has tried
      against all logic to maintain a hopelessly contradictory support for the
      Saudi monarchy on the one hand and, on the other, with the state of Israel,
      so much so, she adds, that "we have become unable to discuss anything that
      might be seen as touching on our relationship with the current government of
      Israel" (p56, Jan 16, 03).

      The two stories about Prince Al-Walid dovetail nicely with each other, and
      show a continuity that has been quite rare so far as Arab views of America
      have been concerned. For at least three generations, Arab leaders,
      politicians, and their more often than not American-trained advisers have
      been formulating policies for their countries whose basis is an almost
      completely fictitious and quite fanciful idea of what America is. Far from
      coherent, this idea is at bottom all about how 'the Americans' really run
      everything, even though in its details the notion encompasses a wide, not to
      say jumbled, range of opinions, from on the one hand seeing America as a
      conspiracy of Jews, to theories on the other stipulating that America is
      either a bottomless well of benign good feeling and help for the
      downtrodden, or that it is ruled from A to Z by an unchallenged white man
      sitting like an Olympian figure in the White House.

      I recall many times during the 20 years that I knew Yasser Arafat well,
      trying to explain to him that this was a complex society with all sorts of
      currents, interests, pressures, and histories in conflict within it and that
      far from being ruled the way Syria was, for instance, a different model of
      power and authority ought to be studied. I enlisted my late friend, the
      scholar and political activist, Eqbal Ahmed, who had an expert knowledge of
      American society but was also perhaps the finest theorist and historian of
      anti-colonial national liberation movements in the world, to talk to Arafat
      and bring along other experts so that a sharper, more nuanced model might
      develop for use by the Palestinians during their preliminary contacts with
      the US government in the late 1980s -- but all to no avail. Ahmed had
      carefully studied the Algerian FLN's relationship with France during the war
      of 1954-62 as well as the North Vietnamese while they were negotiating with
      Kissinger during the 1970s.

      The contrast between a scrupulous, detailed knowledge of the metropolitan
      society with which these insurgents had been in conflict and the
      Palestinians' almost caricatural knowledge of America (based mainly on
      hearsay and cursory readings in Time magazine) was stark. Arafat's
      single-minded obsession was to make his way personally into the White House
      and talk to that whitest of white men Bill Clinton: in his view that would
      be the equivalent perhaps of getting things done with Mubarak of Egypt or
      Hafez Al-Assad of Syria. If in the meantime Clinton revealed himself to be
      the master- creature of American politics, completely overwhelming and
      confusing the Palestinians with his charm and his manipulation of the
      system, so much the worse for Arafat and his men. Their simplified view of
      America was monumentally unchanged, as it still is today. As for resistance
      or knowing how to play the game of politics in a world with only one, all-
      conquering super-power in it, matters remain as they have for over half a
      century. Most people throw up their hands in despair like disappointed
      lovers: America is hopeless, and I don't ever want to go back there, they
      often say, though one also notices that green, permanent residence cards are
      much in demand, as are university admissions for the children.

      The other, more hopeful side of the story concerns what seems to have been
      Prince Al-Walid's later change of direction, about which I can only surmise.
      But I do know that apart from a few courses and seminars on American
      literature and politics scattered throughout the universities of the Arab
      world, there has never been anything like an academic centre for the
      systematic and scientific analysis of America, its people, society, and
      history, at all. Not even in American institutions like the American
      Universities of Cairo and Beirut. This lack may also be true throughout the
      Third World, and maybe even in some European countries. The point I am
      making is that to live in a world that is held in the grip of an
      extraordinarily unbound great power there is a vital need for knowing as
      much about its swirling dynamics as is humanly possible. And that, I
      believe, also includes commanding an excellent working command of the
      language, something few Arab leaders (as a case in point) possess. Yes,
      America is the country of McDonald's, Hollywood, blue jeans, Coca-Cola and
      CNN, all of them products exported and available everywhere by virtue of
      globalisation, multinational corporations, and what seems to be the world's
      appetite for articles of easy, convenient consumption. But we must also be
      conscious of from what source these come and in what ways the cultural and
      social processes from which they ultimately derive can be interpreted,
      especially since the danger of thinking about America too simply or
      reductively and statically is so obvious.

      Even as I write these lines much of the world is being bludgeoned into a
      restive submission by (or, as are the cases of Italy and Spain, an utterly
      opportunistic alliance with) America as it readies itself for a deeply
      unpopular war against Iraq. But for the ongoing global demonstrations and
      protests that have erupted entirely at the popular level, the war would
      simply be a brazen act of unopposed cynical domination. Yet contested as it
      is by so many Americans as well as Europeans, Asians, Africans and Latin
      Americans who have taken to the streets and to their local newspapers at
      least suggests that at last there is an awakening to the fact that the
      United States, or rather the small handful of Judeo-Christian white men who
      currently rule its government, is bent on world hegemony. What to do then?

      In what follows I shall offer a rapid sketch of the extraordinary panorama
      presented by today's America, as seen by someone who is American and has
      lived comfortably in it for years and years, but who by virtue of his
      Palestinian origins, still retains his perspective as a comparative
      outsider, but a kind of insider also. My interest is simply to suggest ways
      of understanding, intervening in, and if the word isn't too inappropriate,
      resisting a country that is far from the monolith it is usually taken to be,
      specially in the Arab and Muslim worlds. What is there to be seen?

      The difference between America and the classic empires of the past is that,
      even though each empire asserted its utter originality and its determination
      not to repeat the overreaching ambitions of imperial predecessors, this one
      does so with an astonishing affirmation of its nearly sancrosanct altruism
      and well-meaning innocence. For this alarming delusion there is, even more
      alarmingly, a new squadron of formerly Left or liberal intellectuals alike
      who had historically opposed American wars abroad but who are now prepared
      to make the case for virtuous empire (the figure of the lonely sentry has
      been used) using a variety of styles, from tub-thumping patriotism to sly
      cynicism. The events of 11 September play a role in this volte face, but
      what is surprising is that the Twin Towers-Pentagon bombings, horrible
      though they were, retreated as if they came from nowhere, rather than in
      fact from a world across the seas driven crazy by American intervention and
      ubiquitous American presence. This is of course not to condone Islamic
      terrorism, which is a hateful thing in every way. But it is to remark that
      in all the pious analyses of America's responses to Afghanistan and now
      Iraq, history and proportionality have simply dropped out of the picture
      entirely.

      What the liberal hawks specially don't refer to, however, is the Christian
      Right (so similar to Islamic extremism in fervor and righteousness) and its
      massive, indeed decisive presence in America today. The qualities of that
      vision derive from mostly Old Testament sources, very much of a piece with
      those of Israel, its close partner and analogue. A peculiar alliance between
      Israel's influential neoconservative American supporters and the Christian
      extremists is that the latter support Zionism as a way of bringing all the
      Jews to the Hold y Land to prepare the way for the Messiah's Second Coming;
      at which point Jews will either have to convert to Christianity or be
      annihilated. The bloody and rabidly anti-Semitic teleologies are rarely
      referred to, certainly not by the pro-Israeli Jewish phalanx.

      America is the world's most avowedly religious country. References to God
      permeate the national life, from coins to buildings to common forms of
      speech: in God we trust, God's country, God bless America, and on and on.
      George Bush's power base is made up of the 60-70 million fundamentalist
      Christians who, like him, believe they have seen Jesus and are here to do
      God's work in God's country. Some sociologists and journalists (including
      Francis Fukuyuma and David Brooks) have argued that contemporary American
      religion is the result of a desire for community and a long-gone sense of
      stability, given the fact that approximately 20 per cent of the population
      is moving from home to home all the time. But the evidence for that desire
      is true only up to a point: what matters more is religion by prophetic
      illumination, unshakeable conviction in a sometimes apocalyptic sense of
      mission, and a heedless disregard of small-scale facts and complications.
      The enormous geographical distance of the country from the turbulent world
      is another factor, as is the fact that Canada and Mexico are continental
      neighbours with little capability of tempering American enthusiasm.

      All of those things converge around an idea of American rightness, goodness,
      freedom, economic promise, social advancement that is so ideologically woven
      into the fabric of daily life that it doesn't even appear to be ideological,
      but rather a fact of nature. America=good=total loyalty and love. Similarly
      there is an unconditional reverence for the Founding Fathers, and for the
      Constitution, an amazing document, it is true, but a human one nevertheless.
      Early America is the anchor of American authenticity. In no country that I
      know does a waving flag play so central an iconographical role. You see it
      everywhere, on taxicabs, on men's jacket lapels, on the front windows and
      roofs of houses everywhere. It is the main embodiment of the national image,
      signifying heroic endurance and a beleaguered sense of fighting of unworthy
      enemies. Patriotism is still the prime American virtue, tied up as it is
      with religion, belonging, and doing the right thing not just at home but all
      over the world. Patriotism is also represented in retail consumer spending,
      as when Americans were enjoined after the events of 9/11 to do a lot of
      shopping in defiance of evil terrorists. Bush and employees of his like
      Rumsfeld, Powell, Rice and Ashcroft have tapped into all of that to mobilise
      the military for war 7000 miles away in order 'to get' Saddam, as he is
      referred to universally. Underlying all this is the machinery of capitalism,
      now undergoing radical and, I think, destabilising change. The economist
      Julie Schor has shown that Americans now work far more hours than they did
      three decades ago, and are making relatively less money for their efforts.
      But still there is no serious, systematic political challenge to the dogmas
      of what are referred to as the opportunities of a free market. It's as if no
      one cares whether the corporate structure in alliance with the federal
      government, which still hasn't been able to provide most Americans with
      decent universal health coverage and a sound education, has to be changed.
      News of the stock market is more important than re-examining the system.

      This is a crude summary of the American consensus, which in fact politicians
      exploit and try endlessly to simplify into slogans and sound bites. But what
      one discovers about this amazingly complex society is how many counter-
      currents and alternatives run across and around this consensus all the time.
      The growing resistance to war that the president has been essentially
      minimising and pretending to ignore, derives from the other less formal
      America that the mainstream media (newspapers of record such as The New York
      Times, the main networks, the publishing and magazine industries in large
      measure) always tries to paper over and keep down. Never has there been so
      unashamed, if not scandalous, complicity between TV news and the
      government's rush to war: even the average newsreader that turns up on CNN
      or one of the major networks talks excitedly about Saddam's evils and how
      'we' have to stop him before it's too late. And if that is not bad enough,
      the airwaves are filled with ex-military men, terrorism experts, and Middle
      East policy analysts who know none of the relevant languages, may never have
      seen any part of the Middle East, and are too poorly educated to be expert
      at anything, all of them arguing in a memorised jargon about the need for
      'us' to do something about Iraq, while preparing our windows and cars for an
      impending poison gas attack.

      Because it is a managed and constructed thing the consensus operates in a
      sort of timeless present. History is anathema to it, and in accepted public
      discourse even the word 'history' is a synonym for nothingness or
      non-entity, as in the scornful, typically dismissive American phrase,
      'you're history.' Otherwise history is what as Americans we are supposed to
      believe about America (not about the rest of the world, which is 'old' and
      generally left behind, hence irrelevant) uncritically, loyally,
      unhistorically. There is an amazing polarity at work here. In the popular
      mind America is supposed to stand above or beyond history. On the other
      hand, there is an all-consuming general interest that one encounters across
      the country in the history of everything, from small regional topics, to the
      vaster reaches of world empires. Many cults develop out of both these
      carefully balanced opposites, which encompass the road from xenophobic
      patriotism to other-worldly spiritualism and reincarnation.

      One rather more worldly example of the struggle about history is worth
      recalling here. A decade ago a great intellectual battle was waged in the
      public sphere over what kind of history should be taught in schools. What
      was clear about the va-et-vient that occurred over many weeks was that the
      promoters of the idea of American history as a heroically unified national
      narrative with entirely positive resonances for young minds, thought of
      history as essential not only for the truth, but for the ideological
      propriety of representations that would mould students into essentially
      docile citizens, ready to accept a set of basic themes as the constants in
      America's relationships with itself and the rest of the world. Purged from
      this essentialist view were to be the elements of what was called
      postmodernism and divisive history (that of minorities, women, slavery, etc)
      but the result, interestingly enough, was a failure so far as the imposition
      of such risible standards was concerned. As Linda Symcox sums it up,
      "Certainly one would argue, as I do, that...[the neoconservative] approach
      to cultural literacy is a thinly disguised attempt to inculcate students
      with a relatively conflict-free, consensual view of history. But the project
      ended up moving in a different direction altogether. In the hands of social
      and world historians, who actually wrote the Standards with the K-12
      teachers, the Standards became a vehicle for the pluralistic vision the
      government was trying to combat. In the end, consensus history, or cultural
      reproduction... was challenged by those historians who felt that social
      justice and the redistribution of power demanded a more complex telling of
      the past."

      In the public sphere over which in so many ways the mass mainstream media
      preside there are thus a series of what one might call narrathemes that
      structure, package and control discussion, despite the appearance of variety
      and diversity. I shall discuss only a small number of them that strike me as
      acutely pertinent at this time. One of course is that there is a collective
      'we', a national identity represented without apparent demurral by our
      president, our secretary of state at the UN, our armed forces in the desert,
      and our interests, which are routinely seen as self-defensive, without
      ulterior motive, and in an overall way, innocent in the way that a
      traditional woman is supposed to be innocent, pure, free of sin, etc.
      Another narratheme is the irrelevance of history, and the inadmissibility of
      illegitimate 'linkage', for example, the facts that the US once had armed
      and encouraged Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, or that Vietnam (when it
      is mentioned at all) and its particular form of devastation was 'bad' for
      the country or, as Jimmy Carter once put it memorably, that it was a form of
      "mutual" self-destruction. Or even more staggering, the ongoing and even
      institutional irrelevance of two immensely important and constitutively
      American experiences, the slavery of the African-American people and the
      dispossession and quasi-extermination of the native American population.
      These have yet to be figured into the national consensus in any serious way.
      (Whereas there is a major Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, no such
      memorial exists either for African-Americans or native Americans, anywhere
      in the country).

      A third is the unexamined conviction that opposition to our policies is
      'anti-Americanism' which is based on jealousy about 'our' democracy,
      freedom, wealth and greatness or, as the current obsession with French
      resistance to an American war against Iraq has it, plain and ordinary
      foreign nastiness. In this context Europeans are constantly reminded of how
      America saved them twice in the past century, with the subsidiary
      implication that most Europeans simply sat back watching while American
      troops did all the real fighting. And when it comes to places where the US
      has been extraordinarily entangled for at least 50 years like the Middle
      East or Latin America, the narratheme of America as the honest broker, the
      impartial adjudicator, the entirely well-intentioned international force for
      good, has no serious competitor to it; what we have therefore is a strand of
      thought that has little place in it for issues relating to power, or
      financial gain, or resource grabbing, or ethnic lobbying, or forcible and/or
      surreptitious regime change (as in Iran and Chile, for instance), and as a
      result remains quite undisturbed except for occasional efforts to recall
      them. The closest one gets to that kind of realism is in the abhorrently
      euphemistic idiom of the thinktanks and the government, idioms that discuss
      soft power and projection and American vision. Still less represented (or
      even alluded to) are policies of extraordinary cruelty or invidiousness for
      which America is directly responsible like support for the Sharonian
      campaign against Palestinian civilian life, or the terrible civilian
      casualties incurred by Iraqi sanctions, or the support given the Turkish and
      Columbian regimes for horrendously inhuman punishments against ordinary
      citizens. These are considered out of bounds during serious discussions of
      'policy'.

      Finally, the narratheme of unchallenged moral wisdom as represented in
      figures with official authority (eg Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller, plus
      every present official of the current administration) is reproduced over and
      over without very much of a twinge of doubt. The fact, for instance, that
      two Nixon-era convicted felons (Elliott Abrams and John Poindexter) have
      recently been endowed with significant government positions attracts little
      comment, much less objection. This sort of blind appreciation of authority
      past or present, pure or sullied, occurs in many different forms, all the
      way from the respectful, even abject forms of address used by commentators
      and pundits, to a total unwillingness to see anything in the authority
      figure except his or her polished appearance (for instance, the de rigueur
      dark suit, white shirt, and red tie), unscarred by anything in the past
      record that might be incriminating to a serious degree. Buttressing that is,
      I believe, the American belief in pragmatism as a philosophic system of
      dealing with reality that is anti-metaphysical, anti- historical and,
      curiously, even anti-philosophical. Postmodern anti-nominalism of the kind
      that reduces everything to sentence structure and linguistic context is
      allied with this, and is a very influential style of thought existing
      alongside analytic philosophy in the American university. In my own
      university, figures such as Hegel and Heidegger, for example, are taught in
      literature or art history departments, rarely in philosophy.

      It is this amazingly persistent set of master stories that the newly
      organised and mobilised American information effort (especially in the Arab
      and Islamic worlds) is designed by hook or crook to spread. What gets
      deliberately obscured in the process are the stunningly obstinate dissenting
      traditions -- America's unofficial counter-memory that stem in large part
      from the fact that this is an immigrant society -- that flourish alongside,
      or at the interior of this handful of narrathemes. Few commentators abroad
      take much notice of this forest of dissent, alas. These clumps of both the
      progressive or regressive kind provide and to a trained observer make
      visible linkages between the master narrathemes that are normally not in
      evidence. If one were to examine the components of the impressively strong
      resistance to the proposed Bush war against Iraq, for example, a very
      different, highly mobile picture of America emerges, one that is much more
      amenable to foreign cooperation, dialogue and significant action. I shall
      leave aside the considerable number of people who oppose the war on grounds
      having to do with its human cost in blood and treasure as well as its
      disastrous effect on an already badly disturbed economy. I shall also not
      discuss the great swirl of Right-wing opinion that sees America as traduced
      by treacherous foreigners, the United Nations, and godless communists. In
      addition, the libertarian and isolationist constituency, which is a strange
      combination of Left and Right, needs no further comment here. I would also
      include among these categories that must be left unexamined here a very
      large and idealistically inspired university student population that is
      deeply suspicious of American foreign policy in almost all of its forms,
      especially economic globalisation: this is a principled and sometimes
      quasi-anarchical group that has kept American university and college
      campuses alive to such issues in the past as the war in Vietnam, South
      African apartheid, and civil rights at home.

      This leaves several important and in many ways formidable constituencies of
      experience and conscience for me to survey very rapidly here. These
      generally pertain, in European and Afro-Asian terms, to the Left, given that
      anything like an organised parliamentary Left-wing or socialist movement has
      never really existed for any length of time in post-World War Two America,
      so powerful is the grip of the two-party apparatus. As for the Democratic
      Party today, it is in a shambles from which it will not soon recover. One
      would have to include for a start the positively disaffected and still
      fairly radical wing of the African-American community, that is, those urban
      groups who agitate against police brutality, job discrimination, housing and
      educational neglect, and are led or represented by iconic or charismatic
      figures such as Rev Al Sharpton, Cornel West, Muhammad Ali, Jesse Jackson
      (faded as a leader though he is) and several others who see themselves as
      continuing in the tradition of Martin Luther King Jr. Associated with this
      movement are numerous other activist ethnic collectivities, including
      Latinos, Native Americans, and Muslims, each of which of course has devoted
      considerable energy to trying to slip into the mainstream, in pursuit of
      important political assignments in local and national governments,
      appearance on prestigious television talk shows, and membership on governing
      boards of foundations, colleges, and corporations. But in the main, however,
      most of those groups are still more activated by a sense of injustice and
      discrimination than they are by ambition, and therefore aren't ready to
      enlist completely in the American (mostly white and middle-class) dream. The
      interesting thing about someone like Sharpton, for example, or say Ralph
      Nader and his loyal supporters in the protesting but still struggling Green
      Party, is that though they may have visibility and a certain degree of
      acceptability they remain outsiders, basically uncoopted, too intransigent,
      and not sufficiently interested in the routine rewards that the society
      offers.

      One huge wing of the women's movement, active on behalf of abortion rights,
      abuse and harassment issues, professional equality is also a major asset to
      the dissenting current in American society. Similarly, sectors of the
      normally sedate, interest- and advancement-oriented professional groups
      (physicians, lawyers, scientists, academics in particular, as well as a
      number of labor unions, and a sector of the environmental movement) feed
      into the dynamic of counter- currents I am listing here, even though of
      course as corporate bodies they retain a major interest in the orderly
      functioning of society and the agendas that derive from them.

      Then too the organised churches themselves can never be discounted as
      seedbeds of change and dissent. Their membership is to be clearly
      distinguished from the fundamentalist and televangelist movements I
      mentioned above. Catholic Bishops, for example, the laity and clergy of the
      Episcopal Church, in addition to the Quakers and the Presbyterian synod --
      despite the various travails that include sexual scandals in the first and
      depleted memberships in most of the others -- have been surprisingly liberal
      on war and peace questions, and quite willing to speak out against
      international human rights abuses, the hyper-inflated military budgets, and
      neo-liberal economic policies that have mutilated the public sphere since
      the early 1980s. Historically there was always a segment of the organised
      Jewish community involved in progressive minority rights causes domestically
      and abroad, but since the Reagan period the ascendancy of the
      neo-conservative movement, the alliance between Israel and the religious
      Right in this country, and feverish Zionist- organised activity equating
      criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and even fear of a new American
      Auschwitz, have reduced the positive agency of that force quite
      considerably.

      Finally, a large number of groups and individuals sought out for rallies,
      protest marches, and peaceful demonstrations has stood out of the
      mind-deadening patriotism in the post-9/11 period. These have clustered
      around civil liberties (including free speech and constitutional guarantees)
      that have been threatened by the Terrorist and Patriot Acts. Agitation
      against capital punishment, occasional protests at the abuses represented by
      the detention camps at Guantanamo Bay, a general distrust of civilian
      authorities in the military, as well as an increasing discomfort at the
      increasingly privatised carceral system that has locked up the highest
      number of people per capita in the world (a disproportionate number of them
      men and women of color), all these radiate like so many perpetual
      disturbances inside the prevailing middle class social order. A correlative
      of this is of course the rough and tumble of cyberspace, fought over
      unrelentingly by both the official and unofficial Americas. In the current
      malaise produced by an unmistakably steep decline in the country's economy,
      disruptive themes like the growing difference between rich and poor, the
      extraordinary profligacy and corruption of the corporate higher echelons,
      and the manifest danger to the social security system through various
      audaciously rapacious schemes of privatisation, continue to take a heavy
      toll out of the firmly held and much celebrated virtues of the capitalist
      system that is uniquely American.

      Is America indeed united behind this president, his bellicose foreign
      policy, and his dangerously simple-minded economic vision? This is another
      way of asking whether American identity has been settled once and for all
      and whether for a world that has to live with its far- reaching military
      power (there are American troops now in dozens of countries) there is
      something monolithic that the rest of the world that isn't willing to be
      quiescent can deal with as a sort of fixed entity lurching all over the
      place with the full support of all 'Americans'. I have tried to suggest
      another way of seeing America as indeed a troubled country with a more
      contested actuality than is usually ascribed to it. I think it is more
      accurate to apprehend America as embroiled in a serious clash of identities
      whose counterparts are visible as similar contests throughout the rest of
      the world. America may have won the Cold War, as the popular phrase has it,
      but the actual results of that victory within America are very far from
      clear, the struggle not yet over. Too much of a focus on the American
      executive's centralising military and political power ignores the internal
      dialectics that continue and are nowhere near being settled. Abortion rights
      and the teaching of natural evolution are still issues of unsettled
      contentiousness.

      The great fallacy of Fukuyama's thesis about the end of history, or for that
      matter Huntington's clash of civilisation theory, is that both wrongly
      assume that cultural history is a matter of clear-cut boundaries or of
      beginnings, middles and ends, whereas in fact, the cultural- political field
      is much more an arena of struggle over identity, self-definition and
      projection into the future. They are fundamentalists when it comes to fluid,
      turbulent cultures in constant process, trying to impose fixed boundaries
      and internal rules of order where none really can exist. Cultures, specially
      America's, which is in effect an immigrant culture, overlap with others, and
      one of the perhaps unintended consequences of globalisation is the
      appearance of transnational communities of global interests, as in the human
      rights movement, the women's movement, the anti-war movement and so on.
      America is not at all insulated from any of this, but one has to excavate
      beyond the intimidatingly unified surface to see what lies beneath, so as to
      be able to join in that set of disputes, to which many of the people of the
      world are a party. There is hope and encouragement to be gained from that
      view.
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