May 7, 2004 - Click hereto listen to Ilka Schroeder speaking at AJC's Annual Meeting.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Thank you so much for the opportunity, to say some words on anti-Americanism and the transatlantic relations.
"A New Army for a New World" read an advertisement poster of the Belgian Army in the last few weeks in the subway of Brussels.
Let us cast an attentive eye on this New World today, that Europeans dream of. And equally an eye on how Europeans see the world today. The Belgian soldier who promotes the service for king, nation and the world is precisely an incarnation of Europe's new self-image. Earnest, responsible and apparently on a humanitarian mission. This soldier does not kill people, he wants to help.
Europeans are like this, Ladies and Gentlemen, as opposed to you as Americans. We Europeans only strive for the Good, for world justice, peace and understanding. When we wage wars we do this only to enforce international law and humanity. When we finance the head of the Palestinian Authority, we do this to maintain a negotiating partner for Israel and to secure peace in the Middle East. When we do not take any action against anti-Semitism in Europe, we do this for fear of inciting anti-Arabic racism. When we hold a critical dialogue with any bloody butcher's regime - be it in Iraq, be it in Iran, be it China - we do this to convince our partners that democracy and human rights are the better option. When we carry on the impoverishment of dependent countries in Africa, the Caribbean and in the Pacific, we do this in order to help them build on their own strengths. And finally when we press forward with globalization, we do this for the benefit of all. We Europeans are very very good and honorable people.
On the contrary, you Americans, Ladies and Gentlemen, always pursue material interests, you only want to make money and therefore push forward a brutal politics of power. When you topple the butcher Saddam Hussein, you do this to force your ideals onto the whole world, and in reality you simply do this to exploit other countries. When you pursue globalization, your Anglo-Saxon predatory capitalism forces European entrepreneurs to austerity measures and wage cuts which they would never have taken otherwise. When you use the power that Europeans still dream of, you are acting arrogantly, and disturbing competition. Apart from this your country is not democratic, because even if elections take place - in contrast to our closest trading partners - decisions in the US are not taken by the people but by big business. Finally, Americans are arrogant, pretentious and without culture. In short, Ladies and Gentlemen, you do not deserve to be a super power. So far, so simplistic.
You might be laughing now. Are Europeans really like this? Doesn't this Ms. Schröder exaggerate? There are neither "the Europeans" nor "the Americans", and have the US not recently been assured by European politicians that all agree on the goals? Did the OSCE not decide to take action against anti-Semitism? Is all this really anti-Americanism or rather opposition to the occasionally awkward policy of the Bush administration? And what does all this have to do with transatlantic relations?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I don't want to ruin your lunch. Please excuse me if I feel obliged to draw a relatively unfriendly picture of European relations. My first point is not about the political elite but about public opinion. And here, an important change has occurred in the last three, four years.
In the 1990s, the US was undoubtedly the most important country in the world. Millions of Europeans traveled to the US, visited New York, Florida and California with enthusiasm. American culture, films, music and food, but also other things such as art spread throughout the world in a very different way than in the decades before. Europe became much more similar to the USA, maybe with the exception of France. But at the same time, it also became much more powerful and much wealthier.
Today, one third of Germans under 35 are convinced that September 11 was a conspiracy. Books that accuse the US in a way unseen since the Cold War are on the bestseller lists. Many of you will have been laughing about Michael Moore, in Europe, however, his books and films are being sold like hot cakes, and they are being read as authentic information on the past and present of the United States. The daily press is dominated by mean and unfriendly commentaries of US policy; the correspondent of a respected German weekly told me a little time ago that it is impossible to publish a somewhat objective article. Reporting of troubles in Iraq is more or less openly gloating. Even in advertising, a malt beer - this is a kind of spicy root beer - hopes for more customers with the slogan: "the totally un-American refreshment". This is not about the left or the right, but the conception of the world of average mainstream European. Supposedly this has been like this since the Second World War, since anti-Americanism is nothing new. But while anti-Americanism expressed mostly envy and feelings of inferiority in earlier times, today it is the conviction that the days of a US superpower are counted and that a new world, in which Europeans take the lead together with Russia, China and the countries of the Third World, will and has to rise. Anti-Americanism is much more important today, because the countries in which it spreads, are becoming much more important. Today, anti-Americanism is a worldwide phenomenon while the naive US-mania that has also always existed, is rarely seen. Big events such as the Iraq war might lead to eruptions, but the spread of anti-Americanism is less a question of dramatic climaxes but rather an ongoing process in which a specific picture of your country and of the people who live in it is established. In the process, all problems of global capitalism are being projected onto the USA and on Americans. In this point, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are related, and it is no surprise that both go hand in hand and reinforce each other. Yes, anti-Americanism (which is at least directed against a real world power) provides anti-Semitism (with its obscure ideas of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy) with a reference point to which any simple mind can relay. And this link is made exactly by the supposedly great influence of Jewish circles in the USA.
If we would believe, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism were just to make somebody a scapegoat, we could say: well, there's a worldwide economic stagnation and in some parts of the world even a depression. People are scared of the future, and they are just searching for someone they can blame for the crisis.
I would agree that in times of political and economical conflicts, the expression of anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism becomes stronger and more obvious. I would like to go further, and add, that their anti-American and anti-Semitic opinions may get more importance for people in times of trouble. But bad conditions do produce neither Anti-Americanism nor anti-Semitism, and good times do not make them vanish. Once established as the general conception of the world, anti-Semitism and anti-Americanism remain intact over all political cleavages and can be activated at any time.
Additionally, the problem is that ideologies such as anti-Americanism are very resistant to facts and arguments. If Mr. Bush is reelected or not, if Israel retreats from the Gaza-strip or not, if Iraq is being pacified or not, such ideologies only take into consideration of what they think fits. We all have a tendency to accept things that reassure us rather than those which undermine our positions, of course. But world conceptions such as anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism are hermetic. They do not consider anything that could challenge them or they find conspiracy explanations. As soon as such ideologies turn into unquestioned parts of the conception of the world that a society makes and reproduces and distributes daily, only a long and painful process can push them back, if at all.
Maybe you will say now: Well, foreign policy and public opinion are not the same, and in the end the political elite in Europe will be rational enough to oppose such tendencies. You can be of different opinion if the European Parliament is part of the political elite, but please let me tell you from my own experience that prejudice and twisted perceptions, ignorance of unpleasant facts and a remarkable renitence against arguments are also widely spread among the European elite. This is because such ideologies are a perfect fit to Europeans as an alternative world power. In addition, what value do transatlantic relations have that are based on a government that looks for good relations to the USA against the declared will of its population. I do not want to judge the policy of President Bush today, or debate the Iraq war and neither do I want to talk about Spain, but I want to alert you to the importance of such developments.
I don't want to spell out a horror scenario; I don't think that in 20, 30 years there will be similar attacks on American tourists in Europe as there are every-day attacks on Jews in Europe today.
Certainly, European governments will try to control any all too open forms of anti-Americanism, anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism because on the one hand this is too embarrassing on the diplomatic parquet, and on the other hand they will discover a critique of your economic policy in spite of all agreements on the substance. And there will always be people who try to achieve a realistic picture of US society, politics, economy and culture. But if the anti-American and anti-Israeli formation of European publics that began on September 11 continues, then demonization of America will become self understood. With all consequences for travel, student exchange and election results. What this could mean in eventual crisis is hard to predict. I do not want to experience it.
Please allow me to be more explicit: it has never been more important than today to question the anti-American, anti-Israel and potentially anti-Semitic consensus in Europe. It has to happen now, it has to happen on a broad basis, and it has to be done precisely by Europeans.
It has to happen now, before this consensus will be hardened and before it is established as a normal part of European daily life. Now there is still a chance for arguments to be heard, for enlightenment not to be senseless. Once anti-American ideas are so self-understood that they don't have to be formulated any more but can be mobilized by mere indications; it will be too late.
It has to happen on a broad basis because such processes take place in daily life and there are valuable initiatives in this domain but what is missing is an offensive into European public discourse. Anti-American stereotypes should be challenges in daily life.
It has to be done by Europeans because on the one hand American institutions are increasingly suspected of pursuing their own interests. Apart from this many Anti-Americans are simply too polite to talk as openly about the USA in the presence of US citizens as they would do if they argue with Europeans.
You might be asking how this challenge could happen. I believe that the principle strength of anti-Americanism (its connection with anti-Semitism) is at the same time its main weakness.
The open expression of anti-Semitism is still frowned on in Europe. If you want to express your opinion that Jews were a power that controls the world through money, you usually do this more cautiously: in form of criticizing Israeli policy, in form of hints towards a powerful Jewish lobby in the US and through conspiracy theories around September 11. Anti-Americanism has a very similar structure to that kind of anti-Semitism. The picture of the bad greedy Anglo-Saxon predatory capitalism that tries to dominate and exploit the world can be easily linked to the idea of the dominant influence of Jewish lobbies in the US. This is why anti-Americanism often leads to the corresponding pictures of supposed Jewish plans for world domination.
If we can demonstrate the inner relationship with anti-Semitism, then anti-Americanism is morally weakened. I do not want to suggest to exploit the fight against anti-Semitism because this fight has its own right and necessity even if fans of the US populated Europe only. What I want to argue for is to unveil the inhumane and racist character of this ideology by demonstrating the relationship with anti-Semitism.
At the same time, of course, you would have to underline the difference between a legitimate critique of US policy and anti-Americanism by a sober education about the Middle East conflict, US policy and European policy.
This is the more important the more anti-Americanism responds to its critics that they only wanted to discredit all critique of US policy as anti-Americanism. And there are certainly people who do this. The best measure against demonization of the US is not its idealization but a realistic analysis.
Therefore, if you ask me what's the most important task in transatlantic relations in the coming years, I can give you only one answer: Enlightenment in Europe.
Thank you very much.