On a recent visit to an inner-east Sydney cafe, I was confronted with that popular new intellectual pastime of many Australians: radical anti-Americanism. Prominently displayed under the wall-mounted menu was a faded American flag and next to it a supposedly thought-provoking question: "Would you like world domination with that?"
The tone of the Chomskyesque quote was like something out of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion while the message was reminiscent of the Sinophobic gold rush-era cartoons. After it was pointed out that the wall was being used for what amounted to racist sloganeering, the best the barrista could come up with was a "so what?" expression on her face. Apparently, anti-Americanism is the prejudice du jour.
No longer afflicting only those mythical tribes with a fondness for latte or chardonnay, the loud and proud hatred of everything the US stands for is becoming the default ideological setting across political, economic and municipal lines. My awareness of this fledgling mood received a shot in the arm when I was made out to be the intellectual outcast at a recent dinner party among educated Westerners. My sin? Failure to find a moral justification for suicide bombings.
Yet such a public endorsement of xenophobic sentiments as exhibited by the said cafe was surprising, not least given the location. Apparently, under the prevailing political correctness regime, some nationalities are more equal than others.
This is not to say that US public policy should not be criticised or resisted. From New Orleans to Enron and from Abu Ghraib to the Florida vote count, the Washington political establishment has received justified criticism. However, the track record of one president and his college-buddy appointees should not be used to tar the 48 per cent of US voters who sought to oust him in 2004, by anyone pretending to judge people as individuals and not based on an ethnic, religious or any other such marker.
It is particularly ironic that some Australian small-l liberals are choosing to ignore America's progressive heritage. After all, the US is home to a public broadcaster that makes the ABC look like Fox News. It has a history of independent-minded senators much longer than Barnaby Joyce's tenure in Canberra. Numerous US cities are run by mayors with considerably more aggressive gay-rights agendas, illustrated by San Francisco's experiment with issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples despite state and federal opposition.
This contrasts with Melbourne and Sydney's reluctance to go past attracting the pink tourist dollar. A bill looks likely to be passed by Congress that many argue clears the way for native Hawaiians to claim a collective right to self-determination. Finally, let's not forget the nationality of the peace activist whose recent deportation so many bemoaned.
One does not have to share Bob Carr's passion for America's philosophical foundations to understand the complexity and the diversity of its people's experiences of their own society and the world. A visit to the first Starbucks after passing through immigration will make clear the unfairness of the pop culture pastiche masquerading as political thought on that cafe wall. Must it be spelled out that equating all Americans with President George W. Bush is only marginally less preposterous than arguing that all Sydneysiders agree with Fred Nile?
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