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The Ugly Americans Are Right Here At Home
Here are the hosts of "The View" on where the schoolteacher the Sudanese went after went wrong. Justin McCarthy writes:

All the co-hosts of "The View," a show intended to advance women’s voices, do not get offended by women’s persecution in the Islamic world. On the November 30 edition, in discussing the British woman charged for naming a class teddy bear Muhammad, the co-hosts did not direct any anger at the Sudanese government, but rather blamed the woman for not adapting to their culture.

Co-host Sherri Shepherd opined "you would think that with her being in Sudan, she would know the rules and customs." Whoopi Goldberg said Europeans and Americans are "not as anxious to learn the customs before we go places." And of course that’s why we’re called "ugly Americans."

Posted by aalkon at December 1, 2007 9:21 AM


"you would think that with her being in Sudan, she would know the rules and customs."

Those are not rules and customs. They are pathetic dysfunctions.

Posted by: doombuggy at December 1, 2007 3:37 AM

This situation has nothing to do with the cultural insensitivity of whites (which is what Ms. Shephard meant when she used the euphemism "Europeans and Americans"), little to do with this poor woman's unwitting "faux pas" and not even that much to do with intolerance of muslim people generally. It has a lot more to do with the cynical manipulation of public opinion by powerful men entrenched in a barbaric political regime, as well as the obsequious and cynical cultural self-loathing of American cultural elites (I use that term loosely to include anybody with their own TV show).

I've spent a lot of time among muslims of three different cultures: Somali, Kurd, and Arab. From these experiences, as well as the education and reading with which I've complemented them, I have concluded that it is very unusual for a muslim community in a muslim country to single out a FOREIGNER for the kind of treatment this poor teacher has received in Sudan. Muslim cultures are usually tribally organized, and tribal cultures have a very a highly developed sense of courtesy and hospitally - as well as curiosity about outsiders. The result is that the usual impulse of ordinary people in Muslim countries is to cut Americans or Europeans among them a lot of slack - far more than they would members of their own community. In my experience they NEVER hold Americans to the same exacting standards that they may or may not apply to their own people. In those rare cases where they do extend the same standards to foreigners, it usually due to one of the following influences: A corrupt local government trying to inflame public opinion for petty political reasons, or the presense of an extreme influence like Al Qaida or the Taliban. This poor british teacher fell victim to the former. I should note that the regime of the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Wahabi regime in Saudi Arabia more or less fall into the latter category.

Ms. Shephard's comment on The View is both ignorant and callous. This poor schoolteacher went to Sudan as a gesture to express her cultural sensitivity to and solidarity with muslims. It is unlikely that there is anything this woman could have done to stay out of trouble with the possible exception of wearing a hijab from head to toe. The Sudanese Government was looking for someone to make an example of, and they found her. Even in our own country it is hard to escape unscathed when the State gets you in its cross-hairs, even if you are innocent. Imagine what it is like in a backwards place like the Sudan? And as for the demonstrations in the streets? They could never have happened without the cooperation of the state.

What really disturbs me about the comments on The View is that they exemplify the manner in which cultural "elites" grovel and genuflect before muslim culture and loath our own. Any outrage or barbarism in another culture can be excused and ignored or, if at all possible, blamed on the West (or even better on the United States). This behavior is made worse in my mind by the fact that it is unecessary. It is perfectly possible to loath ones own country and still criticize barbaric acts that occur in other countries. Or better, it is possible to love and revere ones own country while still respecting and admiring other cultures (the Iraqi Kurds provided me with a nice example of this). One need not be a xenophobe to be a patriot, and one need not renounce ones citizenship to enjoy and admire other cultures. I experienced a nice example of this during the three years I lived in Texas. People there are nothing like the boorish, bombastic characture of the popular imagination. In fact, they are the nicest, most accepting, most welcoming people I have ever met. Are they proud as heck of their own State, and that their State is part of the USA? Yup! But unlike the boorish rubes living on Southfork Ranch that some narrow-minded people imagine, they are not the least bit closed-minded (collectively at least - one can always find exceptions). They are proud of their home, but they hope that you're proud of your home too - even if you're from New York City!(that's a joke, Amy). In so far as this at least, they are more culturally-sensitive than our multi-culti media elites.

It is tempting to characterize the behavior of celebs like our friends on The View as mystifying or inscrutable, but really it isn't. A Soldier I know once captured the essence of what he viewed as the celebrity character pretty succinctly. In addition to being an infantryman and combat veteran in the US Army, this young man was also a musician who had his own band and traveled in that social milieu. His summation of his social set was that every entertainer he had ever known had a desperate need for "affirmation" (interestingly, I think the same applied to him, to his misfortune later). The reader might ask just what that has to do with what I've been discussing. I'll answer that rhetorical question with another: What could be more "affirming" than to believe oneself morally, culturally, and intellectually superior to the very culture from which one sprang, to feel absolutely superior to everyone around oneself and everything that came before? To renounce the bumpkin rednecks all around and to join the enlightened few in their great, noble quest for international understanding and harmony? And, especially, to undertake that struggle from a glamorous center of high culture, under the white hot spotlight of fame, rewarded by the undenying love and admiration of ones fans?

Posted by: Dennis at December 1, 2007 6:02 AM

Thanks - great comment, Dennis.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 1, 2007 6:37 AM

So far as Whoopi's comment goes - it would be customary for her to be the personal property of someone had not various outside forces intervened. She suggests that activists everywhere should shut up about the plight of others by her own example.

I have never been impressed by the commentary on The View on the rare occasion that I see or hear about it.

Posted by: Radwaste at December 1, 2007 6:51 AM

It's way too late, but I feel that I must remind the world that the "ugly American" is the hero of the book. The nickname was given to him in affection, not that Whoopi has read the book.

And the bear was named by the class, many of whom are children of upper-crust Sudanese, as well as ex-pats.

Posted by: KateCoe at December 1, 2007 8:30 AM

Actually, think of what this has probably done to those kids. They probably liked or loved their teacher -- now, at least some of them must feel some serious guilt; especially the kid who named it. And thanks, Kate - great point about the book.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at December 1, 2007 8:38 AM

I experienced a nice example of this during the three years I lived in Texas. People there are nothing like the boorish, bombastic characture of the popular imagination. In fact, they are the nicest, most accepting, most welcoming people I have ever met.

We love you too, Dennis!

And thanks for the in-depth review of the bigger forces at work here. That poor woman and those poor kids.

Posted by: marion at December 1, 2007 9:07 AM

I was at a coastal resort in Texas once with a brassy woman who was from the South Side of Chicago, and looked like it, if you catch my drift. We got on the elevator to go down to the lobby once. The doors opened and there was the oldest, whitest, uptightest looking couple you ever saw. They were ancient, and they reeked of cholesterol medication. They looked us left to right and then up and down, but they did not smile. The guy had a Colonel Sanders bolo tie (longhorn design). She had the stretchy clothes and a beehive, and they both had those 1960's eyeglasses with the Republican frames, but they weren’t being ironic.

As we stepped onto the car, I was thinking “We’re fucked. Did they ever have a lynching in an elevator? Probably… We’re in Texas, this used to be a completely different country, they’ve probably done that everywhere.”

As we crossed the threshold, my date said “Howdy!” (Pronounced “Hoddy!”) The fella said “Well hello there, missy, har-yoo this afternoon?” The woman beamed like we were all cousins at a reunion, and the three of them made serious, warm, sincere talk of weather and lunch options all the way to the parking lot.

I’ve loved Texas ever since.

Posted by: Crid at December 1, 2007 9:32 AM

I’ve loved Texas ever since.

Yep. Lots of nice people in Texas. Same with the South (for some reason, Texas doesn't seem to me be either properly Southern or Western... more its own thing). I may have massive disagreements with their politics and religious outlooks, but this doesn't make them bad or unkind people. I think people don't remember this enough.

Posted by: justin case at December 1, 2007 10:26 AM

You're right, Texas is distinctive. They wear it on their sleeves (and belt buckles, and bolo ties, and bumper stickers....)

Posted by: Crid at December 1, 2007 4:27 PM

PS- That came off too backhanded. I really think Texas character is not like Oklahoma character or Louisiana character, and it's an important and irreplaceable component of American character.

Posted by: Crid at December 1, 2007 8:49 PM

We love you too, Crid. Especially for coming and spending your sales-taxed dollars in our non-income-tax state. I can attest that Texas character is not like Louisiana character, much as I love Louisianans. Haven't spent much time with those from Oklahoma, but I think you're right in saying that Texas is distinct.

The women on "The View" probably hate Texas, too. I will never know for sure, as I would have to be tied down and have my eyelids forced open in order to watch the show, but I think that's a likely supposition. I am curious to know how going along with the bear-naming wishes of your class of six-year-olds turns one into the British equivalent of an ugly American. Also, haven't these women heard that, by definition, Europeans are sophisticated and tolerant, and it's only Americans who can be stupid and "ugly" abroad? Clearly they have their scripts mixed up. Maybe it's the writers' strike. (Apparently "The View" does have writers. I have a feeling those writers are enjoying the strike.)

Posted by: marion at December 2, 2007 6:26 AM

What the women on The View seem to have forgotten (possibly deliberately) is that the teacher had the kids name the bear. She didn't name it Muhammad, the kids did.

Posted by: Conan the Grammarian at December 2, 2007 10:41 AM

I was in Fort Worth a couple of years ago to visit some folks, and happened to look to my right rear when at a stoplight. I do have to say, only in Texas have I seen a very pretty women- hair done, serious makeup, dressy shirt, designer jeans and boots- sitting on a full-dress Harley cruiser. (Windshield was big enough to keep her hair from being ruffled)

Posted by: Firehand at December 3, 2007 6:30 PM

One member of the view panel didn't even know that the Earth was round!

How can anyone take their opinions seriously?

Posted by: winston at December 6, 2007 10:56 AM

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