Richard Reeves

As Others See Us

PARIS -- A few years ago, I was talking about a series of interviews with world leaders with Walter Anderson, the very smart editor of Parade, the Sunday supplement that is the largest circulation magazine in the United States. "What would we ask them?" I said.

"Simple," said Anderson. "Ask them what they think of us. That's what Americans care about."

Granta, the highbrow British literary journal, did just that in the year after Sept. 11, 2001, asking the question of 25 writers around the world. Some of them hate us, some of them love us, most try both at the same time. And most are worth reading, expressing in Granta's words, "fear, resentment, envy, anger, wonder, hope."

-- "I've come to realize how comfortable it is to employ anti-Americanism as a way of avoiding the faults and deficiencies of our own societies," said Ariel Dorfman, the Chilean writer. "The United States has such incommensurate power to do good and evil, and has set itself high standards of freedom and tolerance by which to be measured."

-- "Think of a place where cigarettes are perceived as more of a threat to human beings than machine guns, where a casual acquaintance will offer you the use of their apartment with all their belongings included, where almost everyone believes in some god or other, and where the outside world, unless it intrudes with bombs, is largely ignored," said a German poet, Hans Magnus Enzensberger. "Surely we cannot pretend to understand such a society entirely."

-- "My wife got a scholarship to Yale, and I reluctantly followed," wrote Ramachandra Guha of India. "I reached New Haven on a Friday and was introduced to the dean of the school where I was to teach. On Sunday, I was taking a walk through the campus when I saw the dean park his car, take a large carton out of the boot, and carry it across the road to the school and up three flights to his office. That sight of the boss as his own coolie was a body blow to my anti-Americanism."

-- "Arrogant, indifferent, contemptuous of international law, both dismissive and manipulative of the United Nations: This is now the most dangerous power in the world," wrote Harold Pinter, the British playwright and director. "A 'rogue state' of colossal military and economic might. ... The rogue state has -- without thought, without pause for reflection, without a moment of doubt, let alone shame -- confirmed that it is a fully fledged, award-winning, gold-plated monster. It has effectively declared war on the world. It knows only one language -- bombs and death."

-- "My father sent me a postcard of the Manhattan skyline while on a business trip in 1959," wrote Ian Buruma, a Dutchman living in London. "There was something about the forest of Babylonian towers, gleaming in the starry night, that had the power to excite even the mind of an 8-year-old. ... America, however, is a very different place to those who live in places where 'America' is only a mirage. If you live under a tyranny, with no personal freedom and no hope of advancement, in a country that feels abandoned and perhaps even betrayed by the modern world, the pull of family, tribe and tradition may be all that is left. ... In such a state of mind, it is not enough to avert your gaze from those seductive towers of Babylon. You might have to tear them down."

-- "I regard attacks by fanatics on American citizens in New York or anywhere else in the world as being, above all, an attack on my own freedom, too," wrote the Czech novelist Ivan Klima. "To view them in any other way ultimately means siding with the reactionary and totalitarian forces which spurn democracy, civil rights, racial and sexual equality, and the freedom to live according to one's own convictions and to profess -- or not -- any belief."

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