Dear Anonymous

A couple of days ago, Hank Green (of YouTube, DFTBA, Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and various other fantastic things fame) was sent this anonymous question on his Tumblr account:

“To what extend are you Americans aware that you are hated in literally all non-western nations?” 

Hank replied in a surprisingly succinct fashion — normally, he and his brother John are more…verbose in their responses on Tumblr — with a link to a Pew Research Poll. (You can see the original post from the embedded text above.)

Now, I generally try to ignore such blatantly untrue things, especially on the internet, which allows people like the above questioner to hide behind their keyboard and spew hate and ignorance with no fear of repercussions. But having returned from extended overseas travel recently and intrigued by the research that Pew released recently (which I found and dove into thanks to the initial link Hank posted in his response), I decided to hit back at this anonymous person who apparently thinks they can speak for “literally all non-western nations”.

First, it should be noted that, on the contrary, sometimes people in Western nations don’t like Americans very much. Up until recently, especially when millennials began traveling more and consciously began to challenge the “ugly American” stereotype, American tourists were only liked as far as their money could take them and sometimes not even then. (Believe me, I’ve been to Paris…Parisians don’t really seem to like much of anyone besides themselves, and especially not Americans who can’t speak French beyond “merci”.) And, you know, the Brits still do think Americans are loud and rude as a rule, despite the “special relationships”. And Russians — my data will show later — definitely don’t Americans much (although I think Putin wouldn’t care to be lumped in with the West, so Russia can have its own category).

Second, I have significant personal anecdotal evidence that blatantly contradicts the assumption in the original question. Most recently, I was talking to an Egyptian guy who was driving me around Cairo for the day…an experience in itself and truly not for the faint of heart. Anyway, he worked at my hostel and was kind enough to drive me to the Pyramids and around the city and give me some insight into daily life in Egypt’s biggest city (of course, there was a price for him being my chauffeur, but not my conversation partner). I learned that before the “revolution” in 2011, he was studying for his degree in social work and wanted to move to Dubai to try and help reformed prisoners. And then one dictator got overthrown for another and he had to give up his studies and work to support his family. A hostel was the obvious choice because he already spoke great English and a bit of French, as well as Arabic. I bring him up because he was very candid with me…something I was grateful for, because not many Arab men are with Western women on first acquaintance. I asked him point blank what he thought of Americans in general and this was his answer:

“نحن نحبك ولكن نحن لا نحب حكومتكم” …which means “We love you but we do not like your government.” He explained further (in English) that he has been very happy with all the individual Americans he has met (graciously including me in that) and that they were nice, friendly, respectful people. But — and here he reflects the data I will be citing later — he and normal Egyptians generally don’t have much of a good opinion on the American government or its foreign policy toward Egypt. And really, given the recent record of “Talk Lots, Do Little” of the Obama administration toward Egypt, who can blame these everyday people for their indifference or hostility? The US government has done almost nothing for them, despite all the aid that is given to Egypt annually, mostly in the form of military financial assistance.

When I was previously in South Sinai for 6 weeks on that same trip (working in a hotel and diving in my spare time) I was treated well, especially once locals around town found out that I was American. I can’t tell you how many times I would say where I was from and the person talking to me would go, “Oh, America! We love you! Welcome!” (How much of that was excitement over how much money they thought I had to spend in their shop or restaurant, I’ll never know. But that’s not the point.) The point is that everyone in Dahab was welcoming and friendly and helpful, for the most part, before and after they heard about my blue passport.

In Amman, Jordan, it was the same. The falafel guy on the corner, the man in the pharmacy, the other staff at the hotel I worked at…nearly everyone I met asked me where I was from, and when I said “Ana Amrikiya” (I’m American”) the reaction was the same: Welcome to Jordan, how do you like it here? Say hello to Obama for us, he and the King are friends!

In Kenya in 2010, despite one scary outlier incident with a drunk guy, unsurprisingly people loved asking our group of mostly-Americans if we had voted for Obama, and smiled so much when we mostly said yes. In Qatar for my study abroad year, mostly the same, despite the tensions going on during the height of the Arab Spring, with Bahrain boiling over right next door and the US doing nothing about it. In Japan, again, the same welcome, the same very-polite open arms. In Istanbul (a city on the edge between the Middle East and Europe) I traded a kiss on the cheek and the little cash I had left for a gorgeous pashmina, and the proprietor grinned where I told him I was from and said he was proud that his scarf would go back to California eventually.

So you cannot tell me that people in non-Western nations hate Americans. They might not like the U.S. government or its foreign policy, but then, a lot of Americans do not like the U.S. government or its foreign policy either.

And now, in case all that wasn’t enough, I will present you with hard, quantitative data to back up these claims I’ve made, and to refute (maybe not beyond all reasonable doubt) the original statement. Keep in mind: as with all statistical data, the sample sizes vary, there is a margin of error, and social context (the researchers ability to contact people in the countries surveyed, etc) should be taken into account along with the results.

I guess I’ll start with how people around the world see President Obama as a leader, because it’s rather straight forward. Before I begin with more recent data, it should be noted in the interest of fair reporting that in 2014 Gallup released the results of a survey done in 2013, that placed President Obama’s leadership global approval rating in the average of 46%. However, according to Pew (2015), a median of 65% of people polled “say they have confidence in Obama to do the right thing in world affairs”. Of course, his approval has slipped sharply in Israel (where his rating is down to less than 50%, especially among voters in PM Netanyahu’s Likud Party); and he “has never been popular in Russia” where his most recent poll comes in with only 1 in 10 Russians expressing confidence in him. Elsewhere, President Obama is still hugely popular in African countries and surprisingly strong in India.

Speaking of Africa (not including North Africa, because that is a different story), according to those polled in nine countries on the continent, the median approval rating of America in general hovers at 79%. Elements of U.S. soft power and key features of economic engagement in the region are also viewed positively by those in the countries surveyed by Pew. Everyone still with me? Because the continent of Africa is definitely “non-Western”, and it doesn’t seem like the very diverse people living there hate the United States.

In general, over the last two years (2014 and 2015, according to these reports by Pew) the American global image has remained somewhat consistent, with approval at median 65% and median 69% for each year respectively. For a more thorough breakdown of the survey results going back to 2002, you can look at this chart. Regionally, the Middle East in 2014 had a low rating of 30% approval and in 2015 “most Jordanians, Palestinians, Turks and Lebanese register[ed] an unfavorable opinion”. Asian countries that were surveyed (with the exception of China at 44% approval) also demonstrated a very positive outlook on the U.S., with highs of 92% in the Philippines and 84% in South Korea. Another notable outlier was Pakistan, which polled at just 22% approval. Heading south, Latin American approval of the U.S. was a solid 65% in 2014 and around the same in 2015, although ratings in Venezuela have dropped and in Argentina the increase has been slow.

Now that I have dumped all this data on you, I’ll give you my reactions and basic assessment and wrap this very long post up. Given my background in international relations and U.S. foreign policy, these approval ratings were actually higher than I expected them to be, especially on the African continent. Places like Turkey (where a favourable view of the U.S. is only 29%, see the Pew results from 2015), Pakistan, China, and Russia having a largely negative view of the United States didn’t surprise me one bit, given the relationships America has with these countries and the rhetoric on both sides, regardless of formal alliances and actions. Just because the Cold War is over doesn’t mean that the U.S. and Russia are best friends now; the U.S. continues to use drones in Pakistan and treats the country as an unpredictable nuclear power. The posturing of island building and continued tacit support for North Korea by China makes it hard for that nation and the U.S. to get along, no matter what the TPP says.

I could go on and on. (As I have in this post, apparently.) The point, however, was to refute the all-encompassing statement in the original post: that Americans are hated by literally all non-western nations. Given the last 1,600 words of personal and statistical evidence, I think I’ve successfully done that. So, in conclusion…

Dear Anonymous:  I am fully, painfully aware of the glaring flaws that abound in the U.S. itself and in its actions around the world and I am not trying to excuse or justify any of it. You personally might hate America — there are plenty of valid reasons — and you might think the world shares that hatred, and frankly, given the media, you might not be blamed entirely for coming to that conclusion. However, next time you try to spread that hate with your unfounded, sweeping statements instead of addressing it productively…

Don’t do it where an internationally educated, well-travelled American can see it.

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