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April 5, 2003

“They Hate Us For Our Culture of Freedom” Watch: Julian Sanchez has a photograph that argues otherwise. [10:47 AM]
Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on "They Hate Us For Our Culture of Freedom" Watch::

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 11:08 AM:

A colleague of mine and I were once talking about how we had given some undergraduates a photo of a young Nigerian man in the city of Kano wearing a Cleveland Indians baseball cap in addition to items of clothing manufactured from all over West Africa. Invariably the students wanted to talk about the baseball cap, and thought it indicated that the man had some dgree of identification with US culture.

They ignored the fact that the rest of his clothes said equally interesting things about a regional economic trade in textiles--and that the cap had gotten to Nigeria not because some clever retailer had decided to satisfy a demand for US-identified clothes and imported a bunch of baseball caps, but because there is a gigantic global market for secondhand clothes that circulates American discards into Africa. The guy had the cap because it was cheap: it didn't say a thing about his outlook on life or America.

Same thing here. The photo neither proves nor disproves the notion that some or most Islamicist fundamentalists dislike the West for its culture or political philosophy. It only demonstrates that secondhand clothing from the US is available in the Muslim world as well. Not everybody gets to walk into a JC Pennys and decide that they want to buy and wear a particular shirt because it somehow expresses something important about themselves. Most of the developing world follows a different logic: what is available and affordable? There *are* consumer choices that people in developing societies make that are highly meaningful acts of social communication, but T-shirts aren't commonly among them.

bry ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 12:23 PM:

well said. I think there's a little too much being read into this.

Although it is obvious that people do choose clothing as signs of allegiance, the allegiances generally represented by such clothing is of a tribal character. Though t-shirts can give the indication of being chosen with an overarcing geopolitical agenda most of the people wearing Che shirts do so because it's a very cool image.

That American consumer products and corporations are popular worldwide does not in any way argue for love of american culture, unless you are arguing that consumer products and corporations are your culture in which case I feel for you.

On that note I am reminded of how instapundit was shocked one time when it turned out that McDonalds in Egypt wanted to know possible employee religious affiliations. The case of another person who seems to have mistaken the worldwide dominance of M-Dees with a worldwide appreciation for the Constitution, the writings of Melville and Hawthorne, and the music of Scott Joplin.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 04:46 PM:

Yeah, but look at the body language. They've been watching American footage. They not only know the gesture; they know its context.

Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 05:46 PM:

Teresa, which body language are you refering to?

The V for victory sign they're giving stems from British military influence in the area (back when they were drawing up those absurd borders and in the era when the Desert Rats earned their name)...

Probably there's something else I'm missing.

Timothy and Bry's comments seem spot on. I particularly like Bry's compassion for the lost souls who confuse consumer goods and their manufacturers with culture...

Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 06:26 PM:


Sure, it doesn't have a *positive* meaning, in the sense that the fellow isn't endorsing whatever organization or entity has an emblem on the sweatshirt.

On the other hand, it's an obviously American emblem, and the other blokes on the bus are cool with that.

So I think you can make a claim for the absence of rabid hatred of all things American on the basis of that picture.

Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 06:43 PM:

Adam, does the "x" in your address swap out for "s"?

I have to disagree with you. That isn't an upright straight-wristed v-for-victory they're doing; it's three cool guys (who unless I'm very much mistaken are conscious of being cool guys) doing a peace sign. They may also be aware of its having been used as v-for-victory, but I sure don't read that as their primary intention.

Look at them again. They're doing Peter Fonda, not Winston Churchill.

Antony Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 07:36 PM:

There was a BBC news story recently where a team of Royal Marines went for a kickabout and a bunch of Iraqis turned up in full football kit, and brought along a referee and two linesmen.
The Marines lost 9-3.
Quite a few of the kids watching the game were wearing Manchester United shirts, according to the report, and told the Marines they needed Beckham on their team.

So not that different after all...

Adam ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 08:30 PM:


The x doesn't swap--that's the address, Temple is a middle name.

I think you are wrong and here's part of the reason why:

But who knows, suicide volunteers holding the Koran in one hand MIGHT be flashing a peace sign and thinking about being cool in occidental terms...

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2003, 11:52 PM:

Hm. One night last year I was wandering the streets of Belgrade with a friend when we came across the last mosque. The night watchman was a blond college kid, engineering major, named Alija. Looked like he was from Pulaski. He was wearing a Russell Athletic sweatshirt, was into the Will Smith movie "Ali".

I've occasionally wondered if he wore that particular sweatshirt for a reason, since Russell sounds like "rasul", Arabic for messenger of God.

Anyway. In my experience people in the Third World know much more about US popular culture than we know about their popular culture. And Iraqi kids aren't in the hard core Third World; Iraq has more televisions per capita than the US did in 1950. Pirate CDs of Britney Spears, if not of April Lavigne, brought from Kiev to Jordan to Baghdad to small market towns on the Euphrates.

My guess is that shirt is a pirated Asian copy, not second-hand nor original, and that he knows basically what it means. (Wouldn't surprise me if he was a skater himself once, either. Iraq has enough concrete for it.)

Timothy Burke ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2003, 07:58 AM:

Oh, he might know what it means. In fact, I consider it likely, for all the reasons you observe.

But he isn't necessarily or even likely to be wearing it because he is trying to communicate something about himself, which is what Patrick is using to critique the "Islamacists hate the United States for its culture of freedom" argument. I'm simply saying that the guy's T-shirt (and body language) don't tell you anything necessarily about his motivations for fighting the US.

Carlos ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2003, 11:57 AM:

"But he isn't necessarily or even likely to be wearing it because he is trying to communicate something about himself,"

I don't know. He's going off to war against the US, and he puts on this shirt with this design recognizable even to the uninitiated as a Roman alphabet corporate logo in full display. His sergeant is going to see it, his friends are already seeing it. It isn't being worn inside out. There's some ironic intent, I think.

(I am assuming that he has some variety in clothing choice, defensible I think. Iraq's not grinding poor -- though apparently poor enough not to have standard issue clothing for its soldiers.)

"I'm simply saying that the guy's T-shirt (and body language) don't tell you anything necessarily about his motivations for fighting the US."

Fair enough.

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 10:55 AM:

But he isn't necessarily or even likely to be wearing it because he is trying to communicate something about himself.

I do agree that there's a very limited amount one can infer from a photo of unknown context and provenance, but if these guys are trying to do anything in this photo, they're trying to communicate something about how they view themselves. Look, their whole ensemble is of a piece, the hair, the body language, the clothes--they're definitely stylin'. Maybe they do (or don't) hate the West, but they look willing to accept (parts of it at least) it as an arbiter of cool.

Simon ::: (view all by) ::: April 07, 2003, 04:04 PM:

I feel totally lost on this one.

First, I don't get the pop culture reference re the photograph itself: I don't know what "Vans" is (clicking on the link in Julian's weblog was not immediately enlightening), and the only visible shirt in the photo does not appear to read "Vans" insofar as I can see it.

Second, my experience is that shirts are a poor guide to political opinions of culture. I used to wear the shirt with the alligator on, not because I identified with the alligator-logo culture but because I liked the shirt. Only recently have boycotts against ubiquitous US products begun in some areas that have been virulently anti-US in culture for years. (The WSJ, iirc, ran an article recently on Arab colas. The point being, that for years Arabs used Coke to soothe throats grown hoarse from shouting anti-US slogans.)

Third, how do we know who the guys in the picture are, or what they're doing? Julian says they're "headed off to fight against U.S. troops," but they're flashing what, in my culture at least, is a peace symbol. I sense a slight dissonance here which, at the least, calls for explanation.