Love thy Neighbor, Love thy Enemy, Love thy Self
I came across a BBC study the other day, in which participants in 34 countries were asked about the image of their own and other countries. All in all, 17.000 people were polled. They were asked about their views of countries like the U.S., Israel, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Germany, the UK and the European Union.
US no moral authority any more
Most news media that have reported about this study commented on the fact that views about the United States are slowly improving globally. While this may be so, I think it will take a long, long time to re-establish the U.S. as a moral institution in the world. The days, when the USA stood for high moral standards, democracy and human rights are long gone. Abu Ghoreib, Guantanamo, the whole unstoppable “War against Terrorism” have ruined the image of the U.S. in many countries around the world.
The deplorable image of the USA is something I’m often confronted with when I work abroad. I used to be proud to say “I lived in the U.S. for many years and it’s a great place” – I can’t really say that any more. I’ll immediately catch flak and be confronted by all the injustices that have been committed in the name of fighting terrorism. That’s what sticks in people’s minds.
The atrocoties of Abu Ghoreib or the attempts to legitimise torturing prisoners are what people in many countries think of first, when they think of the USA. And not the fact that the U.S. is still a country where people enjoy freedoms and prosperity that are unthinkable in many other places. Or the fact that the political system, the media and the blogosphere in the U.S. are still able to expose wrongdoings and make sure that those responsible will face the consequences – things unthinkable in many other regimes.
But if we get back to the BBC study now, all that seems to be changing slowly. The image of the U.S. is improving. Gradually. Slowly. Recovery will take a long time…
Of course, for me as a German, the results for Germany were stunning: in this international poll, Germany was the most positively rated country of all. I wonder if the champagne corks popped in Angela Merkel’s office…
Perception and self-perception
When you look at the study, another interesting aspect is how countries see themselves. Not surprisingly, countries with a free press – one that is critical and self-critical of what’s happening in the country – have a mixed self-image. In the U.S., for instance, 56 percent of the people see their country mainly positive, 36 percent mainly negative. In Germany, 75 percent of the citizens have a positive image of their country, 10 percent have a negative impression. In the U.K. the ratio is 60 to 27 and in France 63 to 16.
But then look at China: 90 percent of the Chinese have mainly positive views of their country, only four percent have mainly negative views. That’s quite a contrast.
I wonder why that is so. Is it the effect of the propaganda media? Or is it the general mentality of the Chinese, who are extremely proud of their country and might sometimes even consider themselves superior to others? Or is it a combination of these factors?