Monday, January 10, 2011
The Whole World is Watching "Anger, hatred, bigotry" - the headline in the Sydney, Australia Morning Herald. "A disturbing story about American political culture" - said the editorial in the Globe and Mail, Canada's major national newspaper. A blogger for the Financial Times writes, "The idea that there is anything in common between the politics of the United States and Pakistan might seem absurd. But both countries have suffered appalling acts of political violence this week. And in both cases, the victims were moderate voices who spoke out for liberal values." While the debate continues in U.S. newspapers and over the air about the cause and meaning of the tragic attack on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 others in Tucson last Saturday, the press in the rest of the world is watching and commenting. It is a fascinating case study in how the U.S. is seen by much of the rest of the world. A while back I heard a speaker who had lived in Canada for a number of years quip that "Canada is the place where everyone has health insurance and no one has a hand gun." There was nervous laughter from the U.S. crowd. The Globe and Mail's editorial on the Tucson shootings got quickly to its point: "Start with guns: Legally, they are sacrosanct. And not just any guns. In Arizona, any 'law-abiding' person over 21 is allowed to carry a concealed handgun practically anywhere in the state, including into the state legislature, in bars and on school grounds." In a round-up of world coverage of the story, the GlobalPost site noted: "Argentina’s biggest daily, Clarin, published a 500-word piece by their Washington correspondent, Ana Baron, who focused heavily on Arizona’s tough stance on Latino immigration and what she described as the 'growth of hatred and intolerance in U.S. politics.' Perhaps tellingly, the story’s first quote was Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik’s widely-recounted remark that his home state of Arizona has become a 'Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.'" The same site noted that Britain's politically-oriented print media covered the shootings as political commentary. The right-leaning Daily Telegraph criticized American blogs and liberals for rushing to paint the attacks as a product of a right-wing fanatic despite the lack of evidence that the shooter had anything to do with the Tea Party or any other group. "This is highly inconvenient for certain people on the Left so they ignore it," wrote the paper's Washington editor. "They would much prefer the shooter to have been a white male in his 50s." Outside of Britain, the GlobalPost site notes, "the story has received slightly less attention. The French press is consumed by the murder of two Frenchmen murdered in Niger by an African subsidiary of Al Qaeda. The German press has major flooding along the Rhine to contend with. "But the lack of prominence given to the story could be down to this: For many in Europe, violence of the sort that occurred in Tucson on Saturday is almost expected in America." Major media outlets in the U.S. provided prominent coverage over the last several days to the assassination - and that word was always used and interestingly has generally been avoided in the coverage of the Gifford's shooting - of a major political figure in Pakistan, indisputably a country with enormous strategic importance to the United States. The lead in the Washington Post, for example, said of the Pakistani killing, in words that might have been lifted from an article about Rep. Giffords: "an outspoken liberal in an increasingly intolerant nation, was shot..." because of his public stance on a controversial issue. As the Financial Times writer, Gideon Rachman, pointed out it is not all that comfortable to be compared to the dysfunctional, frequently violent politics of Pakistan, but there we are. Rachman wrote on Sunday: "Of course, the relative reactions to political violence in both countries show that Pakistan is much, much further down the road of violent intolerance. This profoundly depressing report by Mohammed Hanif illustrates how cowed liberal and tolerant voices now are in Pakistan, where many television commentators essentially argued that the governor of Punjab had it coming to him. "In the US, by contrast, all mainstream politicians and commentators are united in condemning the attempted murder of Giffords. I suppose we should be grateful for small mercies." Indeed.