Harold Pinter - HIGHBROW HATRED OF AMERICA

James Traub

New York

When the British playwright Harold Pinter was interviewed after learning earlier this month that he won the Nobel Prize for literature, he said that he might well use his acceptance speech in December to "address the state of the world."

This could prove to be quite a revelation for Pinter's American admirers, who tend to know much less about his politics than Europeans do. Still, they need only go to Pinter's own Web site (www.harold-pinter.org) to learn that the author of "The Birthday Party" and "The Homecoming" views the United States as a moral monster bent on world domination.

Pinter's consuming anti-Americanism may have had little or nothing to do with the judges' decision to award him the prize. Unlike Dario Fo, the 1997 recipient notorious for his denunciations of the United States, Pinter has written works that will remain long after his polemics are forgotten.

But whatever the intention, the Swedes have given Pinter the most prestigious of platforms from which to broadcast his worldview - a view that has become common currency, albeit in somewhat less toxic form, in the highest reaches of European culture.

Pinter's politics are so extreme that they're almost impossible to parody. "Mr. Bush and his gang," he said in a speech as the war in Iraq approached, "are determined, quite simply, to control the world and the world's resources. And they don't give a damn how many people they murder on the way."

Pinter sees Iraq as only the most recent example of the American hegemonic impulse. The playwright was just as outraged by NATO's 1999 air war in Kosovo, which he described as "a criminal act" designed to consolidate "American domination of Europe."

These views are hardly unfamiliar in the United States. Among U.S. Public intellectuals or literary figures, however, it is hard to think of anyone save Noam Chomsky and Gore Vidal who would not choke on Pinter's bile. But the situation is very different throughout Europe, where the anti-American left is far more intellectually respectable. In the Anglophone world of letters, John le Carré holds opinions similar to Pinter's, as do the essayist Tariq Ali and the novelist Arundhati Roy. These last two publicly root for the Iraqi "resistance."

All this talk about "resistance" and "antifascism" betrays the origins of this virulent strain of anti-Americanism: support for the "liberation" struggles in China, Cuba, Vietnam, Zimbabwe and elsewhere. Iraq, in other words, is being superimposed on the old "anti-imperialist" grid.

One might have thought that the end of the Cold War knocked the starch out of this Manichaean struggle, but the far left has been unwilling to surrender the exhilarating moral clarity of that era. Failure, in fact, may have driven elements of the left deeper into opposition; the "socialist debacle," as the political writer Ian Buruma noted in a recent essay, "contributed to the resentment of American triumphs."

What, then, to do? Should the United States beam Radio Free Europe to the captive states of France, Germany and England? Actually, I have a better idea: get the CIA to secretly subsidize the publication of Pinter's political poetry, along with a worldwide tour.

The poet would be encouraged to recite such clanking fragments of doggerel as the following from "God Bless America": "Here they go again/The Yanks in their armoured parade/Chanting their ballads of joy/As they gallop across the big world/Praising America's God." Sunshine, they say, is the greatest disinfectant.

You cannot, of course, dissuade implacable ideologues, any more than you can an implacable jihadist. But that's not the goal, either in Iraq or in the West. The goal is to delegitimate extremism among the great mass of people not yet lost to reason.

There is no getting around the fact that no nation as dominant as America now is will be accepted as a benevolent actor; indeed, no nation so easily able to advance its own interests will act benevolently most of the time. But the United States could certainly help its case by boasting about its benevolence less and proving it more - by acting, that is, in ways that seem worthy of a great democracy.

America might, for example, accept the rules and institutions - the Geneva Conventions, the International Criminal Court, the disarmament provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty - that practically everyone save the United States might cut farm subsidies to improve terms of trade for impoverished African farmers (and to show up European countries unwilling to do the same).

It might tiptoe less delicately around authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and stand up more staunchly for democratic forces. The battle of ideas, after all, is not to be waged only in the Islamic world.

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