Are We Big, Ugly Americans Again?

Christian Astier, a 44-year-old Parisian, agrees that there is an "axis of evil." But he thinks the United States is part of it.

"I have a very negative view of the Americans because they are intolerant, they focus on themselves and they think only about themselves," the civil servant says. "They are part of the 'axis of evil' as well."

Astier is far from alone in his thinking.

As post-Sept. 11 solidarity with the United States dies down in Europe and elsewhere around the world, unease and anger with American policy and Americans in general have returned to a degree that might surprise those accustomed to the global outpouring of support after the terror attacks.

Experts disagree on how much European anger is on the rise. Most believe that opinion has shifted away from the blanket support the United States received immediately after the attacks. Many think Europe is still largely sympathetic to its pal across the pond, but feel the wave of post Sept. 11 compassion has given way to deep fears about what it sees as heavy-handed U.S. policy.

Evidence of Backlash

The welcome wagon may be headed into the sunset.

"The emotions of Sept. 11 have faded," says Dominique Moisi, the deputy director of the French Institute of International Relations in Paris, referring to French public opinion today. "If you read the French press today, you have the feeling that the threat is America."

"Americans may not yet be fully aware of this, but the fact is that anti-American sentiments are resurfacing in Europe," the Belgian newspaper De Standaard wrote earlier this month. "It was striking how short the period of widespread solidarity and sympathy with the United States was in the wake of September 11."

Some commentators, such as novelist Salman Rushdie, point to a deeper anti-Americanism that reaches well beyond the political commentators who have always criticized the United States.

"Night after night, I have found myself listening to Londoners' diatribes against the sheer weirdness of the American citizenry. The attacks on America are routinely discounted. ('Americans only care about their own dead.') American patriotism, obesity, emotionality, self-centredness: these are the crucial issues," Rushdie wrote in an op-ed piece that appeared in American, Canadian and British newspapers.

Some commentators here and abroad have argued the just-concluded Winter Olympics reflected this growing global resentment.

Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins labeled the controversies at the Salt Lake City Games an "anti-American binge," citing international anger over the gold medals Americans Apolo Ohno and Sarah Hughes won in speed skating and figure skating.

"It was ultimately impossible to separate the [Salt Lake] Games from the fact of American hegemony in the world and the United States' go-it-alone approach in foreign policy," she wrote after the closing ceremonies.

Shortly after the games began, England's left-of-center Guardian newspaper reported that the "wave of American jingoism and intense security" had some senior Olympic officials privately voicing concern about whether the United States could host the Olympics again.

It Was Different Right After Sept. 11

Such criticisms seem a world away from the immediate global rush of sympathy after the attacks.

"I think that everybody felt solidarity with the Americans," says Emilie Bloch, a 22-year-old student in Paris, describing the mood in late September of last year.

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