Monday 10 February 2003

Twin vision of empire

The differences between Europe and the US are exaggerated. To the rest of the world, they look much the same

by Gary Younge

It is with great bemusement that I absorb abuse from white, rightwing Americans, who hark back to the declaration of independence of 1776 as justification for their Euro-bashing, and to the second world war to justify military aggression.

They badger me as though their own reference points represent the sole prism through which global events could possibly be understood. As if the struggle for moral superiority between Europe and the US could have any relevance to someone whose ancestors were brought to the Americas as slaves and whose parents and grandparents lived through the war under colonisation.

"If it wasn't for us you would be speaking German," they say. "No, if it wasn't for you," I tell them, "I would probably be speaking Yoruba."

As the diplomatic process over a possible war in Iraq approaches its endgame, the spat between Europe and America is an unwelcome diversion. There are some disputes, we are led to believe, that have a significance beyond themselves alone. Rows with origins in one place and ramifications in many others, which produce not a victor in a single clash but help shape a trend in the bigger scheme of things. Sometimes, as in the conflict between the Soviet Union and the US during the cold war or between cricket (slow, colonial, in decline) and basketball (fast, commercial, on the rise) in the Caribbean, the broader themes are obvious. With others, as with the rivalry between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown or Blur and Oasis, it is difficult to see quite what relevance the disputes hold beyond the immediate outcome and the immediate participants.

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