Global Hatred in a Nutshell

By Bill Kohlhaase

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Posted November 15, 2007 in Arts & Culture

The Beatles famously sang “All You Need Is Love,” but world history over the last 75 years suggests a very different reality. In addition to World War II where some odd 60 million souls lost their lives, there’s since been countless other wars across the globe. Many of these wars have occurred in countries that Americans have only dimly, if at all, heard of. Thus when conflict erupts we are increasingly reliant on CNN and—god help us—Fox News to provide the context for whatever country is presently going down in flames, which can be a bit of a bitch seeing how the mainstream media does such a pathetic job of providing the very context the situation deserves. 

Enter Bob Harris and his fresh solution to the aforementioned problem, Who Hates Whom, an insightful, informative, and funny little pocketbook guide to hate and all of its ugly by-products. I read the sucker straight through but the guide would serve just as well sitting near the couch as a handy reference when the next war looms. 

Who Hates Whom is arraigned by region, so let’s say war with Iran is looming, to use an extremely hypothetical example. If our Vice President were crazy enough to attack Iran, a concerned citizen who wants the skinny on our coming adventure in Persia need only flip to the Middle East section. There the reader will learn facts they know, (President Ahmadinejad is a crazy anti-Semite) facts they might, (lots of Iranians think he’s a dick, too) and facts they probably didn’t, (25,000 Jews live in Iran, yet are second-class citizens at best). Being Jewish in Iran? The world’s leader of Holocaust denying propaganda? Suddenly being black in New Hampshire or gay in Alabama looks . . . well, less sucky. 

One of the best aspects of the book is, unlike many other political screeds lately, a reader actually picks up new info. We already know George W. Bush is something of a dishonest, corrupt madman, although it is always nice to be reminded. However, I didn’t know that the recent Congolese wars have caused at least 3.8 million deaths over the last six years. If the residents of the Congo had oil instead of diamonds and copper perhaps I would have. Stumbling across some of the incredible stories and statistics in Who Hates Whom I started to get seriously bummed, as the guide chronicles the recent rise of piracy, global catastrophes—many the U.S. had a hand in—and the fact the world has four countries named Guinea.  

Luckily Harris uses humor to at least soften the blow and enliven what could have become an emo civics lesson in lesser hands. Many of the poignant chuckles are provided by the legends that accompany the maps. Nations around Haiti are shaded brown and simply called “Countries that still have trees,” owing to the fact that Haiti pretty much doesn’t. Even with the humor, at times Harris can’t help but drift into the arcane and even the tedious—at least for most Americans who pay attention to other countries only when they’re about to vacation there or watch that country get the shit bombed out of them on CNN.

Yet, this apathy is in many ways what Who Hates Whom is trying to correct. Apathy and ignorance can lead to war. Harris examines the origins of the war we’re in (Iraq) and the war we may be in soon (Iran) with brevity, compassion, and wit. For that reason alone Who Hates Whom is a worthy and important book.

Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up by Bob Harris, Three Rivers Press, Pocketbook, 218 pages, $11.95


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