Why do Americans know so little about the world the U.S. has shaped?

Ishaan Tharoor writes: In a recent excerpt from her new book, American journalist Suzy Hansen described her bemusement when a friend in Istanbul suggested to her that the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, had been somehow planned by the U.S. government.

“Come on, you don’t believe that,” said Hansen.

“Why not?” snapped back her friend, identified as Emre. “I do.”

“But it’s a conspiracy theory.”

Emre laughed and said: “Americans always dismiss these things as conspiracy theories. It’s the rest of the world who have had to deal with your conspiracies.”

This pronouncement prompted Hansen, an accomplished storyteller and reporter who has written powerfully about recent political events in Turkey, to reflect on what may underlie her friend’s animus. Her much-acclaimed new book, “Notes from a Foreign Country: An American Abroad in a Post-American World,” is a memoir of a young American who moves abroad and slowly grapples with how the rest of the world sees her nation — and how little her nation really sees the world.

She looks in particular at the extent to which U.S. foreign policy has shaped politics, societies and the fates of ordinary people elsewhere. In one anecdote, when Hansen asks an Iraqi man what his country “was like in the 1980s and 1990s, when he was growing up,” he replies: “I am always amazed when Americans ask me this. How is it that you know nothing about us when you had so much to do with what became of our lives?” [Continue reading…]

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