Guides To The Unfree World

Andrew Sullivan —  Aug 15 2012 @ 10:57am

by Patrick Appel

Michael Moynihan castigates Lonely Planet and Rough Guides for excusing the crimes of dictatorships:

[I]t's useful to begin by skimming their guidebooks for undemocratic countries like Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Syria.

There's a formula to them: a pro forma acknowledgment of a lack of democracy and freedom followed by exercises in moral equivalence, various contorted attempts to contextualize authoritarianism or atrocities, and scorching attacks on the U.S. foreign policy that precipitated these defensive and desperate actions. Throughout, there is the consistent refrain that economic backwardness should be viewed as cultural authenticity, not to mention an admirable rejection of globalization and American hegemony. The hotel recommendations might be useful, but the guidebooks are clotted with historical revisionism, factual errors, and a toxic combination of Orientalism and pathological self-loathing.