17 October 2014

We’ve always been at war with Eurasia

The Washington Post has come out, it seems, with a fresh read on Russian history that, for a change, appears to be as self-aware as it is cynical and Nietzschean. ‘It goes to show,’ writes Ishaan Tharoor, ‘how much the politics of an era shape its conversation about cultures and peoples. That's no less true now than it was almost two centuries ago.’ Sadly, yes. And none seem to be taking full advantage of the fact more than Mr. Tharoor and his neoconservative employers at the Washington Post.

Let me be clear: I am very demonstrably not a fan of Bill Maher. Even less am I a fan of vulgar neoconservative proselytes like Sam Harris. But in responding to the idiotic, fact-free generalisations about Islam the two of them were making on Real Time, which led Ben Affleck and even humanitarian bombing-enthusiast Nick Kristof to call them out for what they were, it seems the American propaganda machine has found its opportunity to turn this internecine conflict amongst militant liberal interventionists to its geopolitical advantage.

Sam Harris is indeed a rather sad little figure who finds himself helplessly behind the times since Hitchens’ death. As far as his other neoconservative idols are concerned, bashing Islam is so 2002. Because regardless of what American liberals and neocons think about Islam, at least they can all agree on what the Party tells them: Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia.

And that is what Ishaan Tharoor seems to be capitalising on here. ‘Russia represented,’ Tharoor informs us, ‘a backward, superstitious society where peasants still labored in semi-slavery and monarchs ruled as tyrants, unchallenged by parliaments and liberal sentiment. The Ottomans, who were embarking on their own process of reform, looked favorable in comparison.’

Oh, indeed. I’m sure that for the sanctimonious liberal Victorians of the day, the actual chattel slavery practiced by the Ottomans was preferable by far to the ‘semi-slavery’ of the Russian peasantry (which had itself been imposed on them by a Germanising aristocracy). And I’m sure that quintessential sanctimonious liberal Victorian David Urquhart, who gets quoted approvingly throughout Tharoor’s article, had absolutely no problem with the male sex-slaves who were part-and-parcel with the Turkish bathhouses to which he credits the Ottoman Empire’s public cleanliness.

And, after all, someone needed to keep all those ‘warring Druze and Maronites in the Levant’ and ‘feuding Greek Orthodox and Armenians’ in line! Why, all these backward Armenians ought to be on their knees in gratitude to the Ottomans for having taught them tolerance and moderation, right?

Tharoor states, apparently without any sense of irony, that ‘the history lesson above is not meant to denigrate the Russians and praise the Ottomans’. Is that so? For all the pearl-clutching among neoconservatives and ‘decent’ liberals over the ‘moral equivalence’ less-‘decent’ Western leftists supposedly engage in, it’s clear that they are as wont to engage in moral relativism as anyone else in American discourse, in pursuit of their own agenda. Now that it is politically expedient for them to do so, the ‘decent’ liberal interventionists want to whitewash the debaucheries, decadence and genocidal brutality of the Ottoman slave state – even to its own fellow Muslims, let alone to its Christians – in order to highlight the shortcomings of the markedly and demonstrably less-debauched, less-decadent and less-brutal Tsarist Russia, from the ashes of which looms America’s evil enemy du jour.

Tharoor claims by the end that his piece is meant to ‘show how much the politics of an era shape its conversation about cultures and peoples’. This is highly debatable, but if that was the true aim of this piece, it succeeds only as a deliberately-ironic postmodernist art project. Because in despite of his protestations to the contrary he is clearly appealing, in the grossest and most cynical way, to the anti-Russian cultural narrative which inheres in the political conversation of this era.

No comments:

Post a Comment