Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Burchell Chokes the Chicken

It was Hell I tell you!:

"Seventy years ago my father, along with 14,000 other Australians of the Ninth Division, was domiciled in the sleepy Libyan coastal town of Tobruk, where all year round the sky shone a fierce blue, the earth glowed red, and the ferocious heat of day and numbing cold of night seemed drawn from some other planet, where the seasons spin by in a single day. Among the mementos he left behind is a pre-war map of the town printed on fabric, and coloured in delicate shades of apricot and pale blue, with the lyrical names of the pre-war landmarks - Bir el Carmusa, Hagfet Um Haleiga, Forte Pilastrino, their loping syllables singing out like the notes from a maqam - overprinted with geometrical shapes of sectors, salients, artillery positions and barbed-wire fences.

"Like others of that stoical and self-effacing generation my father said as little as possible about his experiences in that awful, gutted, fly-blown wreck of a town where so many of his friends and comrades are buried. Scour the photographs of that momentous siege today, though, and you are struck by the seemingly indefatigable optimism and self-confidence of that generation of young Australians, by the awful wreckage of their physical surroundings, in that pretty seaside city turned to rubble - and lastly by the absence of the local population, who seem to have vanished like wraiths. Indeed the photographic record offers hardly a glimpse of the Libyan citizenry among the detritus of battle - save for an occasional dispirited figure listlessly hauling crates on the town's dock, ignored by the troops around him. The great moral drama of the 20th century - the Miltonic struggle between West's dark and light angels, culminating in the triumph of its decent and humane instincts - was being visited on these people."

And did they give a rat's? Nah, not... on... your... nelly!

"Yet for most Libyans, like most Arabs around them, the war was a private Westerners' matter, and its grander moral significance never became apparent. Even today, among many Arab intellectuals its memory provokes only a refined distaste for the West's effrontery, a vague nostalgia for Nazism's squalid glamour, and the pervasive stale aftertaste of anti-Semitism." (Libyan's failed by Left orientalism, David Burchell, The Australian, 28/2/11)

The screens nurse! Quick, the screens.

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