Friday, July 19, 2013

Blair the Barbarian

The chutzpah. The chutzpah:

"So what should the West do [about Egypt]? Egypt is the latest reminder that the region is in turmoil and won't leave us alone, however much we may wish it would. Disengagement is not an option, because the status quo is not an option. Any decision not to act is itself a decision of vast consequences." (We can't let Egypt collapse, Tony Blair, The Australian, 17/7/13)

The Middle East won't leave us alone, however much we may wish it would. Just like Iraq forced our hand, eh Tony?

Here's imperialism's latest pitch from a practitioner of the art: If that perfectly innocent bystander, the West, invades, or destabilises, or otherwise meddles in the affairs of a Middle Eastern country, it's only because said country has left it with no choice in the matter.

Yeah, right.

There is nothing new, of course, in such talk. It's just another variation on Kipling's 'white man's burden'. (See my 5/11/11 post Rudyard Kipling Redux.)

The following reflection on the subject of European imperialism in the Middle East says it all. It's taken from a book published in 1940, The New Spirit in Arab Lands, by an Arab-American, H.I. Katibah:

"There was a time, in the distant past, when imperialism wore a halo around its head; when wholesale murder on the battlefield assumed a mystical quality of divine vindication, if not exultation. There was a time when Jehovah was called the Lord of Hosts, when the almighty God judged among the nations of the world by the sword and the javelin. The great Thothmes III, whom James Breasted called the first empire builder of history, could then appropriately put in the mouth of his God the words of a paean which has come down to us as a monument at Karnak: I have come that I may cause thee to tread down them that are in the marshes; The lands of Meten tremble for fear of thee.

"We feel a thrill of vicarious pride and majesty as we listen to Ammon-Ra, the supreme Egyptian God, adressing his favourite son, the king: I cause them to behold they majesty as a fierce-eyed lion, while thou makest them to be corpses throughout their valley.

"That day has long past. A different philosophy of life has come to the world to disturb those who deify selfishness and glorify greed. Today imperialism has fallen on evil days; it has 'lost face' with all people of intelligence and integrity. It slinks about like a cowardly villain, taking refuge in hypocritical self-justification. It has stooped to apologize and to defend itself like a convicted criminal before the bar of justice. The secret pang of conscience and blush of shame which we now feel as we grimly go about our business of bombing innocent women and children from the sky were blithely absent in a Thothmes, a Nebuchadnezzar or a Genghis Khan.

"This most illustrious of Egyptian monarchs, whose conquests extended from upper Egypt to Megiddo and the confines of Mesopotamia in the 16th century before Christ, would feel quite out of place among the conquerors of our present day. How absurd would it sound to our ears if the Karnak monument had recorded that Thothmes III had conquered the Tehenu and the Utentiu in order to bring them the bounties and beneficences of Egyptian civilization, to prepare them ultimately for self-rule! It would have been equally absurd for Thothmes to have announced to the world, perhaps with his tongue in his cheek, that he was carrying the 'brown man's burden' in darkest Africa, or in white Syria. No such thoughts disturbed the mind of Thothmes III. If some of his unfortunate enemies were spared, if some war slave rose to the rank of a Moses and was brought up with the Pharaoh's children, that was only incidental to a social system that recognized no freedom or rights for the vanquished. The threats of Thothmes were as fearful as his favors were condescending.

"If we argue that there is some grain of truth and honesty in the humanitarian claims of the modern imperialists, let us not forget that Thothmes and his peers did not so thoroughly crush and annihilate their enemies as their boasts would indicate; their cruelties on the battlefield were not so grim as one would gather from reading their monuments. We have the authority of Breasted himself that Thothmes 'launched his armies upon Asia with one hand and with the other crushed the extortionate taxgatherer.'

"That was ancient imperialism at its best, unmasked, yea naked, standing like a beautiful and mighty savage in the face of the sun, fearful and fascinating like a very God, of one piece with the thundering torrents, the lightning and the earthquake. Not so is modern imperialism which looks more grotesque than grand. Its savagery is atrocious and cunning; the breath of its lying propaganda, like that of a repulsive monster, kills ere it reaches its victim. It is a reversion to barbarism shorn of its innocent beauty and majestic grandeur." (pp 116-118)


Anonymous said...

I opened your blog this morning with a hot cup of coffee, saw the title and said to my self "OK, a post about Iran. No Israel and no Zionism. Maybe I am going to read about the violation of human rights or women humiliation in Iran..." I realized I was wrong when I reached the third paragraph. The coffee was bitter.

Indeed, Middle East Reality Check!!

MERC said...

You've got the wrong post. Maybe you should wait till your coffee kicks in before commenting. Anyway, so glad to disappoint.