In zijn toonaangevende boek Public Opinion (1922) schreef de meest invloedrijke Amerikaanse media-ideoloog Walter Lippmann:
If, for example, one man dislikes the League (de Volkerenbond. svh), another hates Mr. Wilson (president Woodrow Wilson. svh), and a third fears labor (de vakbonden. svh), you may be able to unite them if you can find some symbol which is the antithesis of what they all hate. Suppose that symbol is Americanism. The first man may read it as meaning the preservation of American isolation, or as he may call it, independence; the second as the rejection of a politician who clashes with his idea of what an American president should be, the third as a call to resist revolution. The symbol in itself signifies literally no one thing in particular, but it can be associated with almost anything. And because of that it can become the common bond of common feelings, even though those feelings were originally attached to disparate ideas.
When political parties or newspapers declare for Americanism, Progressivism, Law and Order, Justice, Humanity, they hope to amalgamate the emotion of conflicting factions which would surely divide, if, instead of these symbols, they were invited to discuss a specific program. For when a coalition around the symbol has been effected, feeling flows toward conformity under the symbol rather than toward critical scrutiny of the measures. It is, I think, convenient and technically correct to call multiple phrases like these symbolic. They do not stand for specific ideas, but for a sort of truce or junction between ideas. They are like a strategic railroad center where many roads converge regardless of their ultimate origin or their ultimate destination. But he who captures the symbols by which public feeling is for the moment contained, controls by that much the approaches of public policy. And as long as a particular symbol has the power of coalition, ambitious factions will fight for possession. Think, for example, of Lincoln’s name or of Roosevelt’s. A leader or an interest that can make itself master of current symbols is master of the current situation.
Een treffend voorbeeld van de wijze waarop de westerse mainstream-opiniemaker zichzelf ‘meester’maakt van ‘current symbols’ gaf Ian Buruma in juni 2017 tijdens een gesprek met de Indiase auteur Pankaj Mishra, wiens meest recente boek Age of Anger. A History Of The Present (2017) een historische uiteenzetting geeft van het feit dat
It was from among the ranks of the disaffected that the militants of the nineteenth century arose: angry young men who became cultural nationalists in Germany, messianic revolutionaries in Russia, bellicose chauvinists in Italy, and anarchist terrorists internationally. Today, just as then, the wider embrace of mass politics, technology, and the pursuit of wealth and individualism has cast many more millions adrift in a literally demoralized world, uprooted from tradition but still far from modernity — with the same terrible results.
Na bijna 20 minuten meldde Buruma dat ‘[o]ne of the idea’s of the Enlightenment is that through human reason we can emancipate ourselves from oppression.’ Hoewel dit een bekend feit is, plaatst hij dit feit in een opmerkelijke context. Hij zei:
Some of the things Pankaj quite rightly criticizes in his book is the way a lot of western ideas were imposed on the non-western world through colonialism and sometimes through violence, was not rationalist so much. It also had much to do with christianity, with it’s missionary spirit, the idea we owe it to the world that we liberate them, save their souls, and bring them into the bosom of the church. In the end this also translated into the more zealous aspects of the human rights movement. We worked it out in the West, and it is our duty to bring human rights to the rest of the world. Now, this can be zealous, sometimes it can be ham-fisted (onhandig. svh), on the other hand, do we really want to say that trying to improve human rights in countries were they are very weak is wrong, simply because it is often financed by western organization’s or argued by western thinkers? I would not go that far.
De kunstgreep die hier wordt toegepast is illustrerend voor wat Lippmann bedoelde toen hij erop wees dat ‘when a coalition around’ een ‘symbol has been effected, feeling flows toward conformity under the symbol rather than toward critical scrutiny,’ waarbij in dit geval het symbool ‘human rights’ is. Het spreekt voor zich dat niemand bij zijn volle verstand erop tegen is dat ‘trying to improve human rights in countries were they are very weak, is wrong, simply because it is often financed by western organization’s or argued by western thinkers?’ Maar bij gebrek aan deugdelijke argumenten tracht Buruma hier één van de belangrijkste ‘current symbols’ naar zijn hand te zetten. Want wat is het geval? Ten eerste heeft Pankaj Mishra nooit beweerd dat mensenrechten er niet toe doen louter en alleen omdat — in de karikaturale voorstelling van Buruma — activisten die zich voor de ‘mensenrechten’ inzetten ‘vaak gefinancierd worden door westerse organisaties.’ Daar ging de discussie helemaal niet over. Het onderwerp van discussie was dat ‘mensenrechten’ door de westerse elite instrumenteel worden gebruikt. Dus, het Saoedische regime en het Israelische regime — om voor het gemak slechts twee voorbeelden van de talloze te geven — hoeven geen westerse boycot te vrezen vanwege massale schendingen van het internationaal recht, inclusief de mensenrechten, Saoedie-Arabië in Yemen en Israel in de bezette en belegerde Palestijnse gebieden. Integendeel zelfs, zo neemt de Israelische marine, met door Duitsland geleverde nucleaire onderzeeboten, deel aan NAVO-oefeningen en is de EU de grootste handelspartner van de zionistische staat, terwijl de VS jaarlijks miljarden aan oorlogsmaterieel aan Israel levert. Onder de kop U.S. $38B military aid package to Israel sends a message, berichtte de krant USA TODAY op 14 september 2016 dat:
The United States agreed Wednesday to provide Israel a record $38 billion in new military aid over the next decade. The pact is a sign of the two nations’ close alliance despite major differences over Iran’s nuclear program and other policies.
The agreement, which equates to $3.8 billion a year, is the largest bilateral military aid package ever and includes $5 billion for missile defense, additional F-35 joint strike fighters and increased mobility for its ground forces.
Met andere woorden, hoewel Ian Buruma nog wel in de oprechtheid van de westerse buitenlandse politiek lijkt te geloven, kunnen de slachtoffers van het directe of indirecte westerse geweld zich deze luxe niet permitteren. Typerend is tevens dat Buruma bewust een onderscheid maakt tussen ‘colonialism’ en ‘violence,’ terwijl toch na alle publicaties over het westerse kolonialisme ondertussen genoegzaam bekend is dat kolonialisme in de praktijk onmogelijk was zonder het plegen van geweld. Een voorbeeld van wat de Amerikaanse historicus Mike Davis in zijn boek Late Victorian Holocausts (2002) de ‘catastrophic history’ van het ‘New Imperialism’ noemt, is het volgende:
As Jill Dias (Britse academica. svh) has so brilliantly shown in the case of the Portuguese in nineteenth-century Angola, colonial expansion uncannily syncopated the rhythms of natural disaster and epidemic disease. Each global drought was the green light for an imperialist landrush. If the southern African drought of 1877, for example, was Carnarvon’s opportunity to strike against Zulu independence, the Ethiopian famine of 1889-91 was Crispi’s mandate to build a new Roman Empire in the Horn of Africa. Likewise Wilhelmine Germany exploited the floods and drought that devastated Shandong in the late 1890s to aggressively expand its sphere of influence in North China, while the United States was simultaneously using drought-famine and disease as weapons to crush Aguinaldo’s Philippine Republic.
But the agricultural populations of Asia, Africa and South America did not go gently into the New Imperial order. Famines are wars over the right to existence… A key thesis of this book is that what we today call the ‘third world’ (a Cold War term) is the outgrowth of income and wealth inequalities — the famous ‘development gap’ — that were shaped most decisively in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, when the great non-European peasantries were initially integrated into the world economy… By the end of Victoria’s reign… the inequality of nations was as profound as the inequality of classes. Humanity had been irrevocably divided. And the famed ‘prisoners of starvation,’ whom the Internationale urges to arise, were as much modern inventions of the late Victorian world as electric lights, Maxim guns and ‘scientific’ racism.
Hoewel Buruma beweert dat er sprake was ‘the idea we owe it to the world that we liberate them, save their souls’ was in werkelijkheid het westerse kolonialisme vanaf het allereerste begin gebaseerd op racisme. Er kan dan ook onmogelijk een onderscheid worden gemaakt tussen enerzijds de uitbuiting en onderdrukking inherent aan het kolonialisme en anderzijds het grootscheeps geweld tegen opstandige bevolkingen, zoals Davis 228 pagina’s lang gedocumenteerd aantoont. Davis laat zien dat de vele miljoenen doden als gevolg van opstanden, hongersnood en oorlogen, eenvoudigweg als onvermijdelijk werden beschouwd, even onontkoombaar als wat vandaag de dag in het elite-jargon ‘collateral damage’ heet, slechts bijkomende schade, ‘to bring’ — aldus de mythe van Buruma — ‘human rights to the rest of the world.’ Davis:
We not are dealing, in other words, with ‘lands of famine’ becalmed in stagnant backwaters of world history, but with the fate of tropical humanity at the precise moment (1870-1914) when its labor and products were being dynamically conscripted into a London-centered world economy. 19 Millions died, not outside the ‘modern world system,’ but in the very process of being forcibly incorporated into its economic and political structures. They died in the golden age of Liberal Capitalism; indeed, many were murdered, as we shall see, by the theological application of the sacred principles of Smith, Bentham and Mill (de profeten van het kapitalisme. svh). Yet the only twentieth-century economic historian who seems to have clearly understood that the great Victorian famines (at least, in the Indian case) were integral chapters in the history of capitalist modernity was Karl Polanyi in his 1944 book The Great Transformation. ‘The actual source of famines in the last fifty years,’ he wrote, ‘was the free marketing of grain combined with local failure of incomes’:
‘Failure of crops, of course, was part of the picture, but despatch (het transporteren. svh) of grain by rail made it possible to send relief to the threatened areas; the trouble was that the people were unable to buy the corn at rocketing prices, which on a free but incompletely organized market were bound to be a reaction to a shortage. In former times small local stores had been held against harvest failure, but these had been now discontinued or swept away into the big market… Under the monopolists ‘the situation had been fairly kept in hand with the help of the archaic organization of the countryside, including free distribution of corn, while under free trade and equal exchange Indians perished by the millions.’
Polanyi, however, believed that the emphasis that Marxists put on the exploitative aspects of late-nineteenth-century imperialism tended ‘to hide from our view the even greater issue of cultural degeneration.’
‘The catastrophe of the native community is a direct result of the rapid and violent disruption of the basic institutions of the victim (whether force is used in the process or not does seem altogether relevant). These institutions are disrupted by the very fact that a market economy is foisted upon an entirely differently organized community; labor and land are made into commodities, which, again, is only a short formula for the liquidation of every and any cultural institution in an organic society…. Indian masses in the second half of the nineteenth century did not die of hunger because they were exploited by Lancashire (waar katoen werd verwerkt tot kleding. svh); they perished in large lumbers because the Indian village community had been demolished.’
Polanyi’s famous essay has the estimable virtue of knocking down one Smithian (Adam Smith, Schotse Verlichtingsfilosoof vooral bekend vanwege zijn boek Wealth of Nations. svh) fetish after another to show that the route to a Victorian ‘new world order’ was paved with bodies of the poor.
In dit verband is relevant te weten dat de revolutionaire Rosa Luxemburg, de van origine joods Poolse politica en filosofe, in haar analyse uit 1913 van de ‘incorporation of Asian and African peasantries into the late-nineteenth-century world market’ het volgende concludeerde:
Each new colonial expansion is accompanied, as a matter of course, by a relentless battle of capital against the social and economic ties of the natives, who are also forcibly robbed of their means of production and labour power. Any hope to restrict the accumulation of capital exclusively to ‘peaceful competition,’ that is to regular commodity exchange such as takes place between capitalist producer-countries, rests on the pious belief that capital… can rely upon the slow internal process of a disintegrating natural economy. Accumulation, with its spasmodic expansion, can no more wait for, and be content with, a natural internal disintegration of non-capitalist formations and their transition to commodity economy, than it can wait for, and be content with, the natural increase of the working population. Force is the only solution open to capital; the accumulation of capital, seen as an historical process, employs force as a permanent weapon.
Davis voegt hieraan toe:
The famines that Polanyi abstractly describes as rooted in commodity cycles and trade circuits were part of this permanent violence. ‘Millions die’ was ultimately a policy choice: to accomplish such decimations required (in Brecht’s sardonic phrase) ‘a brilliant way of organizing famine.’
Kort samengevat: Buruma’s onderscheid tussen ‘kolonialisme’ en ‘geweld’ bestaat niet. Sterker nog: ‘Geweld is de enige oplossing die het kapitaal ter beschikking staat; de accumulatie van kapitaal, gezien als een historisch proces, gebruikt geweld als een permanent wapen.’ Natuurlijk kunnen opportunisten als Ian Buruma dit nooit schrijven. Hun brandende ambitie laat het niet toe. Daarom blijft hem maar één ding over: de werkelijkheid te verzwijgen en/of te verdraaien. Bovendien speelt een ander aspect hierbij een rol: wat mij tijdens meer dan een halve eeuw journalistiek is opgevallen, is het feit dat mijn mainstream-collega’s zo weinig boeken lezen, ze hebben er domweg geen tijd voor, veelal omdat ze te druk zijn met het verspreiden van hun meninkjes, en al hun nevenactiviteiten. De keren dat ik met Ian Buruma sprak, merkte ik hoe weinig hij wist van zaken waarover hij een mening verspreidde. Net als mijn oude vriend Geert Mak, die zich eveneens over van alles en nog wat uitspreekt, is Buruma’s kennis regelmatig flinterdun, half verteerd, en alles behalve doorleefd. Voordat hij met expliciete uitspraken over ‘het kolonialisme’ kwam, had hij er beter aan gedaan Mike Davis’ gedegen werk te lezen, en als hij geen tijd had om diens boek te bestuderen, had hij in elk geval bijvoorbeeld Monbiot’s bespreking in The Guardian van 27 december 2005 kunnen lezen, die onder de kop ‘The Turks haven’t learned the British way of denying past atrocities’:
In his book Late Victorian Holocausts, published in 2001, Mike Davis tells the story of famines that killed between 12 and 29 million Indians. These people were, he demonstrates, murdered by British state policy. When an El Niño drought destituted the farmers of the Deccan plateau in 1876 there was a net surplus of rice and wheat in India. But the viceroy, Lord Lytton, insisted that nothing should prevent its export to England. In 1877 and 1878, at the height of the famine, grain merchants exported a record 6.4 million hundredweight of wheat. As the peasants began to starve, officials were ordered ‘to discourage relief works in every possible way.’ The Anti-Charitable Contributions Act of 1877 prohibited ‘at the pain of imprisonment private relief donations that potentially interfered with the market fixing of grain prices.’ The only relief permitted in most districts was hard labour, from which anyone in an advanced state of starvation was turned away. In the labour camps, the workers were given less food than inmates of Buchenwald. In 1877, monthly mortality in the camps equated to an annual death rate of 94%.
As millions died, the imperial government launched ‘a militarized campaign to collect the tax arrears accumulated during the drought.’ The money, which ruined those who might otherwise have survived the famine, was used by Lytton to fund his war in Afghanistan. Even in places that had produced a crop surplus, the government’s export policies, like Stalin’s in Ukraine, manufactured hunger. In the north-western provinces, Oud and the Punjab, which had brought in record harvests in the preceding three years, at least 1.25 million died.
Three recent books — Britain’s Gulag by Caroline Elkins, Histories of the Hanged by David Anderson, and Web of Deceit by Mark Curtis — show how white settlers and British troops suppressed the Mau Mau revolt in Kenya in the 1950s. Thrown off their best land and deprived of political rights, the Kikuyu started to organise — some of them violently —against colonial rule. The British responded by driving up to 320,000 of them into concentration camps. Most of the remainder — more than a million — were held in ‘enclosed villages.’ Prisoners were questioned with the help of ‘slicing off ears, boring holes in eardrums, flogging until death, pouring paraffin over suspects who were then set alight, and burning eardrums with lit cigarettes.’ British soldiers used a ‘metal castrating instrument’ to cut off testicles and fingers. ‘By the time I cut his balls off,’ one settler boasted, ‘he had no ears, and his eyeball, the right one, I think, was hanging out of its socket.’ The soldiers were told they could shoot anyone they liked ‘provided they were black.’ Elkins’s evidence suggests that more than 100,000 Kikuyu were either killed or died of disease and starvation in the camps. David Anderson documents the hanging of 1,090 suspected rebels: far more than the French executed in Algeria. Thousands more were summarily executed by soldiers, who claimed they had ‘failed to halt’ when challenged.
Omdat Buruma goochem genoeg is te beseffen dat hij tegenover Pankaj Mishra niet weg komt met het botweg beweren dat het kolonialisme van het ‘rationalistische’ en daarmee superieure Westen zaligmakend is geweest voor gekleurde volkeren beweert hij dat ‘the way a lot of western ideas were imposed on the non-western world through colonialism and sometimes through violence, was not rationalist so much. It also had much to do with christianity, with it’s missionary spirit, the idea we owe it to the world that we liberate them, save their souls, and bring them into the bosom of the church.’ Dus ‘niet zozeer het rationalisme’ maar toch vooral ‘het christendom’ was verantwoordelijk geweest voor de wijze waarop ‘western ideas were imposed.’ Opnieuw blijkt hoe weinig Ian Buruma op de hoogte is van de kritische beschouwingen van zowel westerse als niet-westerse intellectuelen, analyses die al meer dan een halve eeuw intensief worden bediscussieerd. Zo schreef de gerenommeerde Britse filosoof en veel gelezen auteur John Gray in zijn essaybundel The Silence of Animals. On Progress And Other Modern Myths (2013):
the idea of progress is not at odds with religion in the way this modern fairy tale suggests. Faith in progress is a late survival of early Christianity, originating in the message of Jesus, a dissident Jewish prophet who announced the end of time. For the ancient Egyptians as for the ancient Greeks, there was nothing new under the sun. Human history belongs in the cycles of the natural world. The same is true in Hinduism and Buddhism, Daoism and Shinto, and the older parts of the Hebrew Bible. By creating the expectation of a radical alteration in human affairs, Christianity — the religion that St Paul invented from Jesus’ life and sayings — founded the modern world… Many transmutations were needed before the Christian story could renew itself as the myth of progress. But from being a succession of cycles like the seasons, history came to be seen as a story of redemption and salvation, and in modern times salvation became identified with the increase of knowledge and power – the myth that took Kayerts and Carlier (protagonisten in Conrad’s korte verhaal ‘An Outpost of Progress’ 1897. svh) to the Congo.
When Conrad used his experiences of the Congo in Heart of Darkness (1899), he was not telling a story of barbarism in faraway places. The narrator tells the tale on a yacht moored in the Thames estuary: barbarism is not a primitive form of life, Conrad is intimating, but a pathological development of civilization.
Gray’s beschrijving voert hem tenslotte tot de conclusie dat
[t]he myth of progress casts a glimmer of meaning into the lives of those who accept it. Kayerts, Carlier and many like them did nothing that could be described as significant. But their faith in progress allowed their petty schemes to seem part of a grand design, while their miserable deaths achieved a kind of exemplary futility their lives had not possessed.
Wanneer Ian Buruma meer dan een eeuw na het verschijnen van An Outpost of Progress nog steeds hetVooruitgangsgeloof van de Verlichting blind verdedigt dan is voor de geïnformeerde luisteraar, televisiekijker, dan wel lezer duidelijk dat ook Buruma’s ‘faith in progress’ een poging is om zijn ‘petty schemes’ de schijn te geven onderdeel te zijn van ‘a grand design,’ te weten, in het hedendaagse politieke patois ‘our duty to bring human rights to the rest of the world,’ waaraan mijn oude vriend de retorische opmerking toevoegde: ‘do we really want to say that trying to improve human rights in countries were they are very weak is wrong, simply because it is often financed by western organization’s or argued by western thinkers?’ Hier wordt lucht verplaatst, propaganda bedreven, worden knollen voor citroenen verkocht. Waarom doet Buruma dit in gesprek met een denker van formaat als Pankaj Mishra? Het antwoord is dat hij niet anders kan. Zoals John Gray terecht stelt is
the myth of progress extremely potent. When it loses its power those who have lived by it are — as Conrad put it, describing Kayerts and Carlier — ‘like those lifelong prisoners who, liberated after many years, do not know what use to make of their freedoms.’ When faith in the future is taken from them, so is the image they have of themselves. If they opt for death, it is because without that faith they can no longer make sense of living.
Buruma heeft alles op één kaart gezet. Wanneer hij zijn geloof in het Vooruitgangsreligie verliest, verliest hij ook zichzelf en moet hij op zoek naar een nieuwe identiteit. Tot welke desillusie dit kan leiden, zag ik tijdens de val van de Sovjet Unie toen ik een maand lang in Moskou Russische intellectuelen interviewde voor een serie televisieprogramma’s. Voor Russische auteurs, toneelschrijvers, wetenschappers, economen was de ineenstorting van het rijk een verwoestende ervaring, zij waren elk houvast kwijtgeraakt, want hoewel zij niet werkelijk in het reëel bestaande ‘communisme’ hadden geloofd, bezaten ze tegelijkertijd ook geen levensvatbaar alternatief. Zij waren namelijk te hoog geschoold en te goed geïnformeerd om kritiekloos in het westerse consumptiemodel te kunnen geloven. Net zo vernietigend zal de ineenstorting van de westerse consumptiecultuur zijn voor de Buruma’s, die hun ziel aan het systeem hebben verkocht. Zoals Gray stelt:
The idea that imperialism could be a force for human advance has long since fallen into disrepute. But the faith that was once attached to empire has not been renounced. Instead it has spread everywhere. Even those who nominally follow more traditional creeds rely on a belief in the future for their mental composure. History may be a succession of absurdities, tragedies and crimes; but — everyone insists — the future can still be better than anything in the past. To give up this hope would induce a state of despair like that which unhinged Kayerts.
Among the many benefits of faith in progress the most important may be that it prevents too much self-knowledge. When Kayerts and his companion ventured into the Congo the aliens they met were not the indigenous inhabitants but themselves.
‘They lived like blind men in a large room, aware only of what came in contact with them (and of that only imperfectly), but unable to see the general aspect of things. The river, the forest, all the great land throbbing with life, were like a great emptiness. Things appeared and disappeared before their eyes in an unconnected and aimless kind of way. The river flowed through a void. Out of that void, at times, came canoes, and men with spears in their hands would suddenly crowd the yard of the station.’
They cannot endure the silence into which they have come: ‘stretching away in all directions, surrounding the insignificant cleared spot of the trading post, immense forests, hiding fateful complications of fantastic life, lay in the eloquent silence of mute greatness.’ The sense of the progression of time, which hey had brought with them, begins to fall away. As Conrad writes towards the end of the story, ‘Those fellows, having engaged themselves to the Company for six months (without having any idea of a month particular and only a very faint notion of time in general), had been serving the cause of progress tor upwards of two years.’ Removed from their habits Kayerts and Carlier lose the abilities that are needed to go on living. ‘Society, not from any tenderness, but because of its strange needs, had taken care of those two men, forbidding them all independent thought, all initiative, all departure from routine; and forbidding it under pain of death. They could live only on condition of being machines.’
The machine-like condition of modern humans may seem a limitation. In fact it is a condition of their survival. Kayerts and Carlier were able to function as individuals only because they had been shaped by society down to their innermost being. They were:
‘two perfectly insignificant and incapable individuals, whose existence is only rendered possible through the high organization of civilized crowds. Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought belongs not to the individual but to the crowd: to the crowd that believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and of its morals, in the power of the police and of its opinion.’
When they stepped outside of their normal surroundings, the two men were powerless to act. More than that: they ceased to exist.
For those who live inside a myth, it seems a self-evident fact. Human progress is a fact of this Kind. If you accept it you have a place in the grand march of humanity. Humankind is, of course, not marching anywhere. ‘Humanity’ is a fiction composed from billions of individuals for each of whom life is singular and final.
Maar omdat de ‘myth of progress’ zo ‘extremely potent’ is, aangezien na de ‘dood van God’ niks anders overbleef dan de verlossing via de materie, blijft een opiniemaker als Ian Buruma niets anders over dan in die mythe te blijven geloven. Het is tevens het belangrijkste verklaring voor zijn absurde houding en opvattingen. Alleen als men gelooft in het Vooruitgangsgeloof ‘you have a place in the grand march of humanity.’ Het heeft mij geruime tijd gekost voordat dit feit werkelijk tot mij doordrong, tot ik besefte wat Conrad al meer dan een eeuw geleden ibesefte, namelijk dat bijvoorbeeld Ian Buruma’s ‘existence is only rendered possible through the high organization of civilized crowds,’ en dat hij echt in al die onwaarheden gelooft, omdat hij anders in een existentiële leegte stort. In feite is hier sprake van een pathologie, die een ernstige bedreiging vormt voor het voortbestaan van de mens als soort. Het huidige bestaan is alleen mogelijk door de kadaverdiscipline van allereerst de opinies verspreidende kaste. Dit is dan ook de belangrijkste reden waarom dissidenten door de ‘vrije pers’ zo intens gehaat worden. Bijna een eeuw geleden verklaarde in verband hiermee Walter Lippmann, destijds de belangrijkste woordvoerder van het establishment:
the troubles of the press, like the troubles of representative government, be it territorial or functional, like the troubles of industry, be it capitalist, cooperative, or communist, go back to a common source: to the failure of self-governing people to transcend their casual experience and their prejudice, by inventing, creating, and organizing a machinery of knowledge. It is because they are compelled to act without a reliable picture of the world, that governments, schools, newspapers and churches make such small headway against the more obvious failings of democracy, against violent prejudice, apathy, preference for the curious trivial as against the dull important, and the hunger for sideshows and three legged calves. This is the primary defect of popular government, a defect inherent in its traditions, and all its other defects can, I believe, be traced to this one.
En zo kan professor Ian Buruma, hoofdredacteur van The York Review of Books, in alle ernst volhouden dat de wereldbevolking zich zal moeten voorbereiden op een tijd, waarin zij zich ‘the American Empire with fond nostalgia’ zal herinneren, of, om een ander voorbeeld te geven, dat het Westen er naar streeft ‘to improve human rights in countries were they are very weak.’ De gerespecteerde Britse auteur Martin Jacques had gelijk in zijn kritiek op Buruma’s en Margalit’s boek Occidentalism. A Short History of Anti-Westernism (2004) toen hij in The Guardian schreef dat
[i]t is impossible to understand anti-western resentment purely in terms of ideas: rather it is the interplay of the ideas and the power-relationship between west and non-west that is crucial. But Buruma and Margalit eschew (schuwen. svh) any attempt to analyse this power-relationship,
om op die manier door te kunnen gaan met het verspreiden van ‘a Manichaean view where the world consisted of good and evil, and the west enjoyed a monopoly of the former.’
En aldus zijn ‘we’ terug bij het ‘gesprek’ van Ian Buruma en Pankaj Mishra. De Indiase essayist en ‘novelist’ beantwoordde Buruma’s demagogische betoog met de volgende uiteenzetting:
The way I have talked about this particular movement of ideas is to set it right in it’s place, which is to basically say: look, these were children of their time (de achttiende eeuwse Verlichtingsideologen. svh), they were members of an ambitious class that was trying to find a space for themselves. They offered various idea’s of liberation, emancipation, but those ideas were nog meant for people outside their class, they were nog meant for the masses, they did not talk about democracy. So this link which is constantly made between democracy and enlightenment is a very flawed (incorrecte. svh) one. These were people who were trying to create some space for themselves, while they were fighting against corrupt clerical authority, fighting against the monarchy and the aristocracy, and they were essentially interested in expanding their power. Of course reason had to play a great role in this. They had to deploy individual reason because they were pushing back the authority of the church. So this happened in the late eighteenth century, people offering universalist solutions, universalist ideas and an anthropological vision of the individual as someone who is guided by self-love, self-interest, who of course uses reason to discover because science can help human beings to move forward, etcetera. Now, the problem is that there are no true lines running through all this. That is why I don’t go into the business of defining the Enlightenment. I am looking at the individuals, I am looking at their alliances. What are the alliances they are making? Voltaire is a friend of the despot of the day, he wants an Enlightenment imposed through the barrel of a gun, that is why he supports Catherine the Great. He has no time for black people, he thinks that they have fewer ideas than animals. We know what he said about the jews (‘the most abominable people in the world.’ svh). So, why does one construct this sort of cult of the Enlightenment? Why is it that these ideas are held to be truly so universal, that we should be worshipping these people, rather than taking them as people of their time, who had certain ideas, some good, some bad? Let us see for instance what happened in the nineteenth century. Well, what happened in the nineteenth century was not anticipated, could not have been anticipated by any of these people. What I am pushing back against is this notion that these Enlightenment-people, with their critical ideas and their particular alliances, settled this proces of progress. It overvalues these figures, these network-elites, their ideas of world-improvement and massive social re-engineering which they were happy to pursue through despots. So, the alliance we see today, and deplore, between neoconservatives, neoliberals and powerful people — intellectuals — is something that was already anticipated back in the eighteenth century by the alliance between Enlightenment-intellectuals and various despots.
Buruma, die onmiddellijk begreep dat zijn eigen ‘alliance’ met de gevestigde orde verdacht veel lijkt op het‘bondgenootschap’ van bijvoorbeeld Voltaire met de toenmalige ‘powers that be,’ trachtte met een irrelevante opmerking de aandacht af te leiden, hetgeen zijn ‘gesprekspartner’ de gelegenheid bood zijn onderwerp nog eens kort samen te vatten:
The problem is that the rhetoric of universalism always has exclusion built into it. So they are formulating universal ideas, but what does it mean to exclude jews, what does it mean to exclude blacks from even considering them human? What kind of universalism is this what you are talking about? Slave-owners in America talking about liberty. What kind of liberty is this? What I am trying to say is that the universalist ideas, proposed by a minority, came from self-serving people basically, what else could they be at that time. But why do ‘we’ insist on thinking of these people as great figures that ‘we’ constantly have to be looking up to? So, what is this full rhetoric of universal reason, when we know that while they were talking about universalism they had no time for women, they had no time for blacks, they had no time for native Americans, and were constructing these hierarchies?
Omdat Buruma kennelijk nog steeds geen antwoord paraat had, begon hij onwaarheden te verkondigen. Hij verklaarde: ‘I totally agree there is in the American history a deep contradiction between on the one hand Jefferson, promoting Enlightenment ideas, and’ anderzijds ‘the system of slavery.’ Dit is nonsens. Het punt is namelijk dat Thomas Jefferson, legendarisch vanwege zijn overtuiging dat ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,’ zoals hij het in de Amerikaanse Onafhankelijkheidsverklaring (1776) verwoordde, tegelijkertijd een slaven-eigenaar was. Wat Buruma tevens verzweeg is dat Jefferson in één van de concepten van die Onafhankelijkheidsverklaring aan de lijst van schendingen die de Britse koning George had begaan het feit toevoegde dat
he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating it’s most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. This piratical warfare, the opprobrium (schanddaad. svh) of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
Ik blijf wat uitgebreider stilstaan bij Buruma’s valse voorstelling van zaken met betrekking tot Thomas Jefferson, omdat het verschil tussen mythe en werkelijkheid bij hem zo groot is. Zo verwees de inmiddels overleden Amerikaanse historicus Richard Drinnon naar het ‘brilliantly iconoclastic’ portret van Jefferson and Civil Liberties uit 1963, waarin de Amerikaanse historicus en Pulitzer Prijs-winnaar, wijlen, professor Leonard W. Levy beschreef hoe Jefferson als
ideologue of freedom came out for dictatorship in times of crisis, supported loyalty oaths, favored prosecution — at the state level — for ‘seditious’ libel, accepted concentration camps for the politically unreliable, adopted censorship, and indulged in other authoritarian acts that led Levy to find ‘a strong pattern of un-libertarian, even anti-libertarian thought and behavior extending throughout Jefferson’s long career.’
Op zijn beurt merkt Drinnon in zijn boek Facing West. The Metaphysics of Indian-Hating and Empire Building (1997) over Jefferson’s diepgeworteld racisme op dat
in Notes on the State of Virginia (Paris, 1785) he tried to extricate himself by depicting blacks as creatures of the body and sensation rather than of the mind and reflection, and doubted their fitness for freedom; but he disguised this ‘anti-negro diatribe’ by casting it as a scientific hypothesis…
Jefferson, die bij zijn slavin, Sarah ‘Sally’ Hemings, zes kinderen verwekte, was een rijke aristocraat uit Virginia met een
great personal aversion to miscegenation, or, as he put it, ‘to the mixture of color here.’
Om te voorkomen dat er ‘rassenvermenging’ zou ontstaan en
stain ‘the blood of the master,’ the great revolutionary proposed to rid the country of them all, those previously freed and those newly emancipated: through ‘expatriation’ to Afrika or the West Indies — he wavered on ‘the most desirable receptacle’ — the problem would disappear with the last shipload,
aldus Jefferson, die, volgens bestseller-auteur Geert Mak, ‘alle soevereiniteit bij het volk’ wilde leggen. Ook Jefferson’s standpunt ten aanzien van Indianen is veelzeggend. De oorspronkelijke bewoners van Amerika, van wie hij en de zijnen het land stal, mochten van Jefferson blijven op voorwaarde dat
they should give up the chase, dispose of lands needed only for hunting, become tawny yeomen farmers, and intermix with the white population.
Op 3 november 1802, Jefferson was inmiddels de derde president van de VS geworden, schreef hij aan Handsome Lake — die door de Seneca-indianen als een groot profeet werd vereerd — dat diens angst voor het verlies van nog meer land aan de blanken volkomen ongegrond was. Jefferson:
You remind me, brother, of what I said to you when you visited me the last winter, that the lands you then held would remain yours, and shall never go from you but when you should be disposed to sell. This I now repeat and will ever abide by.
Nog geen twee maanden na Jefferson’s geruststellende woorden:
a working paper ‘Hints on the Subject of Indian Boundaries’ contained Jefferson’s covert suggestions for extinguishing titles to lands they refused to sell; the following month a confidential message shared his disingenuous hints with Congress — minus some awkward details — on how to undermine Indian leaders who persisted ‘obstinately in these dispositions.’ Though duty required him to submit his views to the legislature, he warned that, ‘as their disclosure might embarrass and defeat their effect, they are committed to the special confidence of the two houses.’ Therewith he secretly launched a systematic campaign of psychological warfare against the tribes… it entrapped their leading men into running up debts at government trading posts so they would have to sell their lands to pay… Jefferson’s letters to lieutenants in the field filled in the details,
aldus opnieuw de historicus Richard Drinnon, die hieraan toevoegde:
Jefferson’s letter to Governor William Henry Harrison of the Indiana Territory revealed most candidly how the trap should be sprung, leaving the Indians dependent on the market economy and relieved of their extensive forests:
‘To promote this disposition to exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, which we have to spare and they want, we shall push our trading uses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off (afhakken. svh)by a cession of lands.’
Hoe verhoudt deze werkelijkheid zich tot Ian Buruma’s bewering dat ‘there is in the American history a deep contradiction’ tussen enerzijds ‘Jefferson, promoting Enlightenment ideas,’ en anderzijds ‘the system of slavery’? Het antwoord is: opiniemaker Buruma verspreidt hier opnieuw een leugen om zijn beeld te kunnen verdedigen dat, ‘we’ te maken hebben met een ‘betrekkelijk goedaardig imperialisme uit Washington.’ Een imperialisme dat, aldus Buruma, gevoed werd door de idealen van de ‘Verlichting,’ of zoals de eveneens in de polder zo geprezen Geert Mak het stelde: ‘de Verlichting is bedacht in Europa, maar Amerika heeft het uitgevoerd, als real life experiment.’ Daarentegen benadrukte in 2003 de Amerikaanse hoogleraar Politieke Wetenschappen Stephen Shalom tegenover mij de continuïteit van het wijd verspreide Amerikaanse geweld en racisme. In zijn boek Imperial Alibis: Rationalizing U.S. Intervention After the Cold War (1993) verwoordde hij dit als volgt:
Racism was one of the key founding principles of the United States. The Puritans exterminated Pequot Indians, hoping, in the Puritans’ words to ‘cut off the Remembrance of them from the earth.’ To George Washington, Indians and wolves were both ‘beasts of prey, tho’ they differ in shape.’ In the Declaration of Independence, one of the indictments against King George was that he had inflicted on the colonists ‘the merciless Indian savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions’ — a rather accurate characterization of the rules of warfare employed against the Native Americans. Repeatedly, in the Indian wars that raged across the continent, U.S. soldiers would proclaim as they massacred infants, ‘Kill the nits, and you’ll have no lice.’ ‘We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux,’ wrote General Sherman in 1866, ‘even to their extermination, men, women and children.’ […] How did this jibe with everyone being created equal? As Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell explained, Jefferson’s doctrine applied ‘only to our own race, and to those people whom we can assimilate rapidly.’ Indians ‘are not men, within the meaning of the theory’ that all men are created equal.
Racism against Africans was another fundamental building block of American ideology. Deemed to be sub-human, they were subjected to a barbaric and brutal system of slavery. Lincoln was willing to accept slavery so long as the union could be preserved; and when the Civil War drove him to abolish slavery he did not change his belief in black inferiority. When the South introduced Jim Crow laws to maintain the descendants of slaves as second-class citizens, the northern elite went along. Even after World War II, President Harry Truman was referring to blacks as ‘niggers.’ Derogatory references to blacks were standard fare for President Nixon and the senior officials of his administration. ‘I wonder what your dining room is going to smell like,’ Kissinger chortled to Senator Fulbright, regarding a dinner for African diplomats.
With racist views deeply embedded in the minds of U. S. policy-makers and rooted in domestic structures of domination and subordination, it is not surprising that these views have influenced the way in which Washington looked at and acted in the world outside.
The presence of a few non-whites in policymaking circles is not likely to change the nature of U.S. foreign policy very much; to attain positions of power, these individuals would have to show substantial conformity to the prevailing values of the elite. A substantial racial diversity among policy-makers, on the other hand, would likely make racism a less significant factor in the way Washington deals with the world. But such an occurrence is by no means imminent, and will not come to pass as long as racial inequality remains a fundamental characteristic of the U.S. domestic — landscape. Until this time, racism will continue to be an important factor in U.S. foreign policy.
Hoe duidelijk het ‘racisme’ in de praktijk ‘een belangrijke factor’ bleef in de ‘Amerikaanse politiek,’bleek uit acht jaar Obama. De eerste zwarte president van de VS was tevens de eerste president in de geschiedenis van de VS, die zijn hele ambtstermijn lang oorlog voerde, waarbij de wrange ironie is dat alleen gekleurde volkeren werden gebombardeerd. Buruma’s onderscheid tussen rationalisme en religie is apert onjuist, zoals Pankaj Mishra in zijn boek Age of Anger. A History Of The Present uitvoerig en geloofwaardig aantoont en als volgt omschreef:
This rationalism of the French Enlightenment, defined in opposition to the irrational inequalities of the old hierarchical and religious order, was often aggressively self-serving, not to mention imperialistic; it was meant primarily to benefit a rising class of educated and ambitious men, who were eventually, as the cultural historian Robert Darnton wrote, ‘pensioned, petted (gekoesterd. svh), and completely integrated in high society.’ Joining the posh elites was no contradiction on the part of the commoners. After all, the English-style commercial society they evangelized for was premised on mimesis, or what the French critic Rene Girard called ‘appropriative mimicry’ (keurig aangepast aan de mores van het ancien regime. svh): desiring objects because the desires of others tell us that they are something to be desired.
Net zoals eind achttiende eeuw de naar macht hunkerende bourgeoisie de normen en waarden van de oude elite overnam, zo internaliseerde Ian Buruma de conventies en praktijken van de huidige neoliberale en neoconservatieve elite in Washington en Brussel. Dat maakte de kritiek van Pankaj Mishra impliciet én expliciet duidelijk. In dit opzicht is er niets veranderd. Later meer.
Truman literally learned at his mother’s knee to share the South’s view of the War Between the States. He grew up detesting the meddlesome abolitionists, decried the racial experimentation of Reconstruction, and sneered at Thaddeus Stevens, that ‘crippled moron.’ He also acquired an abiding belief in white supremacy. In 1911, when he was twenty-seven, he wrote Bess Wallace: ‘I think one man is just as good as another so long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman. Uncle Will says that the Lord made a white man from dust, a nigger from mud, then He threw up what was left and it came down a Chinaman. He does hate Chinese and Japs. So do I. It is race prejudice I guess. But I am strongly of the opinion that negros [ sic ] ought to be in Africa, yellow men in Asia and white men in Europe and America.’
More than a quarter of a century later, in a letter home to his daughter about dining at the White House when he was a U.S. senator, he described the waiters, who he thought were ‘evidently the top of the black social set in Washington,’ as ‘an army of coons,’ and in a letter to his wife in 1939, he referred to ‘nigger picnic day.’