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Otherness and a war

This history and contemporary realities shine a light on the notion of “Western values.” It is not nearly as odious as Gobineau’s race classifications or the philosophies of Nazism and apartheid. It is only an echo of these, but a very powerful one. Its use is ubiquitous because it is a handy and seemingly innocuous distinction. But it isn’t.

For one thing, it sometimes leads to avoidably grave misjudgments. The rhetoric that presaged the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 is an example. Just before and months after the invasion, various polls (Gallop, CNN/USA Today) showed that nearly 80 percent of Americans supported the invasion. That was testimony to the power of casting others as sinister and untrustworthy. And as Frank Rich of the New York Times narrates in The Greatest Story Ever Sold,19 the most tenuous evidence is all that was necessary.

According to the pre-invasion rhetoric and related press coverage, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was a monster. He was Saddam the madman. And this madman had developed weapons of mass destruction that he wouldn’t hesitate to use against his people, Iraq’s neighbors, and subsequently the world. In any case, brutality and violence are integral to the Arab culture. So, the only language Saddam would understand was force. Thus justified, the invasion followed.

As it turned out, Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction. He hardly had any weapons at all, as most of them were destroyed during the Kuwait war. And he had no link to the “September 11” attacks. The invasion turned Iraq from a country under despotic rule to one in violent upheaval. A Sunni insurgency wreaked havoc on Iraqis and U.S. troops alike. In due course, the insurgency morphed into the Islamic State, readily the most blood-thirsty of the terrorist groups. In a sense, the narrative of otherness thus became self-fulling.

It is such realities that lead Appiah to declare that “we are living with the legacies of ways of thinking that took their modern shape in nineteenth century, and that it is high time to subject them to the best thinking of the twenty-first.”20

Notes

  • 1 Vincent was quoted by the New York Times (June 14, 2015) in a story commemorating the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, http:// www.nytimes.com/2015/06/15/world/europe/magna-carta-still-posing-a-challenge-at-800.html?_r=0.
  • 2 Brian M. Fagan, Clash of Cultures (New York: W. H. Freeman and Company, 1984), 2.
  • 3 Umberto Eco, Serendipities: Language and Lunacy, trans. William Weaver (San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1998), 55.
  • 4 Fagan, Clash of Cultures, 5.
  • 5 Fagan, Clash of Culture, 5.
  • 6 David Spurr, The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel if riling, and Imperial Administration (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 65.
  • 7 Fagan, Clash of Cultures, 89.
  • 8 Chinweizu, The West and the Rest of Us: White Predators, Black Slavers, and the African Elite (New York: Vintage Books, 1975); Edward Berenson, Heroes of Empire: Five Charismatic Men and Their Conquest of Africa (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011).
  • 9 Berenson, Heroes of Empire, 171.
  • 10 Berenson, Heroes of Empire, 125.
  • 11 Henry M. Stanley, Through the Dark Continent, Vols. 1 & 2 (New York: Dover Publications, 1988).
  • 12 Henry M. Stanley, Through the Dark Continent, Vol. 2 (New York: Dover Publications, 1988), 33.
  • 13 Stanley, Through the Dark Continent, Vol. 2, 202.
  • 14 Berenson, Heroes of Empire, 37.
  • 15 Adam Hochschild, King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror and Heroism in Colonial Africa (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1998).
  • 16 Chinweizu, The West and the Rest of Us.
  • 17 See, for example, Appiah, The Lies That Bind.
  • 18 Quoted by Rosie Gray in an article on “An Intellectual Strain of Trump-ism,” in Buzzfeed, July 19, 2019. https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/ rosiegray/national-conservatism-trump.
  • 19 Rich, Frank, The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth in Bush’s America (New York: Penguin Press, 2006).
  • 20 Appiah, Lies That Bind, xiv.
 
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