La imaginación de la historia

Basic Algebra Review

Basic Algebra Review

La imaginación de la historia

El inicio del siglo XXI se parece mucho al final del siglo XI. Por entonces, Europa, la periferia del desarrollo mundial, inició un lento y sistemático ataque militar y religioso al centro del imperio del momento, el imperio árabe o musulmán. Cuando hoy Occidente mira hacia el siglo XI, casi por norma olvida o no puede sacudirse la percepción en la que hemos vivido siempre: el mundo occidental como centro de la cultura, la civilización y el desarrollo económico, y la periferia africana y asiática como el mundo bárbaro y fanatizado por el proselitismo religioso.

La verdad es estrictamente la contraria. Durante la Edad Media y hasta comienzos del Renacimiento, Roma y las principales ciudades europeas, con excepción de la deliberadamente olvidada Córdoba en España, eran lo que hoy son, comparativamente, Damasco o Bagdad. Incluso menos, porque por entonces Londres y Paris eran ciudades más bien caóticas, de apenas quince mil habitantes una y cuarenta mil la otra, desarticuladas y más bien sucias. Incluso Tenochtitlán (México) era una urbe más grande, más desarrollada y mejor planificada que las principales capitales de Europa. Sólo la multicultural y vibrante Córdoba, uno de los principales centros de la civilización del mundo, tenía más de medio millón de habitantes en el siglo XI y unos siglos después de las sucesivas limpiezas étnicas había sido reducida a unas pocas decenas de miles.

Cuando la España de Fernando e Isabel y sus sucesores termina de expulsar a los judíos y moros de la península (Hispania, Spania o Al Ándalus), las ciudades y capitales vencedoras lucían bastante primitivas en comparación a Córdoba o a la Alhambra. La imaginación histórica (no muy diferente a la imaginación narrativa) tiende a identificar aquellas urbes vencedoras con las más contemporáneas Madrid, Sevilla o Londres, no en las imágenes urbanas actuales sino en los mapas dibujados por dicotomías como centro-periferia, civilización-barbarie, ciencia-mitología, razón-fuerza, tolerancia-fanatismo, etc.

Por supuesto que la triste yihad, aunque es una palabra árabe, tampoco fue un invento árabe. Las matanzas por mandato de algún dios colérico o lleno de amor y misericordia son milenarias; las usaron los mahometanos que expandieron el imperio y sirvió para promover y justificar las brutales Cruzadas cristianas contra los pueblos surorientales y contra el centro político, religioso y cultural de la época. Los “cara pálidas”, rubios de ojos claros eran el equivalente a lo que, siglos después y vistos desde un centro desplazado hacia occidente, serían los morenos de ojos negros: los bárbaros. De hecho la palabra bárbaro había surgido siglos antes, cuando el centro de la civilización era Grecia y Egipto: un bárbaro era un salvaje rubio, casi siempre germánico, violento, carente de cultura civilizada y con un idioma “balbuceante”, caótico. Al menos esa era la percepción desde el centro.

En el siglo XI estos bárbaros europeos que se dirigieron a África y Oriente en milicias desorganizadas primero y luego con ejércitos mejor financiados, se encontraban a una gran distancia cultural del centro: eran fanáticos religiosos que tenían sueños de guerras santas y esperaban en compensación el Paraíso. Analfabetos casi por unanimidad, desconocían la tolerancia, la diversidad de filosofía, la razón dialéctica y mucho más las ciencias. En el centro, en las principales urbes del imperio islámico, las New York y las Paris de entonces, las ciencias eran disciplinas comunes. Aunque hubo un esfuerzo de siglos por disimularlo, la memoria persiste, inadvertida, hasta en las palabras que usamos hoy, como algebra, algoritmo (del matemático persa Al-Juarismi, base de la informática moderna) astronomía, almanaque, nadir, zenit, química, alcohol, jarabe, albóndiga, alquiler, albañil, almacén, ojalá, almohada, alcalde, almirante, guitarra, ajedrez, aduana, ahorro, cheque, hasta los mismos números arábigos, etc. Seguramente ninguno sin una historia atrás que incluye a otros pueblos y culturas más antiguos.

Pero la ignorancia de que no sólo las religiones y la filosofía modernas se asientan en antiguas culturas de países hoy periféricos sino también la ciencia moderna, llevó a la prestigiosa periodista italiana, Oriana Fallaci, a afirmar: “Yo sigo viva, por ahora, gracias a nuestra ciencia, no a la de Mahoma. Una ciencia que ha cambiado la faz de este planeta con la electricidad, la radio, el teléfono, la televisión… Pues bien, hagamos ahora la pregunta fatal: y detrás de la otra cultura, ¿qué hay?” (2002). Esta es una idea común y extendida. Lo que demuestra, una vez más, que la historia se hace de memoria pero sobre todo de fatales olvidos.

Será gracias al inglés Adelardo de Bath y Roger Bacon que traficaron las nuevas ideas de África y Medio Oriente, que Europa comenzó a considerar que la razón y el empirismo, no la autoridad, podían ser instrumentos de la verdad. Lo más importante: instrumentos democráticos, ya que no eran propiedad que se heredaba como se heredaba la nobleza de sangre y la nobleza moral.

Pero la interpretación y representación de la historia está plagada de intereses, no sólo de los poderes dominantes de cada momento. En su momento, el imperio islámico se encargó de mostrar una imagen convenientemente negativa de los cristianos, como los imperios anglosajones emergentes hicieron con la leyenda negra española, parte real y parte exagerada. La representación histórica también está plagada de intereses conscientes e inconscientes de cada individuo. Algunos tienen una tendencia irremediable en acusar al otro y defender lo propio. Otros, tenemos una tendencia, igualmente irremediable, de poner el dedo en la llaga: en el Norte señalamos sus propios defectos; en el Sur somos críticos con aquello mismo que defendemos en el Norte. En Occidente señalamos los crímenes de Occidente; en Oriente le señalamos la basura que promueve el orgullo chauvinista de Oriente.

Claro que siempre es posible que lleguemos a un punto en que el diálogo es imposible. No se puede dialogar con convencidos chauvinistas, ultranacionalistas y disimulados racistas. Es más fácil dialogar con un orangután y llegar a un acuerdo. En estos casos es la fuerza la que resuelve el conflicto a favor de la justicia o de la injusticia. Porque la fuerza es ciega, no la justicia. Pero antes de llegar a este triste extremo siempre hay que buscar una alternativa. En términos personales siempre queda la opción del alejamiento y la serena indiferencia. Sobre todo para aquellos que no queremos ni podemos hacer uso de la fuerza.

La imaginación histórica es la segunda mayor fortaleza del chauvinismo. La primera, sigue siendo “el brazo armado de Dios” —no Dios, espero.

Jorge Majfud

Julio 2011

majfud.org

Jacksonville University

Milenio (Mexico)

La Republica (Uruguay)

The Slow Suicide of the West

Cover of "The Rage and the Pride: Interna...

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El lento suicidio de Occidente (Spanish)

The Slow Suicide of the West

Jorge Majfud

The West appears, suddenly, devoid of its greatest virtues, constructed century after century, preoccupied now only with reproducing its own defects and with copying the defects of others, such as authoritarianism and the preemptive persecution of innocents. Virtues like tolerance and self-criticism have never been a weakness, as some now pretend, but quite the opposite: it was because of them that progress, both ethical and material, were possible. Both the greatest hope and the greatest danger for the West can be found in its own heart. Those of us who hold neither “Rage” nor “Pride” for any race or culture feel nostalgia for times gone by, times that were never especially good, but were not so bad either.

Currently, some celebrities from back in the 20th century, demonstrating an irreversible decline into senility, have taken to propagating the famous ideology of the “clash of civilizations” – which was already plenty vulgar all by itself – basing their reasoning on their own conclusions, in the best style of classical theology. Such is the a priori and 19th century assertion that “Western culture is superior to all others.” And, if that were not enough, that it is a moral obligation to repeat it.

From this perspective of Western Superiority, the very famous Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci wrote, recently, brilliant observations such as the following: “If in some countries the women are so stupid as to accept the chador and even the veil, so much the worse for them. (…) And if their husbands are so idiotic as to not drink wine or beer, idem.” Wow, that is what I call intellectual rigor. “How disgusting!” – she continued writing, first in the Corriere della Sera and later in her best seller The Rage and the Pride (Rizzoli International, 2002), referring to the Africans who had urinated in a plaza in Italy – “They piss for a long time these sons of Allah! A race of hypocrites.” “Even if they were absolutely innocent, even if there were not one among them who wished to destroy the Tower of Pisa or the Tower of Giotto, nobody who wished to make me wear the chador, nobody who wished to burn me on the bonfires of a new Inquisition, their presence alarms me. It makes me uneasy.” Summing up: even if these blacks were completely innocent, their presence makes her uneasy anyway. For Fallaci, this is not racism; it is “cold, lucid, rational rage.” And, if that were not enough, she offers another ingenious observation with reference to immigrants in general: “And besides, there is something else I don’t understand. If they are really so poor, who gives them the money for the trip on the planes or boats that bring them to Italy? Might Osama bin Laden be paying their way, at least in part?” …Poor Galileo, poor Camus, poor Simone de Beauvoir, poor Michel Foucault.

Incidentally, we should remember that, even though the lady writes without understanding – she said it herself – these words ended up in a book that has sold a half million copies, a book with no shortage of reasoning and common sense, as when she asserts “I am an atheist, thank God.” Nor does it lack in historical curiosities like the following: “How does one accept polygamy and the principle that women should not allow photographs to be taken of them? Because this is also in the Q’uran,” which means that in the 7th century Arabs were extremely advanced in the area of optics. Nor is the book lacking in repeated doses of humor, as with these weighty arguments: “And, besides, let’s admit it: our cathedrals are more beautiful than the mosques and synagogues, yes or no? Protestant churches are also more beautiful.” As Atilio says, she has the Shine of Brigitte Bardot. As if what we really needed was to get wrapped up in a discussion of which is more beautiful, the Tower of Pisa or the Taj Mahal. And once again that European tolerance: “I am telling you that, precisely because it has been well defined for centuries, our cultural identity cannot support a wave of immigration composed of people who, in one form or another, want to change our way of life. Our values. I am telling you that among us there is no room for muezzins, for minarets, for false abstinence, for their screwed up medieval ways, for their damned chador. And if there were, I would not give it to them.” And finally, concluding with a warning to her editor: “I warn you: do not ask me for anything else ever again. Least of all that I participate in vain polemics. What I needed to say I have said. My rage and pride have demanded it of me.” Something which had already been clear to us from the beginning and, as it happens, denies us one of the basic elements of both democracy and tolerance, dating to ancient Greece: polemics and the right to respond – the competition of arguments instead of insults.

But I do not possess a name as famous as Fallaci – a fame well-deserved, we have no reason to doubt – and so I cannot settle for insults. Since I am native to an under-developed country and am not even as famous as Maradona, I have no other choice than to take recourse to the ancient custom of using arguments.

Let’s see. The very expression “Western culture” is just as mistaken as the terms “Eastern culture” or “Islamic culture,” because each one of them is made up of a diverse and often contradictory collection of other “cultures.” One need only think of the fact that within “Western culture” one can fit not only countries as different as the United States and Cuba, but also irreconcilable historical periods within the same geographic region, such as tiny Europe and the even tinier Germany, where Goethe and Adolf Hitler, Bach and the skin-heads, have all walked the earth. On the other hand, let’s not forget also that Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan (in the name of Christ and the White Race), Stalin (in the name of Reason and atheism), Pinochet (in the name of Democracy and Liberty), and Mussolini (in his own name), were typical recent products and representatives of the self-proclaimed “Western culture.” What is more Western than democracy and concentration camps? What could be more Western that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the dictatorships in Spain and Latin America, bloody and degenerate beyond the imagination? What is more Western than Christianity, which cured, saved and assassinated thanks to the Holy Office? What is more Western than the modern military academies or the ancient monasteries where the art of torture was taught, with the most refined sadism, and by the initiative of Pope Innocent IV and based on Roman Law? Or did Marco Polo bring all of that back from the Middle East? What could be more Western than the atomic bomb and the millions of dead and disappeared under the fascist, communist and, even, “democratic” regimes? What more Western than the military invasions and suppression of entire peoples under the so-called “preemptive bombings”?

All of this is the dark side of the West and there is no guarantee that we have escaped any of it, simply because we haven’t been able to communicate with our neighbors, who have been there for more than 1400 years, with the only difference that now the world has been globalized (the West has globalized it) and the neighbors possess the main source of energy that moves the world’s economy – at least for the moment – in addition to the same hatred and the same rencor as Oriana Fallaci. Let’s not forget that the Spanish Inquisition, more of a state-run affair than the others, originated from a hostility to the moors and jews and did not end with the Progress and Salvation of Spain but with the burning of thousands of human beings.

Nevertheless, the West also represents Democracy, Freedom, Human Rights and the struggle for women’s rights. At least the effort to attain them, and the most that humanity has achieved so far. And what has always been the basis of those four pillars, if not tolerance?

Fallaci would have us believe that “Western culture” is a unique and pure product, without the Other’s participation. But if anything characterizes the West, it has been precisely the opposite: we are the result of countless cultures, beginning with the Hebrew culture (to say nothing of Amenophis IV) and continuing through almost all the rest: through the Caldeans, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Hindus, the southern Africans, the northern Africans and the rest of the cultures that today are uniformly described as “Islamic.” Until recently, it would not have been necessary to remember that, while in Europe – in all of Europe – the Christian Church, in the name of Love, was persecuting, torturing and burning alive those who disagreed with the ecclesiastical authorities or committed the sin of engaging in some kind of research (or simply because they were single women, which is to say, witches), in the Islamic world the arts and sciences were being promoted, and not only those of the Islamic region but of the Chinese, Hindus, Jews and Greeks. And nor does this mean that butterflies flew and violins played everywhere. Between Baghdad and Córdoba the geographical distance was, at the time, almost astronomical.

But Oriana Fallacia not only denies the diverse and contradictory composition of any of the cultures in conflict, but also, in fact, refuses to acknowledge the Eastern counterpart as a culture at all. “It bothers me even to speak of two cultures,” she writes. And then she dispatches the matter with an incredible display of historical ignorance: “Placing them on the same level, as if they were parallel realities, of equal weight and equal measure. Because behind our civilization are Homer, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Phidias, among many others. There is ancient Greece with its Parthenon and its discovery of Democracy. There is ancient Rome with its grandeur, its laws and its conception of the Law. With its sculpture, its literature and its architecture. Its palaces and its amphitheaters, its aqueducts, its bridges and its roads.”

Is it really necessary to remind Fallaci that among all of that and all of us one finds the ancient Islamic Empire, without which everything would have burned – I am talking about the books and the people, not the Coliseum – thanks to centuries of ecclesiastical terrorism, quite European and quite Western? And with regard to the grandeur of Rome and “its conception of the Law” we will talk another day, because here there is indeed some black and white worth remembering. Let’s also set aside for the moment Islamic literature and architecture, which have nothing to envy in Fallaci’s Rome, as any half-way educated person knows.

Let’s see, and lastly? “Lastly – writes Fallaci – there is science. A science that has discovered many illnesses and cures them. I am alive today, for the time being, thanks to our science, not Mohammed’s. A science that has changed the face of this planet with electricity, the radio, the telephone, the television… Well then, let us ask now the fatal question: and behind the other culture, what is there?”

The fatal answer: behind our science one finds the Egyptians, the Caldeans, the Hindus, the Greeks, the Chinese, the Arabs, the Jews and the Africans. Or does Fallaci believe that everything arose through spontaneous generation in the last fifty years? She needs to be reminded that Pythagoras took his philosophy from Egypt and Caldea (Iraq) – including his famous mathematical formula, which we use not only in architecture but also in the proof of Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity – as did that other wise man and mathematician Thales. Both of them traveled through the Middle East with their minds more open than Fallaci’s when she made the trip. The hypothetical-deductive method – the basis for scientific epistemology – originated among Egyptian priests (start with Klimovsky, please), zero and the extraction of square roots, as well as innumerable mathematical and astronomical discoveries, which we teach today in grade school, were born in India and Iraq; the alphabet was invented by the Phoenicians (ancient Lebanese), who were also responsible for the first form of globalization known to the world. The zero was not an invention of the Arabs, but of the Hindus, but it was the former who brought it to the West. By contrast, the advanced Roman Empire not only was unfamiliar with zero – without which it would be impossible to imagine modern mathematics and space travel – but in fact possessed an unwieldy system of counting and calculation that endured until the late Middle Ages. Through to the early Renaissance there were still businessmen who used the Roman system, refusing to exchange it for Arabic numerals, due to racial and religious prejudices, resulting in all kinds of mathematical errors and social disputes. Meanwhile, perhaps it is better to not even mention that the birth of the Modern Era began with European cultural contact – after long centuries of religious repression – first with Islamic culture and then with Greek culture. Or did anyone think that the rationalism of the Scholastics was a consequence of the practice of torture in the holy dungeons? In the early 12th century, the Englishman Adelard of Bath undertook an extensive voyage of study through the south of Europe, Syria and Palestine. Upon returning from his trip, Adelard introduced into under-developed England a paradigm that even today is upheld by famous scientists like Stephen Hawking: God had created Nature in such a way that it could be studied and explained without His intervention. (Behold the other pillar of the sciences, rejected historically by the Roman Church.) Indeed, Adelard reproached the thinkers of his time for having allowed themselves to be enthralled by the prestige of the authorities – beginning with Aristotle, clearly. Because of them he made use of the slogan “reason against authority,” and insisted he be called “modernus.” “I have learned from my Arab teachers to take reason as a guide – he wrote – but you only adhere to what authority says.” A compatriot of Fallaci, Gerardo de Cremona, introduced to Europe the writings of the “Iraqi” astronomer and mathematician Al-Jwarizmi, inventor of algebra, of algorithms, of Arabic and decimal calculus; translated Ptolemy from the Arabic – since even the astronomical theory of an official Greek like Ptolemy could not be found in Christian Europe – as well as dozens of medical treatises, like those of Ibn Sina and Irani al-Razi, author of the first scientific treatise on smallpox and measles, for which today he might have been the object of some kind of persecution.

We could continue listing examples such as these, which the Italian journalist ignores, but that would require an entire book and is not the most important thing at the moment.

What is at stake today is not only protecting the West against the terrorists, home-grown and foreign, but – and perhaps above all – protecting the West from itself. The reproduction of any one of its most monstrous events would be enough to lose everything that has been attained to date with respect to Human Rights. Beginning with respect for diversity. And it is highly probable that such a thing could occur in the next ten years, if we do not react in time.

The seed is there and it only requires a little water. I have heard dozens of times the following expression: “the only good thing that Hitler did was kill all those Jews.” Nothing more and nothing less. And I have not heard it from the mouth of any Muslim – perhaps because I live in a country where they practically do not exist – nor even from anyone of Arab descent. I have heard it from neutral creoles and from people of European descent. Each time I hear it I need only respond in the following manner in order to silence my interlocutor: “What is your last name? Gutiérrez, Pauletti, Wilson, Marceau… Then, sir, you are not German, much less a pure Aryan. Which means that long before Hitler would have finished off the Jews he would have started by killing your grandparents and everyone else with a profile and skin color like yours.” We run the same risk today: if we set about persecuting Arabs or Muslims we will not only be proving that we have learned nothing, but we will also wind up persecuting those like them: Bedouins, North Africans, Gypsies, Southern Spaniards, Spanish Jews, Latin American Jews, Central Americans, Southern Mexicans, Northern Mormons, Hawaiians, Chinese, Hindus, and so on.

Not long ago another Italian, Umberto Eco, summed up a sage piece of advice thusly: “We are a plural civilization because we permit mosques to be built in our countries, and we cannot renounce them simply because in Kabul they throw Christian propagandists in jail […] We believe that our culture is mature because it knows how to tolerate diversity, and members of our culture who don’t tolerate it are barbarians.”

As Freud and Jung used to say, that act which nobody would desire to commit is never the object of a prohibition; and as Boudrillard said, rights are established when they have been lost. The Islamic terrorists have achieved what they wanted, twice over. The West appears, suddenly, devoid of its greatest virtues, constructed century after century, preoccupied now only with reproducing its own defects and with copying the defects of others, such as authoritarianism and the preemptive persecution of innocents. So much time imposing its culture on the other regions of the planet, to allow itself now to impose a morality that in its better moments was not even its own. Virtues like tolerance and self-criticism never represented its weakness, as some would now have it, but quite the opposite: only because of them was any kind of progress possible, whether ethical or material. Democracy and Science never developed out of the narcissistic reverence for its own culture but from critical opposition within it. And in this enterprise were engaged, until recently, not only the “damned intellectuals” but many activist and social resistance groups, like the bourgeoisie in the 18th century, the unions in the 20th century, investigative journalism until a short time ago, now replaced by propaganda in these miserable times of ours. Even the rapid destruction of privacy is another symptom of that moral colonization. Only instead of religious control we will be controlled by Military Security. The Big Brother who hears all and sees all will end up forcing upon us masks similar to those we see in the East, with the sole objective of not being recognized when we walk down the street or when we make love.

The struggle is not – nor should it be – between Easterners and Westerners; the struggle is between tolerance and imposition, between diversity and homogenization, between respect for the other and scorn and his annihilation. Writings like Fallaci’s The Rage and the Pride are not a defense of Western culture but a cunning attack, an insulting broadside against the best of what Western culture has to offer. Proof of this is that it would be sufficient to swap the word Eastern for Western, and a geographical locale or two, in order to recognize the position of a Taliban fanatic. Those of us who have neither Rage nor Pride for any particular race or culture are nostalgic for times gone by, which were never especially good or especially bad.

A few years ago I was in the United States and I saw there a beautiful mural in the United Nations building in New York, if I remember correctly, where men and women from distinct races and religions were visually represented – I think the composition was based on a somewhat arbitrary pyramid, but that is neither here nor there. Below, with gilded letters, one could read a commandment taught by Confucius in China and repeated for millennia by men and women throughout the East, until it came to constitute a Western principle: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In English it sounds musical, and even those who do not know the language sense that it refers to a certain reciprocity between oneself and others. I do not understand why we should scratch that commandment from our walls – founding principle for any democracy and for the rule of law, founding principle for the best dreams of the West – simply because others have suddenly forgotten it. Or they have exchanged it for an ancient biblical principle that Christ took it upon himself to abolish: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” Which at present translates as an inversion of the Confucian maxim, something like: do unto others everything that they have done to you – the well-known, endless story.

Translated by Bruce Campbell

Jorge Majfud,

Originally publish in La República, Montevideo, January 8, 2003

Nuestro idioma es mejor porque se entiende

Pasar Senen Mannequins

Image by moriza via Flickr

Intolérance en France : « Notre langue est meilleure parce qu’elle est comprise » (French)

Nuestro idioma es mejor porque se entiende

En Francia continúa y se profundiza la discusión y el rechazo al uso de la nicáb y la burca en las mujeres musulmanas. Quienes proponen legislar para prohibir el uso de este tipo de atuendo exótico y de poco valor estético para nosotros, van desde los tradicionales políticos de la extrema derecha europea hasta la una nueva izquierda alérgica, como es el caso del alcalde comunista de Vénissieux. Los argumentos no son tan diversos. Casi siempre insisten sobre los derechos de las mujeres y, sobre todo, la “defensa de nuestros valores” occidentales. El mismo presidente francés, Nicolás Sarkozy, dijo que “la burka no es bienvenida al territorio de la Republica Francesa”. Consecuente, el estado francés le negó la ciudadanía a una mujer marrueca por usar velo. Faiza Silmi es una inmigrante casada con un ciudadano francés y madre de dos niños franceses.

Para el ombligo del mundo, las mujeres medio vestidas de Occidente son más libres que las mujeres demasiado vestidas de Medio Oriente y más libres que las mujeres demasiado desnudas de África. No se aplica el axioma matemático de transitividad. Si la mujer es blanca y toma sol desnuda en el Sena es una mujer liberada. Si es negra y hace lo mismo en un arroyo sin nombre, es una mujer oprimida. Es el anacrónico axioma de que “nuestra lengua es mejor porque se entiende”. Lo que en materia de vestidos equivale a decir que las robóticas modelos que desfilan en las pasarelas son el súmmum de la liberación y el buen gusto.

Probablemente los países africanos, como suele ocurrir, sigan el ejemplo de la Europa vanguardista y comiencen a legislar más estrictamente sobre las costumbres ajenas en sus países. Así, las francesas y las americanas que ejerzan su derecho humano de residir en cualquier parte del mundo deberán despojarse de sus sutiens y de cualquier atuendo que impida ver sus senos, tal como es la costumbre y son los valores de muchas tribus africanas con las que he convivido.

Todas las sociedades tienen leyes que regulan el pudor según sus propias costumbres. El problema radica en el grado de imposición. Más si en nombre de la libertad de una sociedad abierta se impone la uniformidad negando una verdadera diferencia, quitando a unos el derecho que gozan otros.

Si vamos a prohibir el velo en una mujer, que además es parte de su propia cultura, ¿por qué no prohibir los kimonos japoneses, los sombreros tejanos, los labios pintados, los piercing, los tatuajes con cruces y calaveras de todo tipo? ¿Por qué no prohibir los atuendos que usan las monjas católicas y que bien pueden ser considerados un símbolo de la opresión femenina? Ninguna monja puede salir de su estado de obediencia para convertirse en sacerdote, obispo o Papa, lo cual para la ley de un estado secular es una abierta discriminación sexual. La iglesia Católica, como cualquier otra secta o religión, tiene derecho a organizar su institución como mejor le parezca, pero como nuestras sociedades no son teocracias, ninguna religión puede imponer sus reglas al resto de la sociedad ni tener privilegios sobre alguna otra. Razón por la cual no podemos prohibir a ninguna monja el uso de sus hábitos, aunque nos recuerden al chador persa.

¿Cubrir el rostro atenta contra la seguridad? Entonces prohibamos los lentes oscuros, las pelucas y los tatuajes, los cascos de motocicletas, las mascarillas médicas. Prohibamos los rostros descubiertos que no revelan que ese señor tan elegante en realidad piensa robar un banco o traicionar a medio pueblo.

Al señor Sarkozy no se le ocurre pensar que imponer a una mujer quitarse el velo en público puede equivaler a la misma violencia moral que sufriría su propia esposa siendo obligada a quitarse los sutiens para recibir al presidente de Mozambique.

En algunas regiones de algunos países islámicos —no en la mayoría, donde las mujeres extranjeras se pasean con sus pantalones cortos más seguras que por un barrio de Filadelfia o de San Pablo— la nicáb es obligatoria como para nosotros usar pantalones. Como individuo puedo decir que me parece una de las peores vestimentas y como humanista puedo rechazarla cuando se trata de una imposición contra la voluntad explícita de quien lo usa. Pero no puedo legislar contra un derecho ajeno en nombre de mis propias costumbres. ¿En qué suprime mis derechos y mi libertad que mi vecina se haya casado con otra mujer o que salga a la calle ataviada de pies a cabezas o que se tiña el pelo de verde? Si en nombre de la moral, de los valores de la libertad y del derecho voy a promover leyes que obliguen a mi vecina a vestirse como mi esposa o le voy a negar derechos civiles que gozo yo, el enfermo soy yo, no ella.

Esta intolerancia es común en nuestras sociedades que han promovido los Derechos Humanos pero también han inventado los más crueles instrumentos de tortura contra brujas, científicos o disidentes; que han producido campos de exterminio y que no han tenido limites en su obsesión proselitista y colonialista, siempre en nombre de la buena moral y de la salvación de la civilización.

Pero las paradojas son una constante natural en la historia. La antigua tradición islámica de relativa tolerancia hacia el trabajo intelectual, la diversidad cultural y religiosa, con el paso de los siglos se convirtió, en muchos países, en una cultura cerrada, machista y relativamente intolerante. Los Estados Unidos, que nacen como una revolución laica, iluminista y progresista, con el paso del tiempo se convirtieron en un imperio conservador y enfermo de una ideología mesiánica. Francia, la cuna del iluminismo, de las revoluciones políticas y sociales, en los últimos tiempos comienza a mostrar todos los rasgos de sociedades cerradas e intolerantes.

El miedo al otro hace que nos parezcamos al otro que nos teme. Las sociedades españolas o castellanas lucharon durante siglos contra los otros españoles, moros y judíos. En el último milenio y antes de las olas migratorias del siglo XX, no había en Europa una sociedad mas islamizada ni con un sentimiento más antiislámico que en España.

En casi todos los casos, estos cambios han resultado de la interacción de un supuesto enemigo político, ideológico o religioso. Un enemigo muchas veces conveniente. En nuestro tiempo es la inmigración de los pueblos negros, una especie de modesta devolución cultural a los abrasivos imperios blancos del pasado.

Pero resulta que ahora una parte importante de esta sociedad, como en Estados Unidos y en otros países llamados desarrollados, nos dicen y nos practican que “nuestros valores” radican en suprimir los principios de igualdad, libertad, diversidad y tolerancia para mantener una apariencia occidental en la forma de vestir de las mujeres. Con esto, solo nos estamos demostrando que cada vez nos parecemos más a las sociedades cerradas que criticamos en algunos países islámicos. Justo cuando se ponen a prueba nuestros valores sobre la real tolerancia a la diversidad, se concluye que esos valores son una amenaza para nuestros valores.

El dilema, si hay uno, no es Oriente contra Occidente sino el humanismo progresista contra el sectarismo conservador, la sociedad abierta contra la sociedad cerrada.

Los valores de Occidente como los de Oriente son admirables y despreciables. Es parte de una mentalidad medieval trazar una línea divisoria —“o están con nosotros o están contra nosotros”— y olvidar que cada civilización, cada cultura es el resultado de cientos y miles de años de mutua colaboración. Consideremos cualquier disciplina, como las matemáticas, la filosofía, la medicina o la religión, para comprender que cada uno de nosotros somos el resultado de esa infinita diversidad que no inventaron los posmodernos.

Nada bueno puede nacer de la esquizofrenia de una sociedad cerrada. La principal amenaza a “nuestros valores” somos nosotros mismos. Si criticamos algunas costumbres, algunas sociedades porque son cerradas, no tiene ningún sentido defender la apertura con una cerradura, defender nuestros valores con sus valores, pretender conservar “nuestra forma de ser” copiando lo peor de ellos.

Ahora, si vamos a prohibir malas costumbres, ¿por qué mejor no comenzamos prohibiendo las guerras y las invasiones que solo en el último siglo han sido una especialidad de “nuestros gobiernos” en defensa de “nuestros valores” y que han dejado países destruidos, pueblos y culturas destrozadas y millones y millones y millones de oprimidos y masacrados?

Jorge Majfud

Lincoln University

setiembre 2009

La Republica (Uruguay)