Cuando votes por un cambio, asegurate que no sea reversa.
jm, setiembre 2019
Cuando votes por un cambio, asegurate que no sea reversa.
jm, setiembre 2019
No siempre pero, por lo general, las discusiones políticas no conducen a nada. Cada vez menos, porque la cultura del disenso civilizado se ha perdido casi completamente (probable efecto de sustituir las tertulias de café, cara a cara, por el barbarismo semianonimo y a distancia de las redes sociales) y la política se ha convertido en una pasión de fútbol, en un acto de fe religioso contra cualquier evidencia. En el hemisferio norte se ha deteriorado aún más rápido que en el sur y ya desde hace tiempo campea el tribalismo. Como todo, o casi todo, aquí siempre ocurre primero y se realiza más rápido. Pera peor, algunos andan a la búsqueda de (¿cómo decirlo?) un “tenis dialéctico” y no sé cómo hacen pero logran meterte en su juego.
Más o menos la cosa fue así:
—¿Vio que Daniel Martínez, el candidato socialista a la presidencia de Uruguay, tiene una hija estudiando aquí en Estados Unidos? —me dijo un visitante de Uruguay.
—No sabía. Pero muchos chinos son comunistas y tienen cientos de miles de hijos estudiando aquí. También nuestros estudiantes estadounidenses van a estudiar a Cuba, aunque el gobierno de aquí no les permite mucho tiempo. Por no hablar de los votantes de Trump que pasan sus vacaciones en Cancún o se jubilan y se van a vivir a Ajijic en México.
—Incoherencias. Como ese Rafael Correa, el expresidente de Ecuador. ¿Lo conoce? Se recibió de economista aquí en Estados Unidos… ¿Sabía?
—Sí, una buena parte de los yanquis dicen lo mismo: las universidades están infestadas de progresistas. Hace años, tal vez dos décadas, copié el artículo “¿Por qué el socialismo?” de Einstein, de cuando daba clases en Princeton University, y lo publiqué en un foro con otro nombre. El texto recibió una lluvia de insultos. “Idiota” y “Retardado mental” fue de lo más amable que escribieron los genios. Tal vez el hombre estaba equivocado, pero retardado mental… Las universidades se caracterizan por reclutar tontos de todas partes del mundo. Hice lo mismo con otro texto del Dr. Martin Luther King, sobre su socialismo y contra la guerra de Vietnam. “Traidor” y “antipatriota” fueron de las acusaciones favoritas…
—¿Es usted socialista?
—Nunca supe qué soy, exactamente, y no creo que sea importante. Cuando era niño los militares me arrastraron de un brazo por no obedecer órdenes y un par de profesores en la secundaria me expulsaron de clase por preguntar qué entendían ellos por democracia y derechos humanos. Pero Rebelde sería un título muy grande. Inconformista, tal vez. Sí, suena menos pretencioso y no llega a ser un insulto.
—Yo no me avergüenzo de decir que yo sí siempre supe quién soy y sé quién es quién cuando lo escucho hablar.
—Bueno, prefiero que no me lo diga. Para eso están los vómitos y comentarios a pie de página. Ahora, si le sirve de consuelo, en Estados Unidos hay más zurdos que en la mayoría de los países del Sur.
—A mí lo que me jode es la inconsistencia. Le repito, esa de Martínez…
—¿No es usted capitalista y neoliberal y vive en Uruguay, “gobernado por quince años por socialistas y tupamaros”, como dice usted mismo? A mí no me parece que eso sea una incoherencia. Sería sospechoso si todos pensaran como Mujica o como Tabaré Vázquez. Más que sospechoso, sería una secta de tres millones de individuos.
—No todos somos…
—Aquí tampoco somos todos… Mucho menos una secta de trescientos millones, aunque es lo que quisieran los autoproclamados patriotas, nacidos aquí o recién llegados, que se creen dueños de todo un país. ¿O también van a proponer una limpieza ideológica, país por país y comarca por comarca?
—Pero si se dicen socialistas deberían por lo menos vivir como Mujica, en una cueva. Al viejo tupamaro no lo trago, pero al menos vive en una cueva.
—Es lo que quisieran, que todos los que piensan diferente vivan en una cueva. Pero de verad no creo que el objetivo del socialismo sea la pobreza sino todo lo contrario. El hombre vive como quiere vivir no porque sea socialista sino porque es un poco hippie, medio Thoreau. Igual eso no lo salva de los insultos. En julio estuve en Uruguay y una señora, que hablaba igualito a Mujica, me quería convencer de “todo lo que se había robado Mujica”. Le faltó decir que por eso vive en un palacio.
—Socialistas ricos como Maradona hay muchos.
—No me interesa la vida privada de Maradona ni la ningún otro ejemplo particular, pero si es una incoherencia ser un socialista rico también lo es, y peor, ser un capitalista pobre, y de éstos no hay solo ejemplos y excepciones. Son la norma.
—Dele todas las vueltas que quiere darle al asunto. Pero al pan, pan y al vino, vino. Si uno es socialista no debería estudiar en Estados Unidos.
—Y todos deberían comer solo McDonald’s, mirar “beisbol” e ir a la iglesia los domingos por la mañana a lavar los trapos sucios…
—¿Usted es capitalista y recurre al maldito Estado dos por tres? ¿Dónde está la coherencia, entonces?
—¿Yo? Yo pago mis impuestos. Es el Estado el que vive de mí.
—Pues muy bien, con toda esa plata que le paga de impuestos al Estado, intente pagar la policía que cuida de sus propiedades; las escuelas, la salud y la jubilación de sus hijos o de sus empleados; las ayuda a los más pobres para que no afeen la ciudad ni el frente de su casa ni las puertas de las iglesias; intente rescatar las grandes empresas capitalistas, generalmente insaciables, que cuando se hunden le van a llorar al gobierno de turno para que las salve… Haga cuentas y luego me dice si le alcanza.
—Si los privados invirtiésemos el dinero de los impuestos en fondos de inversión y nos organizáramos, podríamos hacer todo eso.
—Pues, justamente eso se llama Estado.
JM, setiembre 2019
In Unwanted People, historian Aviva Chomsky’s essays explore the roots of this violent history.
For more than a century, Latin American governments have promoted a model of national development based on land privatization and privileging the interests of foreign investors rather than the rights of workers; policies that in fact promoted economic growth without development. In many cases, this kind of economic growth instead increased inequality and poverty. Democratic or dictatorial governments implemented these policies by hook or by crook, which often forced the people to choose between renouncing their rights or submitting to the brutality of power concretized in armies who served the creole oligarchy in the name of “national security” against foreign invaders. In such armies, often the most deprived individuals were the most zealous and violent guardians of the privileges of others.
This domestic and national economic policy was concretely connected to the interests of international corporations. The social structure in which creole elites of the postcolonial era served the ruling classes mirrored the relationship between the indigenous nobility who served the Spanish crown. In the 20th century, such power lodged itself in traditional commodities-export ruling classes and transnational foreign companies, which were often supported by direct interventions from superpower governments. Despite repeated attempts to prove otherwise, Latin American history cannot be understood without taking into account the history of U.S. interventions, from the Monroe Doctrine (1823) to the dozens of U.S. military interventions in Latin America. The latter includes the annexation of more than half of the Mexican territory in mid-19th century, a long list of military interventions leading to the dramatic establishment of bloody puppet dictators throughout the 20th century, which left hundreds of thousands murdered, and the destruction of democracies such as Guatemala or Chile in the name of freedom and democracy. Large multinational corporations, such as the United Fruit Company in Central America, Pepsi Cola in Chile and Volkswagen in Brazil, motivated or supported many of these coups d’état. The dominant creole classes in turn supported the overthrow of legitimate governments because they stood to gain more from the export business of cheap natural resources than from the internal development of their nations.
The extreme violence that resulted directly from these social inequities generated internal displacements and international migrations, especially to the United States, the world hegemonic economy. Yet many immigrants arrived in a country that denied them the same individual rights that had been withheld from them in their home countries. As Aviva Chomsky illustrates in her new book, Unwanted People: Histories of Race and Displacement in the Americas, the United States’ history of racially motivated class stratification and anti-labor policy dovetailed with the shape that the country’s immigration took in the 1960s.
Unwanted People presents a selection of historian Aviva Chomsky’s writings, which explores the roots of these problems from the concrete perspective of groups who have experienced the effects of this violent history. Chomsky’s work is always incisive and challenging. Each text dismantles modern myths about Latin American immigration, U.S. history, and the labor movement. Specifically, she highlights popular superstitions about immigration that are exacerbated by international reporting and the “master narratives” that have been consolidated by a strategic forgetting, both from U.S. and Latin American perspectives. Chomsky brings these challenges to the dominant narratives of colonial history to bear on topics ranging from the United States’ global and colonial economy to an analysis of the colonial history of Africa in the movie Black Panther.
In “The Logic of Displacement” and “A Central American Drama,” Chomsky analyzes two apparently different realities that are nevertheless connected by their subterranean logics. The historical displacement of Afro-Colombians, she argues, has been caused not only by racism but also by the logic of economic convenience. Chomsky questions the historical explanation of La Violencia in Colombia (initiated with the murder of Jorge Eliécer Gaitán in 1948) as a simple dichotomy, “liberal versus conservative,” and reviews the interests of the white Catholic elite of Antioquia over Afro-Colombian regions, rich in natural resources. Thus, in Colombia there is a case similar to that of others on the continent: the internal displacement of rural, indigenous or afro-descendant communities for economic reasons (gold, platinum, wood) is executed “voluntarily” through the purchase of property accompanied by violence inflicted by paramilitary groups, which functioned as an extralegal arm and ally of the armies and the governments of Latin American countries.
Leftist guerrilla groups emerged as a counter to the paramilitary groups that represented the typically conservative right interests of the government. These also served largely as an excuse for military and paramilitary violence. Although it could be argued that the guerrilla groups’ amplification of regional violence also played a role in the displacement of people, Chomsky argues that displacement was not one of their objectives, as it was in the case of paramilitaries, who furthered the interest of the big businesses laying claim to the land and its natural resources. Meanwhile, the impunity of those in power contributed dramatically to the scale of this movement’s violence.
Neoliberal economic policies combined with an increasingly militarized southern United States border had an impact on Central American migration and was the direct result of United States foreign policy.
Internationally, displacement was not always due to direct military actions, but it was always the result of economic forces. The United States increased control of immigration, especially immigration of the displaced poor, as a solution to the increased migration that resulted from years of interventionist foreign policy. The Mexican-American border, which had been permeable for centuries, became a violent wall in 1965, forcing job seekers to avoid returning to their homes in the south as they used to do. This reality was aggravated by the policies and international treaties of the new neoliberal wave of the 1990s, such as NAFTA, which financially ruined the Mexican peasants who could not compete with the subsidized agriculture of the United States. Meanwhile, U.S. conservatives attacked leftist guerrilla and community groups, such as the Zapatistas in southern Mexico, who resisted such policies.
Neoliberal economic policies combined with an increasingly militarized southern United States border had an impact on Central American migration and was the direct result of United States foreign policy. In Chomsky’s words:
“U.S. policies directly led to today’s crises in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Since Washington orchestrated the overthrow of the reformist, democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, it has consistently cultivated repressive military regimes, savagely repressed peasant and popular movements for social change, and imposed economic policies including so-called free trade ones that favor foreign investors and have proven devastating to the rural and urban poor.”
As Chomsky rightly points out in her book They Take Our Jobs! And 20 Other Myths about Immigration (2007), it is no coincidence that when racial discrimination became politically incorrect in the 1960s, it was replaced in the law and in the political and social discourse by national discrimination. This, coupled with the fact that Mexicans and other Latin American immigrants were no longer returning to their countries because of widespread violence, made the new border policies even more dangerous and sometimes deadly for both migrant workers and those fleeing political and social violence, mostly people from the Northern Triangle of Central America.
This sequence of historical events has countless consequences in the present. However, politicians, major media, and U.S. citizens only see the faces of children, men and women speaking a “foreign language” (though, of course, Spanish is older than English in the United States). Political and news discourse represents immigrants as “invading” cities to take advantage of the services and benefits of American democracy, which strips immigration politics of its historicity. It is a false logic that turns workers into idlers, imagines welfare abusers when in fact immigrants sustain the care economy with their labor and their taxes, and sees the victims of neocolonial trade policies as invading criminals. In a recent interview with Aviva Chomsky about the current myths that dominate the social narrative in the United States today, she explains:
“I’d say there are two [myths]: one, that immigrants are criminals, and two, that immigrants come here to take advantage of the United States. In a way, these are connected—by turning immigrants into ‘bad hombres,’ Trump helps to erase history and the disasters that U.S. policy has helped to create in the countries that immigrants are currently fleeing, especially in Central America.”
Unwanted People, a collection of Aviva Chomsky’s writings, approaches complex discussions about race, labor, and immigration in the United States from the more nuanced perspective of a historian. Often conversations about immigration center on the subject of labor, and yet, as Chomsky illustrates in the essays collected in her new book, labor in the United States has its own troubled history. With a focus on New England, and especially Boston, Chomsky connects the history of labor struggles dating back to the 19th century to modern-day discussions about race and immigration. By uncovering hidden histories that challenge the dominant narratives about the working class, Chomsky reveals the importance of discussing racial justice alongside economic justice. Rather than participating in the shrill and polarizing rhetoric of political and media hype, Chomsky invites us to look to the economic and political history that has led up to this point. As Chomsky points out, “Until we are able to acknowledge and understand the past, we will not be able to act in the present for a better future.”
This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. It is an adapted excerpt from the foreword by Dr. Sarah Parker and Jorge Majfud to the new book by Aviva Chomsky, Unwanted People (University of Valencia Press, 2019).
El Uruguay moderno (ese desarrollado a fines del siglo XIX con J.P. Varela) siempre ha sido batllista-artiguista, con períodos de epilepsia oligárquica y neoliberal. No importa la ideología, no importa el partido político: todos los uruguayos son, más o menos, batllistas artiguistas. No siempre en la práctica, pero sí como un superego freudiano: los uruguayos son artiguistas cuando reconocen su opción por los de abajo, su antimilitarismo y su antirracismo, y son batllistas cuando en sus decisiones personales reconocen el valor del Estado como agente de gestión colectiva, como administrador de justicia social, susceptible de corrupción pero insustituible. El mito de Maracaná es otro hito posible por el espíritu batllista artiguista. Sin José Batlle, Uruguay no hubiese sido dos (o cuatro) veces campeón del mundo ni quince veces campeón del continente, ni esa pasión sería hoy una marca de identidad nacional. El batllismo inventó el espíritu del fútbol uruguayo y el batllismo artiguista marcó hasta su literatura, esa literatura con conciencia crítica, tan alejada de la frivolidad del mercado, de la diversión y del sentimentalismo de alcoba.
Cualquier política de Estado que niegue esa profunda raíz es un injerto condenado a dar frutos amargos. Los mismos períodos de epilepsia neoliberal lo han demostrado y, a juzgar por las actuales disputas electorales, es una condición persistente.
El neoliberalismo ha hecho estragos en muchos países alrededor del mundo. Ha quebrado a casi todos. Incluso en aquellos pocos ejemplos publicitados como el de Chile, el supuesto éxito no fue posible sin inundaciones de dólares y propaganda estadounidense a partir de 1973 para apoyar no solo una dictadura de corte nazi que le era conveniente a la oligarquía criolla y a las poderosos transnacionales, sino para tener un ejemplo positivo que mostrar al mundo y a América Latina en particular (los bloqueos y las demonizaciones quedaron reservados a todos aquellos que se atrevieron a decir no o probar un camino diferente).
Pese a todo, los supuestos logros de la economía chilena no se reflejan en un milagro social, sino todo lo contrario. La educación es “un bien de consumo”, no un derecho, y para eso, como en Estados Unidos, los jóvenes deben endeudarse de forma que sólo los ricos se gradúan listos para la “libre competencia” y el resto dedica media vida a pagar sus deudas. Cuando lo logra, ya se han especializado en pensar sólo en el dinero, no en su vocación, y no saben hacer otra cosa que más dinero, lo cual, claro, es una bendición para la economía y para la industria de las drogas.
Lo mismo, el modelo de inversión chileno de las jubilaciones privadas. El fracaso del modelo neoliberal de jubilaciones en Uruguay (afortunadamente, la opción estatal siempre fue la preferida) fue recientemente salvado por el Estado, como siempre. En 2018, la mitad de los afiliados a las AFAP creadas durante los años 90s, se pasaron al sistema estatal porque los privados le estaban retornando mucho menos dinero del calculado y del prometido.
El Estado es ineficiente hasta que cunde el pánico. Porque el capitalismo tiene esa eterna ventaja: cuando acierta, se lleva todo; cuando pierde, el maldito Estado lo salva, empezando por los de arriba para que algo gotee a los de abajo. Con una diferencia: en Uruguay ocurrió al revés, cosa rara en el mundo, porque los salvavidas fueron para los de abajo. Solución batllista artiguista.
En otros casos diferentes al “éxito del neoliberalismo chileno”, donde siempre se aplaude al principio y se niega tres veces al final, la misma ideología, los mismos créditos multimillonarios y las mismas adulaciones descendieron en muchos otros países del continente sin siquiera llegar a aumentar el PIB nacional sino las deudas externas y arruinar la economía y la sociedad: la Argentina de Martínez de Hoz, la de Menem y Cavallo, la de Mauricio Macri; la Bolivia de Víctor Paz Estenssoro; el Uruguay de Luis Alberto Lacalle; el Ecuador de Febres Cordero; la Venezuela de Andrés Pérez; el México de Miguel de la Madrid, el de Carlos Salinas de Gortari y el de Ernesto Zedillo, etc. Sí, ya sabemos las recurrentes respuestas: “si estás contra el neoliberalismo estás a favor de Stalin, de Khmer Rouge y de Josip Broz Tito”.
Pero cuando hablamos del neoliberalismo en América Latina, no nos referimos a lo que podría ocurrir y que nunca ha ocurrido, sino a algo que ha ocurrido innumerables veces con los mismos resultados y, por si fuese poco, es una propuesta orgullosa de candidatos como el economista de la Universidad de Chicago, el Dr. Ernesto Talvi en Uruguay.
En Uruguay, como en otros países de la era poscolonial, la imposición de recetas salvadoras ha sido siempre catastrófico. Ese país, con escasos doscientos años de historia, invento del imperio británico en 1828, en realidad nació en 1813, con el general José Artigas, un hombre con una sensibilidad social superior para la época, extraña, nunca analizada del todo; un hombre que repartió tierras a negros, indios y blancos pobres. Un mujeriego que terminó sus días en el exilio viviendo (¿o conviviendo?) casi treinta años con un poeta negro que liberó antes de abandonar su tierra, derrotado en 1820 en Tacuarembó. Por entonces, el fundador del partido colorado, el primer presidente, otro patriota mata indios, Fructuoso Rivera se pasó a las filas portuguesas y luego, como presidente de Uruguay, ordenó darle caza, vivo o muerto. Pero los indios paraguayos le dieron el título de “El hombre que resplandece”.
Si el artiguismo fuese hoy una inmoralidad, como lo es el racismo de, por ejemplo, el venerado esclavista y mata indios Andrew Jackson en Estados Unidos, es comprensible que se luche por demoler esa tradición. Pero no, es básicamente lo contrario.
Si el batllismo, cien años después, hubiese sido un fracaso económico y social, es comprensible que se luche por demoler esa tradición. Pero no, es básicamente lo contrario.
Es por esta razón que en Uruguay se da la paradoja de que somos, a un mismo tiempo, progresistas y tradicionalistas. Pero no de cualquier tradición. No de la tradición feudalista de las haciendas donde los peones y los gauchos eran animales de carga, sino de la otra tradición, la que creía y todavía cree en la educación universal, desde la primaria hasta la universidad; que cree en el derecho a la salud y al equilibrio social a través de la protección de los derechos de los menos fuertes, como lo son, incluso, las trabajadores; que cree en el derecho de nuestros viejos a un retiro en paz.
El artiguismo no es un sentimiento nacionalista ni militarista. Artigas negó (como Jesús negó lo que tanto adoran hoy los cristianos protestantes: la riqueza como signo de preferencia divina) el despotismo militar y el abuso de los de arriba. Luego, el batllismo creó lo demás, hasta la tradición del fútbol. Lo mismo la visión moderada de un estado benefactor, estabilizador, social y, no en pocos aspectos, directamente socialista.
El batllismo artiguista, el Uruguay donde “nadie es más que nadie ni menos que ninguno”, donde hasta Charles Darwin se sorprendió de la inexplicable autoestima de los gauchos más pobres, es eso: progresismo con memoria, porque el progresismo no es ruptura ni es inmovilidad sino perpetuo cambio y mejora de algo que sabe, que no olvida, quién es, de dónde viene y hacia dónde va.
JM, setiembre 2019
“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.” (Feb. 2003)
What is more Western than democracy and concentration camps?
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 Fallacia 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), refering to the Africans who had urinated in a plaza in Italy—”They piss for a long time these sons of Allah! A race of hypocrits.” “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 sinagogues, 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 compositioon 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 Colliseum—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 mathemetical 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 travelled 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 unfamaliar with zero—without which it would be impossible to imagine modern mathematics and space travel—but in fact possessed an unwieldy systemof 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 erros 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 millenia 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.
First translated in 2007 by Bruce Campbell, Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota
Hace más de mil años los cristianos más fanáticos vienen predicando que el mundo se está por terminar por los pecados del hombre, pero son los primeros en negar que el mundo se está terminando por la irresponsabilidad humana. No creen en la suba del dioxido de carbono y el nivel del mar, en la baja del oxígeno en la atmósfera, en la contaminación de los ríos y los océanos, en le odio nacionalista, en una revuelta de los de abajo ni en una posible catástrofe nuclear.
Para estos santos hombres y mujeres santas, incapaces del pecado de la estupidez o de cualquier otro pecado, al mundo (por alguna misteriosa razón que ningun ser humano con medio corazón podría comprender) lo va a destruir Dios, no los humanos.
Por una aún más misteriosa razón, no creen o no quieren creer que Dios los ha elegido a ellos para realizar tan alto propósito.
JM, 4 de setiembre 2019