Friday, January 23, 2009

Slaves & Statues - The American Edition

My friend Avinash likes to talk about the innate hypocrisy of Western thought; that unique ability which allows Western societies to convince themselves of being the morally superior civilization while simultaneously being the inflictors of the worst moral abasements. He will readily quote V S Naipaul's classic metaphorical analysis of the phenomenon, from A Bend in the River:
“Europeans could do one thing and say something quite different; they could act in this way because they had an idea of what they owed to their civilization. It was their great advantage over us. The Europeans wanted gold and slaves, like everybody else; but at the same time they wanted statues put up to themselves as people who had done good things for the slaves. Being an intelligent and energetic people, and at the peak of their powers, they could express both sides of their civilization; and they got both the slaves and the statues.”
This chilling analogy comes to mind every single time I hear Americans (theirs being the only state to have used an atomic weapon on a civilian population) taking the moral high road on the subject of Iran's bomb, when I ponder on how the democratic Western bloc failed to recognize the democratically elected government of Palestine and then actively undermined it via a less popular puppet, and when I see that those who set out on freedom- and justice-seeking enterprises half a world away do so from a land which saw shameful racial injustices barely a few decades in the past.

I thought of it again this morning while listening to commentary about the Senate confirmation hearing of Admiral Dennis Blair, President Obama's nominee for the director of national intelligence. Responding to a question about the use of torture by America's intelligence agencies, it is reported that:
Blair said the immediate tactical benefit gained through harsh interrogations is one thing, but then he raised the larger question: "What about the effect on America's reputation?"
Wow. 95,000 civilians dead in Iraq as a result of unwarranted and unprovoked American military action. There is not even a sorry for that. And we are worried that the torture of a handful of terrorism suspects will harm America's reputation?

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