The West vs The Rest – I
by Michael Brenner on 07 May 2024 0 Comment

Is the West launching an all-out war against the global ‘South,’ against the BRICS – plus, against the ‘other’? Are we in the first stages of a civilizational struggle initiated by the US-led assemblage we call the “collective West”? That would have seemed an absurd idea until very recently. How can one reconcile such a dire proposition in the age of Globalization, of inter-dependence? Where is the threat of a magnitude and immediacy that might stir that kind of thinking?


Yet, there are remarkable developments on the world scene that suggest that dramatic alterations indeed are in the offing. Let us examine them; then interpolate what systemic meaning they might auger.


1) Palestine is the most revealing, graphic indicator that something is badly askew in the mentality of political elites in North America and Europe – with resonance among their accommodating publics. Complicity in the genocidal actions of Israel in Gaza – accompanied by pogroms in the West Bank – is a stunning phenomenon. It forces us to reconsider who we in the West are and what we stand for. Few could have imagined that our celebrated moral compass would be unmoved by the most gross, calculated crimes against humanity committed on our doorstep in full view. Indeed, declared publicly and repeatedly by those perpetrating them.


This is not a display of indifference toward genocide as took place in distant (geographically and culturally) Rwanda 30 years ago. Rather, we are talking active participation in the form of massive arms deliveries, political encouragement, diplomatic cover, and promotion of fictional rationales that justify, even encourage, the slaughter.


Discourse centres on the modalities, marginal moves, the exact wording of communiques. In Western societies, there is virtually no engagement with the compelling moral issues that distinguish the Palestine tragedy. Nor, for that matter, much confronting of the wider geo-strategic issues that frame events in Palestine-Israel. We are witnessing the passionate cheerleading, the uniformity of emotion and attitude, the righteousness that we associate with wars. However, no Western country has a serious a security or economic stake in the current crisis. Quite the contrary, by every objective criterion, America and its partners are suffering a costly loss of influence in the region, across the Islamic world, and elsewhere in the non-West. Most important for the long term is the strong boost it’s giving to consolidation of the already well-advanced Sino-Russian-led bloc.


2) The impression of the West’s performance beyond its members’ self-regarding sphere is diametrically different. Most obviously, the West is condemned for its hypocrisy, self-serving claim to moral authority and sheer lack of humanity. Those perceptions are melded into an acute sense of recrudescent racism embedded in the societies of their former colonialists, exploiters, overseers and of constant condescension. The Westerners’ message is that they still feel themselves superior to the others. That deep down, the others are intrinsically Wogs (Worthy Oriental Gentlemen), hajis, slants, spics or sambos – appellations in minds if not in (public) statements. The unkindest cut was the declaration by the EU’s de facto foreign minister Josef Borrell: “The West has nurtured a ‘garden’ of peace and tolerance. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle, and the jungle could invade the garden."  He urged the assembled EU ambassadors to see themselves as “gardeners… to go to the jungle.”


One could contest the grounds for such feelings of prejudicial disparagement. There is no debating, though, that they have spread and intensified in reaction to the West’s treatment of Gaza-plus. They will endure and they will color dealings with the West whether ignored or not.


3) Justification for the charge of hypocrisy levelled against Western countries is found in their radically different approach to other situations where alleged human rights abuses have occurred. The concurrent Ukrainian conflict is an outstanding case in point. There, Russia immediately was subjected to comprehensive punitive actions: unprecedented sanctions, theft of its monetary assets, swift indictment of Vladimir Putin as a war criminal (despite the absence of an investigation or documentary evidence or a judicial process) – accompanied by all manner of military support for Ukraine. This despite the sharp divergence between alleged atrocities and actual events. The campaign is pursued relentlessly in 15 escalatory stages even though there has been dire blowback that has inflicted irreparable harm on European economies.


A similar example is provided by Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s latest ill-starred visit to Beijing. In private talks and in a concluding press conference, he admonished his hosts for their supposed violation of human rights in their treatment of the Uighur population in Xinjiang. He boldly indicted China guilty of “genocide and crimes against humanity” there. Coming from the senior representative of a government engaged at that very moment in the slaughter of 35,000 Gazan civilians (roughly 15,000 children), this breathtaking display of chutzpah signalled the extent of the American self-entitlement to instruct others on matters of ethics while exempting itself from any judgment whatsoever.


[Puzzle: What exactly was Blinken’s motive in harping on the Uighur question? Why highlight American hypocrisy? Why go out of one’s way to irritate Xi who clearly is fed up with being on the receiving end of moral instruction from the Americans? Three possible explanations suggest themselves. First, the Biden people may indeed want to see a rupture of relations with China. That would confirm their simplistic binary view of the global power/status constellation. Neo-con militants like Victoria Nuland and her clan have been working diligently toward that end. Blinken seems to share a somewhat modified version of that dogmatic, radical thinking – as does Biden, Sullivan, Austin, Burns et al. The difference, such as it exists, lies in the level of tolerance for possible apocalyptic outcomes.


Second, there may be a domestic political consideration in mind. Sino-phobes never stop hammering away at China’s supposed human rights violations. If Blinken had skirted that hot-button issue, the administration would be denounced. The actual political cost might be minimal. How many voters are likely to make their choice based on a matter of such low saliency? The total ‘Uighur vote’ nationwide is probably in three figures. Living in the insular Washington hothouse, though, distorts perceptions of what’s happening in the real world. So, Blinken could have elided the issue; there was no apparent need to stress it.   


Finally, this performance in Beijing fits a pattern of attitude and conduct, elaborated in this essay, characterized by the substitution of a confected worldview, rooted in the perplexity of the anxious American mind, for a dispassionate understanding of the true picture. We can observe an uneasy yet relentless attempt to impose on the external world an outdated – and unrealizable – model that places the United States on the throne of control and influence. The yawning, growing gap between that self-regarding conception and the forces remaking the international system produces a classic case of cognitive dissonance. There is a powerful temptation to lodge oneself in an artificial mental universe – a world of make-believe. It is irresistible for the weak of character, the intellectually rigid, and those at once unpracticed in sophisticated diplomacy and challenged by it. Mature statesmen are anything but the United States’ forte in this not-so-brave new world.]


These denunciations of Russia for a claimed pattern of widespread attacks on and abuses of civilians underscore the striking contrast to the tacit acceptance of Israeli’s genocidal behaviour. The only commonality is a calculated, consistent distortion of the truth. Propaganda, in short. Russia’s conduct of the war seeks to minimize civilian casualties; it does not target civilians. Nor, unlike Israeli, does it advertise as its objective the ethnic cleansing by any means swaths of Ukrainian territories as Israeli leaders do re. Gaza. These appraisals are confirmed by all objective observers and analysts. Furthermore, the Russian invasion was a preemptive action intended to forestall an American-sponsored plan to launch a military assault aimed at regaining control of the Donbas and Crimea.


4) Most political elites and the populaces of the non-West also see in the West’s reaction to Ukraine further evidence of the race-based predilection to divide the world’s peoples into two categories: the superior West and lesser nations. Instantaneously, the Ukrainians were designated as democratic good guys with affinities for their European brethren in juxtaposition to the Russian Asiatic barbarians. So, two peoples who for centuries shared culture, history and genes were arbitrarily severed from the other. It is the impulse to draw clear boundaries between ‘we’ and ‘them’ that drove this fictitious rendering of reality. Russia was vilified – as a country, as a society, as a civilization.


Hysteria prompted a draconian campaign to ban Russian artists, Russian books, Russian travellers. The impulse to erect a sharp boundary between the West and Russia led to bizarre attempts at denying Russians any claim to the cultural artefacts of the West. Olaf Schulz expressed outrage at Putin’s audacity in quoting Immanuel Kant without permission from German authorities. The Russian “had no right” to do so – according to the Chancellor. That implicit claim to moral superiority is made by the head of a country that killed 15 million Russians 80 years ago.


Imagine Putin scolding Schulz for his effrontery in quoting Tolstoy without permission from the Kremlin: “Happy coalitions are all alike; every unhappy coalition has its own peculiar features.”   


Ukraine, in sharp contrast, was beatified. The influential presence of neo-Nazi militias was photo-shopped, as was the suppression of the Russian language spoken by the 20-25% of the population that identifies as Russian and the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church. The same for the banning of opposition political parties, comprehensive censorship, the indefinite postponement of Presidential elections, arbitrary arrest and the killing in prison on unspecified charges of an American journalist (Gonzalo Lira). Just as the Russians were designated honorary Wogs, the sordid Ukrainian government was laundered to emerge as one of ‘us.’ Ukraine arbitrarily was welcomed into the “garden club” – the induction fee being 500,000 dead and wounded, the ruin of the country’s infrastructure and its now inevitable truncation.


Pronouncing Ukraine an honorary citizen of the ‘garden’ matches the lauding of Israel as not just a democracy – but as a fraternal Western society sharing values, philosophies, identities and ethical norms. This strained genealogy against the backdrop of 1,500 years when the West in its various guises despised, persecuted, abused and killed Jews – the ultimate ‘other.’ This great irony emerges from the complex psychology of guilt, perverse repentance and mirrored projection. At the same time, it exposes Western societies’ fixation with, and need for a worldview that dichotomizes the superior /good West and the lesser breeds that never are or could be our equals. Even if the placement is sometimes arbitrary, in accordance with geo-political expediency.


[Western elites, with unintended irony, have pronounced the Israelis inhabitants of the ‘Garden’ while relegating Russians to the ‘jungle.’ Yet, a large fraction of Jews who emigrated to Israel from Russia were non-Jews by religion or ethnicity. They qualified by virtue of marriage or subterfuge. Official Israeli statistics number 1,544,000 Russian Jews, only 900,000 of whom are halakhically Jewish (i.e., born of a Jewish mother or undergoing formal conversion). Most immigrants from the former Soviet Union or the Russian Republic are atheists. 40,000 belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Blessed are the reinvented.


So, in the warped mentality of the West, a full-blooded Russian in Tel Aviv is one of ‘us,’ while a Jew in Moscow holding a government post is one of ‘them.’ This is one small item evincing the transparent truth that the West cares little about the welfare of flesh-and-blood Jews – or Ukrainians; it is dread /distaste of the ‘other’ that drives them. The exceptions are self-defined Zionists such as Tong Blinken. He made that clear upon his arrival in Israel five days after the events of Oct. 7 in announcing: “I come before you as a Jew.”]


5) The West’s scandalous behaviour as accomplices to Israeli’s massive crimes against humanity in Palestine is a phenomenon carrying profound implications for its societies’ philosophical foundations, how they relate to peoples and states of the non-Western world, and – ultimately – for the viability of their polities. The unexpected revelations of gross disregard for humanitarian values, highlighted by sustained complicity in genocide as defined by the United Nations Convention On Genocide to which they all are signatories, is of historic consequence.


Attempts at its normalization by the political class and a compliant media, cannot alter that reality. Although practiced in forgetting their unsavoury, if not sinful, actions (Algeria – France; Vietnam – France & US; Iraq – US; Ireland /Kenya /India - Britain, Namibia – Germany; Congo – Belgium; Sumatra – Dutch; Guantanamo /Abu Ghraib – US; Libya – Italy’ Angola – Portugal. Western nations will be unable to erase the scathing impressions engraved on hearts and minds in the non-West. Nor will a morally awakened youth cooperate in the predictable project to rationalize the unjustifiable.


The inability – or unwillingness – to see the Palestine abuses for what they are, or its delible residue of disdain for Western hypocrisy, is the conclusive evidence that those countries that constitute the collective West have thrown away any claim to being the appropriate overseers and monitors of a legitimate world order. History will view Gaza as where they abandoned their moral integrity to die.


As for the United States, tightly swathed in a mantle of self-righteous superiority, exceptionalism and indispensability, the reckoning will occur at home as well as abroad. What we see now in the fierce suppression of constitutionally guaranteed free speech; in imposing what amounts to martial law on university campuses; in the relishing of the abuse meted out to dissenters; in the enthusiastic collaboration of university authorities – administrators, regents /trustees – who outdo each other in the extremity of the unadjudicated penalties that they arbitrary inflict; in the invitation to the erstwhile /wannabe army commandos among the riot squads and state troopers to indulge their brutal impulses (slamming women – student or professor -to the ground, pinioning and handcuffing them); in the conformism of a political class reduced to braying participants in an inquisitional witch-hunt – is a society broken loose from its moorings. It is one where peaceable, non-obstructive protest against your country’s active complicity in genocide is forbidden, and punished as criminal.


All of this passion, this repression, for a heinous cause that lacks any mitigating claim of expediency. No Western nation has a stake – in security or economic terms – that is endangered by the Palestinians. Quite the opposite, they are paying a heavy price in standing and influence elsewhere in the Middle East and across the non-Western world for their malign conduct.


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