The Truth is rarely pure, and never simple
– Oscar Wilde
a general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged.
Human progress has been a constant stream of oppression, struggle, death, and finally, liberation. As the old adage goes, those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it. This is why people are constantly privy to the news of warfare and political upheaval abroad. It is fair to say that collectively humanity wants improvement for all, even for those who might be discriminatory or worse. In the modern age, the struggle of our fellow human is near impossible to miss and ignore, something that a video camera or phone is almost always guaranteed to capture and be seen by the masses internationally. This capacity for coverage leads to public rallies and outcries for support, change, and sometimes direct intervention. Although this universal compassion and empathy from around the world is welcoming in regards to the condition of humanity’s unity and ‘brotherhood’, the problem is that this uncontrollable force for change is prone to manipulation.
For just as humans have had to overthrow their rulers physically, the same goes for academia and media. With the serfs, it was the ‘divine’ kings that had to be revolted against; in parallel, science and the press had religious dogma to escape. Around the world, just as humanity broke its bonds of colonial rule, so did the intellectualia had to break themselves from the bigoted strains of thought that had controlled their work for decades. Moving into the 21st century, we see that both the physical and non-physical struggles of humanity are still very much real.
For far too often in the Western world, rose tinted glasses are used by media and academia alike when it comes to international conflict and struggle. For far too long, nations such as the United States and United Kingdom have had their populations lulled into a false sense of superiority, a sense so strong it’s nearly a God complex. We see ourselves as the saviors of the world, something that much of White America and Europe’s ancestors believed in as well. For just as the West had used color to justify the ‘White Man’s Burden’, we have now used the idea of civilization, peace, and democracy to carry the torch.
Perspective and Reality
For a brief moment, let us humor a small thought game of mine. Analyze each of the following words carefully:
Chances are that you imagined a dust, debris, and blood covered environment when you thought of Iran, but thought of a clean, orderly, and calm place when Israel is thought of. Did a similar dichotomy appear when you though of Islam and Christianity? And what of the word ‘terrorist?’ What was his/her skin color? Location? Religion?
The main purpose of this article is to bring to attention to the fact that systematic biases remain when it comes to public perception and thought. Especially in the West, where you would least expect such a thing, we see that PR machines are continuously operating in attempt to control the public image of certain groups and individuals. Although such biases are inevitable with events such as 9/11, we see that they are almost always manipulated and blown out of proportion for financial and political purposes. What we see now is a result of the control of Western Media and Academia over public perceptions and beliefs. It has morphed reality into something else, something that serves ulterior motives other than to ‘help’ those in need.
Killing Made Easy
It is always easier to attack and/or invade another country when people are successfully fooled into thinking that the target nation is full of monsters. Dehumanization has become the political tool of the 21st century to defend conquest and rule. Successfully justify a war over some random act of aggression, and you are immune from the normal consequences. If a terrorist strike kills 3,000 people, you(a politician) can rally the people into believing that killing over half a million(and displacing another million) foreign civilians as revenge is justified. And God help you if your country doesn’t have Western Democracy©. By effectively making a West is Best mentality, we facilitate a system of dominance that allows for unbridled death and destruction. There really is no end to what we can do, so long as we have the full assurance that whatever it is we are doing is the morally right action. We already have little conflicts like Vietnam that prove this claim.
What’s scarier is that the Middle East isn’t the only location where the West has been spun into the ultimate hero. In places and situations like the Balkan Conflict, Rwanda, Sudan, Darfur, and now even the Ukraine, we see that the West is continuously meddling and manipulating things behind the scenes, but to the public appears to be the hero. The world is already a complicated place, so it doesn’t take much more to make the villains the good guys, all the while those who are innocent are decimated en masse.
The West is not Always the Best
What needs to be understood is that ‘We’, the West, are by far not the universal ‘good guys’. Yes, Iran has a bad government. Yes, religious extremists exist throughout the world. Yes, Africa and East Asia can be ‘messy’. I could go on. I’m not here to deny these things. The problem is that not enough people fully understand and analyze the social and political situations behind these places and events. Simplifying complex situations for the sake of saving yourself the trouble of confusion is not a good excuse. What needs to be understood is why these conditions came into existence in the first place, rather than what is happening just in the moment. Just because a terrorist is of dark skin color or is Islamic doesn’t mean the rest of the respective population are terrorists as well. Just because ‘they’, a country or group, aren’t like ‘us’, a Western society, doesn’t mean ‘they’ are bad as a result.
This is the type of thinking that is almost entirely blocked out by modern media, and is still struggling to exist even in insulated university environments. The discussions that are critical of the mainstream viewpoint are extremely limited, often times held to the confines of a upper level history classroom or at a table in a coffee shop. Everywhere else you will hear the the news being reported to the tune of the pied piper in Washington, D.C. This blockage of high level analysis allows for oversimplifications and generalizations that foster not only basic misunderstandings, but stereotypes that reinforce racism, nationalism, and security rhetoric used to justify atrocious policy making.
This is what I mean by the title of this post. History is still stuck in a western narrative, and this keeps people from viewing the world and its conditions from different angles. It is very easy and naive of those who live in comfort to think that history and modern events around the world are so black and white, us versus them, and west versus east. Countries like the US and entities like the EU privilege themselves with the narrative that they are the heroes in the world that is unstable in ‘lesser’ places like South/Central America, the Middle East, and Africa. We have come to foster the belief that the World is held together only by the efforts of the West, and if it wasn’t for us, the rest would fall apart from internal struggles and various insecurities.
In reality, we are the troublemaker in most instances. In the first place, things like colonialism and the world after that system set up much of the misery that the developing world sees now. If that’s not enough, we have had the tendency of instigating insurrection within otherwise fairly stable countries, propping up puppet governments, and selling weapons to illicit groups that we favor. At the end of the day, the West often finds itself at the center of the World’s problems, not just as the ‘fixer.’ It’s a cruel but smart tactic that keeps the world dependent upon us, because devoid of our constant ‘help’ things would move on a lot better. Thus, we push on, meddling, sanctioning, and interfering with things that we have no business messing with.
Not a Problem
This is more than just a problem. When people constantly think that their government is acting as a force for good across the globe whenever it intervenes, we legitimize the deaths of countless innocents, and the livelihoods of even more without question. By believing only good can come from our intentions for whatever new crisis emerges, we allow for abuse and corruption to fill in. By blindly standing back and saluting the flag, we ignore atrocities. Something which we have done, time and time again.
The fact this goes unknown is the realization of History Through the Western Canon, a fictitious storyline of Western Heroism and Messianic nature, and until we undo this narrative the violence and suffering will only continue.
You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who says it.
– Malcolm X