Us and Them, the Myth of Western Superiority

By William Mark Hardiker, al-Jazeerah, 18 August 2003

Unlike the Europeans, the Americans and to a lesser extent Australians because of their constitutional ties to Great Britain, do not possess an historical tradition of identification with that which Professor Edward Said calls Orientalism. A valid interpretation of what this means might begin with an acknowledgement, appreciation and respect for an adjacent cultural tradition. Traditionally Europe has considered the Orient (inclusive of the Middle East) in such terms, despite it's shameful historical relationship and detrimental impact; one characterized by self interest, with little or no consideration of the peoples it colonized, enslaved, exploited and subjugated. Despite this it has always been recognized as the source of an ancient civilization with a rich cultural, artistic and spiritual heritage. In other words a culture adjacent and equivalent to that which evolved in Europe and the West but in a different direction and at a different rate.

For the United States such an appreciation has never been encouraged to manifest itself within the national psyche. This world has always been considered other, predominately in terms of a national commercial and strategic interest. A world of commodities and a source of wealth. This non-European world and it's people have always been perceived with antipathy. They're values opposed, their religions bizarre and their laws and customs prejudiced and offensive. As a consequence the Middle East, one part of this world, has always been and remains to this day viewed with hostility and contempt. Such a majority national perception does not conceive of itself without a guiding hand and it is the end result of decades of official misinformation and propaganda, designed to ensure and preserve ignorance. It has also been augmented by the fundamental human fear of the unknown. The hostile human response to that which is foreign, unfamiliar and inconsistent. To even mention the Middle East conjures up immediately within collective consciousness of Americans and Australians alike images of robed, gold ornamented, oil rich sheiks, Uzi weilding hooded terrorists and crazed religious fanatics—all denouncing the evil westerners. These are all common non-sensual stereotypes promoted for specific outcomes. Pause and Imagine their adjacent American/Australian counterparts; it also is not a pretty picture.

The reality is that this a complex world of vast diversity in all spheres of human endeavor. No different in this respect to America and Europe. Of course all is not well outside the realm of western capitalist states, but neither is it within. It has long been in the U.S national interest, (the tiresome phrase used so often to justify practically all foreign policy, however it impacts on the rest of the world) and Australia's due to it's subservient relationship with the world's dominant imperialist power, to create or rather fabricate a popular perception of this ‘menacing’ and ‘fearsome’ world. After world war two and the beginning of the cold war, it was the soviets who were misrepresented in such a way for similar reasons. Domestic public support for aggressive foreign policy intervention into the affairs of states relies heavily upon dehumanization and vilification of people as well as the perception of an external threat to the 'nation! al interest'.

With the Bush/Cheney administration comes also a dramatic increase in, and refinement of the art of vilification in order to escalate the level of support for their war on terrorism. It has also been used to justify such measures as would ordinarily not be deemed acceptable, ie pre-emptive attacks on defenseless states and domestic legislation limiting human freedoms and rights. For the administration, the drive to accentuate the differences between them and us has been one of the highest priorities and of uppermost importance. So much so that it has been expressed in the most simplistic terms imaginable in order to ensure that no one is immune to the message. The world has been divided and consequently degraded to the absurd status of those on the side of good versus those on the side of evil. The idea being of course that despite the disillusioned, disengaged and semi-comatose nature of human beings existing within the bounds of their individualized societies, such a 'moronic' interpretation will resonate through even the thickest of skulls and reinforce the necessary status quo regarded essential by the ruling elites in order to pursue their agenda. I regret to say that i have no doubt whatsoever that the Bush administrations propaganda campaign to incite racial, cultural and national divisiveness will succeed and tragically increase the level of hostility, hatred and violence between our two worlds. But to add a slightly more optimistic note let us ask this question. But for how long? This is a question worthy of considerable thought. Until very recently technology only allowed the majority of humanity access to mainstream, state sanctioned media coverage of world events. Today a villager in any one of the worlds remotest regions can access multi-media information sources. The ability of governments to withhold information or classify information considered unacceptable for public consumption is becoming increasingly difficult. Soon it may be impossible. The unraveling of the fabricated evidence presented by the U.S and Great Britain to the U.N to justify their case for war against Iraq is a clear example. What may not be immediately clear and appear suspect, will most certainly be exposed.

What we must be watchful of is the manner in which the technocrats are manipulating the moral and ethical standards of societies to ensure that unworthy human traits such as deceit, duplicity and corruption can be acceptable if carried out for the right reasons. The right reasons of course being those in the national interest.