Monday, March 29, 2010


In the epic movie “Lawrence of Arabia”. problems for the Arab Council, now decimated, are insurmountable, upon its occupation of Damascus. The Turkish hospital is overflowing with wounded, and there is no water. A British medical officer, Howard Marion Crawford finds the situation "outrageous," calls Arab-garbed Lawrence a "filthy little wog" and slaps him in the face. Previously, in the film, Lawrence’s Arab sidekick is evicted from the officer’s mess in Cairo, after an epic desert ride from Aqaba, as there are “no wogs allowed.” The word ‘wog’ of course denotes a bug that carries a disease and its application by Anglo-Saxons firstly to Middle Easterners, and then to Southern Europeans, leaves no doubt in the imagination as to the esteem in which persons of these races are held.
The latest bout of “Greek-bashing” in Europe and America, whereby Greeks are characterised by the Western media as shifty, uncivilised and troublesome, people at whom, if one would believe Focus magazine, classical statues would do well to poke their middle fingers at, is nothing more than yet another manifestation of a sociological tendency to create negative stereotypes in times of crisis. Instead of critiquing or criticising the actions of specific individuals, a whole people is summarily condemned. And yet, historically, the stereotyping of entire peoples has proved inordinately dangerous.
The acronym “PIGS” (Portugal, Italy, Greece and Spain), employed by Western journalists and commentators in order to denote the various peoples of the southern Mediterranean and their economies is thus not just another slur. Instead, it is the most modern example of a tendency to cast doubt upon the humanity of one’s fellow man, in which members of a dominant ethnic group reduce members of another ethnic group to the level of animals, who thus, by inference, should be treated in a similarly fashion. Modern Greeks, smarting under their newly found porcine appellation should console themselves with the knowledge that at least pigs are mammals and as such, cousins to humans. We, on the other hand, have been considered practically protozoan, for years. These types of attitudes have been well-entrenched within Anglo-Saxon consciousness ever since 1863, when Dr James Hunt asserted, at a meeting in Newcastle of the British Association for the Advancement of Science by asserting that the ‘Negro’ was a separate species of human being, half way between the ape and the ‘European man.’ In Hunt’s view the ‘Negro’ became ‘more humanized when in his natural subordination to the European,’ but he regretfully concluded that ‘European civilization was not suited to the Negros’ requirements or character.’ This type of world view, that holds that the swarthier one is, the less “white” and thus European one is, is still with us today. In much of the south of the USA, latinos are considered to be “non-white.”
It has taken the righteous protests of such esteemed individuals as the Portuguese finance minister for august institutions such as the Financial Times and Barclays Bank to desist from using bestial slurs, yet nonetheless, they appear to be enduring. Yet those who would persist in their employment of such pejorative terms do so at their own peril. For in doing so, they neglect to recall the fact that similar disparaging expressions have been used systematically in the past, in order to desensitise public opinion, to dull feelings of guilt or compassion and in the ensuing dehumanisation, facilitate persecution and even genocide.
The 1994 genocide in Rwanda for example, was incited by similar forms of dehumanisation. Tutsis were equated by Hutu radio commentators as “inyenzi” cockroaches, disease carrying pests that had to be destroyed. Leni Reifenstahl’s 1935 film “Triumph des Willens” (Triumph of the Will,) where rats are depicted fleeing the sewers of Nuremberg in anticipation of Hitler’s arrival in that city, leaves little to the imagination as to who the said vermin are meant to represent. The symbolism is not lost when one considers that it was a pesticide, Zyklon B, that was used to exterminate most of the Jews that were incarcerated in Nazi Death Camps during the Second World War. Prior to that, the German people were bombarded for years with propaganda that had as its sole aim, the dehumanisation of the Jewish people, through their equation with pestilence. Julius Streicher’s disgusting paper Der Stürmer, whereupon Jews were portrayed as sexual predators is a case in point. As Goebbels, the master propagandist himself had said: “The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly- it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Once this had taken place, it is relatively easy for others not to have been overly perturbed about killing ‘pests,’ which is of necessity for the good of society, in order to recycle their hair or their body fat.
It is highly unlikely that the Teutonic races are secretly plotting an onslaught against the porcine southerners, intent upon stripping them of their rind and hamstringing them in order to bring home the bacon. Nonetheless, names, like mud, stick, which provides the rationale for the Greek expression: «Καλύτερα να σου βγει το μάτι παρά το όνομα.» Studies of crowd violence highlight a distinction between two forms of pejorative expression: that which denies or calls into question the masculinity of the ‘enemy’ and that which denies his humanity. The former is held to lead to ritualistic violence, while the latter leads to actual violence. The tragic consequences of verbal ‘bestialisation’ have lead anthropologist such as Montagu and Matson, in their groundbreaking ‘The Dehumanisation of Man’ to consider such dehumanization “the fifth horseman of the Apocalypse.”
The other day, I was at the bank, organising a transfer of funds to Greece. The bank employee, a portly middle-aged man, with a French accent immediately quipped upon receiving my request: “Oh, you are saving the Greek economy are you? You’re going to have to, since all your mates have embezzled all that money.” My immediate instinct was to punch him. Having regained my composure, I asked: “Is this the type of conversation, as your marketing material claims, that will have me consider as I walk away from here: “That was an unbanklike conversation with a person in the bank?” Having established an ascendancy of nervousness, I then proceeded to apply Montagu and Matson by stripping pieces of masculinity from the French, taking into account the failure of the Maginot Line, the collaborationist regime of Vichy, the existence of Gabriel Gate, and the French failure to beat the British in the scramble for Africa. Deviating from this path, I did a little dehumanisation of my own, presenting the French as evil tyrants bent on world domination, as evidenced by Napoleon, the battle of Dien Bien Phu, the Algerian War of Liberation and Jean Claude Van Damme, if only by linguistic association. By the end of my tirade, whereupon my would-be assailant had turned purple by my assertion that the only decent Frenchman was Pepe le Peu, we called a truce by turning on the Germans, who are to be blamed for everything, starting from the theft of Greece’s gold reserves and concluding with excruciating renditions of the song ‘99 Luftballoons.’
Harmless or satirical stereotypes notwithstanding, it is of concern that civilised people descend to the level of making dehumanising, racist statements, when this tendency has caused so much horror and suffering in our not so decent past. When we do not approach others as individuals but as representatives of a stereotype, when one ethnic group is presented as the embodiment of nobility and virtue and the other as the epitome of guile and immorality, then we leave the door wide open for all sorts race crime and violence. Southern Europeans are not ‘pigs,’ nor are Greeks inherently dishonest, though next week we will take a glance at the thoroughly disquieting published opinions about us by other local communities here in Melbourne. The parlous state of southern Europe’s finances has to do with a global crisis, not the racial characteristics of Mediterranean people. After all, it was the Semitic peoples who ‘invented’ economics. Our northern Nordic cousins, pumped up by the vibrancy of youth are relative latecomers to the games we have played for thousands of years prior to their arrival.
The negative opinion people have of other’s ethnicities coupled with a sense of their own racial superiority is a dangerous thing. In the Britons’ case, it caused them to dismiss Indian demands for independence as an example of “the jackass taking on the lion.” In our case, it has led to all sorts of abuses as bullies who know better pushing us around – including such heinous instances as Britain beguiling us to enter the Second World War with the promise of illusory troop support, for no other reason than to unsettle Turkey enough to make her enter the war.
It was Adolf Hitler who held that “Humanitarianism is the expression of stupidity and cowardice.” Let us hope that the racist fifth horseman of the Apocalypse stumbles upon his own stupidity and cowardice, unable to surmount the righteous obstacles of logic, dignity and common humanity. Let us keep dehumanising bestialisation where it belongs: in the menagerie of human idiocy.


First published in NKEE on 29 March 2010