"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Friday, February 17, 2006

Martin Jacques on 'Eurocentrism'

In the Guardian today, Martin Jacques - in his treatment of the Danish cartoons - reaches new levels of generalisation and economic determinism - which is no mean feat, if you're familiar with Mr Jacques' output. Not only should 'Europe' be treated as one country today, Jacques applies this to the past as well:
"Europe has never had to worry too much about context or effect because for around 200 years it dominated and colonised most of the world. Such was Europe's omnipotence that it never needed to take into account the sensibilities, beliefs and attitudes of those that it colonised, however sacred and sensitive they might have been. On the contrary, European countries imposed their rulers, religion, beliefs, language, racial hierarchy and customs on those to whom they were entirely alien. There is a profound hypocrisy - and deep historical ignorance - when Europeans complain about the problems posed by the ethnic and religious minorities in their midst, for that is exactly what European colonial rule meant for peoples around the world. With one crucial difference, of course: the white minorities ruled the roost, whereas Europe's new ethnic minorities are marginalised, excluded and castigated, as recent events have shown."
You read correctly; Jacques actually has the brass-neck to upbraid 'Europeans' for their 'historical ignorance'. Let's try and work out the connection between a history of colonialism and the publication of the cartoons, shall we? The country with the deepest history of colonialism is of course Britain. We didn't publish the cartoons. The French, Germans and Dutch published the cartoons and have a history of colonialism, this is true - but Jacques' analysis seems a bit tough on the Belgians, who seem to have spent rather a lot of their history being invaded - usually by Germans. And this may simply reflect gaps in my education but I don't recall either Denmark or Switzerland being particularly heavily-involved in the scramble for Africa. And while one has realised it's considered poor taste to raise the matter, there's the fact that the cartoons were published in Egypt too. I could be wrong but I'm sure the last time I looked at an atlas, Egypt wasn't in Europe.

Perhaps Mr Jacques is working on a revisionist history of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. I'll look forward to that. In the meantime, to his question...
"Is the argument over the Danish cartoons really reducible to a matter of free speech?"
...we will continue to answer in the affirmative.

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