Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Guardian is racist

This is another off-topic rant which I'm going to cross-post with my other blog, because I'm a grump after watching a fortnight of insane british racism. The Guardian is the UK's supposedly intellectual, left-wing newspaper, ostensibly well-respected internationally for its quality. Unfortunately it is in reality a propaganda organ for the labour party (who are currently in power), which is probably the world's most illiberal left-wing party, and is best characterised by its being the only left-wing party in government to join the Iraq war. Need we say more? I suppose we could excuse them for being spineless lickspittles and quislings, but if that's their defense against allegations of racist mendacity, well, they can use it as much as they like.

I've been watching the Guardian defending racist language, standing by anti-foreign strikers, and supporting the government's open racism (in the form of the slogan "British Jobs for British Workers") and feeling my ire slowly rise for a week, but the straw that broke the camel's back is this piece of unmitigated shite - disguised as opinion, by a supposed academic - which tries to lay the blame for all anti-semitism in Asia at the feet of the Japanese. The Japanese! Who, let's not forget, rescued Jews through their German embassy in world war 2, even though Germany was their ally.

Now, I have tried to give this "academic" the benefit of the doubt but I find only one fact in his whole article which isn't straight from Wikipedia, but the breadth and scope of his assertions leaves me stunned. For someone who has studied the orient, he shows two types of nasty racism which really, really annoy me: first, he wants desperately to smear Japan specifically; and second, he sees the entire rest of Asia as in their thrall.

First, to Japan, which he claims has long been anti-semitic based on citations of books which coincidentally all appear in this wikipedia article labelled as "tondemo bon" (outrageous or dodgy books)[1]. He expects us to believe further that this anti-semitism - which is apparently confined to a bunch of phantasmagorical fringe texts - was exported all through Asia. He sites one book from China, and then proceeds to mention that Malaysia - a majority muslim country - also has anti-semitism. His support for this claim? Statements by the ex-Prime Minister. So Japan is the well-spring of anti-semitism in Asia, as proven by a few dodgy fringe books, while Malaysia "are not immune" even though their PM was publicly anti-semitic. This weak phrase suggests contagion from abroad, which seems a little topsy-turvy when one considers the relative importance of the media through which this anti-semitism is expressed in the two countries. But did our hero stop to consider this? No, he didn't, he certainly didn't. Japan, you see, is our misfortune. Sound like a familiar trope?

Our worthy scholar then proceeds to the usual claims about Japan - that it is a closed society with a short history of democracy, and so vulnerable to conspiracy theories. Of course, Japan introduced male suffrage in the Meiji restoration, 150 years ago, so its history of democracy is no worse than many other countries, and the "closed society" claim is just the usual ignorant rubbish. Perhaps not unusually, our noble inquirer then proceeds to link anti-semitism to anti-colonialism [2], which rather contradicts the implication that Japan is the well-spring of Asian anti-semitism, since it was never colonised (though Malaysia was...)

I'm sure I could write a piece of software which can assemble 3 or 4 stereotypes about Japan into a single paragraph, and then use them to justify any racist claim you want to make. Why employ shonky academics to do it when you can just do it with dice and a couple of slips of paper?

Buruma's other piece of racism, though, seems to me much nastier. His claim that Japan is the well-spring of anti-semitism in the region depends on the assumption that all the other Asian nations are weak, easily influenced and vulnerable to superior western ideals. Which claim, incidentally, relies on some sort of view of the Japanese as super-human politically and culturally[3]. But more importantly it relies on the idea that these societies are not capable of self-determination. Witness, for example, the breathtaking claim that The Chinese picked up many modern western ideas from the Japanese. Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but I recall the Chinese taking a somewhat different path to the Japanese in the '30s, through this chap Mao and this idea "communism" which he definitely didn't get from an itinerant Shinto monk. And you know, I think China might have a 1000 year long association with the West through this thing called "the Silk Road". They might have some independent ability to get ideas there, including anti-semitism, if they want it. Which they probably don't, Buruma's entire evidence being the claim that an anti-semitic book is selling well and even read by members of the government. The Chinese Governments' reading patterns are well known on account of its high level of public accountability, you see.

But this claim is obviously made about those nations - Malaysia, the Phillipines - which are generally viewed as less sophisticated. They're not, of course, but ranking them according to their similarity to western ideals is the classic stance of the cheap orientalist. This is slipshod academic work, and sloppy journalism to publish it. But it suits two combined tasks that the Guardian has to cope with. On the one hand, they have to fight off the hordes of right-wing Israel supporters who claim their coverage of the war in Gaza is anti-semitic, which defense they mount by regularly running critiques of anti-semitism; and on the other hand they have to remind themselves that yes, the British did win the war, and the Japanese are sub-human. Which they do by regularly running articles which assemble as many nasty stereotypes as possible, with the express purpose of reminding the reader of how awful those Japanese are. The final conclusion is irrelevant - it's the body, where the gentle reader is reminded that Japanese are inscrutable aliens with great powers, that is the important bit. And if that tactic sounds familiar to you, there's a reason...

So, this week, I have concluded that the Guardian is racist. Don't even get me started on the Daily Mail!


[1] The only fact he changes from the wikipedia article is the date of translation of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion into Japanese, which he claimed occurred in 1905 (two years after they were "discovered" during the war with Russia), while the wiki claims the translation at 1936. Tel Aviv University puts it at 1924. Obviously a true scholar! Japan was so anti-semitic that it only translated the text of the chief anti-semitic coda 21 years after its original publication, and only because some soldiers stumbled on it and brought it home. Imagine if the Nazis had been as anti-semitic as the Japanese!

[2] a fine trope, incidentally, for right-wingers who want to tar all national liberation movements with the same brush. I'm surprised he didn't fit a critique of Mao and Ho Chi Minh in there somewhere.

[3] projection much?


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