Barbarism Begins at Home

The U.S. phase of the “universal civilization” project has utterly destroyed the state structures of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, writes Pepe Escobar. 

U.S. Marines escort  prisoners to a holding area in the desert of Iraq on March 21, 2003. (U.S. Marine Corps, Brian L. Wickliffe, Wikimedia Commons)

By Pepe Escobar
The Asia Times  

Greece invented the concept of barbaros. Imperial Rome inherited it as barbarus.  

The original meaning of barbaros is rooted in language: an onomatopoeia meaning “unintelligible speech” as people go “bar bar bar” when they talk.

Homer does not refer to barbaros, but to barbarophonos (“of unintelligible speech”), as in those who don’t speak Greek or speak very badly. Comic poet Aristophanes suggested that Gorgias was a barbarian because he spoke a strong Sicilian dialect.

Barbaru meant “foreigner” in Babylonian-Sumerian. Those of us who studied Latin in school remember balbutio (“stammer,” “stutter,” babble”).

Detail of Darius, with a label in Greek, top right, giving his name. (Carlo Raso, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons)

So, it was speech that defined the barbarian compared to the Greek. Thucydides thought that Homer did not use “barbarians” because in his time Greeks “hadn’t yet been divided off so as to have a single common name by way of contrast.” The point is clear: the barbarian was defined as in opposition to the Greek.

The Greeks invented the barbarian concept after the Persian invasions by Darius I and Xerxes I in 490 and 480-479 BC. After all they had to clearly separate themselves from the non-Greek. Aeschylus staged “The Persians” in 472 BC. That was the turning point; after that “barbarian” was everyone who was not Greek – Persians, Phoenicians, Phrygians, Thracians.

Adding to the schism, all these barbarians were monarchists. Athens, a new democracy, considered that to be the equivalent of slavery. Athens extolled “freedom” – which ideally developed reason, self-control, courage, generosity. In contrast, barbarians – and slaves – were childish, effeminate, irrational, undisciplined, cruel, cowardly, selfish, greedy, luxurious, pusillanimous.

From all of the above two conclusions are inevitable.

No. 1: Barbarism and slavery was a natural match.

No. 2: Greeks thought it was morally uplifting to help friends and repel enemies, and in the latter case Greeks had to enslave them. So, Greeks should by definition rule barbarians.

History has shown that this worldview not only migrated to Rome but afterwards, via Christianity post-Constantine, to the “superior” West, and finally to the West’s supposed “end of history”: imperial America.

The Barbarian Invasions consisted of the movement of (mainly) ancient Germanic peoples into Roman territory. (MapMaster, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons)

Rome, as usual, was pragmatic: “barbarian” was adapted to qualify anything and anyone not Roman. How not to relish the historical irony: for the Greeks, the Romans were also – technically – barbarians.

Rome focused more on behavior than race. If you were truly civilized, you would not be mired in the “savagery” of Nature or found dwelling in the outskirts of the world (like Vandals, Visigoths, etc.) You would live right in the center of the matrix.  

So, everyone who lived outside of Rome’s power – and crucially, who resisted Rome’s power – was a barbarian. A collection of traits would establish the difference: race, tribe, language, culture, religion, law, psychology, moral values, clothing, skin color, patterns of behavior.  

People who lived in Barbaria could not possibly become civilized.  

Starting from the 16th century, that was the whole logic behind the European expansion and/or rape of the Americas, Africa and Asia, the core of the mission civilisatrice carried as a white man’s burden.

Portuguese map (c. 1519) showing the coast of Brazil and natives extracting brazilwood, as well as Portuguese ships. (Wikimedia Commons)

With all that in mind, a number of questions remain unanswered. Are all barbarians irredeemably barbarous – wild, uncivilized, violent? The “civilized,” in many cases, may also be considered barbarian? Is it possible to configure a pan-barbarian identity? And where is Barbaria today?

The End of Secularized Religion

Barbarism begins at home. Alastair Crooke has shown how in an extremely polarized U.S. “both parties” are essentially accusing each other of barbarism: “these people lie, and would stoop to any illegitimate, seditionist (i.e. unconstitutional) means, to obtain their illicit ends.”  

Adding to the complexity, this clash of barbarisms opposes an old, conservative guard to a Woke Generation in many respects aping a Mao Cultural Revolution mindset. “Woke” could easily be interpreted as the opposite of the Enlightenment. And it’s an Anglo-America phenomenon — visible among the aimless, masked, unmasked, socially disillusioned, largely unemployed and not-distanced victims of the raging New Great Depression. There is no “woke” in China, Russia, Iran or Turkey.  

Protest against Covid-19 closure in Huntington Beach, California, May 3, 2020. (Russ Allison Loar, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons)

Yet the central Barbaria question goes way beyond street protests.  The “indispensable nation” may have irretrievably lost the Western equivalent of the Chinese “mandate of heaven,” dictating, unopposed, the parameters of its own construct: “universal civilization.”

The fundaments of what amounts to a secularized religion are in tatters. The “narrow, sectarian pillar” of “liberal core tenets of individual autonomy, freedom, industry, free trade” was “able to be projected into a universal project – only so long as it was underpinned by power.”

Roughly for the past two centuries this civilizational claim served as the basis for the colonization of the Global South and the West’s uncontested domination over The Rest. Not anymore. Signs are creeping everywhere. The most glaring is the evolving Russia-China strategic partnership.

The “indispensable nation” lost its military cutting edge to Russia and is losing its economic/trade preeminence to China. President Vladimir Putin was compelled to write a detailed essay setting the record straight on one of the pillars of the American Century: that only happened, to a large extent, due to the sacrifices of the USSR in WWII.    

Soviet officer (thought to be Ukrainian Alexei Yeryomenko) leading his soldiers into battle against the invading German army, 12 July 1942, in Soviet Ukraine. (RIA Novosti archive, Wikimedia Commons)

It’s quite enlightening to check how the civilizational claim is unraveling across Southwest Asia – what the Orientalist perspective defines as the Middle East.

In a paroxysm of missionary zeal, the self-appointed heir to imperial Rome – call it Rome on the Potomac – is bent, via the Deep State, on destroying by all means necessary the allegedly “barbarian” Axis of Resistance: Tehran, Baghdad, Damascus and Hezbollah. Not by military means, but via economic apocalypse. 

This testimony, by a European religious figure working with Syrians, concisely shows how the Caesar Act sanctions — perversely depicted as a “Civilian Protection Act” and drafted under Obama in 2016 — are designed to harm and even starve local populations, deliberately steering them towards civil unrest.

James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy to Syria, even rejoicedon the record, that sanctions against “the regime” have “contributed to the collapse” of what is essentially Syrian livelihood.  

James F. Jeffrey swears in as special representative for Syria engagement, Aug. 17, 2018. (State Department, Ron Przysucha)

Rome on the Potomac sees the Axis of Resistance as Barbaria. For one hegemonic U.S. faction, they are barbarous because they dare to reject the superior, “moral” American civilization claim. For another no less hegemonic faction, they are so outright barbarian that only regime change would redeem them. A great deal of “enlightened” Europe happens to supports this interpretation, slightly sweetened by humanitarian imperialism overtones.       

The Wall of Alexander

It’s Iraq all over again. In 2003, the beacon of civilization launched Shock and Awe on “barbarian” Iraq, a criminal operation based on entirely falsified intel – very much like the recent chapter of never-ending Russiagate, where we see malign Russkies playing the role of paymasters to Taliban with the intent of killing (occupying) U.S. soldiers.

The devastating aerial assault on Baghdad in 2003, was known as “shock and awe.”

This “intel” — corroborated by no evidence, and parroted uncritically by corporate media — comes from the same system that tortured innocent prisoners in Guantanamo until they confessed to anything; lied about WMDs in Iraq; and weaponized and financed Salafi-jihadis — sweetened as “moderate rebels” – to kill Syrians, Iraqis and Russians.   

It’s no wonder that across Iraq in 2003, I never ceased to hear from Sunnis and Shi’ites alike that the American invaders were more barbarous than the Mongols in the 13th century.  

One of the key targets of the Caesar Act is to close for good the Syrian-Lebanese border. An unintended consequence is that this will lead Lebanon to get closer to Russia-China. Hezbollah’s Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has already made it very clear.

Nasrallah added a subtle historical insight — emphasizing how Iran has always been the strategic, cultural go-between for China and the West: after all, for centuries, the language of choice along the Ancient Silk Roads was Persian. Who’s the barbarian now?

The Axis of Resistance, as well as China, know that a festering wound will have to be tackled: the thousands of Salafi-jihadi Uighurs scattered across the Syria-Turkey border, which could become a serious problem obstructing the overland, northern Levant route of the New Silk Roads.  

In Libya, part of the Greater Middle East, utterly destroyed by NATO and turned into a wasteland of warring militias, the “leading from behind” fight against Barbaria will take the form of perpetuating the warring – local populations be damned. The playbook is a faithful replay of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

U.S. guided-missile destroyer targets Libya’s Mediterranean Coast, March 19, 2011. (U.S. Navy, Wikimedia Commons)

In a nutshell, the “universal civilization” project has been able to utterly destroy the “barbarian” state structures of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. But that’s where the buck stops.

Iran has drawn the new line in the sand. Profiting from the hardened experience of living four decades under U.S. sanctions, Tehran sent a large business delegation to Damascus to schedule the supply of necessities and is “breaking the fuel siege of Syria by sending several oil tankers” – much as the breaking of the U.S. blockade on Venezuela. The oil will be paid in Syrian lira.

So, Caesar Act is actually leading Russia-China-Iran – the three key nodes in myriad strategies of Eurasia integration – to get closer and closer to the “barbarian” Axis of Resistance. A special feature is the  complex diplomatic-energy ties between Iran and China — also part of a long-term strategic partnership. That includes even a new railway to be built linking Tehran to Damascus and eventually Beirut (part of BRI in Southwest Asia) – which will also be used as an energy corridor.  

On Surah 18 of the Holy Quran, we find the story of how Alexander the Great, on his way to the Indus, met a faraway people who “could scarcely understand any speech”. Well, barbarians.

The barbarians told Alexander the Great they were being threatened by some people they called – in Arabic – Gog and Magog, and asked for his help. The Macedonian suggested they get a lot of iron, melt it down and build a giant wall, following his own design. According to the Quran, as long as Gog and Magog were kept away, behind the wall, the world would be safe.

But then, on Judgment Day, the wall would fall. And hordes of monsters would drink away all the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates.

Buried beneath some hills in northern Iran, the fabled Sadd-i-Iskandar (“Wall of Alexander”) is still there. Yes, we will never know what sort of monsters, engendered by the sleep of reason, lurk across Barbaria.    

Pepe Escobar, a veteran Brazilian journalist, is the correspondent-at-large for Hong Kong-based Asia Times. His latest book is 2030.” Follow him on Facebook.

This article is from The Asia Times.

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

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15 comments for “Barbarism Begins at Home

  1. michael Chattick
    July 21, 2020 at 15:13

    What condtitutes a barbaric nation in US and European minds? Is it lack of a strong Independent of outside influence. Nation lacking a Central Government with a strong centralized controlled economy that is at odds with the US european trade needs are?
    Can a civilized government exist without a strong central government and centralized controlled economy? Yemen was such a land as was Somalia and Afghanistan before Europe turned its eyes upon nèeing control of their and surrounding nations resources and today almost all Africas civilized.nation fit the foreign economic standards.
    Those that do not have US France and Germany militarily forcing them to be changed or be killed resisting.
    Lot of harping how bad US is but they have plenty support from all Euro Nations. All.
    France seeking rentry into Africa joined in from day one bombing Libya and now is working in conjunctio.n with US and NATO .ilitary industrials to control all resource trade of African Continent.
    When Euro nations voluntarily join any and all US instituted embRgos and theft of a. Ations financial assets in their financial systems you have a den of thieves under a powerfull military warlord. International TreTies of Gold Deposits in other than ones own sovereign banks, that gold does not belong to land of deposit, but US Britain and European sovereign funds claim certain nations gold holdings in their depositories S their own assets to be spent as. Their own; Venezuela gold reserves in US and Britain s most recent case in point.
    Trump is using Citgo and all its Ve ezuelan domestic productionand its gold deposits to build wall along Mexico border.
    Lets leave out for now the fact that worlds gold hS to meet purity standards but when Germany got only amount US said they could its purity standard of 99. 1 minimum had dropped into mid to mid 80 percent pure.
    Chinas purity when removed was even less.

  2. July 19, 2020 at 01:07

    Libya was Africa’s most prosperous nation. Hillary Clinton was the key play in its destruction, which Obama allowed. Imagine if Americans protested the deaths 40,000 black lives from this ongoing genocide. The proof is here:
    see: Libya 2011

  3. RomeoCharlie29
    July 18, 2020 at 21:12

    Is it in any way relevant that so much of the US military adventurism in the Mid East has been at the behest of, and in support of, oil interests. With oil becoming a stranded asset what other justifications will be found for the program of regime change US Neocons seem to be driving? Or am I completely off the wall?

  4. July 18, 2020 at 17:59

    “In a nutshell, the “universal civilization” project has been able to utterly destroy the “barbarian” state structures of Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Yemen.” Pepe, why leave out Syria? Obama was persuaded by H. Clinton to give ‘Humanitarian Aid’ to 2 rebel groups in Syria. Money is infinitely fungible. ‘Humanitarian aid’ frees up budgets for bullets. And this largesse freed up many other Western nations to help rebel factions against UN embargoes. Otherwise, of course, you are completely right.

  5. evelync
    July 18, 2020 at 11:52

    @AnneR – you said
    ” I really hope that Iran pulls through this terrible period intact and not bulldozed – either physically or metaphysically. Their culture is probably imperfect, indeed is surely: but…”

    As Wes Clark pointed out during his 2004 brief run (before the NYT Adam Nagourney brought him down w a witch hunt, IMO)
    – “that Iran is a (beautiful) multicultural country of 80 million people” –

    And I’ve often wondered – if they do have an imperfect culture (as I guess we all do these days) – how much of that is to be attributed to our coup on their democratically elected Mosadegh followed with the torturing Shah then overthrown by the Mullahs…
    just saying…..

  6. Zhu
    July 18, 2020 at 06:09

    Great analysis, Mr. Escibar! Very imaginative.

    FYI, the Biblical Gog is Herodotus’ Gyges and Magog is Gyges’ kingdom of Lydia. They are Gugu and Mat-Gugu, Gugu’s country in Assyrian records.

    July 17, 2020 at 17:25

    What could be more barbarous than what the Trump administration is doing at our southern border—-separating children from their parents and locking the children up in cages—-to discourage emigration to the U.S.——Talk about barbarians !

  8. Bob Browning
    July 17, 2020 at 09:48

    Love this perspective.

  9. Phong Tran
    July 16, 2020 at 23:59

    The end of his-tory is just laughable. Our story is just beginning!

  10. Drew Hunkins
    July 16, 2020 at 18:02

    An alarming situation is currently taking place in southwest Asia.

    Over the past few months Iran has suffered a series of explosions to some of its key infrastructure points. These violent incidents are occurring more frequently, they’re becoming routine and they’re clearly planned and executed by state actors. There is nothing random or accidental about them. These acts of terrorism are nothing less than acts of war.

    Apparently, the thought is that ever since the murder of Solemani Tehran has chosen not to counter punch hard enough, so its enemies are testing the waters to see just how much they can get away with. Their view now is that Iran is weak and vulnerable, is an ineffective military power and can be bullied around.

    It’s noteworthy that these idiotic and incendiary acts of war are being perpetrated against the southwestern Asian state that has been seeking peace for decades and desperately desires cooperative commercial relations throughout the globe.

    It’s now crucial to understand, and it must be overwhelmingly stressed, that this is deadly serious business that the Mossad-Washington-pro Israel Terror Network is carrying forth!

    That this situation could easily spin dangerously out of control is a massive understatement.

    • AnneR
      July 17, 2020 at 09:38

      All too true, DH. Obscenely, barbarously true. The barbarians of these past 70+ decades have been the US, UK, IS (OAP)and NATO and they clearly have no desire, not a single moral or ethical fiber anywhere in their collective make up. Nary a one.

      OAP (IS) wants Iran destroyed and the US would salivate ‘cos then no resistance to its oil/control grab. Two more psychopathic, sociopathic, barbarous nations would be difficult to imagine were the evidence not in plain sight (for those who refuse to ignore).

      I really hope that Iran pulls through this terrible period intact and not bulldozed – either physically or metaphysically. Their culture is probably imperfect, indeed is surely: but then which society, culture is? And for the US, UK, OAP to point fingers and verbally, politically excoriate Iran because it has imperfections is beyond risible. The Hypocrisy is so profound, so sick…

    • vinnieoh
      July 17, 2020 at 09:59

      DH: This is purely speculation on my part, but I highly suspect that, if all of these incidents are Israeli sapper operations, the intent is exactly to draw Iran into a retaliatory move. And the reason for doing that, again reminding this is my personal speculation, is to goad Trump into fulfilling the Zionist desire for the US to launch a large attack against Iran. I said in an earlier post that Trump should realize that Israel is no-ones friend, and as Trump continues to sink lower and lower in the polls at home, becoming desperate and flailing around for something to reverse that trend, that Israel may be able to goad him into making the desperate (“political”) move they so desire.

      I do not believe that serious analysts view Iran as now being in a weak position; just the opposite. Recently both China and Russia have strengthened their ties and commitments to Iran, as well as their future investments. The wheels are coming off the US effort to isolate and demonize Iran. The R & C moves have given Iran a degree of freedom they did not have just a few short years ago when both R & C seemed to be moving hesitantly and gingerly. No longer.

      I guess to put a fine point on it: the Israeli’s see Trump’s travails as a possible opportunity to be exploited. Now, whether through some uncanny political sense, and despite the rest of Trump’s horrid assault on US institutions and the public commons, it’s hard to escape the observation that he does seem to get that the one thing that would truly sink him (with much of his base) is starting another major war in the ME. And one that all serious analysts must surely tell him would not turn out well for the US or US proxies in the Gulf.

      Again, all speculation on my part, and everything I said here might turn out to be completely wrong.

    • Drew Hunkins
      July 17, 2020 at 16:02

      @ AnneR,

      You’re spot on regarding the hypocrisy and who the true barbarians are. Keep up the great posts.

    • Drew Hunkins
      July 17, 2020 at 16:06

      @ vinnieoh,

      I think most of what you wrote in your posted response to me is pretty much right on.

      Below’s a post I put on CN just after the Solemani murder and I think it’s applicable today and jibes with you’re thinking:

      Bernie Marcus, Sheldon Adelson, Paul Singer and the rest of the pro-Israel zealots are counting on one thing, that once the Iranian counter-strike occurs it will galvanize an overwhelming anti-Iran fervor on behalf of the American public. Thus, the Zionist power configuration will get their dream come true: Washington fighting Iran on behalf of the hegemonic sadistic racist paranoid state of Israel.

      Ergo, THEE key question of the moment — how do we temper the American appetite for war after the inevitable Iranian counter strike? The Western capitalist mass media (owned and controlled by militarist contractors and Zionists) will go into hyper-drive gassing up the U.S. public’s heads with dangerous jingoism against the Islamic Republic.

    • Zhu
      July 18, 2020 at 06:35

      Christian Zionistewant war, war, war, in the Middle East, to bring Jesus, punish the wicked, reward the righteous, etc. Cf. Hal Lindsey, THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH & innumerable sequals. Christuan Zionists number in the tens if millions ans wield vast clout i US politics. Iwush CN, eg, would play more attention to them.

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