The latest statement by Claude Guéant – "All civilizations are created unequal"-unleashes a lot of comments, often steep and rough as the original. The question however is perhaps more complex than it seems.
At first glance, how not to agree that certain ways of treating the woman, or the child, in some countries are not eligible in the eyes of human rights and universal values? Certainly there is wholeheartedly agreement with that. It should be noted with amusement that Mr. Guéant becomes “human-rightist”, he, the head of a department that sent the police to arrest children out of school to expel them, or to the “restaurants du Coeur” to stop poor people who come for a hot meal.
Are these values of “civilizations”? The term has known a big success in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, especially in opposition to “barbarism”, and used to justify such operations as slave trade, colonial or expansionist wars in the name of the superiority of a civilization on another. Superiority claimed by the States, but denied by historians and ethnologists. Marcel Mauss wrote: “There are no uncivilized people. There are only people of different civilizations.” Belied particularly by the facts: these defeated civilizations were sometimes very brilliant, and the Spaniards have shown themselves more barbarous than the Aztecs or the Mayans, Americans more savage than Indians and Christians more than Muslims.
Yes, of course, someone will say, but all this is history! Yet at that time precisely, those who already claimed to be the most civilized, committed the greatest acts of barbarism.
While looking over the recent period, the last sixty years, for example, European civilization has sent millions of people in gas chambers. It was not the Middle-Ages, but at the time of the parents of Claude Guéant! It was the same civilization of which he is proud!
Is it a question of culture, as Claude Guéant paraphrased his own words? Culture has replaced civilization in language teaching textbooks, precisely because of the imperialist connotations of the term civilization, but covers roughly the same content. What characterizes a civilization or culture over another is a set of parameters: arts, politics, language, technology, religion, social organization … and culture-civilizations are like languages, equal in dignity.
No, what sends women to be stoned, or Jews, communists and homosexuals in the gas chamber, is not civilization, it is ideology. It may be political, religious, philosophical (blacks have no souls, they said in the seventeenth century to justify slave trade). Ideologies are not of the same dignity in terms of universal values, those that support humanity. European civilization may be, according to the ideology that leads it, of unusual barbarity. And nothing says that this is history (completely passed over).
The progress of civilization was an illusion of the eighteenth century, the belief that the natural “savagery” of man could be mitigated by reason and society. But horrible facts show us the opposite every day. Much worse, the functioning of the Western world today, based on the hoarding of money by a minority, causing isolation of the individual, the decline of social ties, insecurity, this world can produce only violence on violence. There is also an ideology at the base of this functioning, which weakens the weak and strengthens the strong.
Policy goes through words, so it is important to be vigilant on vocabulary.
Conflating civilization and ideology is rooting in people’s minds that some civilizations, considered inferior or bad, must be combated and even eradicated. Why not one day by a war in the name of saving the superiority of civilization, as in colonial times? a war that would have the advantage of re-launching economies weakened by twenty years of unbridled liberalism? We are not immune to such manipulation, which will go first through language.
Civilized, Mr. Guéant? No doubt, with all the arrogance, since the word is in vogue, the one who, under cover in the certainty of his superiority, denies at the same time, history, sociology, ethnology, culture and equity. Civilized? Yes, but arrogant.
By M. Oudina
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