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by Fábio de Oliveira Ribeiro Thursday, Jul. 22, 2010 at 8:17 AM

A review of Tzvetan Todorov's book.

todorov.jpg, image/jpeg, 300x300

Today have just read THE BARBARIAN'S FEAR (La peur des barbares), Tzvetan Todorov, publisher in Brazil by Vozes. The book was resembling quite balanced and advisable.

Todorov tries to undo several misunderstandings and myths that they were created, in the last years, around the words "barbarism", "civilization" and "culture" and concerning the expressions "western tradition", "civilization conflict" and "Islamic fundamentalism" for authors as Samuel Huntington, Oriana Fallaci, Élie Barnavi and Alain Finkielkraut. The critic of the concepts formulated by the mentioned authors is very detailed, the definitions proposed by Todorov are refined and complex. THE BARBARIAN'S FEAR avoids to sustain that we lived in a simple world in that the good ones combat the bad ones.

"The barbarism results of a characteristic of the human being; seemingly, it would be illusory to wait that, one day, it can be eliminated definitively. Therefore, for us, the barbarism doesn't correspond to a specific period of the humanity's history, old or modern, nor the any population that occupied an peculiar area of the Planet: it is in us, as well as in the other ones; any people, nor person, it is immunized against the possibility of executing barbaric actions."

In the chapter "collective identities" Todorov tries to demonstrate as and why the cultures are not isolated, but they share contact areas that enrich them and that they allow to the human beings to have several identities.

"Pure cultures don't exist; on the contrary, all of them are mixed (or 'hybrid' or 'mestizos'). The contacts among human groups move back ace origins of the species and they leave tracks in the way as the members of each group if they communicate amongst themselves. No matter how far away we retreat in the history of a country, just as, France, we always ended for identifying an encounter of several populations, therefore, several cultures: Gaulish, Francs, Roman and many other people."

More important. The cultures are not permanent and static, they are changeable and dynamics.

"Other line of the cultures, also easy to identify, it is that they are in perpetual transformation. All of the cultures go by changes, same admitting that the alterations in the calls 'traditional' they happen in a less natural and less fast way than in those designated for 'modern'. Such modifications have multiple reasons: once each culture includes several other, or it is the intersection with other, their different ingredients form an unstable balance."

Each one of us has or it can have several collective identities and each one of them is subject ace transformations of our culture. The submission of our plurality of identities the only one (national, religious person or politics) and the freezing of the culture in the time assists just to the projects of radical leaders' political hegemony in the Occident and in the East.

Reading Todorov we can notice that, in a certain way, the war between Christian Occident and the Islamic East in course is product of a simplified vision of the world that has been fomented in the own Occident. Because in the East the war is less fruit of the religion than of the resentment caused by the military occupations that the Occident sponsored and it sponsors on behalf of the "civilization."

"The wars are motivated by the need of taking possession of the neighbors' wealth, of exercising the power, of protecting of real or imaginary threats; in short, they have, as it was already said, political, social, economical and demographic reasons. There is no need to evoke the Islamic religion or the shock of civilizations to explain the reason for which the Afghan ones or the Iraqi ones resist to the western military forces that occupy their territories; nor of speaking of anti-Judaism or of anti-Semitism to understand the reasons for the which the Palestinian don't take delight with the Israeli occupation of their lands; nor of mentioning the verses of Koran to check a sense to the reactions of the Lebanese that, in 2006, they offered resistance to the destruction of the infrastructures of the country."

One of the strong points of the book is discussion that the author does about the torture and his juridical and journalistic justification in the last decade. Tzvetan is merciless:

"The institutional torture is still worse than the individual torture for subverting any idea of justice and of right. If the own State if it turns torturing as believing in the order that he intends to build or to guarantee? The legal torture extends his destructive action for besides the torturer and of the victim, reaching all the other members of the society for they know that the torture is made on behalf of them; however, they try to exempt of any responsibility, avoiding to take providences to suspend it. In general, the citizens of the liberal democracies denounce and they condemn, without any hesitation, the violent practices of States that they tolerate it and, with larger reason force, of States that systematize it, for instance, the dictatorial regimes. Now, we discovered that those same democracies, without any alteration of his global structure, they can adopt totalitarian attitudes."

Todorov didn't save anybody. Nor the newspapers that published Prophet's Maomé political cartoons, nor Pope that said that the Islamic religion is irrational.

"As one of the twelve drawers 'since the beginning the only pretension of the newspaper was the provocation'; such it is also the appreciation manifested by the other daily great Danishes."

"The Christianity is a religion with universal aspirations that it valued the human love; nor for that, the divine creation of the world, or the coming of the man-god or the Immaculate conception, or Trinity, or the transubstantiation, or the resurrection, they are faiths founded in the reason."

In Brazil the reaction the publication of Prophet's Maomé political cartoons didn't happen. Here the media treated the episode as a conflict among the "freedom of press" x "Islamic intolerance". Todorov affirms, however, that this analysis type is the true source of many of the western problems (problems that us Brazilian we can have in the future). The journalists should pay a lot of attention to the words of Todorov:

"Since somebody exercises public responsibilities, no longer it is enough to only demand their convictions and the right of expressing them; the demand should be increased of exercising their functions as responsible individual that takes into account the previsible consequences of their actions. That responsibility is differentiated for each one and it increases as it increases the power that it is disposed. A decisive paper assigns, therefore, the all those that participate in the organization of the social sphere. Besides the politicians, maybe, above all those are included that are entrusted of the function of managing and of guiding the media of wider diffusion: writers and editors of the television nets and of the stations of radio, newspapers and magazines."

As I said in the beginning, the book of Todorov was resembling quite balanced and advisable. But then I noticed that Tzvetan Todorov slipped in the concepts.

"Until a recent time, the European subject was always placed in the heart of a wider picture, the one of the Occident, entity formed by Western Europe and North America, more specifically, the United States. With effect, the Americans are associated, for his origin, to the European inheritance and the 'founder fathers' of that nation they were inspired directly of the spirit of the Century of the Lights: his political and cultural identity integrates whole periods of the European history."

These words glittered as lightning in my conscience. Does Todorov seem to ignore that Latin America was colonized by Spaniards and Portuguese (or does it just believe that Spanish and Portuguese are not truly European). Does the author of THE BARBARIAN'S FEAR ignore that thousands of Brazilians also died in the European battlefields to free the old continent of the claws of the Nazism? Doesn't he know that Brazil accomplished World Cup of 1950 because Europe was destroyed and could not it accomplish the tourney? Didn't he learn that the Latin-Americans helped to create UN and do they participate in the community of the nations actively ever since?

Todorov seems to incur in the same problem that the authors that it criticized. As Samuel Huntington, Oriana Fallaci, Élie Barnavi and Alain Finkielkraut, of a grieved, Todorov excluded of the conceptual world 570 million people that occupy an area of 21.069.501 km². The Latin-Americans, that it has his cultural and linguistic history strongly linked to Europe, according to Todorov they are not nor in the Occident nor in the East.

Todorov is a humanist. His book is or it intends to be an instrument of renewal of the western humanist tradition. In reason of his book to exclude Latin America of the Occident is impossible not to do Tzvetan Todorov the same painful question that Edward W. Said made to other pseudo-humanists:

"Will it be that a faith in the humanism as an education and cultural ideal is due accompanied necessarily by millions of exclusions according to the list of items to be purged, the prevalence of a minuscule class of authors and selected and approved readers, and a tone of rejection of mean spirit? I would say that no, because to understand the humanism, for us citizens of this peculiar republic, it is to understand it as democratic, open to all of the classes and formations, and as a process of incessant revelation, discovery, self-criticism and liberation."

Attention Mr. Todorov. Of next time that will treat of "civilization and barbarism" pays more attention to the lands that were discovered by Vincente Yáñez Pinzón, Pedro Álvares Cabral and Christopher Columbus. Here they don't just exist Indians and the anthropological studies that they were already accomplished prove that some our Indians got to be much more civilized and tolerant that many European.

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