False History and Ideologues

By April 17, 2006 No Comments

There are works without number on myth and history; and a good myth should have a little bit of history behind it to put things in context, while a good history might need some myths to be palatable.

A national identity needs some myths to shape itself and give people examples and inspiration. Americans prefer, for example, the myth of the Alamo – selfless defenders of freedom who died willingly for their cause. This is mostly true but a few inconvenient facts such as the slave-owning nature of some of the Texan rebels in an abolitionist minded Mexico have been glossed over. Britain has its myths too, particularly on fending off the Spanish Armada in 1588 and the Luftwaffe in 1940. In both cases, the threat seemed dire at the time and yes – in terms of counting ships or planes and manpower, the British were outnumbered in both cases. However, the quality – as opposed to the quantity – of British arms and their defensive circumstances gave them a clear superiority, though it sounds better to ignore this point to keep the myth bright and untarnished.

New myths are forever being tested to see if they can stick, but these can have a sinister purpose.

Take, for instance, the myths that propelled Adolph Hitler to power. First, on August 8th 1918 – the Battle of Amiens (which Canadians would do well to remember, for our Army fought magnificently that day), proved that the German Army had become far inferior to those of the British and the Dominions. Over the next three months, the German front opposite the British basically caved in and the Kaiser’s army took a solid beating. What happened then? The Kaiser absconded and the generals relinquished the government of Germany to civilians in the days before the Armistice was signed. This cleared the way for the “stabbed-in-the-back” myth that sustained the bruised pride of Germany during the Weimar Republic and helped pave the path for the Nazis: In this myth the Army wasn’t defeated,: Oh no… it was the civilians — particularly a clutch of liberal democrats, socialists and Jews — who bear the blame. The rest is insidious history.

Some of the other invented myths that helped shape the more fantastic elements of the Nazis concern a more blatant manipulation (or disregard) for facts. But they illustrate a style of mythmaking that the Nazis would share with many contemporary terrorists and insurgent movements. Ever wonder where Hitler’s whole ‘Aryan’ shtick came from?

In the modern age, we require evil to be explainable and there are many explanations for Hitler’s beliefs and actions. However, one area of study that is frequently glossed over is the fascination with the occult shared by Hitler, Himmler and other top Nazis. Like today’s New Agers, Hitler yearned for some new transformation that would shatter the hold that Judeo-Christian ethics and beliefs had on Western Civilization. In his loose years in Vienna he dabbled in all manner of things, and picked up elements from Theosophist occultists, Gnostics, and the mystic German nationalists of the Thule Society. [1]

In the first couple of decades of the 20th Century, a lot of ‘proto-New Agers’ also loved to dabble in their impressions of Indian and Tibetan mysticism; but given European attitudes about non-Europeans in those days, having Hindu Brahmins hanging around wasn’t quite respectable. To solve the problem, it was remembered that many of the languages of Northern India are Indo-European tongues and so therefore many people there could sort of become honorary Europeans, especially when considering the ‘Aryan’ common origin behind these languages.

The actual Aryans of Pre-history arose somewhere out on the Russian steppes and pushed out east, south and west in several waves during the Bronze Age. The Indo-European language group, that vast collection of languages from Pashto to Portuguese, from Urdu to English, descends from them. Of the vast numbers of people who speak these languages, the Iranians have a claim to being the closest to the ancient Aryans – having referred to themselves as ‘Aryans’ in their oldest histories from 2,600 years ago.

Hitler, in the mishmash of ideas that formed his early beliefs, latched on strongly to the concept of the early Aryans and – given that we still know very little about them – let his imagination substitute for the absence of fact. Of course, given his fascination with purported ancient German roots, nothing would do but the total appropriation of the ‘real’ Aryans and imagining them to be the prototype of his blond Nordic superman.

But the Nazis were neither the first nor the last set of ideologues to start inventing history or distorting prehistory to suite themselves. Part of the phenomenon is simple enough – the ideologue needs to pretend that he and his cause are a part of something dramatic, mysterious or ancient: That, somehow, he and his movement are righting old wrongs or are the heirs of destiny and thus their acts are pardonable or even honorable. Also, if the cause is a nationalist or racial one, the ideologue is often someone who feels inadequate about themselves. Inventing a glorious past is a compensation for an inferiority complex – true for Hitler, and true for many other troublemakers today.

It might be that the old radical Left (for once) seems purer as they tended to be fixed on the future and paid little attention to history — save to gather more ammunition about the immorality of contemporary society. However, it was the doctrinaire Marxist Left in the 1960s (particularly under the influence of Jacques Derrida and his ilk) who developed mechanisms like ‘deconstructionism’ to sabotage the teaching of conventional history – leaving everyone more exposed to the fabrications of conspiracy theorists, ideologues, ultranationalists, et al.

Before Aryan axe-waving charioteers bounced into Northern India around 1400 BC, the inhabitants of the Indus Valley and sundry other points were Dravidians – a shorter dark skinned people whose ancestors spread throughout much of southern Asia and even into Australia as long as 40,000 years ago. [2] In the Indus valley, around 2500 BC, Dravidian peoples built several cities – the Harappa civilization. Their cities were strikingly well laid out and suggest that a sophisticated administration was in place. However, sometime around 1700 BC the Indus shifted course and the cities faded as hunger led to disease, and eventually the Aryans came to pillage the remains.

The Dravidian people of India were absorbed by the new arrivals – though there are some signs in traditional Indian culture of a remaining bias against those who are too dark in complexion. Other Dravidian societies fled north (where one people lasted in a remote corner of Afghanistan until the start of the 20th Century). However, in southern India, the Sinhalese and the Tamils (among others) are very clearly descended from the Dravidians of old and both peoples have a very long history.

When the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam began their war in Sri Lanka, it was natural that the insurgents would play strongly on their ancient heritage to the point of clear exaggeration. On some pro-Tamil Tiger websites and in pamphlets they distributed in cultural events in Toronto, they make the claim to be more ancient than other people on Earth and appropriate the legacy of the Harappa civilization entirely to themselves — which would be on par with Hitler claiming ‘his’ Aryans built Stonehenge. It also perhaps reflects some basic insecurities of identity among their leadership when these pamphlets insist that the ‘Ancient Tamils’ (and not ancient Dravidians) had an advanced civilization while alleging – quite erroneously – that the peoples of Europe at the time were still living as cavemen.

Similar ridiculous claims of ancient primacy could be found closer to home. In the old Mohawk Warrior enclave at Ganiengeh in upstate New York, a sign greeted visitors which stated that this area had been Mohawk land since 50,000 BC. That would have been a neat trick considering that Homo Sapiens Sapiens wouldn’t establish a presence in Siberia for another 15-20,000 years – let alone cross over the Bering land bridge. Moreover, the Wisconsin glacial period (this being the last major ice sheet to cover much of North America) had begun around 60,000 BC and it is very hard to take up residence underneath a glacier…

Then there is the Nation of Islam and some of the offshoots of Afrocentricism from inside the US. The Nation of Islam’s roots lie with the enigmatic W.D. Fard and Elijah Muhammed in the 1930s and ‘40s. Combining a version of Black Freemasonry, a homegrown variation of Islam (whose legitimacy still puzzles many Muslims) and Black nationalism, Muhammed introduced a concept that Black Africans invented almost all the arts and sciences of civilization, but then Whites (also referred to as ‘Ice People) stole the whole package and kept Black Africans ignorant of their role in history ever since. The attraction of a myth like this to a bitter alienated and undereducated African American before the Civil Rights movement took off would seem obvious. While Louis Farrakhan, the current head of the Nation of Islam, has been quoted many times on stranger subjects than this over the last twenty years, the whole Ice People myth still occasionally surfaces within the organization.

The Jihadist movement, given 1400 years of chronicled Arab/Islamic history, has had little need to resort to complete fiction. Still, among the myths that underlie the Jihadist movement is the notion that the Afghan guerrillas defeated the Soviet Union – they didn’t. The Soviet military killed civilians and guerrillas alike at a rate of about 100:1 for every fatal casualty they received and were largely able to go anywhere in the country that they wanted. However, the strains and expenses of their entire Cold War economy brought the USSR down in ruins, even while the Red Army fought its last war.

The other aspects of Jihadist mythology largely lie within traditional constructs of Islam: That territory once governed by Islamic rulers (like Spain, much of the Balkans, tracts of Russia, etc.) properly belongs within the House of Islam and needs to be regained; or that events like the Crusades in which Muslim territory was conquered remain outrages while their own historic conquests were a part of the natural order of history. This lets Al Qaeda & Co. believe that their actions are always reactive and justified, whereas any action taken against them is an unfair provocation.

For example, the author has talked to Algerian Jihad supporters who had a detailed knowledge of the French occupation in the 1830s, and of every slight or outrage up until Independence in 1964. But, they also believed the Irish potato famine of the 1840s caused the French invasion, as Paris was after Algeria’s grain crop… In actual fact, the French were upset with the continuation of Algerian piracy. However, the existence of the Sallee Rovers, Khair ad-Din Barbarossa, the Bey of Algiers and a host of other historic Algerian nautical pests of the Western Mediterranean were a complete mystery to these young Algerians.

Nor should one neglect the Palestinians — perennial insurgents since 1948 — whose leaders often have had no problems with living in a state of unreality. It says much about the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat that they were unable to even attempt providing basic social services but could manage to create a first class propaganda machine – particularly to prepare children and young adults for service as suicide attackers.

The Palestinian leadership have decades of experience in myth-making and propagandizing, so it should be no surprise that they finally started to make some headway in recent years. They were even able to survive the embarrassment of a “walking corpse” in the aftermath of the supposed Jenin Massacre of April 2002. The PA alleged that Israeli troops had murdered hundreds of Palestinians while suppressing a guerrilla sanctuary in the middle of Jenin. When unable to provide proof, Palestinians started to stage funerals of purported victims for the world’s cameras; at least one of whom climbed back onto his stretcher when it toppled during a funeral procession. Sufficient to say, there was no general massacre attendant on a tough street fight in which Palestinian guerrillas actually did perform well for a change, losing only 56 dead of their own against 23 from the IDF.

However, one of the latest products from the PA propaganda mills is an interesting example of the distortion of history by modern ideologues; and it will be intriguing to see how well it resonates both with their friendly and with neutral audiences.

Israelis have always argued that the ancient lands of Israel and Judea are still the true homeland for the Jewish people. The Diasporas following the Jewish Wars with the Romans in the First Century AD dispersed them away from this homeland (There was, of course, a small and often beleaguered population of Jews inside Israel down through the centuries). Their old lands were never forgotten – even among the Khazars of the Russian steppes who converted to Judaism only to soon after lose their own original lands to nomadic conquerors as well.

In the decades of tumult and conflict that have followed the re-establishment of Israel, few neutral parties and no sympathizers have seriously questioned the ancient connection between the Jews and this tiny sliver of very inconveniently placed territory… until now.

The latest products of the Palestine propaganda mills are insisting that, sure, the Old Testament documents the Jewish capture of what is now Israel from the Canaanites. Except that the Canaanites are now being described as “Arab Canaanites” and, therefore, the Arabs have a prior claim to Israel which trumps the connection to the ancient Jews. The scholarship behind this one is questionable indeed – as there seems to be no sign of any kind of an Arab identity anywhere at all much before Roman times (and Arabs themselves usually tend to ignore their pre-Islamic history).

Also, the claim that these ‘Arab Canaanites’ are the original founders of such cities as Caesarea and Tel Aviv reeks of very bad scholarship. The Israeli littoral is dotted with ancient city sites (and some locations have been continually inhabited for thousands of years), but the Canaanites had vanished long before Caesarea was built by Herod, and Tel Aviv’s oldest foundations rest on sand dunes alone since it was founded by Jewish settlers in 1909.

As propagandists seldom need to be accurate in their history, the whole Arab Canaanite myth will never withstand serious scrutiny, but a great many people will take it at face value anyway. For an ideologue with a desire to distort history, that’s always a successful result.