Pankaj Mishra “History,” Emil Cioran once wrote, “is irony on the move.” It speeded up dramatically last week as Germany emerged as the moral conscience of Europe 70 years after the defeat of nazism. Its vanquishers then have now been reduced to describing the victims of war and persecution as a “swarm”, and vowing, in a worn imperial reflex, to bring “peace and stability” to the Middle East through more violence. Meanwhile, Hungary, which in 1989 precipitated the fall of communism and now hosts a major fascist and antisemitic movement, proclaimed its desire to keep Europe Christian. What an extraordinary reversal of reputations and historical verdicts this is. But then it is hard to measure history’s velocity, direction and tone if it is treated as no more than a stimulus to nationalist onanism. Take for instance, the solemn headlines last week (“Europe’s biggest refugee crisis since 1945”), which betrayed an acute amnesia about events both after and before 1945. For the refugee, far from being a faceless habitué of the Levant, is the central figure of modern European history, both defining and exposing the limits of national sovereignty. Nationalism, or what Rabindranath Tagore called “organised selfishness”, unleashed the world’s first… Read full this story
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