How the woke have revived the ‘noble savage’
Those blaming ‘colonialism’ for homophobia in Palestine are treating non-Westerners like children.
‘Oh, and by the way’, said Owen Jones in his ‘sassy’ mode the other day on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, ‘it wasn’t actually Hamas who introduced the law banning homosexuality in Gaza. Guess who it was?’ He then gave an extra pause for extra sass. ‘The British Empire.’ (Dramatic chord!) He went on to quote: ‘Same-sex sexual activity is prohibited in Gaza under the British Mandate Criminal Code Ordinance 1936.’
Jones, who has been a vocal supporter of Palestine during the current conflict in Gaza, clearly thought he had got one over on those critics who have tried to remind him of Hamas’s less than savoury attitudes to gay people. Never mind that the British Mandate for Palestine ended in 1948, when Dorothy Squires was Britain’s top hitmaker and Mrs Dale’s Diary was the hot new soap. The obvious thought that the Gazans have had 74 years to repeal this anti-gay ordinance doesn’t seem to have occurred to Jones. In fact, they have made the ‘offence’ and its punishment more severe in recent years. Meanwhile, the other jurisdictions that also were formerly under the mandate had no such issue – Jordan scrapped the law in 1951, Israel in 1988 (though it stopped bothering to prosecute homosexuality much earlier).
Jones’s inane tweet, however, is a good summation of the attitude that everything bad in the world can be traced back to Western imperialism. Presumably, before 1936 and the arrival of Colonel Blimp, the Emirate of Transjordan (an unfortunate name to our ears) was a sandy paradise with Brokeback Bedouins tethering their camels, before ripping off each others keffiyehs and snogging away under the desert moonlight.
This bizarre romanticism of non-Western cultures as prelapsarian paradises is, ironically, a very Western thing. In fact, there is a bulging smorgasbord of ironies here.
The first and most obvious is that this view is deeply racist. It treats the non-Western peoples of the world as children, with no agency or identity of their own. They can only copy us, and once something Western goes into their laws, bish bosh, it’s in for good. Even after decolonisation, it never occurs to them to change it. Their putty minds are forever indented by the thumbprint of Western sin.
We are also often asked to swallow an absurdity of presentism – that before the coming of the dread British Empire, it had never occurred to these populations to do anything that is disapproved of by Westerners on the internet in the year 2023.
One has to wonder how, for example, the Mongol Empire ever swept down from the icy steppes in the 13th century and went about its extremely bloody business of colonisation when it had absolutely no Western example to follow (the Mongols didn’t even know the West existed). Or how large parts of Spain in the 700s could possibly have ended up as Al-Andalus, under the control of the Umayyads, who came from what is now Saudi Arabia.
And I have news for the people who still believe in the ‘noble savage’. Where and when did homosexual people live openly and freely, before our time in the West? The answer, I’m afraid, is never and nowhere. Today’s equality for gay people is unprecedented, as is our view that women’s political participation is a good thing, and that slavery is a bad thing. This is because of our material conditions and political structures – the same material conditions and political structures that people like Owen Jones are always bleating about or trying to destroy. It’s so easy to be high-minded when you can afford it.
We see this same syndrome also in the claims that the gender-bending seen in other cultures is somehow a justification of ‘trans’ (for example, the Bakla of the Philippines, the Mahu of Hawaii or the two-spirit people of the Native Americans). This is just the infantilisation of (often very sophisticated) non-Western cultures by silly Westerners. ‘Oh, they’re so exotic and mysterious and wise, and close to nature!’, the woke Westerner imagines.
I have a similar theory of everything, but mine actually makes sense. It’s that many of the things that hobble the West and the wider world today are the by-products of modern Western affluence. Those unprecedented material conditions of ours are such that we have sprouted all manner of peculiar and frequently insane ideas – the self-abnegating hairshirtism of environmentalism or the ‘diversity and inclusion’ scam, for instance. Worst of the lot is our Family of Man Kumbaya-ism – ‘We all know that people are the same wherever you go’, as ethnologists McCartney and Wonder reported in 1982 – which blinds us to very deep, and sometimes very unpleasant, cultural differences with other places. We can see the shortcomings of our own society – in fact, we never stop talking about those – but it’s somehow very bad form to remark on anybody else’s, whose problems and prejudices can only ever be all our fault.
But in truth, Western Enlightenment ideas didn’t enable slavery, colonialism or the punishment of sexual difference. They stopped them. Jones and his ilk are posing against the very institutions and economic system that support and enable their charmed lives. The default of civilisation isn’t egalitarian Eden, it’s earth-grubbing poverty, backbreaking toil and perpetual war conducted by any means, with a ‘99.99 per cent for me, and a tiddler for you’ distribution of the spoils.
Just like me, because we are both gobby homosexuals, Owen Jones wouldn’t last one week in a pre-modern, non-Western society. This silly, embarrassing fetish of such societies and their cultures must end.
Gareth Roberts is a screenwriter and novelist, best known for his work on Doctor Who.
Picture by: YouTube.
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