Friday, January 28, 2005

A Trip Down Memory Hole Lane

Mary Madigan at Michael Totten's site adds another nuance to our understanding of George Orwell's 'memory hole' concept. She reminds us that the practice of obliterating the past in order to leave the field clear for the seeds of new thought is an ancient practice. Her example is the Wahabi destruction of history.

Militias from the Islamic courts set up in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, are destroying a colonial Italian cemetery. They are digging up the graves and dumping human remains near the airport.

The BBC's Mohammed Olad Hassan says he was horrified to see a large number of abandoned human skulls. Young boys were playing with one as a toy. According to Sunni scholar Stephen Schwartz, grave desecration is a Wahhabi tradition:

Saudi agents uprooted graveyards in Kosovo even before the war began there in the late 1990s, and Wahhabi missionaries have sought to demolish Sufi tombs in Kurdistan. Late in 2002, the Saudi government tore down the historic Ottoman fortress of Ajyad in Mecca, causing outrage in many Muslim countries.

The grave desecrations are an obvious illustration of Orwell's dictum that "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." Like the destruction of the Bamian Buddhas in Afghanistan, their effect is remove any recollection of a creed or way of life that may have preceded Wahabism. Yet  it is one of Madigan's quotes that shows how it affects the present.

Somali journalist Bashir Goth wrote about the influence of Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi Islam in Somalia:

"Nowadays, it is sad to see… that the ideal harmony between Islam and Somali culture is swept aside by a new brand of Islam that is being pushed down the throat of our people - Wahhabism. Anywhere one looks, one finds that alien, perverted version of Islam that depends on punctilious manners more than it depends on deep-rooted faith. A strange uniformity… has crept into the social manners of our people. The unique fashion and identity of our people has changed forever. We have become a people without fashion, without culture, and without identity…

An ongoing campaign to impoverish culture and thought was a pillar of the totalitarian 1984; something which was achieved largely through the censorship of language resulting in a bowdlerized dialect called Newspeak. We would recognize it instantly as modern 'political correctness'; and it is not surprising that the Wahabis would use the technique as well to create 'a people without fashion, without culture, without identity'. Orwell defined Newspeak in this way:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to the devotees of Ingsoc, but to make all other modes of thought impossible. It was intended that when Newspeak had been adopted once and for all and Oldspeak forgotten, a heretical thought - that is, a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc - should be literally unthinkable, at least so far as thought is dependent on words. Its vocabulary was so constructed as to give exact and often very subtle expression to every meaning that a Party member could properly wish to express, while excluding all other meanings and also the possibility of arriving at them by indirect methods. This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words and by stripping such words as remained of unorthodox meanings, and so far as possible of all secondary meanings whatever.

The chief ward against the temptation of 'thought crime' was doublethink, here described by Orwell.

But it is also necessary to remember that events happened in the desired manner. And if it is necessary to rearrange one's memories or to tamper with written records, then it is necessary to forget that one has done so. The trick of doing this can be learned like any other mental technique. It is learned by the majority of Party members, and certainly by all who are intelligent as well as orthodox. In Oldspeak it is called, quite frankly, 'reality control'. In Newspeak it is called doublethink, though doublethink comprises much else as well.

Orwell's works themselves were not immune from this process of redaction. The Newspeak Dictionary drily observes that "Michael Moore Ends Fahrenheit 911 with a quote from Nineteen Eighty-Four! - I was certainly pleased to see that M&M used the words of Orwell to sum up his film. But unfortunately, it appears that the quote really wasn't the actual words of Orwell!"

Orwell Michael Moore
"In accordance with the principles of doubthink it does not matter if the war is not real, or when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. The essential act of modern warfare is the destruction of the produce of human labour. A hierarchical society is only possible and the basis of poverty and ignorance. In principle, the war effort is always planned to keep society of the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects. And its object is not victory over Eurasia or Eastasia, but to keep the very structure of society intact."  "It does not matter if the war is not real, or when it is, victory is not possible. The war is not meant to be won, but it is meant to be continuous. A hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or Eastasia but to keep the very structure of society intact"

Finally, Mary Madigan's piece on Wahabism mentions how the Saudi Arabian ambassador called for the removal of an elected legislator in the country to which he was accredited -- a case of a person protected by newspeak attempting to shove someone down the 'memory hole'.

According to the German publication, Der Spiegel, the killer’s actual target was Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali immigrant. She and other legislators were so unable to ensure their security against extremist death threats, they had to leave the Netherlands to hide in the United States. In short, a Western nation couldn't defend its own legislators against an occupying paramilitary group. Fortunately, Hirsi Ali has returned. According to Spiegel’s report:

Hirsi Ali made championing the cause of Muslim women her career and eventually got elected to parliament. When the ambassador of Saudi Arabia called for her to be removed from office because of her polemics against Islam she just scored even more points with Dutch voters. In a survey of the most-popular Dutch people in 2003, she landed in second place.

The Saudi ambassador felt he had the right to call for an elected legislator to be removed from office. Who does he think he is?

Madigan should have patience. She will eventually understand that resistance is futile. Orwell closed his classic novel with these words.

He gazed up at the enormous face. Forty years it had taken him to learn what kind of smile was hidden beneath the dark moustache. O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother.