“Vladimir Putin loves Fyodor Dostoyevsky,” I read in an article recently. “A careful reading of the legendary author’s texts reveals that the feeling could have been mutual.”
Shortly after, I also read that in Italy a university had canceled a literature course on Dostoyevsky regarding the Ukrainian crisis. If the world were left at the mercy of such acts of youthful madness, we would sooner lose the moral parameters of our earthly existence than the environmental conditions of human survival. What does Dostoyevsky have to do with Putin? Might as well ban Faulkner because we oppose the Ku Klux Klan – or stop reading Emile Zola because we don’t like Marine Le Pen. What pure sophomoric childishness is this?
People around the world appalled by the barbarism of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine (as they were by Bush’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq) must be very careful not to fall into this trap. “A plague on both your houses,” we should rather say to Putin and his nemesis as we grab our copies of masterpieces of Russian literature to re-read in protest, starting of course with Dostoyevsky. .
Years ago, I was on the jury of a film festival in St. Petersburg, Russia, where a Russian colleague generously showed me around the neighborhood where Dostoyevsky had lived during his writing Crime and Punishment (1866), a book I first read when I was a poor undergraduate student in Tehran, not too different from the novel’s main character, Rodion Raskolnikov – less, of course, the murder of any Iranian counterpart pawnbroker of Alyona Ivanovna.
I walked through this neighborhood like a pilgrim retracing every inch of it, honored by memories of an enduring monument to one man’s literary genius, a novelist whom Nietzsche had praised as “the only psychologist I had anything learn”, the imposing moral figure on which Freud wrote his emblematic essay, “Dostoyevsky and Parricide.
Slander an entire civilization
Extract Dostoyevsky from our moral memories and we’ll get a little closer to Dante’s Inferno. Dostoyevsky is irreplaceable. Please leave him alone.
The problem, however, is not just Dostoyevsky. There is an alarming, positively pathetic rise and resurgence of Russophobia in Europe and the United States – almost immediately after Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Blame Putin for Ukraine, like you blame George W Bush for Afghanistan and Iraq or anywhere else on his “war on terror” map.
Take Putin, Bush, Bashar al-Assad, Benjamin Netanyahu and a whole bunch of related thugs, put a leash around their necks by sending them all to the International Criminal Court and charging them with war crimes and crimes against humanity. ‘humanity. But this juvenile demonization of an entire culture is pathetic.
I remember that in January 2020, US President Donald Trump threatened to bomb 52 Iranian sites, many of which are considered World Heritage monuments. The barbaric mentality that recently targeted Iran and Islam has now turned to Russia.
It’s one thing for the European and American media to shed their thin veneer of journalistic neutrality and go downright vulgar in their partisan coverage of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It is quite another thing for classic European and American Russophobia to rear its ugly head and reconnect to its fascist roots to demonize Russians with dizzying speed and insidious tenacity. We Muslims, who are still fighting against Islamophobia in Europe and the United States, are terribly familiar with the mechanism of action of this renewed Russophobia.
We denounce Putin’s murderous invasion of Ukraine, and we love reading Dostoyevsky’s novels, watching Andrei Tarkovsky’s films and marveling at the philosophical genius of Mikhail Bakhtin. Repeat these few phrases three times a day and leave the world alone.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is an act of military aggression straight out of the American playbook. With all its brutality and vulgarity, the Russians haven’t done anything that the United States and its European and regional allies haven’t done for decades and centuries – most recently in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere – or what that their client Arab states like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have not made it to Yemen. So what’s the problem ? It’s all right when they do it to blacks and browns everywhere. The world is coming to an end if someone does the same to white people with blue eyes and blond hair.
None of this justifies Putin’s military adventurism in Ukraine – but the United States and its European allies are the last entities on planet Earth with any moral authority to point the finger at Russia. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has rightly won the greatest admiration from people around the world for staying put and leading his country into a battle for survival against Putin – but it’s the same man who is a solid Zionist all behind it. the continued robbery of Palestine and murder by Israel. of the Palestinians. Why this failure to see the bigger picture?
If we were to remain free from political propaganda on both sides and focus on the human costs of such madness, the demonization of regional and global cultures would reveal itself for the absurd gibberish that it is. The best of Russia is the best of our humanity. The worst of Russia looks suspiciously like the worst we’ve seen in Europe and the United States. We have not stopped reading Mark Twain, Toni Morrison, Franz Kafka, Charles Dickens or Jane Austen when the United States and its European partners unleashed their barbarism on Afghanistan and Iraq. We won’t stop reading Leo Tolstoy or Ivan Turgenev or Nikolai Gogol now that Russia has done the same in Ukraine.
Malignant (generic) anti-Russian sentiments in Europe and by extension the United States date back at least to the Napoleonic Wars when Russia was portrayed as the barbaric antithesis of “Europe”. The fictional document known as “The Testament of Peter the Great” (forged in the early 19th century and repeatedly revived whenever there is a war in Crimea) attributed to the Russian emperor the desire to conquer Europe and subjugate its people. The same delusional phobia will then be recycled for Arabs and Muslims “reconquering Europe”.
No doubt there are fanatical Russian nationalists who want to expand the territorial domains of their former empire. But how is that different from the infamous Project for New American Century of Neanderthal neoconservatives like William Kristol and Robert Kagan who, under Bush, plotted to take over the entire planet under the American flag? Delusional Europeans and their American counterparts are very limited in their conspiratorial imaginations and not so smart at inventing new scary fantasies, so keep recycling the old ones. According to them, Arabs want to conquer Europe, Muslims want to conquer Europe, Turks, Africans, Russians, ad absurdum, want to conquer Europe – meanwhile they don’t seem to notice that they are the ones who bomb Asia and Africa at will.
hollywood at work
It’s impossible to overstate how gullible a whole spectrum of Americans are at such times, drinking the proverbial Kool-Aid without the slightest doubt or hesitation, acting like robots commanded one way or the other. “Russian restaurants are feeling the impact of war,” reports The New York Times, “most owners are anti-war, and many of them are from Ukraine. But the number of customers is still decreasing. What did beef Stroganoff, borscht or pirozhki do to you anyway? They are delicious. Far better, in fact, than the horrible burgers that McDonald’s obviously decided to stop feeding Russians in retaliation for Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Like many other cultures around the world, American culture can only be understood by demonizing a constellation of others. A fictional white interlocutor stands at the epicenter of all these systematic acts of alienation and relentless demonization of others. All that is needed is a clue to trigger the machinery into action.
Throughout its history, Hollywood has established itself as the main barometer of American propaganda, constantly branding and targeting perceived enemies of the “American way of life”. From Hollywood blockbusters like the Rocky and Diehard series to spy thrillers of successive generations, Hollywood thrives on demonizing Russians.
“In Hollywood,” Michael Idov recently wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “the ‘bad Russian’ stereotype has not returned. He never left. Nina Khrushcheva, a film scholar at New York University, even makes the perfectly plausible claim that Putin’s self-image is in fact influenced by Hollywood’s portrayal of Russian villains. In the movie Equalizer (2014), the main Russian villain is called Vladimir Pushkin. A relationship with Alexander Pushkin perhaps – the greatest Russian romantic poet and playwright of all time?
Whenever Hollywood, as the main propaganda machine of the United States and Europe, crumbles, the world must rise. Today is the best time to rediscover the masters of Russian cinema: Sergei Eisenstein, Dziga Vertov, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Parajanov – and countless other masters are waiting for you. While you’re there, get to know a few Ukrainian artists as well. Start with Taras Shevchenko, their glorious Kobzar, then discover their many other poets, artists and folklorists. As Russia is not only Putin, Ukraine is not only Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.