Friday, January 14, 2005

Prince Harry and the double standard 

Harry Himmler holding a Goblet of Fire

Britain's prince Harry is in trouble and have been forced to apologize for appearing at a fancy dress party sporting a
swastika armband. And rightly so; as the Board of Deputies of British Jews said, the costume was in "bad taste."

Quite why prince Harry would choose to come to a "colonial and native"-themed party dressed as a Nazi is beyond me (not to mention the fact that obviously no one had bother to inform the prince that Wehrmacht's Afrika Korp troops, which the light color of his dress suggests he was trying to emulate, did not wear swastika armbands; that was more of a SS/Gestapo thing). Nevertheless, by wearing a Nazi costume Harry has managed to cleverly distract everyone away draw the fact that he was attending a "colonial and native" party - the fact that in different circumstances might have warranted another bout of righteous outrage at this show of typical British upper class insensitivity to - nay, better still, racism against - the oppressed people of the developing world/the South/the periphery.

The reason why I mention this story at all is that it is yet another perfect example of the double standard so prevalent out there in the kommentariat and the wider world - which happens to be one of my pet hates. Imagine if prince Harry came dressed up in a fur coat with a hammer and sickle armband. No one would bat an eyelid, a few people might chuckle and comment how cute he looks, and the only reason why the story would make it into the media would be if PETA protested the prince wearing fur. Imagine for that matter if Harry wore a Che Guevara or a Mao t-shirt. As John Lennon said, it's easy if you try.

In our twisted moral universe, wearing the insignia of one mass-murdering political system is (rightly) considered a taboo, while wearing the insignia of another mass-murdering political system is considered quite cool (a point made most recently by
Louis Nowra *- hat tip: Sophie Masson - isn't it amazing how in our modern, interconnected world an opinion piece published four days ago can suddenly become even were topical?).

Why this totalitarian dichotomy? Because our popular culture and public discourse is shaped to such a large extent by people who were wrong on (or at best, indifferent to) the most important political and moral question of the twentieth century and it would kill them to admit they were wrong. Plus, if you admit that Soviet (or Chinese) communism was evil, what does it say about your own loathing of the West, capitalism and your own society?

Hence we live in the world where we all know that Nazism was evil, but we also "know" that communism (or better still, Stalinism, because we wouldn't want to admit that the system was murderous both before and after Uncle Joe was in power) was merely misguided, an essentially good and decent idea whose implementation was marred by inevitable errors and excesses. Hence the intellectual climate where everyone knows Auschwitz** but not Kolyma, Himmler and Eichmann, but not Beria and Yagoda; where for every "Schindler's List" or "The Pianist" there is big gaping nothing. How then can we blame average 20-something Joe and Joane on the street who wear their fur caps with red stars or Mao t-shirts? The left has created a truly sick world.

* And, incidentally, also Anne Applebaum in the introduction to her Pulitzer winning "Gulag" which I'm currently reading.

** I am aware of the
recent BBC poll which showed that half of Britons don't know what Auschwitz was; the point is that 99% don't know what Kolyma was.


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