For more than four months now, the United States, the United Kingdom and other Western countries have resolutely supported Israel's war on Gaza. Currently, the Israeli army has killed more than 28,000 Palestinians, including more than 12,000 children.
On January 26, the International Court of Justice ruled that “at least some of the acts and omissions alleged by South Africa to have been committed by Israel in Gaza appear likely to fall within the provisions of the Convention.” [Genocide] Convention,” and that South Africa’s claim that Israel is committing acts of genocide is “plausible.” Nevertheless, the West continued to stand by Israel.
Then, when Israel claimed that employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) were linked to Hamas, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany and more than a dozen other countries suspended funding, while Palestinians in Gaza faced starvation.
Despite Western complicity in actions that the world's highest court recognizes as genocidal, the West still attributes to itself all kinds of superiority in the behavior of a civilized society. Western countries still consider themselves “the good guys”.
“I got in trouble several times for saying you don't have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and I am a Zionist. I don't apologize for that. This is a reality,” President Joe Biden said in a speech at a private campaign reception in Massachusetts in early December, when the death toll in Gaza already stood at 16,200. “We have [Americans] I never thought anything was beyond our capabilities, from curing cancer this time to everything we have done so far. I really mean it,” he added.
It takes a special kind of narcissism for a world leader to declare himself a 50-year supporter of a white supremacist ideology that excuses apartheid, settler colonialism and genocide, then turn to the greatness of the United States and of all its “United States”. possibilities”, as if the United States had only sprinkled pixie dust around the world and not intervene with brutal military and economic power over the past 130 years.
But the American president is not the only one to have illusions. At the Conservative Friends of Israel gathering in London last month, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak showed unwavering support for Israeli attacks on Gaza and the West Bank. “There is a horrible irony in Israel, where all countries are accused of genocide,” Sunak said, calling South Africa's complaint against Israel “totally unjustified”.
The “horrible irony” is that Israel, as a Western ally, cannot be accused of genocide because it is one of the “good guys.” The “bad guys” can only be non-Western (actually, non-white) nations, like South Africa.
Biden, Sunak and others still believe that as leaders of the developed world, they are making understandable rational choices when they wage wars and kill people in the name of self-defense or under the guise of fighting “terrorism.”
Despite the protests of tens of millions of people around the world and the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians, the destruction of Gaza and other crimes against humanity, the disregard for the ongoing war in Sudan and the conflict in the Democratic Republic of CongoWestern leaders still believe Western capitalism and democratic institutions will save the world.
In his book The Clash of Civilizations (1996), the late political scientist Samuel Huntington warned of the dangers of the Western delusion that the rest of the world should adopt its so-called values. “The survival of the West depends on Americans reaffirming their Western identity and Westerners accepting their civilization as unique and not universal,” he writes.
But what Huntington failed to understand about the Western quest for a single world civilization was that current resentments against it did not begin in the 1990s, after the Cold War. They are a response to the consequences of the death, destruction and devouring of resources that Westerners have left behind since then. Christopher Colombus traveled to the Western Hemisphere and Vasco da Gama found a route around Africa to South Asia, both in the 1490s.
The rest of the world was the source of the plunder of the West, first through the plunder of gold, silver and precious stones from the newly invaded lands, then through the enslavement of millions of peoples indigenous, African and Asian, and finally through the conquest of the ancient empires of the East.
This belief in Western civilization as superior and righteous because of its whiteness is so ingrained in its culture that young Westerners grow up without anyone in their lives questioning it. That is, until someone like me, a history professor, came along to confront this fundamental belief.
In my many years of teaching history, my own students have often objected to my assumption that “Western civilization” is a contradictory term.
“But the Aztecs practiced human sacrifices! one student shouted, while a calmer student, with a raised hand, said, “It's unfortunate that atrocities happened to the natives, but it's insulting to compare what the Spanish did to what arrived in Rome. »
This is the strong reluctance I received from some students in one of my world history classes a few years ago when I spoke about the barbarity of the Spanish conquests of the Aztecs and Incas in the 16th century and the similarities between these invasions and the Vandal and Visigothic tribes that contributed to the end of the Western Roman Empire.
I highlighted the achievements of destroyed civilizations and Spanish conquistadors and priests burning almost all Mayan writingsdesecrating Mexican, Mayan and Inca temples and forcing the population into slavery and Christianity.
I also experienced vitriol from students who did not even want to consider the possibility that the United States and the West, after engaging in barbaric behavior towards their own populations and around the world, can do so in the near future.
“It’s not possible, because no civilized society wants this to happen to them,” one student said years ago. “Americans would never take up arms against the government, especially with our military, it is not rational. We wouldn't be stupid enough to make that mistake again. Our military would crush any insurrection,” is what another student blurted out last year, despite evidence to the contrary with the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Some students believed too deeply that the West was a positive force to contemplate the apocalypse it brought upon 60 million Indigenous people. wipe out up to 90 percent of the population in 100 years of Columbus' first contact.
We couldn't even discuss the other genocides carried out in the name of empire, colonialism and capitalism: the 165 million South Asians the British starved, murdered or worked to death between 1880 and 1920; or the estimated at 10 million Congolese who the Belgians exterminated; or the genocide of up to 100,000 Herero and Nama people by German forces in Namibia between 1904 and 1908.
My students' belief in Western rationality remained strong even when the carnage of World War I and World War II was discussed. In these conflicts, up to 90 million civilians and military personnel were killed – among them more than 200,000 were wiped out in the US nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Western narcissism is exactly why my students have difficulty accepting that Western civilization contradicts itself at every turn. As the late postcolonial scholar Edward Said wrote in Orientalism (1978): “It can be said that the major component of European culture is precisely what made [Western civilisation] hegemonic both inside and outside Europe: the idea of a European identity superior to that of all non-European peoples and cultures.
This belief in Western superiority means always being on the right side of history, even though there are many examples of Western irrationality, barbarism and brutality in its interventions in the Middle East and the rest of the world. Western narcissism means that the United States and the West will only lift a finger to support the Palestinians if the world and their own citizens are forced to do so.
About half of Americans aged 18 to 29 believe Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. is encouraging, but not sufficient in itself to end US and Western complicity in Israel's crimes.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.