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For Future Reference: Art and Politics (1999)

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Foreign participants face a different challenge, particularly if they belong to formerly colonialist nations. Burdened by a sense of guilt, and a heritage they feel they have to apologize and make up for, they find themselves in the position of having to suspend all judgement and exercise the virtue of tolerance and respect for difference to a fault. This makes them a deliciously easy prey to autocratic regimes whose internationally acknowledged legitimacy is mere pretense. Caught in the guilt trap, they are rendered largely passive. Unwilling to interfere with what they regard as hallowed “internal affairs,” and burdened by an exaggerated and overrated respect for otherness and cultural specificity, they are forced into a position which is the reverse side of the superiority coin.

Instead of holding their culture up as the norm and only model as they once did, Westerners now go to the other, equally reprehensible extreme of uncritically accepting repressive aspects and human rights abuses of formerly colonized countries, which are passed off as part of the cultural heritage. Admittedly, they are in an unenviable position; if they object, they will be branded as ethnocentric, interfering busybodies by both east and west. In any case, the same cultural sanctity plea will be trotted out to defend the indefensible against foreign interference or even observation.

“If people like it, who am I to judge” about sums up the foreign position. Never mind if what the ‘people’ (read the natives) like is media-imposed, enforced, and popularized. Never mind if the free souls in these doubly oppressed countries (first militarily and then culturally) do not go along with the agenda of the new internal form of oppression. What the intelligentsia of the West have not yet realized is that many of the ruling establishments in previous colonies have decided to play on their sense of guilt to wangle a form of tacit validation for their new improved brand of oppression – all the more lethal because it comes from inside. One is asked, in the name of respect for ‘otherness,’ to condone dominant discourses that are held like an axe over the necks of the people, discouraging independent thought and leading to a herd mentality, as well as repressive laws that restrict people’s freedom of action and sometimes physically mutilate them into the bargain.

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