Mark Perry writes:
We have before us the example of George Orwell, the eccentric British author of 1984, whose real name was Eric Blair. What’s interesting about Orwell (or, perhaps, simply predictable) is that he adopted his pen name to save his respectable parents the disgrace of having to admit that their son didn’t work for a living, but was (oh, the humiliation) . . . a writer. And the irony: this same Orwell spent years toiling over a story whose theme is that it’s possible to erase the past by a simple act of denial. Thus, Winston Smith (“1984″‘s main character) is told in a torture chamber of the “Ministry of Love” that his belief that his country, “Oceania” was, at one time, not at war with Eastasia is a delusion: “Oceania is at war with Eastasia,” he is told. “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.”
Orwell would tell us that those who read “1984” and put it aside in relief (“thank God we don’t live in a world like that”), miss the point. The past is altered continuously, even perniciously–and now (some 63 years after the book’s publication) no more constantly than when it comes to the Middle East. “Mubarak is a moderate,” “we have always supported democracy in Egypt” and “the Arabs aren’t interested in peace” are perhaps not as insidious as “Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia,” but they’re damned close. The beauty of these phrases (as Winston Smith learned) is that if you utter them often enough, they actually become true. Hence, we described former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as a moderate so often that we actually came to believe it–and were taken by surprise when we discovered the Egyptian people didn’t agree. So? So now we’re worried that the current revolution will deny the Egyptian people their fundamental rights. Unlike with Mubarak–who was chock full of them.
Human beings are good at this kind of thing, as it turns out, because adopting these phrases (“we have always supported democracy in Egypt”) helps us evade responsibility for the state of the world. Then too, it’s easier to follow the script than to utter the truth–“Mubarak is a tyrant, but what the hell, we supported him anyway,” “we’ve never given a fig for democracy in Egypt” and (finally) “it’s not the Arabs who aren’t interested in peace, but Israel.” It’s this last phrase that seems most pertinent now, when the-take-it-or-leave-it 2002 Arab Peace Initiative is being discussed (again), as a possible resolution of the Arab-Israel (and, hence, the Palestinian-Israeli) conflict.