Should the West be destroyed? Should it be set on fire and drenched in blood so that it can be rebuilt – or trampled in its ruins? The “antis” who inhabit this space, both historical and imaginary, are divided: between those who fear the end of the world and those who want it, between those who are trying to make it happen and those who are wary of it. There are those who see the West as being on the verge of collapsing. There are messianic ecologists, radical antiracists, populists. Some are nostalgic for the days when the Third World was in vogue; others rouse the people with victimization rhetoric. Boosters of the “old stock.” Reverse racists. In their multitudes, they are starting to act like armies.
No use denying or relativizing it: there is the whiff of a death wish in the total revolution being imagined. Since the West, according to some, is guilty by definition, the demand is no longer for change but, little by little, for destruction, for a return to a barbarity of revenge.
The reasons are diverse. Anger that had long been silent, guilt among “native” Western elites, the end of an exceptional reprieve given to traditional democracies, raging populisms and social media. We must never forget that the internet has stirred up the crowds just as the printing press did centuries ago, or as papyrus did in ancient times. You don’t transform the means of communication without changing the way revolutions are made or the way crowds are stirred up. It’s important to remember that the screens come first and then the guns – not the other way around.
The struggles for the best end of this world thus converge: those revelling in victimhood, antiracists, along with intellectual masochists and professional sceptics, artists proclaiming supremacy or defeat. The wish to change the West is deeply contaminated by the wish to see it die a painful death. And in the exhilaration the suicidal consequences are ignored: the death of the West means your own death, and the death of the hope of living there or going there by small boat or plane, destroying the only space where it is truly possible to send out your cry of anger.
The very fact of defending the West as a space of freedom – admittedly an incomplete and imperfect one – is regarded as blasphemous in this new struggle of classes and races. It is forbidden to say that the West is also the place you flee to when you want to escape the injustice of your country of origin: to escape dictatorship, war, hunger or simply boredom. It is fashionable to say that the West is guilty of everything as a way of defining your own absolute innocence. The West, in the form of a white body, will then be crucified so that we can all be saved: a horizontal trinity, with the two other thieves to the left and right of this giant Christ.
Costly errors and illusions. The West is both guilty and innocent. But killing the guilty does not break the cycle of pain. It simply makes victims and executioners exchange robes. We all know this: a truism we need to remember.
It is urgent to remember that, with so many radicalisms grafted onto today’s anger, we won’t be able to avoid violence if we continue blindly along the same path. The internet and the agitators on social media glibly market as legitimate the vision of burning down the West as a “new purity,” but it’s a mistake that will have grave consequences. In a few decades, we will find ourselves living in these bare fields, forging the barbarity we thought we were denouncing.
Putting the West on trial, Soviet-style, in ease and comfort, costs little when you don’t live in the dictatorship you’ve fled. Conducted by intellectuals from the South in comfortable exile in the West and misguided locals, these show trials are an evasion: devoid of courage, sincerity or utility, they lead nowhere. Why reread the ravings of a journalist who fled his country in the Maghreb 20 years ago, content to denounce the “local” dictatorship without setting foot in it while spending his time castigating the democracies that welcomed him? Living in comfort, such people obey the rule that it is easier to topple the statue of a tyrant in the North, with smartphones flashing, than to topple a real tyrant living in the South. Why even bother to respond to those who accuse you of intellectual servility for simply stating the obvious?
Monstrous when hungry (as an internet user would have it), with its predatory past, unjust, yet attractive, fascinating in the night of the world, surrealistic dream for the migrant, well-pleased with its unfinished democracy, hypocritical about its plunder of resources and its murderous colonial past, oblivious and happy, the West is what it is. It is imperfect and needs to be perfected, not destroyed. Those who dream of destroying the West have found no better dream than the barbarity of revenge, unable to rise above personal slights.
This is what we must remember if we are to avoid giving simplistic and hateful expression to our just anger. Antiracism is a just struggle. It must not become an act of intellectual vandalism or destructiveness in this fragile world. Its goal is not a past that blinds us but a better future. For everyone. Of this I am convinced.