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Mohammad Al-hasani

I've always wondered:

at what point would people realize that what they are facing is the end of the world?

At what point will we know that the end of the West has begun?

And that the US' hegemony has come to an end?

This piece was originally written in February on the US Capitol by insurrectionists. Initially

written for another, the release of the article was hindered by a fraught editorial process

and was later withdrawn by the author to publish it with another periodical. As a result,

the description of some of the events mentioned in the article was slightly adjusted to

reflect developments that have taken place since.

I was a teenager when the United States invaded Iraq. I had never seen

nor visited my father's country and have yet to mainly due to fear. Ever since, however,

I've been fixated on the feverish cognitive dissonance that imbues the United

States and the West as a whole, the myth of its exceptionalism, the narcissism,

the unabashed imperialism, the superior privilege of the self-professed greatest

nation on earth or - as Martin Luther King Jr. - framed it: the greatest purveyor of

violence today. So it came with a jolt to realize that these mythical delusions of

the United States weren't evident nor questioned by the European environment

within which I was raised.

It started to dawn on me that Western Suprematism feeds off of the lies

it tells itself. Peering out from within this disingenuous bubble, one sees a world

much different from the world that most other people on this planet see: a world

where one is bound to win because one is moral and innocent. Looking back in

time from within this bubble, one considers the triumphant visions of a narcissistic

victor: a history of steady and moral advances. One doesn't recognize from within

this bubble how a victor plunges into darkness every time they seek to renew this

triumphant path. The abhorrent atrocities. The genocide. To win means to live with

the lies of your past, or as Fanon put it, to be unaware of the brutal awareness of

the social and economic realities and thereby succumb to an equally narcissistic

and schizophrenic pathology that can only be overcome through psychoanalysis.

As part of my escapism from this Western fever dream, I read the epic of

Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh was the young God-King of Uruk in early Sumer - located

in nowadays Iraq and one of earth's first known complex civilizations. The epic

follows his journey to the underworld and back, thereby constituting the first katabasis

motif in human history, including equivalents for the river Styx and ferryman

Charon. It foreshadows universal human narratives such as the Great Flood of the

Old Testament and Easter as a high holiday. Sumer, followed by Assyria, discovered

human literacy and writing about 5500 years ago. The oldest existing cuneiform

tablets place the first written documentation of the epos around 1800 BC. It is the

first of its kind ever to be recorded. I cannot describe the feeling images of war-torn

Iraq instilled in my young chest with all their splendid squalor. But the knowledge

of Gilgamesh and the epic's historical significance were ointment to my grief.

Reading Gilgamesh means, above all, to recognize his defiant hubris,

the myth he seeks to create about himself. The gods send the wildling Enkidu to

test and defeat him, and through his sheer self-belief Gilgamesh not only fends

Enkidu off, but he also wins a loyal and truly loving companion and brother in him.

Together and in a genuinely Faustian manner, they set out into the Unknown. He

seeks to uncover the secret of eternal life, a path that ultimately leads Gilgamesh to

the underworld where - he is confronted with his own mortality. He searches and

finds his mythical and immortal ancestor Uta-napišti, whom the epic describes

in precise likeness to who we know as the prophet Noah from the Old Testament.

Gilgamesh challenges Uta-napišti to reveal the key to immortal life but fails the

trial that Uta-napišti holds for him. During the trial, Gilgamesh doesn't triumph

over death but instead surrenders and admits defeat. For that, Uta-napišti rewards

him with the seed for eternal youth, which Gilgamesh retrieves from the earth's

hidden, ancient ocean. He returns from his journey to the underworld holding the

seed of eternal youth, losing it after a snake deceives him. Downtrodden, he is

soothed by the realization that only the virtuousness of his deeds has the power

to immortalize him.

To live for eternity means to dwell in the past for eternity.

Clinging to a myth - your own myth - means to look back forever.

Through this prism on myth, self-told myths at that, the Trump years seem the most consequential in the recent US history to me. He gave a face to Columbia's ugly reflection. A paragon of privilege that is White, male, and above all Western. Over the span of his life, Donald Trump witnessed the budding democratization of his country. He was eighteen years old when the Voting Rights Act was passed after Martin Luther King, and the civil rights movement had marched to heal a nation with a congenital disability so fatal it declared upon its founding that all men are created equal. While the hand penning these same lines also clung to the whip. While its feet stood on the graves of America's first people. The fundamental tenet of democracy - one person one vote - had not found its way to the Land of the Free for longer than Donald Trump was eligible to drive. And on its path there, it walked over countless black and brown backs.

In the formation of the United States, its European ancestors had ejaculated the essence of their White supremacism into its genetic composition. Some of the first people from the old world to set foot on the new continent in 1619 were captured Angolans that were brought to serve their White overlords in Jamestown, England's first permanent settlement in the Americas. Nikole Hannah-Jones - award-winning journalist - created the 1619 Project to elevate these historical facts and recentre the American narratives around them. One hundred fifty-seven years before the United States declared their independence from the British Crown and half a millennium later, their descendants are fighting voter suppression, systemic racism, and police brutality while facing an adverse climate in a society that they belong to but that always scoffed at its minorities, notwithstanding how much it needed them. Slavery's lingering effects still dictate the economic reality of minorities in the United States. Which in return also means that slavery's lingering effects - to this day! - benefit the economic situation of the White majority. Do you not think we could extrapolate this finding to all wealthy, industrialized Western nations and their colonial pasts?

Since 1967, no Democratic President has been voted into office by a majority of white US citizens. That means that all Democratic Presidents were buoyed into office by minority voters trying to protect their country from its impulses. This also means that if all white voters in the United States were a country, they would have steadily and exclusively elected Republicans since the Civil Rights era in the 60s. In her milestone essay, Nikole Hannah-Jones writes: "Without the idealistic, strenuous and patriotic efforts of black Americans, our democracy today would most likely look very different — it might not be a democracy at all."

This is important to understand: believing that the United States in any way resembled a democracy before the 1960s means to be buying into the lies Western Supremacy tells itself. Witnessing the rancorous and bitter reaction of America's conservatives to the renaissance of Critical Race Theory over the summer of 2021 is a stark reminder of how strong and persistent these forces are. Believing in the West somehow coincides with closing your eyes toward its dark and genocidal past. It is unthinkable, unlivable otherwise (paragraph added in Aug. 2021).

When it was his turn, Donald Trump served the world his iteration of the big - and very much Western - lie. A vote that wouldn't declare him winner was a stolen vote. He could not lose. They could impossibly lose. His followers devoured the lie and attempted to hijack the election and coerce the dismissal of millions of predominantly African-American votes from the ballots. Then thousands of them bludgeoned policemen on the steps of their country's legislature and chased elected representatives into hiding. After all that, the men and women who formed the insurrectionist mob walked away largely untroubled.

The images of the insurrection at the Capitol – a building built by slaves – sent a message: white power is the freedom from consequences that would otherwise befall one. You can raid your parliament, but you won't be shot at or arrested. It took the public and media excruciatingly long to actually use the term terrorists. Brent Staples writes in the New York Times: "This willful act of forgetting — compounded by the myth of American innocence — has shown itself to be dangerous on a variety of counts."

You can safely assume that all people of color discerned this circumstance - the freedom from consequences for their vandalizing, white neighbors - with a greater degree of urgency than anything else. It took one black President for a good portion of the United States to pillage at the behest of a Candy CrushMussolini.

Much has been speculated about what drives his followers. Michael Moore describes their deeply pessimistic perspective this way: frustrated white voters threw the human molotov cocktail – Trump – at a system they felt hurt by, notwithstanding the fact that the same system had disenfranchised others on a historically grimmer scale.

When Ilhan Omar, one of the two first Muslim United

States Congresswomen and the first Hijabi woman, was sworn

into her second term earlier this year, she walked in with her head

held high. Three days later, she was running for her life through

those same corridors that led her to her highest achievements so

far. Achievements for which she overcame almost insurmountable

obstacles. The mob of fascists and insurrectionists had sworn to

execute members of Congress, and her fear was more than justified

as we now know. These men and women brandishing Trump and

Confederate flags, hate, and arms brutally affirmed that no matter

how long and hard people like Congresswoman Omar toil, this was

their house. It was built for them, a temple to administer to their entitlement

and their privilege.

Their enabler is the often evoked silent majority. Everybody

who benefits from the same set of privileges but declines to speak out

or act one way or the other. While the extreme right relies on this mass

and its inertia, minorities sense the silent majority's asphyxiating

gravity every day. The silent majority discards their CVs, foregoes their

turn at promotions, underpays them, and expects them to accommodate

their comfortable ignorance. Or - as Martin Luther King alluded

to: "in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but

the silence of our friends."

The silent majority neither sees colors nor shows them.

It extinguishes dissent and manufactures consent. The myths that

feed white supremacy and compel white silence ultimately trump

truth. For non-Western societies and non-white people in Western

societies, this war on truth is not new. They have seen a monsoon of

alternative facts for centuries. When the West or its bully-steward want

to break the rules, they do so with impunity while cosplaying effigies of

morality and innocence. Every tenderly and contemptuously dubbed

banana republic, every recently bombed-to-rubble muslim-majority

country, every African society with a scarecrow dictator knows this

song - Vietnam knows this song! Palestine knows this song! WMDs.

Communists. Wilderness that needs to be stamped out and colonized.

Since its inception, white supremacy has been a glaring parallel

reality—a delusion whose consequences the non-afflicted have

to bear. What we see in our days might be the crescendoing reckoning

from this Carolingian cloud-cuckoo-land. This slow unraveling of the

Western myth expresses itself in destruction: If immigrants can work

their way into my parliament, I will torch it. If I have to share in this planet's

wealth, I will scorch it. What did anyone imagine the end of the West

and its myths to look like? An abundance of clarity, an emancipatory

embarkment into something new? Or rather disorientation, destruction,

Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and pardons for blackwater mercenaries?

In 2002, when the Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld laid out

his rationale of Known Knowns, Unknown Knowns, Known Unknowns,

and most miserably, Unknown Unknowns, he probably didn't anticipate

that the latter would entail the radicalization of his own people, his own Republican base. America drowned Iraq and Afghanistan

in its own pessimism. And the West did what it knew to do

best. It stood by and bought oil. It stood by and repeated hollow

talking points. The post-9/11 wars perhaps became a watershed

moment for the USA - its descent into the unknown underworld.

The moment it finally saw the horror, it sparked in the eyes that

had seen it in its nakedness. Amid the stupendous cacophony

of human loss in these wars, reports surfaced of archeological

sites - Ziggurats as old as Gilgamesh - which the US military

used as helicopter bases. Ancient artefacts such as the Ishtar

Gate in Iraqi museums were systematically looted and later sold

on Western art markets. Long before that, the most prominent

artefacts had already been tucked away in Western museums

for centuries.

Gilgamesh shows us that surrendering before one's

own hubris allows for new things to blossom. Unlearning the

myth that captivated us about ourselves allows us to look forward.

In a similar way, Anand Giridharadas described the Trump

years and what culminated throughout them as a revolt against

the future. It is a future that James Baldwin once bitterly asked

for: You have taken my father's time, my mother's

much time do you need for your progress?