Polarization

Little Hugh or False Awakening

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“A false awakening” is a convincing dream about awakening from sleep while in reality continuing to sleep. Unfortunately, there are times when “false awakening” becomes desirable.

If any single sentiment dominated the collective consciousness these past several months it was certainly uncertainty. First, there was the deadly Lapankuri incident, then reports that Russia was beefing-up its troops along our border and, next, the prison scandal dubbed Gldantanamo followed by mass protest rallies in the streets. All that unfolded in the midst of an already tense election campaign.

During those several months preceding the parliamentary election, many of us lived as if we were bracing for the apocalypse on 1 October – as if nothing would happen beyond that date; as if we would no longer live in one country under one government (whatever its composition), abiding by one law as one society.

It was as if the cosmos itself had been divided into two poles: geographically into Misha and Bidzina; chromatically into red and blue; politically into Nationals and Dreamers – as if nothing were more important than them or than that; as if we were not our own people any longer.

Some called that “bipolarization,” but I call that a fundamental human challenge which we failed. The test was that very period which first showed us the possibility of real alternative.

That dichotomy of choice proved too difficult. We found it difficult to cope in an environment which offered an alternative reality. It was difficult because the notion of charismatic authority has been so deeply ingrained in the Georgian mentality, essentially fixed in that regime of totalitarian thinking which cannot countenance “another” and acknowledges only “the only one.” Aggression, suppressed and fomented for years across generations, manifested in irrational abhorrence of the politically or culturally “different.”

Slowly, with increasing clarity, it began to dawn on us that that uncertain fight for uncertain ideals waged day after day was obliterating our two most important qualities: our ability to reason and our humanity.

And then there was the infant. The infant, drowned in a wine jug buried in the earth, made us all halt for a second. Initially, that incident in Kakheti seemed simply unbelievable. But then, gradually, a feeling arose that resembled an altered state of consciousness.

On the one hand, there was this pervasive sense that we were having a nightmare which was starting to turn into reality; on the other hand, there was a longing for “false awakening,” the desire to escape that reality, to be soothed with the knowledge that it was just a bad dream from which we would soon awaken.

The tragic death of that infant should have been the moment of consideration, the moment of contemplation. That should have been the time of shame, the time to look into the mirror and to face naked reality in all its ugliness. That should have happened then – on that last evening of all those months full of aggression, uncertainty and hatred. But that moment instead proved to be just another opportunity to spread distortions, deceptions and bile.

Long before the investigation could establish concrete circumstances surrounding the death of the infant, Georgian politicians – whose political credibility and human dignity must be questioned by everyone at least now – instantly started assessing blame.

With rumor and misinformation rife nationwide and frenzied emotionalism drowning out rationality, Georgian politicians decided, pure and simple, to gain political advantage from the tragedy of that dead infant. The same politicians who days earlier had vigorously inflamed emotions with the facts of prison atrocities were at it again on the eve of the elections, this time capitalizing on the death of a poor infant, inciting rage, libeling rivals.

How should those actions of Georgian politicians be evaluated? Is there any way to view them other than as inhumane, immoral and unscrupulous?

I think we will not long forget that case of the drowned infant in a wine jug. Such deficient and inhumane reactions to a tragic accident revealed not only fundamental human failings; they exposed the pathology of the entire pre-election period.

The outrageous accusations leveled by opposition politicians on election eve were reminiscent of the notorious practice known as “blood libel” used by Christians to persecute Jews for two thousand years. One formulation widely exploited during the Middle Ages was that Jews ritualistically killed Christian children and used their blood in religious ceremonies.

The precedent of blood libel during the medieval period was set in Norwich in England, in 1144, when a little Christian boy, William, was found dead in a forest and a local monk, Thomas of Monmouth, accused Jews of the murder.

The Norwich precedent made the allegations behind “blood libel” so popular that almost every time a Christian child disappeared, local clergy would instantly put the blame on Jews. Indeed, such allegations were raised to persecute Jews in Lincoln (in 1202 and 1255), in Winchester (in 1225 and 1232), in Norwich again (in 1230), London (in 1244) and in Northampton (in 1279).

University of Haifa Professor Sophia Menache believes that the facts of the second Lincoln incident exhibit the main characteristics of ritual killing. According to the version of the 1255 Lincoln incident chronicled by medieval historian and Benedictine monk Matthew Paris, Jews captured a small boy, Hugh, and kept him alive for ten days for the purpose of crucifying him. Jews from all over England were summoned to Lincoln, where a “trial” was held and all present condemned eight-year-old Hugh to death. The young boy was stripped of his clothing and each of the assembled Jews spat upon him, cursed him, beat him, pierced him with a wooden knife and derided him as “Jesus the false prophet.” After torturing Hugh, they crowned his head with thorns and crucified him. Afterwards, an inquisition was held by English authorities and eighteen prominent Jews of Lincoln were hanged and eighty others confined to the Tower of England to await a similar fate for the alleged crucifixion of Hugh of Lincoln.

Throughout history, every allegation behind blood libel has been premised on a fictitious source and intentionally spread during times when a dearth of reliable information facilitated the incitement of some collective panic caused by one reason or another. In each incident, anti-Semitism and/or false stereotypes perpetuated throughout history expedited that process.

As was the case in all of those medieval incidents, the specific circumstances of the infant’s death in Kakheti were also unknown. But always present were politics behind the accusations.

In Georgia, history was repeated as both tragedy and farce. The opportunistic statements of Georgian politicians devoid of humanity were as absurd and as shameful as those of medieval clergy who sacrificed both people and principle for political benefit.

That some people actually gave credence to such wholly unfounded accusations is a sad commentary on the sense and sensibilities of Georgian voters and serves as a scathing indictment of the irresponsibility of some Georgian politicians. It is unconscionable to manipulate human tragedy for political gain under any circumstances; to do so in a volatile political climate is wildly reckless as well.

The Georgian society must once again think about the need to agree upon certain principles and to respect them. Not least among them are maintaining rationality and protecting fundamental human values – no matter how politically charged the climate may be.

Until now, Georgian politics fully operated according to the principle of “false awakening.” Today, when it is clear that a new phase is beginning in our political history, it is incumbent upon the entire Georgian society to wake up and hold political servants accountable – in time and space – for each and every reckless statement they make.

 

This article first appeared in Tabula Georgian Issue # 117, published 8 October 2012.

 

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