The shadow of the West

October 27 2008

Savages are distressed at the waning of the moon and attempt to counteract it by magical remedies. They do not realise that the shadow which creeps forward till it blots out all but a fragment of the shining disc is cast by their world. In much the same way we civilised people of the West glance with pity or contempt at our non-Western contemporaries lying under the shadow of some stronger power, which seems to paralyse their energies by depriving them of light. Generally we are too deeply engrossed in our own business to look closer, and we pass by on the other side – conjecturing (if our curiosity is sufficiently aroused to demand an explanation) that the shadow which oppresses these sickly forms is the ghost of their own past. Yet if we paused to examine that dim gigantic overshadowing figure standing, apparently unconscious, with its back to its victims, we should be startled to find that its features are ours.

The West had long demonised the Turks. Toynbee, who had himself, during the First World War, written anti-Turkish propaganda, examined the effect of Western policies and actions on post-1918 Turkey in

The Western Question in Greece and Turkey, A Study in the Contact of Civilizations, Constable, 1922

8 Responses to “The shadow of the West”

  1. qunfuz Says:

    That is absolutely brilliant.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    What happened to your Roman post?

  3. davidderrick Says:

    “Western Question” is of course a reversal of “Eastern Question”: the question which obsessed European foreign policy-makers from 1774 until the end of the Ottoman Empire. The image of the waning moon reminds us of the waning empire, whose flag, like the flag of modern Turkey, showed a crescent moon.

  4. qunfuz Says:

    It’s finished, and will be published sometime in the next few weeks.

  5. Paul Says:

    This is superb – it gives perfect expression to something I’ve been trying to formulate for myself.


  6. […] It is imperative to remove it, for unwarrantable prejudice and unwarrantable indulgence do not in this case counterbalance one another. When you have made a spoilt-child of the Greek, it is no good rounding on him as an impostor; and when you have used the Turk as a whipping-boy, you do not heal the stripes that you have inflicted by congratulating him on his fortitude. Unnatural treatment is made doubly harmful by inconsistency in its application […]. The shadow of the West […]

  7. davidderrick Says:

    The opening sentence owes a debt to James Frazer.

  8. davidderrick Says:

    This is marred only by a slight clash of metaphors between passing by on the other side and standing with one’s back to one’s victims.


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