By Pepe Escobar
July 04, 2020 "Information
Clearing House" -
Greece invented the concept of barbaros. Imperial
Rome inherited it as barbarus.
The original meaning
of barbaros is rooted in language: an onomatopoeia
meaning “unintelligible speech” as people go “bar bar
bar” when they talk.
Homer does not refer to barbaros,
but to barbarophonos (“of unintelligible
speech”), as in those who don’t speak Greek or speak
very badly. Comic poet Aristophanes suggested that
Gorgias was a barbarian because he spoke a strong
Barbaru meant “foreigner”
in Babylonian-Sumerian. Those of us who studied Latin in
school remember balbutio (“stammer”, “stutter”,
So it was speech that defined the
barbarian compared to the Greek. Thucydides thought that
Homer did not use “barbarians” because in his time
Greeks “hadn’t yet been divided off so as to have a
single common name by way of contrast”. The point is
clear: the barbarian was defined as in opposition to the
The Greeks invented the barbarian
concept after the Persian invasions by Darius I and
Xerxes I in 490 and 480-479 BC. After all they had to
clearly separate themselves from the non-Greek.
Aeschylus staged The Persians in 472 BC. That was
the turning point; after that “barbarian” was everyone
who was not Greek – Persians, Phoenicians, Phrygians,
Adding to the schism, all these
barbarians were monarchists. Athens, a new democracy,
considered that to be the equivalent of slavery. Athens
extolled “freedom” – which ideally developed reason,
self-control, courage, generosity. In contrast,
barbarians – and slaves – were childish, effeminate,
irrational, undisciplined, cruel, cowardly, selfish,
greedy, luxurious, pusillanimous.
From all of the above two
conclusions are inevitable.
- Barbarism and slavery was a natural match.
- Greeks thought it was morally uplifting to help
friends and repel enemies, and in the latter case
Greeks had to enslave them. So Greeks should by
definition rule barbarians.
History has shown that this
worldview not only migrated to Rome but afterwards, via
Christianity post-Constantine, to the “superior” West,
and finally to the West’s supposed “end of history”:
Rome, as usual, was
pragmatic: “barbarian” was adapted to qualify
anything and anyone that was not Roman. How not to
relish the historical irony: for the Greeks, the
Romans were also – technically – barbarians.
Rome focused more on behavior
than race. If you were truly civilized, you would not be
mired in the “savagery” of Nature or found dwelling in
the outskirts of the world (like Vandals, Visigoths,
etc..) You would live right in the center of the matrix.
So everyone who lived outside of
Rome’s power – and crucially, who resisted Rome’s power
– was a barbarian. A collection of traits would
establish the difference: race, tribe, language,
culture, religion, law, psychology, moral values,
clothing, skin color, patterns of behavior.
People who lived in Barbaria
could not possibly become civilized.
Starting from the 16th
century, that was the whole logic behind the European
expansion and/or rape of the Americas, Africa and Asia,
the core of the mission civilisatrice carried as
a white man’s burden.
With all that in mind, a number
of questions remain unanswered. Are all barbarians
irredeemably barbarous – wild, uncivilized, violent? The
“civilized”, in many cases, may also be considered
barbarian? Is it possible to configure a pan-barbarian
identity? And where is Barbaria today?
The end of secularized
Barbarism begins at home.
Alastair Crooke has
shown how in an extremely polarized US “both
parties” are essentially accusing each other of
barbarism: “these people lie, and would stoop to any
illegitimate, seditionist (i.e. unconstitutional) means,
to obtain their illicit ends.”
Adding to the complexity, this
clash of barbarisms opposes an old, conservative guard
to a Woke Generation in many respects aping a Mao
Cultural Revolution mindset. “Woke” could easily be
interpreted as the opposite of the Enlightenment. And
it’s an Anglo-America phenomenon – visible among the
aimless, masked, unmasked, socially disillusioned,
largely unemployed and not-distanced victims of the
raging New Great Depression. There is no “woke” in
China, Russia, Iran or Turkey.
Yet the central Barbaria question
goes way beyond street protests. The “indispensable
nation” may have irretrievably lost the Western
equivalent of the Chinese “mandate of heaven”,
dictating, unopposed, the parameters of its own
construct: “universal civilization”.
The fundaments of what amounts to
secularized religion are in tatters. The “narrow,
sectarian pillar” of “liberal core tenets of individual
autonomy, freedom, industry, free trade” was “able to be
projected into a universal project – only so long as it
was underpinned by power.”
Roughly for the past two
centuries this civilizational claim served as the basis
for the colonization of the Global South and the West’s
uncontested domination over The Rest. Not anymore. Signs
are creeping everywhere. The most glaring is the
evolving Russia-China strategic partnership.
The “indispensable nation” lost
its military cutting edge to Russia and is losing its
economic/trade preeminence to China. President Putin was
compelled to write a detailed essay
setting the record straight on one of the pillars of
the American Century: that only happened, to a large
extent, due to the sacrifices of the USSR in WWII.
It’s quite enlightening to check
how the civilizational claim is unraveling across
Southwest Asia – what the Orientalist perspective
defines as the Middle East.
In a paroxysm of missionary zeal,
the self-appointed heir to imperial Rome – call it Rome
on the Potomac – is bent, via the Deep State, on
destroying by all means necessary the allegedly
“barbarian” Axis of Resistance: Tehran, Baghdad,
Damascus and Hezbollah. Not by military means, but via
This testimony, by an European religious figure
working with Syrians, concisely shows how the Caesar Act
sanctions – perversely depicted as a “Civilian
Protection Act” and drafted under Obama in 2016 – are
designed to harm and even starve local populations,
deliberately steering them towards civil unrest.
James Jeffrey, the US envoy to
rejoiced, on the record, that sanctions against “the
regime” have “contributed to the collapse” of what is
essentially Syrian livelihood.
Rome on the Potomac sees the Axis
of Resistance as Barbaria. For one hegemonic US faction,
they are barbarous because they dare to reject the
superior, “moral” American civilization claim. For
another no less hegemonic faction, they are so outright
barbarian that only regime change would redeem them. A
great deal of “enlightened” Europe happens to supports
this interpretation, slightly sweetened by humanitarian
The Wall of Alexander
It’s Iraq all over again. In
2003, the beacon of civilization launched Shock and Awe
on “barbarian” Iraq, a criminal operation based on
entirely falsified intel – very much like the recent
chapter of never-ending Russiagate, where we see malign
Russkies playing the role of paymasters to Taliban with
the intent of killing (occupying) US soldiers.
This “intel” – corroborated by no
evidence, and parroted uncritically by corporate media –
comes from the same system that tortured innocent
prisoners in Guantanamo until they confessed to
anything; lied about WMDs in Iraq; and weaponized and
financed Salafi-jihadis – sweetened as “moderate rebels”
– to kill Syrians, Iraqis and Russians.
It’s no wonder that across Iraq
in 2003, I never ceased to hear from Sunnis and Shi’ites
alike that the American invaders were more barbarous
than the Mongols in the 13th century.
One of the key targets of the
Caesar Act is to close for good the Syrian-Lebanese
border. An unintended consequence is that this will lead
Lebanon to get closer to Russia-China. Hezbollah’s
secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah has already made it
Nasrallah added a subtle
historical insight – emphasizing how Iran has always
been the strategic, cultural go-between for China and
the West: after all, for centuries, the language of
choice along the Ancient Silk Roads was Persian. Who’s
the barbarian now?
The Axis of Resistance, as well
as China, know that a festering wound will have to be
tackled: the thousands of
Salafi-jihadi Uighurs scattered across the
Syria-Turkey border, which could become a serious
problem obstructing the overland, northern Levant route
of the New Silk Roads.
In Libya, part of the Greater
Middle East, utterly destroyed by NATO and turned into a
wasteland of warring militias, the “leading from behind”
fight against Barbaria will take the form of
perpetuating the warring – local populations be damned.
The playbook is a faithful replay of the 1980-1988
In a nutshell, the “universal
civilization” project has been able to utterly destroy
the “barbarian” state structures of Afghanistan, Iraq,
Libya and Yemen. But that’s where the buck stops.
Iran has drawn the new line in
the sand. Profiting from the hardened experience of
living four decades under US sanctions, Tehran sent a
large business delegation to Damascus to schedule
the supply of necessities and is “breaking the fuel
siege of Syria by sending several oil tankers” – much as
the breaking of the US blockade on Venezuela. The oil
will be paid in Syrian lira.
So Caesar Act is actually leading
Russia-China-Iran – the three key nodes in myriad
strategies of Eurasia integration – to get closer and
closer to the “barbarian” Axis of Resistance. A special
feature is the complex diplomatic-energy ties between
Iran and China – also part of a long-term strategic
partnership. That includes even a new railway to be
built linking Tehran to Damascus and eventually Beirut
(part of BRI in Southwest Asia) – which will also be
used as an energy corridor.
On Surah 18 of the Holy Quran, we
find the story of how Alexander the Great, on his way to
the Indus, met a faraway people who “could scarcely
understand any speech”. Well, barbarians.
The barbarians told Alexander the
Great they were being threatened by some people they
called – in Arabic – Gog and Magog, and asked for his
help. The Macedonian suggested they get a lot of iron,
melt it down and build a giant wall, following his own
design. According to the Quran, as long as Gog and Magog
were kept away, behind the wall, the world would be
But then, on Judgment Day, the
wall would fall. And hordes of monsters would drink away
all the waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
Buried beneath some hills in
northern Iran, the fabled Sadd-i-Iskandar (“Wall of
Alexander”) is still there. Yes, we will never know what
sort of monsters, engendered by the sleep of reason,
lurk across Barbaria.
Pepe Escobar is
His latest book is
2030. Follow him on
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