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Old 11-02-2001, 11:36 AM   #1
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Umberto Eco's comments on the War

This text is originaraly written in italian. It concerns the attitudes and prejudices that lurk in the roots of terrorism and war. It deals with intolerance, bigotry, and ethinocentrism, teaching us to be able to appreciate and enjoy differences.

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THAT someone has a far days ago uttered inconvenient words about the supeority of the western culture could be considered as a secondary fact.
it is a secondary fact that someone says something that he deems to be just although in wrong moment; it is also secondary that someone belive in something unfair or even wrong, considering that the world is full of ppl that belive in unjust and wrong things, specially a gentleman called Bin Laden, who maybe is richer than our President of the Congress of Minister and has studied in better Universities.
That which is not secondary and that ought to worry everybody, politicians, religious leaders, educators, is that certain expressions or even fiery articles that somehow have legitimated them, become a subject of general discussions, get hold of the minds of the young, and possibly lead them into irracional conclusions dictaded by the emotions of the hour.
I care about the young, since the elder's mind is not so changeable.
All wars of religion that Love been bloodying for centuries have been bron from an irrational adhrence to simplistic contrapostions such as "US ad Them", good out bad, white and black.

Of western culture has shown itself to be fruitful (not only from Illuminism on until today, but also since franciscan Roger Bacon, invited ppl to learn other languages because one has something to learn even from the infidel) it is also because it has made efforts to purge, in the light of free and critical inquiry, all damaging simplifications.
Of course, it has not done that always. Hitler is part of western culture; he burned books, he condemned "degenerate art", killed those who belonged to "inferior races". The same with fascism, which taught me at school to recite "God confound the English" because they were "the five-meal people", and therefore gluttons, inferior to the frugal and spartan Italian.
Nevertheless, we should discuss with the young of all colours the best aspects of our culture, if we don't want that new towers shall tumble down in the future. One element of confusion is that we keep being unable to see the difference between identifying ourselves with our own roots and judging what is good and what is bad.
As far as roots are concerned, if I was asked if I would rather my retirement years at a village of Monferrato, or in the majestic pecks of the National Park of Abruzzi, or in the sweet hills of the Senese, I'd choose Monferrato.
But that doesnt mean that I cosider other Italian regions as inferior to the Piemonte.

Accordingly if with his words, addressed to Westeners but recanted for the benefitof the Arabs, the Prime Minister meant that he preferred living at Arcone rather than Kabul, and being treated at a Milan hospital rather than at a Baghdad one, I should be willing to subscribe to his opinion.
The same if I were told that in Baghdad there existed the best fitted out hospital in the world; even so in Milan I would feel more at home, and that would also inffluence my capacity for recovering. Roots may also be broader than regional or national ones. I'd rather live at Limonges than in Moscow. But how come? Isn't Moscow a very fine city?
It is indeed, but at Limonges I would understand the language. Summing up, everyone indentifies himself with the culture in which he has grown up. The instanees of complete transplantation are a minority. Lawrence of Arabia dressed as an Arab, but he eventually he went back home...

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There's more to come yet.

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Old 11-02-2001, 04:33 PM   #2
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Let us proceed now to the comparison between civilizations, which is our subject-matter. The West, perhaps and specially for reasons of economic expansion, has always been curious about other civilizations.
Many times it has contemptuously exterminated them. The Greeks called barbarians, that is, the babbling ones, all those who did not speak Greek, as if they did not speak at all.
But more mature Greeks, such as the Storics (maybe because some of them were of phoenician stock) promptly understood that barbaricus uttered different words but referring to the same thoughts.
Marco Polo made efforts to respectfully describe the usages and costums of the Chinese.
The great masters of medieval Christian theology looked for translations the texts of Arab Philosophers, physicians and astrologers.

Renaissence men had often maybe exaggerated in their attempts to retrieve the lost oriental wisdom, from Caldea to Egypt.
Montesquien tried to understand how a Persian might see the French. Modern anthropologists have led their first studies based on reports of the Salesian, who tried to convert the Bororo, if possible, but tried to understand their way of thinking and living remembering perhaps that messienaries a few centuries ago did not succeed in understanding the ameridian cultures and had encouraged their extermination.

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