Kosovo & The Destruction Of The Pyramids

Posted on July 12, 2012

Yesterday morning, a small outlet known as the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) released a story indicating that “prominent Muslim clerics” within Egypt have begun to call for the demolition of the Pyramids at Giza. This, of course, was instantly seized upon by the right-wing media as yet another symbol of the failure of the Arab Spring, the fanaticism of Egypt’s clerical class, and the crazed, demonic intolerance of Islam in general.

A few hours after the wide dissemination of this frightening and off-putting news item, it was revealed to be a hoax of the lowest order, having been sourced from a “parody Twitter account.” In a previous post – my first – I warned of the danger posed by “worldview-confirming lies,” so consider this Exhibit A. It’s funny how things show up as if on cue sometimes; it is almost as if history contains discernable patterns from which knowledge can be gleaned – but that’s enough metaphysics for the moment.

The Assyrians of AINA are no longer the fantastical swarm of conquerors described by Jonah and (later and more rhythmically) by Lord Byron. Fortunes change. They are now a small, Christian people based primarily in Syria and Northern Iraq, where they are routinely persecuted and oppressed by the Muslim majority in those nations. When one peruses the news archive of the ANIA’s website, one is struck by an insistent (and understandable) note concerning the perfidy of Islam and Islamic regimes; recent stories include “The Danger In Dealing With Islamists” and “Egypt’s First Sex Slave Marriage.”

This visible bias does not mean that these stories are necessarily inaccurate, or that the concerns of the Assyrian community are unfounded. Christians really are persecuted in Muslim nations sometimes, and Islamic regimes really have been known to destroy monuments of the greatest antiquity. This is Partisanship 101: You can’t just make up any old thing. It has to follow from a pattern of extant truth.

Propaganda can be hard to parse. It is crafted to flatter our biases, and it is designed to slip quickly through the conscious mind, entering the great mass of our unexamined prejudices like a thief in the night. But what does this all have to do with Kosovo?

In a divided country such as this one, nearly all media, and certainly all politics, consists of people reporting on the actions of their enemies. Can, for instance, the situation in North Kosovo be solved by further talks? Or should all existing agreements between Belgrade and Pristina be scrapped due to corruption and ill-intent? Do said discussions represent “the necessary steps to fully implement UN Security Council Resolution 1244,” or are they merely “an alibi for [Albanian] terrorists”? It depends, of course, who you talk to, and it depends what side they are on.

In Assyria as in Kosovo, there exist grievances so old and bitter that their partisans are constitutionally unable to avoid indulging their darkest suspicions. They are not always wrong – the statues at Bamiyan, for example, really did fall, and Middle Eastern Christians do have cause for concern – but they are always motivated, at least in part, by the old grievance.

When someone speaks about an ancient foe, you can’t entirely trust them. You can listen, of course, as their allegations will betray things that you don’t know, that you weren’t privy to, that you have never before heard. You should listen closely, actually, as every situation, every injury described is a living fragment of their history and – whichever side they are on – of the divided state of affairs in which they live.

It just may not have actually, you know, happened.

Hello, Pristina

Posted on July 10, 2012

My first view of the city; Pejton district.

Credit: inpristina.com

I arrived at Pristina in the middle of the night, descending into a heat wave on a lightning-troubled plane – but wait. That’s so dramatic. Can we say instead that I took a points ticket from Vienna, reading American magazines and devouring the complimentary sponge-cake? Both seem accurate, but truth tends to lie between the extremes. Or does it? For a million reasons, this place seems designed to test that theory.

Had you told me a year ago that I would be sitting here right now, drinking “Lasko” brand beer and waiting for the water to come back on, I would have thought you were crazy. Interesting, perhaps, but equipped with one of the cloudier crystal balls. Six months ago, I could not have pointed to Pristina on a map. Had you done it for me, I would have guessed wrongly. Transylvania, maybe? The westernmost part of Turkey? I wouldn’t have had a chance. Now I live here, and as you might guess, this is more due to circumstance than intention. Serendipitous circumstance, definitely – but circumstance nonetheless.

So what is there to learn? The place is confusing, multi-layered. It is “Europe’s newest country,” but it betrays its antiquity at every corner. It is a beachhead for Islam in the heart of the Continent, but there are no niqabs on Nene Tereza Street, only skimpy ‘80s rock tees displaying slogans like “Young Free America.” It is the Independent Republic Of Kosova, but it is also Albania (just ask) – and a few will still allow themselves to whisper that it is Serbia.

One of the benefits, I’ve always found, of the naïve approach is that you sometimes get a straight answer. You might not score any best-line-of-the-night points with a wide-eyed question, but you are at least marginally less likely to be flattered with worldview-confirming lies. And for me, at this point anyway, it is as much a question of necessity as of style.

Where am I? What is going on here? What on earth are these people doing?

I think it is best to start off with the basics.