Stumbling in harmony with history

14Jan09

Brilliant review of 2008 by David Burchell. Extract:

[…] This year was supposed to be a year of memorials and anniversaries, yet these too failed to offer succour or illumination.

The 40th anniversary of the Prague Spring was commemorated by the spectacle of Russian tanks clattering into another former satellite state, as if in a grainy, colourised re-enactment. A delayed anniversary of the 1968 Paris riots saw large parts of Athens reduced to burnt metal and broken glass in a spirit of nihilistic youthful rebellion.

And the 60th anniversary of Israel was completed in the now time-honoured fashion, with operatic condemnation of Israel’s supposed massacre of the innocents in Hamas’s armed camps.

Indeed, at times it seemed current events and the anniversaries were operating in a kind of ironic harmony, as if, following the ancients, the gods truly do have a sense of humour.

To the best of my knowledge, nobody yet has noticed the coincidence that while the stylishly clad militants of Lashkar-e-Toiba darted around Mumbai’s main railway station, mowing down civilians at random like avenging deities, a fashionably dark, chic and amoral re-enactment of the crimes and adventures of the Baader-Meinhof terror group, that most repellent of all the confused legacies of 1968, was premiering in European cinemas to polite applause and respectful reviews.

The Baader-Meinhof Complex won’t be released in cinemas here until 2009, and yet in many respects it seems to provide a fitting bookend to the debacles and delusions of 2008. The European reviews have carefully emphasised the film’s studious implied criticisms of the terrorist group’s actions and ideologies.

Then, in the next breath, they generally observe how exhilarating it is to view a group of glamorous young women mowing down portly middle-aged businessmen with glistening automatic weapons, all in the name of some undefined spirit of human liberation and set to a gratifyingly pulse-racing soundtrack.

This seems only fitting. After all, Byron wouldn’t have been such an erotically charged romantic hero if he hadn’t been mad, bad and dangerous to know. And Che Guevara would have made a thoroughly unsexy social democrat. The cult of the Red Army Faction has been so lovingly sustained because many of its chroniclers seem never to have really grown up.

Writing in The Guardian, venerable British journalist and 1968 romantic Neal Ascherson launched into a barely repressed erotic rhapsody about his youthful encounters with the “tender and vulnerable” Ulrike Meinhof, the confused young woman who was paraded as the group’s sexual symbol.

In a thoroughly clever manoeuvre, at once condemnatory and celebratory, one German critic claimed the film “brings to light a repressed truth about the allure of the RAF. Girls with guns are the ultimate desire and fear fantasy of a patriarchal, inhibited society.” And there you have it: Meinhof as Barbarella.

Of course, we know as matters of historical fact that the Baader-Meinhof group was originally funded by the East German Stasi; that its alumni were caught up in the [1976] Entebbe hijacking in which the passengers were systematically divided into Jews and gentiles; and that Andreas Baader hailed the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre as a model for revolutionary action.

We also know that one of the group’s founders, released from prison in the 1980s, has reinvented himself as a neo-Nazi, maintaining that his basic ideals are unchanged.

Indeed, often it seems that the main distinction between the far Left and the far Right was their level of education. The former developed its half-baked messianic theories out of bibs-and-bobs of theory culled from university degrees, while the latter focused its hatreds on more immediate physical attributes such as skin colour and ethnicity.

And yet while the mystique of one group has been more or less completely extinguished, the mystique of the other continues, seemingly undimmed, through our present traumas.

In turn, the present vogue of Islamist radicalism contrives to fuse the messianic outlooks of far Right and far Left into a kind of synthesis dressed up in the mantle of theology. Anti-capitalism, anti-Semitism, social revolutionism and personal ultra-conservatism, all stirred into a heady eclectic brew. No wonder it seems to produce the same intrigued ambivalence among some infidels that it does among some believers.[…]

(Links and formatting added by antigerman)

Other articles in The Australian:

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