442. THE STRUGGLE FOR DEMOCRATIC CONTROL AND THE PROTECTION OF COLLECTIVE HUMAN RIGHTS INTERESTS CALLS FOR FAIRER HISTORICAL TOOLS OF ANALYSIS, TOOLS THAT RESPECT, PROTECT AND FULFIL THESE INTERESTS.

-The world we know today is merely a story someone has told us, but it is not the true story we need to make sense of millennia-long oppressions. (Paulo Coelho, The Zahir)
-The historical neglect of disregarding/overlooking the chronic suffering of the have-nots is still happening today. They are still suffering; just in different, sometimes cleverly hidden ways. (Jenni Monet)

Different authors have agreed with me: The Great History we are taught feeds on many fables –never forget (Alejo Carpentier)

• Conventional history is rightfully accused of ‘historically marginalizing’ facts and, for political reasons, this has been and is the case from times immemorial. In conventional history, real tragedies of lives sacrificed and fates sealed are treated with a matter of fact attitude that is deceiving. The true struggles (for people’s rights) are ignored, overlooked or treated superficially. It is thus the collective memory of the many that challenges conventional history’s accounts. This collective memory has to build its own defenses so as not to pass to oblivion. (Leonardo Padura)
• Conventional historic analyses have overestimated the day-to-day and have relied on chronicling short-term political, conquest and electoral intentions that have become myopic glances at the social reality of the respective period* –all with the clear intention of providing such views for the consumption of the many. (Edmundo Moure)
*: We are talking about the so many abuses that were never recounted and monuments that were never erected… (L. Padura)
• Conventional history has further too often made heroes of pompous and vainglorious leaders and regimes. It has fostered ignorance that has been cultivated by the powers-that-be over long periods of time. This has suited succeeding generations of politicians in the richest countries in the world keeping a large section of their population mired in an abject poverty of knowledge. Poverty and this poverty of knowledge have been walled off equally by history, geography, economics, science –and simple rationality. (Ruchir Joshi)
• Conventional history totally disregards selected true historical references as it is affected by ideological constraints that explain this fact. It is incapable of breaking with its ideological constraints and thus falls back on chronicling the mere chronology of historical events. This being so, misery seldom falls within the radar of conventional historians. What counts for them is what often happens to be a historical illusion. To such a degree has history been distorted that it falls into a form of ‘theatrality’; much is fabled at the expense of the historical accuracy of yesterday. (Gonzalo Celorio)
• I am not saying that conventional history does not have part of the truth even if sometimes a small part; it is more about the fact that it is a victim of a great contraption (or a view through a stained glass). To be believable, a lie has to be constructed in part with some truths. For us the question is to figure out: What part of the lies are true? (Javier Cercas)
• Conventional history’s failures –such as the treating of slavery, of segregation and of the shameful treatment of native people’s –have not only been legal, but also human rights (HR) and spiritual failures; they continue to be a blasphemy against anybody’s creed. (Michael Gerson)
• Why has conventional history neglected the myriad stories of so many social movements and their struggle? Regardless of why, to understand what really has been going on for eons, it is high time to incorporate the ‘historicity’ of a whole bunch of for-ever marginalized communities/groups/classes to a fairer rewritten history.** (Julio Monsalvo)
**: Human history, as Karl Marx understood, is defined by class struggle.

2. Bottom line here, conventional history has too often been written chronicling conquests or theoretical accounts of war. These are mere repetitions though since they have been going on since the beginning of time. History will only change when we find an agreement to review it; that is the only way to make things change. (P. Coelho)

3. On top of agreeing with me, authors pose the same kind of worrisome questions I do

• How many despicable facts about political, sex and religious abuses and about racism have conventional historians condemned?
• How many men have been aggrandized by conventional history? (when true history should not have pardoned their brutality?).
• Has conventional history been a people-grinding machine? (of what is called the-real-life-of-the-many across the ages?).
• Is conventional history written with omissions, a-posteriori fabricated evidences, false protagonisms and assorted manipulations? And does this not give its writers any pangs or motivation to correct historical facts? (Not that the holders of power were unhappy about this: Historical ‘truth’ thus became the most complacent and worst paid whore).
• Is conventional history written by those who happen to be in accordance with those who wield the power? The other history, the one about the truth, isn’t it the one that should count at the end?
• Why do we never learn this lesson? Why do we not question our school history textbooks? (But I remain optimistic. Eventually, there is the ‘other history’, the one about the truth, that some day will tear down the edifices constructed by a biased history. And this, all the evil powers in the world will not be able to avoid or ignore).
• Does using the past to influence the present put historical castrations and omissions in bothersome evidence? (The ‘historical trauma’ of many enslaved ethnicities and discriminated groups is thus revealed).
• Will a son or a daughter of those forgotten groups eventually come to knock at our door?
• Will many a hero and a benefactor of the day actually become the villains of tomorrow? (from reflections bout history of Leonardo Padura in his ‘La Novela de mi Vida’)
• Did wars help build nations or destroyed them –or both? (Either way, it has always been at the expense of the have-nots!).
• The imperfect path of history has long stumbled and meandered. But has history contributed towards a destination of justice and HR? (Dan Rather)

4. Bottom line here: Does conventional history allow or have a room for new interpretations? That is the question.

5. And then there are the historians: is a mea culpa due?

• Conventional historians have failed to widen the scale and the categories of inquiry into reality. So why should we be surprised? “Those who do not believe in saints cannot be cured via miracles brought about by saints…”. (G. Celorio)
• Conventional historians have never been interested in the history of beggars. (P. Coelho) This does not mean that they have cared less about the material suffering of the masses; it means that they do understand that the autocrats have offered false bargains to the masses just to meet their minimum material needs while not innocently overlooking the suppression of HR. (William Easterly)
• Over and over, conventional historians have identified more with the winners than with the losers. Take, for example, the distance with which Europeans and North Americans look at historical facts. Just think about how many made-hero conquerors actually really pursued what was the greedy search of personal wealth (gold, silver, oil, land grabbing…?) (G. Celorio) Or take another example: History is replete with cases where religious actors, no matter how well-intentioned, created some rather unholy alliances. (Azza Karam)

Truth is too often the contrary of what we are told. History should be written about the truth and not about made-up legends (Oriana Falacci)

-It is a commendable endeavor to change the world by re-writing important parts of history. History can indeed be rewritten! (L. Padura) It is all about breaking the rear mirror and replacing it…

6. With so many millions of the forgotten, angered victims of the relentless violation of their HR –marginalized since they were never given a place in the ascending and victorious narrative of conventional history– it is time to lift the veil over the indeed long sequence of crimes now being unveiled by a new breed of ‘non-official historians’. (L. Padura, E. Moure)

7. The sad truth is that the past we have been taught is frozen in what it was not. We need to defrost it so we can steer it more towards reality, knowing that we are peeking into a complex truth, a dark territory that often is not visible at first sight, because a delicate, deceiving scaffolding has been erected around it and needs to be removed. (Carla Guelfenbein, Contigo en la Distancia)

8. Even more forcefully, more recent historical developments call for new approaches that enable us to reinterpret the passage of history in order to come up with contemporary effective responses. Why? Because the needs and desires of history’s forgotten, humiliated and silenced people has been disturbed in contemporary times when paternalistic white liberals have occupied the vital center. (Pankaj Mishra)

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
schuftan@gmail.com
www.claudioschuftan.com

Postscript/Marginalia
The hegemonic historic narrative has been unable to recount the relevance of, for instance, the fact that in 1913 Gandhi organized the first protest march in defense of Indian miners in South Africa, a key moment as concerns their struggle. Or, take the fact that the Natives Land Act, the law that reserved the ownership of land for whites in the same country, left only 7% of the land for blacks who were the majority of the population; the Act was passed in that same year. Or, take King Leopold of Belgium’s presiding over the most cruel of atrocities, known as “The Congo Horrors”, that ravaged the country’s population by several millions between 1885 and 1908. Contrary to appearances, the abysmal gap in conventional history has not been erased with the end of territorial colonialism. It is still there today, just like colonialism is, albeit in new forms. It is this abysmal gap that justifies racism, xenophobia, islamophobia, the destruction of countries like Iraq, Libya, Yemen or Syria, the Palestinian ‘final solution’ perpetrated by victims turned into aggressors, the massive incarceration of young black people in the United States, the inhuman treatment of refugees. How different and yet how similar are today’s absences and those from these but very few examples? (Boaventura de Sousa Santos) Now it is time to announce the emancipation of the ex-colonies so as to open a new path to liberty. (G. Celorio)

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