“Who Controls the Past Controls the Future”
Bruce S. Thornton
h/t to Victor Davis Hanson's Private Papers
In 1984 George Orwell described how the abandonment of belief in objective truth makes possible a politicized history that legitimizes tyrannical power:
If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened—that, surely, was more terrifying than mere torture and death . . . . And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed—if all records told the same tale—then the lie passed into history and became truth. 'Who controls the past' ran the Party slogan, 'controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.'
The danger Orwell describes does not just afflict totalitarian societies in which the organs of information are controlled by the state. Free peoples too must watch out for the manipulation of historical fact in the service of ideology. The techniques may be subtler and more insidious than the crude propaganda that typified the Soviet Union, or that can still be found in the state-run media of North Korea or Cuba. Yet the distortion of history through mythic historical narratives continues to shape policies that ultimately abet the aggression of our enemies.
The fight against jihadism has been compromised by just such narratives in which the facts of history are twisted into a melodrama of Western imperialist aggression against a peaceful and tolerant Islam. This idealized picture of Islamic history would have astonished our ancestors, who for centuries called Islam the “religion of the sword” based on their own unfortunate experiences with centuries of Muslim aggression. This whitewashed history would have insulted the Muslim historians who proudly recorded the triumphs of Allah’s warriors and the devastation they left behind them.
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