Questions and More Questions

 Foundations and Influence

As someone who grew up in western society, and comes from a middle-class background, I have the privilege of not being confronted by war whenever I step outside - my privilege comes from the fact that I can sit here and ignore what is currently going on in the world simply because I am not directly involved. This is a privilege, but not one that should often be enacted.

When the conflicts between Israel and Palestine first started to appear in newspapers, I knew worryingly little about the entire discourse. In fact, the only information I did know, was the creation of Israel after the Second World War. However, whilst I didn't have much knowledge of the subject, it seemed neither did others. In trying to understand the conflicts, I came across numerous articles, comments and discussions that expressed quite openly discriminative attitudes from the west towards either Palestine/Israel, the divide in opinions quickly caused both xenophobic and prejudice attitudes to surface - I can't count the number of anti-Semitic comments or islamophobic attitudes I have seen - but the question I always return to is where? Where do these attitudes come from? Who first perpetuated them and why are they even present in our modern-day society? These questions often circulate my mind, therefore, when I was given the opportunity to conduct a research project over the summer, I chose to focus on the origins of these racially discriminative perspectives. During semester two, I did an elective course on Ancient Greece in the later years, before the beginnings of the Roman Empire, which is where I first came across the term 'barbarian'; this leads to my first question:
"Does the term 'barbarian' invoke a positive or negative image?"

The reason for this will be explained in my next post so I don't accidentally bias the outcome of the question but I wanted to explain what my research question is and why I decided to focus on the origins rather than modern history.

Throughout history, Western societies have credited the Ancient Greek and Roman civilisations as the forefathers of the modern world; we study the teachings of Aristotle in tragic theatre, discuss Plato’s Platonic solids in mathematics and attribute our concept of democracy to the model constructed by Cleisthenes’ original δημοκρατία (dee-mo-kra-ti-a). However, if the modern world inherited all these positive influences - surely we must have inherited the negative ones too? This is why I wanted to focus on the origins of racist ideologies, we take so much from the ancient civilisations that what if we also inherited their prejudices too? This is the foundation of my project, which brings me to my research question

"Can we attribute modern racist ideologies surrounding the Middle East to the conflicts between Ancient Greece and Persia?"

My next post will explore the origins of the Ancient Greek for barbarian and hopefully build on the distinction between the modern and ancient view of the word and its racially tied origins.

François de Troy, Jean. The Abduction of Europa, 1716.

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