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By Jason Michael

We don’t like Russians. Over five decades of an international standoff with the USSR we were taught to fear the Russians. Now this Russophobia is being used as a weapon against Scotland.

In my early twenties – a long time ago now – while at a youth conference in Sweden, I was invited to Friday prayers at Stockholm’s Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan Mosque by some Muslim friends. The mosque complex and interior were breathtaking. Middle Eastern architecture untypical of its Nordic surroundings welcomed us, Arabic calligraphy on the walls formed the closest resemblance possible to religious art in a culture that generally avoids pictorial representations of the sacred, and – having had to take off my shoes to enter the mosque – the carpet felt like nothing I had ever felt on the soles of my feet before. This introduction to Islam is describable only as bliss.

As we mingled at the back waiting for Ṣalāt al-Jum’ah – the “service” as we might call it – to begin, while my friends were exchanging Salams with their fellow Muslims, the Adhan – the sung call to prayer – began and people started lining up to pray. Inside my head, unbeknownst to those around me, the mood had changed. Somehow, inexplicably, I recognised this. It was terrifyingly familiar and I was afraid. For however long it took for the service to end I was trapped and feeling the most excruciating sense of unease and bewilderment. All of a sudden there was nothing about this I liked.

Islam is evil, or that was how I had been unconsciously conditioned to think of this ancient and beautiful religion and culture. All of this prejudice, this Islamophobia, had been deeply implanted in my imagination without me ever being entirely aware of it. Our own culture, western culture, had done this. In the years since, through the course of my own theological and sociological education, I came to appreciate how western culture – our literature, films, music, and so on – had poisoned our wells, making it all but impossible for us, shaped as we are by our culture, to be open to anything approaching a neutral experience of Islam. If you are in doubt of this, just think of how the film The Exorcist opens. The evil of the story is framed by the Islamic call to prayer, and this is a standard of the western horror genre. Dracula is no different.

Our perceptions of other people and other cultures are formed by inculturation; the gradual acquisition of a set of social beliefs and assumptions about one’s self, one’s own group, and of others and the groups to which they belong. We know what it means to be Scottish for example, and from this we have learned what to assume of ourselves and others. None of this needs to be true. It is merely accepted, reproduced, and passed on.

This learned western prejudice is by no means limited to our preconceptions of Islam, Muslims, and the Islamic World. “The Jew” and the “Muhammadan,” owing to our close proximity to both Jewish and Islamic civilisation over the past two millennia, are very well developed outsider stereotypes created by western culture. More recently another dangerous outsider has been constructed as a response to the existential threat posed by the spread of Communism and the Cold War.

I don’t trust Russians. In spite of my best efforts to be open to new experiences and to style myself a homo internationalis, my heart rate picks up when I hear Russian spoken. I don’t mind the vodka, but be it Boris the Blade, Jo Stalin, or Vladimir Putin; I can’t get over my aversion to Russians – Russian men oddly enough. These are my “baddies.”

The reasons for this are more transparent. Growing up in the 80s, under the shadow of the Berlin Wall and nuclear war, Russia – the Soviet Union – was very much the existential menace of the west; of the United States, Western Europe, and little Britain – the so-called democracies of the “Free World.” At school, on the radio, and on television we were drilled on how to “protect and survive.”  We were kept in a constant state of fear, on heightened alert, waiting for the moment when they attacked. Hollywood, like the comics and books we read, was enlisted as a weapon against the “Reds.” By the late 70s Generation X was being born into a Baby Boomer generation already conditioned by the fear. Fearing and loathing the Russians was as much a part of our culture as James Bond, Superman, and John Rambo, and that fear has never completely gone away.

We witnessed the fall of the Berlin Wall, the fragmentation and dissolution of the USSR, and the end of global Communism. Boris Yeltsin was fun. Russia and Russians, for a while, were subject to the same media normalisation now being applied to the far-right and Trumpism. But Russia has refused to westernise. Defeating the Bolsheviks was about Americanising them with Coca Cola, kleptocratic democracy, and capitalism. Sure, they took the bait – now we can have a Big Mac in Red Square. But Mother Russia refused to curl up and die. Russia simply subjected our cultural gifts to its own process of Russification. It has freedom and democracy; it just calls it “свобода и демократия.”

Russia’s refusal to assimilate was always going to cause trouble. Western-ism has never tolerated those who refuse to assimilate. Our cultural imperialism failed in Russia as it has failed in the Middle East and against Muslims living in western states. US foreign policy in the Middle East and now domestic policy throughout the west towards Muslims have been our response to Islam’s refusal to be defeated. But it is not easy to do the same to Russia. Mr Putin is no Gamal Nasser, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, or Bashar al-Assad.

Over the past twenty years the United States and its allies have been rebuilding the iron curtain around Russia. Missile bases have been renewed in Turkey and Poland, troops have been deployed to the Baltic states and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, and the sabre-rattling rhetoric has returned. As this has been going on Vladimir Putin has been biding his time. Russia hasn’t moved. The nearest Russian troops to US soil are in the autonomous okrug of Chukotka, presumably being watched by Sarah Palin from her backyard in Alaska.

It is in the context of this residual demonisation and the early stages of a new Cold War that we in Scotland find ourselves at the centre of Britain’s propaganda war against Russia. Alex Salmond’s choice to broadcast his talk show on Russia Today, given that he would not be granted such a luxury in the United Kingdom, has ruffled a few feathers. The British media and unionist voices in Scotland want to present this as Russian interference in our democracy, and in doing this they have deliberately re-ignited the fuse of the Russophobic prejudice they installed. This was easy for them to do because, as I have admitted, the fear of Russia is still very much part of our cultural psyché. All the old McCarthyist buttons are being pressed. They know where to find them. They put them there.

Yet this is all a game of smoke and mirrors. This fear of Russia exists only in our own heads. Russia isn’t the country strategically arming a fence around us or the US. Russia is not the aggressor in this new diplomatic freeze. Actually, this current ramping up of anti-Russian sentiment in Scotland has nothing to do with Vladimir Putin and Russia – it is all about Alex Salmond, our former First Minister. London is incensed – after ensuring his silence in the British media – that he has been given a voice. The stupidity of this new engineered Russophobia is of course that in its attempts to control what it clearly sees as a local problem the British government is throwing fuel on the fire of a far more dangerous global and geopolitical situation. What this new Russophobia exposes is more evidence of the chaos this government in London is creating.

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The Political Uses Of Russophobia


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3 thoughts on “Talking to the Russians: Scotland and the New Russophobia

  1. Our challenge is a) to recognise the conditioning b) to release it from our minds. You have done a great job with this article for (a).
    Fortunately with the ascendency of the collective consciousness at this time (notably in Scotland), we are able on a personal basis to release these thought forms easily, and indeed change then the collective by doing so.
    Drop into your heart, connect to the source or Divine, however you recognise it and ask for the thought form to be released. Mantras can be used to great effect such as “I willingly release” “the Russians are bad”. Then it will be so.
    For those that take on this practice and do it diligently the rewards are great, and so it is for all mankind. Without that conditioning (some of which has been imprinted for many thousands of years) we are on the way to a new humanity without aggression conflict and hatred.

    Like

  2. Interesting to read your account of the Muslim religious service because I had a somewhat similar feeling the first time I attended Catholic service (a funeral as it happened) five or so years ago. Thing is, I’d been brought up in a non-religious household & have fairly firm anti-religious beliefs of my own. But I have never felt this level of discomfort in a Protestant church. I know why this is the case; school in Scotland & New Zealand is ‘non-denominational’, ie. Protestant, and my family are Protestant (grandfather & several uncles are/were ministers) so I was raised as a Protestant even by my atheist parents. Brainwashing is a subtle thing indeed…

    On the Russian front though, a little bit of counter-indoctrination goes a long way too. I’ve mentioned before that the military taught me that the Russians were the enemy but I also had the experience of learning Russian during my last year at school so while I don’t speak a word now, it is not a completely alien tongue. Also the fact that one of my closest friends is Russian no doubt has something to do with not automatically seeing them as the bad guys.

    That map of the missile bases surrounding Russia sums things up all too well. Though if you were to look at it as a globe & see the north American bases it would look even more threatening from a Russian perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

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