The truth is a bourgeois construct

2009-10-24 00:00

ANDY Warhol famously declared that every­one has 15 minutes of fame in their lifetime. The Me Generation embraced this promise, resonating as it does with the egotism and self-absorption characterising the sixties.

Nothing has changed. The media mints instant celebrities daily and ruthlessly cuts the oxygen of publicity to those deemed past their Warhol moment. Except in politics. Politicians have a vested interest in keeping the icons of their ideology on life-support beyond the grave. Figures such as Ché Guevara and Ronald Reagan are like the living dead — they walk among us even though they have long departed this mortal existence.

Revisionist historians do what they can but in authoritarian societies where the unflattering truth can easily be suppressed, their influence is limited. Chairman Mao murdered millions more people than Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin combined, but he remains revered in totalitarian China, whereas the other two are long since discredited by the scepticism that thrives in democracies.

Well, not always. Where the hard left is unchallenged, myths flourish in the dark.

Readers of the Guardian are in a froth over the sexuality of Black Islamist activist Malcolm X. Since Malcolm X died 44 years ago, one might think his sexual preferences would be of academic interest only. But when the scaffolding supporting a political icon is shaken, the stakes can be high.

Columnist Peter Tatchell started the furore by slating the organisers of Black History Month for not celebrating the bisexuality of Malcolm X. The nub of his argument was that this would help break down homophobia and provide young black gays with a role model.

Tatchell — a gay activist who memorably attempted a citizen’s arrest of Robert Mugabe for “murder, torture and gay human rights abuse” while the Zimbabwean president was on a shopping spree in Harrods — is unafraid of tackling the elephant in the room: black social conservatism.

Tatchell writes that Malcolm X’s bisexuality is not just a matter of historical fact (despite the strenuous efforts of his family and black activists to deny it). Highlighting a black icon’s bisexuality would “challenge homophobia, especially in black communities and particularly in Africa and the Caribbean where homosexuality and bisexuality are often dismissed as a ‘white person’s disease’.”

The reader response — evincing every form of racism, homophobia, political correctness and plain stupidity known — was too much for the Guardian. The debate was hastily closed.

In South Africa, the stranglehold that the African National Congress has over the political process often makes the truth not merely inconvenient, but irrelevant. Take the ­heroic status accorded by the hard left within the ANC’s tripartite alliance to Ché Guevara, whose name is becoming as ubiquitous on street signage as that of Hendrik Verwoerd was.

This week, Ché’s daughter, Aleida Guevara, attended yet another such renaming, this time in Durban. A city attorney compiled an impressive dossier of research on the revolutionary which should have given the city fathers pause, but of course it didn’t.

Firstly, Ché was a bigot. In his diary he refers to blacks as “indolent dreamers”, given to “frivolity and drink”, and lacking an “affinity with bathing”. He also excoriates homosexuals, Jews, women, and Mexicans.

Ché was probably a sociopath. He admits in the diary to the pleasure killing gave him once he had overcome his squeamishness and unashamedly describes taking the watch of someone he killed. Ché was responsible for about 180 executions, dispensing with any form of judicial process because it was, in his words, “an unnecessary bourgeois detail”. It appears that so, too, is the truth.

The Tatchell debate:

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