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Proletarian issue 15 (December 2006)
Film: Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for …
Director: Larry Charles
Somehow, amidst the current backlash against ‘political correctness’ (which we would define as a bourgeois liberal obsession with matters of minimum political importance (such as the singing in schools of Baa, Baa, Black Sheep) combined with neglect for genuinely important matters (such as the ongoing economic discrimination against black people)), very few people seem to have noticed that Sacha Baron-Cohen’s Borat film (full title, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan) is thoroughly racist and offensive.

No, this is not ‘political correctness gone mad’. And we are not simply a bunch of stuffy old commies with no sense of humour (well maybe we are, but that’s beside the point!) Having a laugh at backward elements of people’s cultures is one thing; totally misrepresenting a country in Central Asia the size of western Europe, portraying it as a feudal backwater where jews are considered as devils, rape and bestiality are national pastimes and women cannot vote, is another.

As Erlan Idrissov, Kazakhstan’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, commented in an article for The Guardian, “While it is clearly not permissible in modern Britain to caricature certain ethnic groups or to ascribe racist or sexist views to them, it is apparently permissible to present the people of Kazakhstan as a bunch of rabid Jew-haters and serial sexual molesters.” (‘Offensive and unfair, Borat’s antics leave a nasty aftertaste’, 4 October 2006)

Borat does not exaggerate certain backward elements of Central Asian culture – he just makes stuff up. He plays on, perpetuates and deepens people’s ignorance, reinforcing imperialist stereotypes that date from the Soviet era, when imperialism sought to nullify the incredible achievements of socialism by presenting its builders as half-wits and by insinuating that social progress had been limited to the major Russian cities.

In the movie, Borat expresses surprise that women in the US have the right to vote, the implication being that women in Kazakhstan cannot vote and are regarded as second-class citizens. It may surprise some people to know that women in the Kazakh Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic achieved suffrage on the same terms as men in 1920 – eight years before it was achieved in Britain. Fifteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kazakhstan still celebrates International Women’s Day as a public holiday. The US and Britain never have done.

Borat engages in numerous ridiculous anti-jewish monologues, and Kazakhs are portrayed as being systematically anti-jewish (a scene depicting a cultural event in Kazakhstan includes the townspeople performing ‘the running of the jew’). Yet anyone who has seriously studied 20th century history knows that jews were well-respected in the Soviet Union (indeed many leading Bolsheviks were of jewish origin) and that the October Revolution ended the horrific pogroms that were regularly conducted by the tsarist regime against them.

But such facts are not known to the general public. Also unknown to the general public is the fact that the US financed Hitler to a significant degree and that Britain encouraged his drive towards war with the Soviet Union; yet the British and US ruling classes were fully cognisant of what Hitler was doing to the German jews. The undertone of the whole film is a ‘first-world’ self-satisfaction that completely ignores the dirty role that has been played in the world by imperialism.

In point of fact, there is no significant anti-jewish sentiment in Kazakhstan. “Kazakhstan is … a secular state. Although the population is predominantly Muslim, we have many synagogues, not to mention churches of several denominations. Kazakhstan has a small but thriving Jewish community. The chief rabbi of Israel, John Metzger, has praised my country for its tradition of openness and tolerance [if only the same could be said of Israel!]. So indeed did Pope John Paul II during his visit in 2001.” (Erlan Idrissov, op cit)

It’s not surprising to learn that Baron-Cohen comes from a zionist background and that “he was involved with Habonim, a zionist youth movement”. (‘Sacha Baron Cohen: Our man from Kazakhstan’, The Guardian, 10 September 2006)

Over-exaggerating and falsifying anti-jewish sentiment is one of the principal means used by Israel and its apologists for generating support for the state of Israel and for derogating the plight of the Palestinians.

Furthermore, Baron-Cohen’s film comes at a time when the media and various government agencies are exhibiting public ‘concern’ over the increased crime levels that will allegedly be associated with an increase in immigration from Bulgaria and Rumania once they join the EU next year.

Take, for example, the following passage from The Sun: “It is feared ruthless gangsters … are ready to assault Britain … And the advance crime guard is already here — we also reported yesterday that four out of five cashpoint crimes here are down to Romanian ex-pats … Mobsters in the ex-Communist nation also offer babies for sale to desperate foreigners, smuggle heroin, manufacture amphetamines, sell counterfeit cigarettes and spirits and steal cars to order.” (‘Mafias ganging up on us in UK’, 2 November 2006)

The thinking reader will easily be able to detect the racist bias. As far as The Sun is concerned, there’s no need to mention Britain’s role in the global drugs trade, or to reflect on the fact that Brits are the most prolific human traffickers in history (American slave trade), or to point out the murder and theft that our government and multinationals conduct on a world scale. No, we Brits are pure, and we don’t want Johnny Foreigner coming over here and interfering with our race riots and our football hooliganism!

The purpose of this type of tirade in the media (which is repeated in the broad-sheets, albeit in a slightly more veiled fashion) is to divide the working class, to scapegoat immigrants for the ills of society and thereby to absolve the capitalist system.

The Borat movie plays into the hands of those who seek to divide the working class by promoting race and national prejudice. We call on British workers to reject this crass racism and work to build working-class unity, without which we will never be free from the chains of capital.


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