In response to this reflection, there was a big division of opinion. Some critics condemned Obama’s speech as a heresy which would discredit Western culture per se, while others welcomed the speech as an honest confession of the dark past.
The last three decades witnessed a great surge in narratives of anti-imperialism and anti-colonialism, which rebuked any exploitative ideological apparatus. Now it becomes a common practice for us to prioritize humanistic values before any grand ideology, and to further acknowledge the benefit of co-existence and diversity. Ridley Scott’s contemporary conjecture of the medieval crusade in his film Kingdom of Heaven mirrors and celebrates this shift. Scott represents it in his film when the crusader “baddies” tarnish the Holy Grail. Yet Scott’s film cannot be seen as a mere projection of a Western intellectual’s guilty conscience. His ridicule of crusade “baddies” concludes with a critical gaze upon the failing Muslim hardliners who almost betrayed their own leader, Saladin. Here Scott’s double-edged narrative returns us to the context of Obama’s controversial reflection.
In fact, Obama’s speech is imbued with his deep antipathy to fanaticism, whether religious or political. While he clearly had an archenemy in ISIS in his sights, Obama also tried to warn his compatriots against any uninformed and blind retaliation toward good Muslim citizens. This old rhetoric of good and bad falls easily into punitive narratives, and we do not necessarily agree on anthropological approaches to humanity.
Yet at least we understand we cannot deliver a verdict on any religious sect without bias and self-interest. We may also agree that religious or political fanaticism, by definition, is an antithesis to civil rights, the very foundation of civilization. Fanaticism cannot afford an agreeable level of civility and decency for individual integrity, not to mention freedom of speech and expression.
These debates surrounding religious fanaticism draw our attention to the global K-Pop phenomenon. It is well recorded that K-Pop was not an instant hit that happened out of blue. It was a well-deserved success after a long process of planning, investment and execution on many levels. And probably it is time to reflect on the nature of K-Pop which I believe started with a political and economic campaign to promote Korean culture and values as a part of national brand. Any nation or country has such propaganda for its own survival, especially where cultural values become a rather highly prized commodity.
As seen in imperialism, colonialism and fascism, any attempt to build a national brand without deep self-reflection dissolves into a groundless faith in supremacy and racism. In order to get off this tragically well-trodden track, we need a good injection of passion and curiosity, which will lead us back to ask questions not only about “them” but also about “us.” A litany of questions will come up. Who are “they?” Who are “we?” Why do “they” like “us?” Why do “they” hate “us?” What should “we” do to get along better with “them?” Nothing can be taken for granted.
For us, as social beings, communication with others is essential for survival, although it can complicate conflicts between “them” and “us,” and consume emotions and efforts. The future of civilization depends on communication with others, which is based upon mutual self-reflection.
Dr. Park See-young, an associate professor at the Department of English Education, teaches English Literature in connection with English Education. He received his doctorate degree on D. H. Lawrence and Lev Shestov from the University of East Anglia.