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Watching Borat

Without a doubt Borat is a funny man. A Kazakh misogynist and a racist buffoon, a primitive vulgar clown as well as a loud anti-Semite. A quick glance at Borat makes it evidentially clear that the man is totally fictional. He just can’t be real. Hence, there is no offence in Borat to women, Jews, Kazakhs, Black people or anyone else. Yet, there are some things we better keep in mind while watching Borat and laughing our heads off.

1. Borat and his author, Sacha Baron Cohen, indeed manage to challenge British liberal discourse as well as the deeply deceptive image of multi-culturalism. Yet, I would suggest the application of the ‘Khaled Abu Aziz Test’. Khaled Abu Aziz is an imaginary character. He is merely a test case that should be put into play each time the issue of multi-culturalism and racial equality is under scrutiny. The appropriate question to ask is whether Khaled Abu Aziz, a British Muslim comedian from Birmingham, would get away with performing Borat’s crude anti Semitism or not. Would Khaled Abu Aziz get away with performing Ali G’s retarded Black celebrity? I don’t think so. Would Khaled Abu Aziz receive the support of British Television and the entire UK media for acting a buffoon, for being a Jew hater? Not really.

Let’s face it, Khaled Abu Aziz may become an award winning celebrity for performing an anti-Muslim caricature as long as he means it for real. Clearly, Borat, aka Sacha Baron Cohen, a Golders Green Jew, enjoys certain freedoms Khaled Abu Aziz lacks. This is obviously far from being Sacha Baron Cohen’s fault. It It is something that hits at the very heart of British Society. If anything, we better thank Baron Cohen for exposing it.

2. Clearly British people do not meet Kazakhs on a daily basis. But they meet many Albanians, Romanians, Poles, Czechs, Kurds, Turks, Afghanis and other people who search for a new future in the prosperous West. Worryingly enough, Borat is made to look very much like an amalgam of an asylum seeker to the UK or any other European country. It is rather interesting that Sacha Baron Cohen, himself a son of a Jewish immigrant to Great Britain, invested so much energy portraying such a low image of Western Europe’s newcomers.

3. While howling with laughter as you watch Borat’s articulate misogynist performance, I suggest you bear in mind that Ali G, aka Borat aka Sacha Baron Cohen, is himself a practising reactionary misogynist. Seemingly, Sacha Baron Borat Cohen has put back his wedding to former Home And Away star Isla Fisher due to some deep tribal considerations and religious reasons. “The couple,” so I learn, “have postponed the big day so Isla can study the Bible in Israel before converting to Sacha’s religion of Judaism.”

Although Borat, sorry–Sacha Baron Cohen–has the full right to demand religious uniformity and conformity within his own family cell, one would expect Baron Cohen, a critical voice of reactionary conservatism and backward thinking, to transcend himself beyond obvious clannish considerations and religious boundaries. Seemingly, Sacha Baron Cohen is not that different from Borat. Apparently, he imposes a tribal conformity upon his woman. This is not a critique. On the contrary, the similarity between Borat and Baron Cohen, is just something to bear in mind. If anything, it makes Borat into an authentic expression of Baron Cohen’s worldview. If to be honest, it makes Borat and Baron Cohen far more interesting characters.

4. With the help of Borat, Sacha Baron Cohen gives a bad name to anti-Semitism. This is obviously more than legitimate. Borat, the stereotypical anti-Semite is indeed a primitive vulgar creature. He eloquently brings to life the full scope of medieval anti-Jewish stereotypes as well as superstitions. In an old TV clip Borat manages to draw in a bunch of cowboys to join him shouting ‘throw the Jew down the well’. In the film it is an old Jewish couple that happens to be transformed into cockroaches and money suckers. Yet, it shouldn’t take one by surprise that Cohen, a man who spends his holidays in Israel, would portray anti-Semitism as a primitive medieval adventure.

However, after last summer’s Israeli extravaganza of brutality in Lebanon and the seemingly endless and daily flood of Palestinian blood made to spill by the IDF in Gaza and the West Bank, anti-Jewish feelings seem to be fuelled by Zionist crimes. Moreover, nowadays, when the Jewish State’s influence within the American administration is academically and historically established in studies such as that by Walt and Meersheimer, when the Neocon-inspired crusade that has lead to a genocide in Iraq is largely endorsed by Zionist intellectual and ideological voices , some forms of anger against the ‘Jew’ should be comprehended as a political criticism rather than merely a primitive irrational outburst. This is, of course, not justifying ‘throwing Jews down the well’ but rather trying to explain from where such anti-Jewish feelings are originating.

Borat is set to present anti-Semitism as a backward reactionary tendency. By doing so Baron Cohen and his team are there to block or even to shutter any form of criticism of global Zionism in general and of Israel in particular. This is indeed a non-violent legitimate political agenda, yet something to keep in the back of your mind while having an evening out at the cinema.

I allow myself to guess that when the last echoes of laughter will fade away, we may be left with a deeper understanding of the imperial cultural colonial agenda. If I am indeed correct here, then Baron Cohen happens to serve the emerging Palestinian discourse of resistance. Shukran ya Borat or rather Dzienkuje Herr Cohen.

GILAD ATZMON was born in Israel and served in the Israeli military. He is the author of two novels: A Guide to the Perplexed and the recently released My One and Only Love. Atzmon is also one of the most accomplished jazz saxophonists in Europe. His recent CD, Exile, was named the year’s best jazz CD by the BBC. He now lives in London and can be reached at: atz@onetel.net.uk

 

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Gilad Atzmon’s latest book is: The Wandering Who? A Study of Jewish Identity Politics

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