"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."
~ Romeo & Juliet, Act II, scene 2
Poor Juliet. So right - and yet so wrong. For while it perhaps ought to be as she said, in reality names do matter. Names are one of the ways we perceive things around us. A rose is supposed to smell sweet; how many would give the benefit of the doubt to something dubbed "stinkrot"?
Names have power. If name-calling weren't so successful a tactic in arguments, would there be a Godwin's Law? I can't recall if it was Orwell who said that whoever controls the language controls the terms of the debate, but it's certainly true. Add to this that facts have increasingly taken a back seat to feelings - it doesn't matter whether something someone said is true, but rather how passionately they feel about it - and labeling becomes the way to win an argument without actually arguing at all. As long as you frame the question along the lines of "Do you still beat your wife?" it doesn't matter what the answer is.
Revealing his identity in today's column, "Spengler" of Asia Times explained the reason why he embraced a pseudonym years ago:
Why not openly identify myself? Because my readers then would have jammed my thinking into the Procrustean bed of their prejudice.
Oh, that sounds familiar, all right. For nigh ten years now, I've been publishing essays online. I had written before - a column here, a letter there, an editorial or dozen in the college newspaper - but my big break was in 1999. It was the year when the Internet first showed its potential as an alternate news medium, with Serbian proto-bloggers challenging the image of the Kosovo War crafted by the mainstream media that served NATO's war machine. (And serve they did: one of the BBC reporters covering the war later became the NATO spokesman.) Embittered by that war, I started writing. A Serbian diaspora website, which used to re-post a lot of the war reports, was happy to publish my essays. But it never occurred to me that I ought to hide behind a moniker. When Antiwar.com invited me aboard as a columnist, in late 2000, I used my real name. I even took time to offer a helpful lesson in Balkans spelling, so people would pronounce it properly.
Hate mail has been a constant. Only twice did someone challenge something I've actually said. Both were minor details. The rest of the time, complaints have run along the lines of "why are you publishing this raving Serbian chauvinist, genocide denier, apologist for atrocities, etc." You see, by questioning the propaganda about genocide, I was a "genocide denier." Never mind that I was later vindicated. Rising to fame and fortune (and let's not forget power) in the 1990s by fabricating the myth of "genocidal Serb aggressors" means never having to apologize.
Mind you, this sort of "criticism" wasn't limited to Albanians, Bosnian Muslims, or Croats (some of whom felt threatened by my "propaganda"). Some of the nastiest mail came from Serbia, after the Djindjic assassination in the spring of 2003. It was somewhat amusing, though, to see people curse me as a "son of Milosevic cronies" or "mercenary of the regime." My family lives in Bosnia, and I've never received one red cent from the Serbian government, but since I spoke of Djindjic in something other than awed reverence, I had to belong to a hated category. Their prejudice was so strong, they invented a fictional me to make my words fit their perceptions!
In November 2004, when I created this blog, I picked a handle that went with the theme, and also had a layer or two of metaphorical meaning. But my very first post linked to my work at Antiwar.com, so it's not like I tried to disguise my identity. I simply chose to make it a secondary concern, to try and put the focus on what I was saying, as opposed to who I was.
No such luck. That very month I broke the story of a Norwegian-commissioned report for the ICTY that put the death toll in Bosnia at just over 100,000. Within days, Reuters was talking about "Serbian weblogs" claiming that the research by Mirsad Tokaca (also funded by the Norwegians) "disproved the accepted fact that Muslims were by far the main victims" of the war. But there were no "Serbian weblogs," just little old me. I never did figure out whether the Reuters reporter researched the identity of Gray Falcon and said "Aha! A Serb!" or if he concluded that I must have been a Serb, since I dared challenge "the accepted fact."
The thing about prejudice is that you can't argue with it. Not rationally. Saying "No, I'm not really like that" doesn't work, either. And to be honest, I have no interest at all justifying myself to most of my critics. They haven't shown me that they deserve it.
So, when a particularly vicious screed arrived two weeks ago to the Antiwar.com letters editor, and he asked if I wanted to comment on it, I said, "Why waste my breath?" Run the letter without comment, I said, because nothing I say will make the author - one Asma Ishak - look any worse than her own words. I actually urge you to read this masterpiece of ignorance, arrogance and stupidity. I'm particularly fond of the way she claims not to care about people's ethnicity, religion and race, as she finishes a rant against someone based solely on his ethnicity. Perhaps her definition of "people" specifically excluded the Serbs? She wouldn't be the first.
Had Asma Ishak not been so obsessed with my origin, she might have noticed that in the text she ranted against, I criticized an editorial not because of the identity of its author (I certainly don't care if Borut Grgic is Slovenian), but because it tried to disguise a business agenda (an Austrian company's takeover of BH Telekom) as caring about the future of Bosnia. Yet I'm supposed to be a hater, driven by ideas that Ishak "detests," herself being all emancipated and enlightened.
This kind of thinking is precisely why Romeo and Juliet committed suicide. He was a Montague, she a Capulet - the feud between their houses meant their love could never be. Today's obsession with names isn't about identity - most people's identities are crumbling under the onslaught of soulless secular humanism - but about identity politics, which is the very embodiment of prejudice. Seize upon one little thing, build an identity around it, fight with others over government-bestowed privileges based on it. Sounds just like a recipe for a harmonious future, does it not?
My work speaks for itself. There are hundreds of columns archived on Antiwar.com, and hundreds more on this blog. I've spoken out against the Empire, against war (and therefore against war crimes, which ought to be intuitively obvious to even a semi-literate observer), for liberty, private property, secession, law, justice... But because the name behind these arguments is Nebojsa Malic, and not Muhammad or Bob, many people reject them out of hand, and some even feel compelled to create an imaginary me as a target of their rage.
That doesn't say much about me, but speaks volumes about them.