Sunday, April 11, 2010

I, Hobbit

JRR Tolkien's brilliant The Hobbit describes an important scene where Bilbo Baggins, fat and complacent middle-aged hobbit, speaks with Smaug, ancient and murderous dragon. Smaug was an old fighter and confident against dwarves, elves and men - and mocked Bilbo's attempts to debate. There was one gap in Smaug's knowledge, however:

But he did not tell Bilbo that there was one smell he could not make out at all, hobbit-smell; it was quite outside his experience and puzzled him mightily.

Since 2005 I have been debating on online international relations discussion forums, and often I have felt like Bilbo. I find myself surrounded by Pakistani nationalists on occasions, men and women long accustomed to arguing with Westerners and Indians, yet sometimes they seem puzzled by me.

I'm not nationalist, but my Irish citizenship rewards me here for it shoves me (as being a hobbit shoved Bilbo) outside their experience, outside a simple catogerisation of "Western". When they complain of Western Imperialism I can remind them that Ireland was colonised for centuries longer than India-Pakistan, and had been butchering (and mainly being butchered by) our British brethern since the 12th century.

I laugh a little saying this, because it is also clear that Ireland and UK today have generally very good relations and the two are culturally very similar. Ireland is another liberal democracy in Western Europe, a member of the EU, but its avoidance of war also helps me avoid the anger directed as the invaders of Iraq and Afghanistan. I find myself vastly outnumbered on some of these forums but, if not quite welcomed, tolerated.

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