Catalonia: 2017 is not 1936

Yesterday someone I’d never heard of, but apparently gets TV show appearances in the US, posted a tweet containing a ridiculously irrelevant observation about the current situation in Catalonia, the province of Spain whose political leaders are trying to break away from Spain, which is resisting:

I posted in response that the last time Spain had a civil war, it involved fascists who were already in power in Italy and Germany, and the war was about how the whole of Spain was governed, not the secession of one province. She replied:

A poster with a blue background with a picture of a dead child with tags with the numbers "4-21" and "35" on her chest. Above it the text reads: "Madrid: the 'Military' practice of the rebels" and underneath "If you tolerate this, your children will be next". At the bottom, in dark blue text, it reads "Ministerio de Propaganda".I’m actually also a politics graduate (my degree was called politics and history), but you don’t need to be a politics or history graduate to know that the Spanish Civil War was a totally different situation from the current situation and that the world was a quite different place then. The Second World War was not in any way the result of the Spanish Civil War; it was the result of Hitler’s imperial and genocidal ambitions (and Hirohito’s imperial ambitions) which were not shared by Franco, who refused to deport the country’s Jewish population to the Nazi camps. Neither the present Spanish government nor the Catalan secessionists are fascists, nor are they the Communists who came to dominate the Spanish Republicans as amply documented by the likes of George Orwell. No other Spanish provinces are currently attempting to join Catalonia, nor are neighbouring countries trying to encourage or assist them (France has already said it will not recognise a breakaway state of Catalonia and the European Commission have also agreed that the referendum was illegal). Spain is currently nowhere near repressive enough to provoke an armed resistance in Catalonia or anywhere else (as was the case in the Basque Country under Franco), although this could change. There is simply no material for another Spanish civil war at present.

Christiana Mbakwe used two logical fallacies in her response. One was an ad hominem, namely the accusation of ‘mansplaining’, a neologism intended to mean something like “a man patronisingly explaining something to a woman with the presumption that he knows better because he is a man” but commonly used to mean “a man telling a woman something she doesn’t want to hear” (more on this use of the term here). The second was the “argument from authority”, namely the invocation of her political science degree to tell me I have no right to an opinion on the subject as she must by some definition know better than I do; in fact, you don’t need a degree to know this history, and it’s not as if your political science professors are immune from bias even if you do. It’s become fashionable for women with access to the media to use this “dual fallacy” when men disagree with them on social media, to suggest that their ‘qualifications’ consist of a penis and a Twitter account while they are a ‘real journalist’ or an expert when such people often talk outside of their expertise, or just lie (the American journalist Victoria Brownworth is one of the worst offenders; she also likes to remind anyone who disagrees with her of the awards she’s won). I’ve checked to see if Ms Mbakwe is a world-renowned expert on the Spanish Civil War; she has had articles published in various online and paper publications and none of them are about that subject, and maybe she’s published a world-renowned reference text on the subject but Foyle’s of London has no record of it.

It’s not the first time that a civil or other local war, actual or feared, has attracted apocalyptic predictions from media pundits. The Gulf War was supposed to go nuclear and drag the Iranians and others in, while Yugoslavia was predicted to lead to a massive regional conflagration and involve Turkey and Russia. Neither happened, although Bosnia in particular was the scene of the second genocide in living memory in Europe. Catalonia is not even in that league; Spain is a democracy while the former Yugoslavia was not, but a one-party state. I predict that it will not take military force to put down the unconstitutional secession attempt by the former Catalan government (who knew it was unconstitutional and that the Spanish government would not accept it beforehand); there is no secessionist army and it will take only the police to arrest the leaders of the former government. Unless Rajoy does something very stupid, there aren’t enough Catalans willing to go to war to break away from Spain.

So, Christiana Mbakwe’s tweet was a bit of overexcited scaremongering. Certain social justice types online like to lecture us white men that if we’re told we’re being racist and/or sexist, to accept it with good grace instead of disputing it (even though the accusations are often spurious or even malicious, and delivered abusively); if you are told that you are being ridiculous and irresponsible, I suggest doing the same rather than resorting to personal arguments. We are not in the 1930s; there aren’t fascists in power everywhere, and Spain is not facing a fascist takeover. It doesn’t take a politics grad to know that.

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