Killing In The Name Of: Given the chorus of rage currently directed at the “Zionist Entity”, why are those who profess “progressive” sympathies so silent when it comes to the outrages perpetrated by the self-proclaimed Islamic State?
WHERE ARE THE IMPASSIONED STREAMS of citizens flooding our nation’s streets to protest the actions of the Islamic State? The righteous wrath stirred up by the Israeli assault upon Gaza has been plain to see. But the barbaric punishment meted out to Christians, captive Iraqi soldiers, Shia Muslims and followers of the ancient Yazidi faith has yet to inspire anyone to apply paint to placard. Given the chorus of rage currently directed at the “Zionist Entity”, why are those who profess “progressive” sympathies so silent when it comes to the outrages perpetrated by the self-proclaimed Islamic State?
The latest of these, the beheading of a young American journalist, has generated a wave of revulsion around the world. Not least on account of the perpetrators’ cynical (but effective) use of social media to publicise their medieval celebration of cruelty and death. But where are the Hollywood movie stars emoting to camera over the ritual killing of their defenceless compatriot? Where are the protest crowds of outraged progressives demanding justice for James Foley?
James Foley's Last Moments: A medieval celebration of cruelty and death.
Does nobody else think it odd that the gunning down of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, can spark days of passionate protest, but the agonising decapitation of a helpless journalist elicits condemnation only from “mainstream” politicians and the equally despised “mainstream” media? Did progressives maintain a similar silence when images of a terrified Palestinian boy, caught in a deadly crossfire of Israeli bullets, appeared on the world’s television screens? No, they did not.
More and more, it seems to me, we are being presented with what some commentators are calling “good dead” and “bad dead”.
The Palestinian mother and child who die under Israeli bombs; the Dutch tourist who dies when a missile destroys Flight MH17 over Donetsk; these are the “good dead”. We may mourn their loss openly and loudly, and angrily condemn their killers. But the women and children killed by Ukrainian jets and artillery, or by the missiles fired into Israel from Gaza, these are “bad dead”: to be passed over in silence.
Now, you may say that it was ever thus: that people around the world have always been encouraged to hate who their leaders hate and mourn the dead of their valiant allies. But this has never been the position of those who described themselves as progressive. People on the Left of politics used to condemn cruel and unusual punishment wherever it occurred. Racial discrimination, religious persecution and the subjugation of women were likewise held up as unequivocally bad practices.
Not any more.
It always struck me as extraordinary that Western progressives were willing to put their bodies (and even their lives) on the line for the sake of racial equality and democratic freedom in South Africa, but that there was no equivalent international mobilisation against the vicious repression of women in the Taliban-controlled areas of Afghanistan. The universalism of the twentieth century had, by the early years of the twenty-first, given way to an empty ethical relativism. Today, it would seem, progressives are free to pick and choose who they deem to be right and wrong. Raging unceasingly against the Israeli “apartheid” state, while maintaining an ambiguous silence in the face of the Islamic State's atrocities.
So, for those who chant “Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea!” I would counsel this little thought experiment.
Suppose in October 1973 Syria’s Soviet-equipped armoured divisions had broken through Israel’s northern defences and that Ariel Sharon’s tanks had not outmanoeuvred Egypt’s in the Sinai. What do you suppose would have been the response of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO)? Would they have demanded a cease-fire, pending the creation of a secular and democratic Palestinian state? Or, would they have driven every Jew living west of the River Jordan into the sea?
If you were to ask 100 Israelis that question, I’m pretty sure how 95 of them would respond. They would tell you that from the moment of its formation in 1964, the PLO wagered everything on Egypt and Syria (with Soviet weapons) becoming militarily strong enough to do what the Palestinians, alone, could never do: destroy the Israeli state. When it lost that bet the PLO adopted a dual-track strategy: officially recognising Israel’s right to exist while unofficially sanctioning a long and deadly asymmetric struggle against the Israeli people. Using terror not to defeat the Israeli state, but to reshape it in the terrorists’ own murderous likeness. Having transformed Israel into a monster, the Palestinians could then implore the world to come to their rescue. Of course, for this strategy to succeed, Israel had to be constantly goaded into unleashing ever more murderous attacks.
Morally, there is little to distinguish the Palestinian leadership’s conduct from that of the Islamic State's. Because no good end ever came from such evil means.
Progressives knew that … once.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 26 August 2014.