Tuesday 26 August 2014

The Ethics Of Selective Outrage

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.


RedLogix said...

The selectivity comes about for a simple reason; the West has generally supported Israel and made it's continued existence possible. We therefore feel an obligation to hold it to account for it's actions.

The same cannot be said for the likes of ISIS. Much of the Islamic world is remote from us, politically and culturally and we have no sense of influence over it's course at all. And that powerlessness is reflected in a sullen silence.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Selective in that the west - loosely speaking has some small influence over Israel and perhaps the US gummint. Remember it was pictures of Bull Connor that sparked foreign outrage that embarrassed the US enough to spark change. What notice do religulous nutcases take of demonstrations in western countries? They're impossible to embarrass and care bugger all for public opinion.

Paulus said...

Is it possible that as there are reputed to be some 600 International media in Gaza and 6 in Israel, that he reporting is unbalanced ?

Chris Trotter said...

While I agree that the Islamic State's fighters are beyond all but the education of lead and steel, the same cannot be said of their sponsors in Saudi Arabia and the Arab emirates of the Persian Gulf.

Global sanctions (of the sort currently in place against Russia) applied to the Saudis would get their attention pretty quickly I reckon.

Charles W Etherington said...

If you start a political party I might have to join it Chris, as sometimes you home in on & dare to say things that almost no-one else left of centre points out.

Nick Cohen, a British left winger has written a book on this theme called 'What's Left?' as I'm sure you know. If you have not read it I'll post you my copy.

But the next question: why have many on the left gone this way, is difficult to answer. Let alone what is to be done about it.
As a Tory I have a pat answer that it is simply their hatred of the USA & lackeys overwhelming their compass for what is even worse with some of the USA’s enemies. But I suspect there is more to it than that.
I would be interested in more on this from you.

PS: For the benefit of, and anticipating some of your readers disposed to the latest fashion of castigating Zionism instead of Jews: The true, original meaning of Zionism is the belief in a homeland for the Jews and so anyone who supports a two state solution is a Zionist. That now includes the Palestinian Authority. Those of you against true Zionism then are effectively supporting Hamas & ISIS. In which case you can go to hell.

David said...

The first thing that needs to be done to dampen fighting in any location on earth is for all outside countries to stop supplying arms immediately to all combatants. If a country says tsk tsk but still supplies arms then its words mean nothing. While there are endless discussions about the right and wrong of situations there's very little discussion about the arms industry and the part it plays in all this.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Somehow I don't think that a boycott of the Saudis would do a lot. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that they have a lot of what we need, and we don't necessarily have a lot of what they want. I would dearly love to see it happen mind you, just not sure what effect it would have. I suppose if we stop them from going to the various European capitals and shopping for luxury items it might help? But then there is the Internet. :-)

Anonymous said...

You make very valid points.....not holding my breath waiting for those "progressives" to give a meaningful answer. Truth is,Chris they are dishonest ...they wont acknowledge what you have said, and probably pillory you for saying it too boot !

JimB said...

Absolute shock and awe! You are the first commentator to point out the elephant in the room even though you are gracious enough to your readers not to explicitly name it for what it is - an abiding and pervasive antisemitism. I applaud and congratulate you for your courage.

One small point of clarification. You made passing reference to the (self-)righteous indignation of many in response to "images of a terrified Palestinian boy, caught in a deadly crossfire of Israeli bullets..." but you did neglect to mention that they were themselves fakes, staged by Pallywood - the organized, industrial grade manufacturing of phoney photos, videos and stories to vilify Israel and all Jews around the world. See http://newsbusters.org/blogs/brad-wilmouth/2008/05/29/media-ran-story-israel-troops-shooting-boy-ignore-evidence-israel-inn for analysis and verification of my statement.

Please continue to champion the truth and call for further investigation before accepting the embroidery, exaggerations and outright lies coming from the media with regard to Hamas and Israel.

Davo Stevens said...

"Global sanctions (of the sort currently in place against Russia) applied to the Saudis would get their attention pretty quickly I reckon."

Nope. The Saudis are aware that the west, notably the US, needs their oil. They govern the price as well.

The speed that ISIS have gained territory is mind boggling. But the seeds of it came about with the Raqattaq and Bushes little sand excursion. Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz were foaming at the mouth about all that oil in Iraq they they could get their sticky little fingers on.

Sadd was supposed to put up a little fight so it didn't look like a rout and then roll over quietly.

Maliki got into control with Iran's (Shia) backing and pushed the Sunnis out of the economy. ISIS is the result. A sectarian war between Sunni (ISIS) and Shia.

The Kurds are a different bunch of Islamists and they are holding their own in the north.

Chris there is no "left" left.

Brendan McNeill said...


Thank you for your honesty in raising this question. Why are those Muslims and their progressive supporters who were so outraged at Israel not also out protesting in the streets shouting ‘not in my name’ over the violent atrocities of the Islamic State?

The answer for Muslims at least is deeply theological. The killing of apostates and infidels, and ‘people of the book’ is permitted if they refuse to convert under threat of death.

Muslim leaders in the West will express their opposition to what is taking place in Iraq and Syria, not on theological grounds, but simply because it gives Islam a bad name in the west and makes their lives more difficult.

Progressives need to remember the words of the Christians who escaped from Mosul. “When ISIS came it was our Muslim neighbours who identified us, and who engaged in some of the most brutal killing.”

Marching in support of Gaza will not protect anyone against that day, should it eventuate in our cities.

monty said...

wow, I never ever thought I would read this from a "progressive" opinion column in NZ. Will you and Minto ever be on speaking terms again?

Anonymous said...

To answer your subsidiary question about an alternative 1973 war: the Arab intent in that war was never to destroy Israel. It was to regain as much land as they could, then hunker down in a defensive position. They weren't in a position to wipe Israel off the map, and knew it after 1967. Nor would the Soviets ever permit the Arab armies to wipe out Israel, even if they could. And as for Soviet weaponry, you are aware that the Soviets only gave them the really really low standard items?

However, in the purely hypothetical event that Israel had faced final destruction in 1973, the issue then becomes the so-called Samson Option. Would Israel have launched nuclear missiles at Damascus and Cairo (not Tehran, of course)? That global consequences of that are pretty terrifying in their own right.

malpixo said...

'I think what we've learned is that the terrorist threat is serious, but it shifts. You cannot make a single person the sole focus of your counterterrorism'
Paul Bremer in an ideal world 'boy' assad & thugs who could join bremer and others in den Hague ... in an ideal world. separately, as Chris points out, isis wouldn't have got to first base without Saudi dosh - weaponry via Croatia amongst others. but there's also - in Iraq now - the invaluable assistance of the old, Saddam era Sunni estab - ba'athists, bureaucrats, army - some say an isis takeover of the accursed Mesopotamian mudflats would have been impossible without them

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Here we go again – every right wing nut and his dog going on and on about why don't Muslims protest about IS. If you go to news sources other than Faux news, you will find that they do. It only takes about 30 seconds on Google people. I see Brendan has come out yapping again. Yes Brendan, Muslims probably pointed out Christians to I S – just as there were Jews that cooperated with the Nazis. And Christians :-).

pat said...

the belief that we couldnt impose sanctions on saudi arabia as has been done to Russia because the west needs its oil crossed my mind as well....then I checked the stats, net oil exporting nations 1) saudi arabia 8865000 bpd 2)russia 7201000 bpd 3)UAE 2544000 bpd....those numbers surprised me but clearly demonstrate its possible, though dont know that youd want to be imposing sanctions on both russia and the saudis at the same time.

Charles W Etherington said...

Hey don't go over the top folk, Israel is part of the West partly, so we expect better and we can expect it to help lead the formation of a Palestinian state. But defaming delegitimising and demonising it will not help it do the right thing.

The question Chris raises is why has the progressive left gone 'bad' with prejudice & selective moral outrage? It needs a fix too. How? Who?

Kathleen M said...

The Saudis, US and assorted Sunni Arab states now argue that the Qataris are the source of the support for the so-called caliphate. Despite the Iranians/ Shias and Saudi-affiliated/ Sunni states slowly moving to some form of rapprochement, the Saudis blame Hamas/ Iran for the conflict.

It is complex and the overlay of religious dogma as a tool of sovereignty in Gaza, Iran and Saudi does not lend itself to easy pigeon-holing - Arabs good/ Israelis bad.

Most non-Muslim and some Muslim women feel a decided queasiness in the left's posturing about Hamas and other misogynistic states.

For myself as a women, the dividing lines can be assessed by the way in which women can lead lives of fulfillment and self-expression. Unlike in Hamas controlled Palestine, Saudi Arabia or Iran.

Patricia said...

I didn't like this article Chris. I shuddered when I read it. It is so selective. I think all who read about what ISIS has done is horrified. But perhaps the left doesn't rise up and march because they know what the "West" has done to the Muslim World over the last couple of hundred years. If the Japanese, say, had been continually having a go at us over the last hundred years we would be supporting our young fighting them by creating what they thought would be a safe area. I don't think we would be criticising their modis operandi. The West has done terrible terrible things to others and to say that the left is wrong not to criticise those who now fight against the West is not, in my view, a very clever analysis. We reap what we sow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Chris for expressing what many people believe. There are and always have been many Israelis who want peace and justice for the Palestinian people. State-sponsored War-mongering murderers hiding behind a false cloak of Islam, Judaism and Christianity have pushed their owm twisted agendas for too long. Those with the courage to oppose this are stopped.Yitzah Rabin killed by a lunatic Orthodox Jew is an example.There are still many courageous Israelis fighting for justice and truth such as Miko Peled (Son of an Israeli General) The light needs to be shined in all corners.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Patricia.

I understand the point you are making, Patricia, but cannot see that it in any way mitigates the silence of progressives in relation to the IS.

There were people who argued that the Versailles Treaty made another war with Germany inevitable - and they were probably right. But that doesn't in any way excuse the Holocaust.

To: Anonymous@2:24

Not sure I buy that bit about the Soviets only giving Egypt and Syria low-grade weaponry.

The key to the Arab states' early successes in the Yom Kippur War was the anti-aircraft screen provided by the SAM missile batteries. These SOTA surface-to-air missiles kept the Israeli Air Force at bay for the crucial hours of the initial attacks and accounted for a significant number of Israeli aircraft and pilots.

The Israeli military had wanted to pre-empt the attack (as they had in 1967) by taking out both the Arabs' planes and the SAM batteries, but Golda Meir over-ruled them - knowing that if Israel had struck first the US "wouldn't have given them a nail".

Grant Hay said...

From the point of view of someone who has marched in the streets over numerous issues since the 1970's and has been reading your essays (usually approvingly) for practically all of that time, this was a disappointing effort from you Chris. It reminded me of the triumphal howling from the pro-tour lobby about how the "rent-a-mob" never protested about the human rights record of the communist states or whatever rogue state was committing atrocities at the time. Even as a twenty year old I knew that there is such a thing as picking ones battles. There is no useful advantage to be gained in baying at the moon every time something bad happens in the world. The thing about both apartheid South Africa and Zionist Israel is that they crave legitimacy and their citizens crave normalcy and connectedness with the rest of the Western World. In both of those cases there was a tangible gain to be made by noisy activism against the oppression and crimes against humanity carried out by those States. We were able to have the triple-whammy affect of shaming them on the international stage, waging a battle for awareness at home and trying to force our own Government into growing an ethical spine and joining in the effort to make change for the better. In the case of the anti-tour protests of 1981 we were successful on all counts. I doubt if ISIS give a monkeys left nut whether we approve of their actions or not and many of their supporters would be equally dismissive of the opinion of a few protesters in the streets of NZ. However if you'd like to make a convincing case for how we might effect geo-political change in that part of the world where everyone else has failed spectacularly for three generations, I promise to follow you down the street on the very first march you organise. By the way, as a rule of thumb I reckon you can usually tell whether your argument is any good by looking to see who's applauding. If I was you I'd be a little concerned at the company you're keeping on this one.

Patricia said...

That is all horse feathers Chris. May be if there had been no Versailles treaty there would have been no Holocaust but people weren't told what was going on in those days anyway - not that we are now. But it seems to me that the west is now trying to do to the Muslims what was done to the Jewish people. That is the next step if the progressives started winding up the West against ISIS. I don't think the Muslims would thank you for that. They, because of their history, always think that the West has a hidden agenda. Chris, I was wondering if the Press told you to write that sort of article or else they wouldn't print any more. It is so out of character.

Grant Hay said...

Gnossienne @ 12.15

Great links. Nothing new, but it's good to keep putting this stuff out there with the hope that a trickle of people will become better informed.

markus said...

Sorry, Chris. Over the years, I've found myself agreeing with perhaps 80% or more of your posts (which is more than you can say for most of my fellow Lefties). But I gotta say: you couldn't be more wrong on Israel.

You're simply regurgitating the (long-discredited) official Zionist version of the Arab-Israeli Wars. An Israeli Elite-sponsored Exodus-style "historiography" in which an innocent, "beautiful", little Israel, quietly going about its business is suddenly forced against its will to heroically fight off "constant existential threats" from its supposedly brutal and implacable Arab neighbours who wish to commit a second Holocaust. Total and utter bullshit.

Can I suggest you spend a little less time consuming the banal Israeli apologist narratives from the likes of Michael Oren, Alan Dershowitz and the particularly malevolent Efraim Karsh and a little more time on the careful, forensic scholarship of Norman Finkelstein and Israel's various New Historians (especially Ilan Pappe, Avi Shlaim, Baruch Kimmerling and Simha Flapan).

Jigsaw said...

Good grief Chris I find myself mostly agreeing with you-what a worry! I see GS is busy with the 'argumentum ad hominem' approach that he is always accusing others of - a favourite tactic that and he is the master.
Most of those disagreeing just scramble for excuses.

Anonymous said...

> It is so out of character.

Patricia - the man has a different opinion to yours.

This is nothing to worry about - it's called a debate and is part of living in a democratic society.

Charles W Etherington said...

Some of you utterly one eyed folk, clearly stung by our host's concise thesis, need to read it again. You are adding things not there.
Then answer this one little minor niggling question:
Why does almost nobody on the left these days (except a brave few) get out and protest or write about the disgusting misogynous, homophobic, sexist, racist, anti-Semitic bigoted third world cultures half the planet, mostly Muslim cultures exhibit?
You are so sanctimonious when it comes to these issues in your own little worlds, safe in the free West but utterly silent when it comes to the rest. Where are the left wing feminists on this one for example?
Game set and match to Chris on this huge topic.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Couple of things, jigsaw – you mistake insult for ad hominem. I was insulting Brendan, not attacking him as a means to invalidate his argument. Brendan is what he is, and nothing I say will ever change his mind – he like you is a true believer.
Secondly – Charles – if you're so against the IS, why don't you get out there and demonstrate yourself? I haven't seen too many right-wing people out there demonstrating against them – does this mean you support them? Does their religious fundamentalism somehow appeal to the right? Probably not – Christian fundamentalism does though.

pat said...

Selective outrage or TMI?.....http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/10427014/A-different-game-of-two-halves

Anonymous said...

Thank you Chris for this brave and refreshing critique of the moral selectiveness of the Progressive Left when it comes to Israel and the rest of the Arab world. I have valiantly tried to understand the deafening silence of those that ignore the Hamas Charter which has been under fatwah since 1988, its 34 articles include 12 which cal for the genocide of Jews worldwide, then Christians are next and naturally Islam will reign supreme. Of course we can save ourselves by converting to Islam, hardly a upgrade if you are a woman, gay or believe in basic human rights for all. The sad truth is at the core is nothing but anti-semitism, plain and simple. The Islamic world is in turmoil as the rest of the world has failed to uptake its culture and values which run contrary to even conservative Western norms. I see a culture frustrated by its lack of intellectual vigor, frustrated that Islamic philosophy has not bought the prosperity and desirability that Judaeo-Christianity has bestowed on the Western world. Despite the Gulf states being flush with oil money, it bring sectarian, autocratic tribal rule and most Arab-Muslim citizens simply have no say in the political or religious process. Islam needs to reform in the same way Judaism and Christianity has with separation of 'church and state' being the ultimate, but I fear,never reached goal. Even the Kuwait Information Minister has opined that mosques have used and preached their existential frustrations as being the work of Jews and Christians as the excuse to radicalise a whole generation of young Muslims to the point where , with what the West calls Radical Islam, is now just mainstream Islamic goals for the majority of Muslims. State Schools in Sydney and Melbourne now have anti-radicalisation programmes, so worried are the Aussi govt over the infiltration of Radical Islam into the public domain.We also need to face up to the multi-cultural lie and PC idea that all cultures are 'equal' and 'valid' and 'peaceful' - ideas all propagated in our school and university systems but many fear to contradict it for fear of being labelled racist or Islamophobic. Just read the British papers to see how the town of Rotherham allowed sexual abuse of 1400 mainly white girls by Pakastani men to go unchecked, the Labour Party councillors feared race accusations more than saving girls from gang rape. Sadly I fear passive and always-support-the-underdog-NZers will have to wait for a fatal Islamic terror attack on Aussi or NZ soil to really wake up to the threat to our comfortable Western lives.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Gosh anonymous – read the Likud charter lately? Listen to the Israelis who call for the extermination or expulsion of all Arabs from every bit of desert an ancient Israelite ever parked his camel on – as someone once said. Or is that just rhetoric?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Actually, if you look at this thing properly now that I've had time to do it – I S seems to have split both the left and the right. There are left-wing writers writing quite well considered articles in favour of bombing them, and those writing quite well considered articles about not.
On the right – lacking anyone with any intellectual heft since William F Buckley placed his head firmly up his arse, are doing knee-jerk reactions along the lines of – we should bomb anybody we disagree with, or – we should just stay out of all foreign entanglements. I tell you, most of you guys should get away from Faux News and widen your horizons a bit :-).