Hold Fast To Your Beliefs: We are leftists because, at the very core of our values, lies an unshakeable belief in the worth of every human-being, and in the right of every human-being to live his or her life free from exploitation and violence. That the world is so full of these evils must never daunt us, nor persuade us to abandon love for hate; justice for revenge.
TERRORIST ATTACKS – like the one that left 129 Parisians dead on 13 November 2015 – leave many leftists in a quandary. Most of us are only too aware that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom-fighter. We hesitate to join in the outpourings of outrage and sympathy because we are appalled by, and want no part of, the extraordinary hypocrisy in which these events are shrouded.
Scores of men, women and children are killed and maimed by terrorist attacks almost every day in the countries of the Middle East and Africa, and yet they merit only a few words in our news bulletins and newspapers. Certainly, nobody thinks them worthy of front-page treatment. Nor do we see significant public buildings lit up in the colours of their nation’s flag.
This is because there is an unacknowledged hierarchy of significance at work in the newsrooms of the West. People of colour; followers of non-Christian faiths; citizens of nations with which our governments are not on friendly terms: the violent deaths of such people are almost never accorded the same degree of significance as the deaths of Westerners.
If I belonged to one of these “less significant” groups, I would find it extremely difficult not to brand the actions of Western editors racist.
Because even the term “terrorist attack” carries blatantly racist overtones. In Western ears, it conjures up images of bloodthirsty organisations with outlandish names like Boko Haram, Janjaweed, Hezbollah and ISIS. It is much less common to hear the term linked to the actions of the armed forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, France and the other Western powers. Terrorists wear turbans and carry Kalashnikovs – not smart uniforms and M-16s.
And yet, since the end of the Second World War, the armed forces of the United States, advised and assisted by its intelligence and security agencies, has been responsible for the deaths of millions. The unrelenting air assault on North Korea (over 700,000 sorties between 1950-53) is credited (conservatively) with at least a million civilian deaths. Twice that number of civilians are estimated to have been killed by the American armed forces in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia between 1965-75. US inflicted civilian deaths in Iraq 2003-2014 are put at well over 600,000.
In 1996, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madelaine Albright, was questioned by Lesley Stahl, of CBS’s 60 Minutes, about the human consequences of the sanctions imposed by the US on the regime of the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein.
“We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that is more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?”
To which Albright responded,
“I think that is a very hard choice, but the price, we think, the price is worth it.”
Those who wonder how a group of young men can fire their automatic weapons into a crowded theatre should, perhaps, contemplate the effect of Ambassador Albright’s words on the parents and siblings of those 500,000 children.
The temptation which confronts so many on the Left is to advance these bleak statistics as some form of justification for the actions of non-state terrorists around the world. It is a temptation we must resist. That we learn the fundamental moral precept “two wrongs don’t make a right” at our parents’ knees, does not make it any the less true.
The appropriate moral response to the deliberate killing of innocent human-beings can never be the deliberate killing of innocent human-beings. If we are outraged by the callous indifference of Madelaine Albright, we must also be outraged by the pitiless brutality of the Islamic State’s jihadis in the Bataclan Theatre.
Nor is it appropriate to downplay the horror and heartache of Parisians who have lost loved ones simply because our news media has failed to highlight the horror and heartache of those who have suffered similar loss in other parts of the world.
We are leftists because, at the very core of our values, lies an unshakeable belief in the worth of every human-being, and in the right of every human-being to live his or her life free from exploitation and violence. That the world is so full of these evils must never daunt us, nor persuade us to abandon love for hate; justice for revenge.
Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 17 November 2015.