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Moral equivocation of Third World radical groups excessive

By Eric Harrison     12/2/10 6:00pm

As if it weren't obvious already just how far behind the United States the Third World lags in respect for individual rights, two recent events should make it clear.Earlier this month, a Pakistani woman was sentenced to death for blasphemy after neighbors accused her of defaming Muhammad in a dispute over water. Shortly thereafter, a Chinese woman was sentenced to a year of re-education and labor for "disrupting social order" after she mocked anti-Japan protesters on Twitter.

These are but the latest Pakistani and Chinese abuses. In addition to threatening blasphemers and apostates with death, Pakistan forbids followers of the "wrong" sort of Islam from describing themselves as Muslims or publishing religious material, and frequently denies them police protection. China, meanwhile, operates one of the most effective censorship regimes in the world while sentencing political prisoners - including practitioners of "unregistered" religions - to hard labor in what amount to state-run slave camps.

Even in light of this bald-faced villainy, it has become fashionable on the left to pretend that a moral equivalence exists between the U.S. and authoritarians. Iran's brutal theocracy is "just trying to defend itself" with its nuclear ambitions. The Taliban are "just resisting foreign occupation." Groups like al-Qaeda are "just reacting to American imperialism." Saddam's Iraq was a "sovereign nation" like any other. Suspicion of China merely reflects a "Cold War mentality."



The persecution of those who practice the wrong religion or hold the wrong opinion puts the lie to that masochistic notion. It is not true to say that countries which lack basic protections for free expression are no worse than countries like the U.S. Nor is this nonsense in keeping with the left's otherwise robust tradition of opposition to superstition and backwardness.

Where is the left that declared, so presciently, that fascism means war? Where is the left that recognized religious conservatism and vacuous nationalism as obstacles to progress everywhere? Where is the left that held among its core tenets that justice and morality know no national boundaries?

It seems that left is gone. Instead we get a left composed of multiculturalists and relativists so terrified of appearing intolerant or "imperialist" that they soil themselves at the thought of decrying Third World authoritarians, and will do so only after going through the most amazing contortions to conclude that America, too, must be decried. In so doing, they ally themselves with the most reactionary and conservative elements of the Third World - indeed, to its Jerry Falwells and Fred Phelpses. To see the left opposing the effort to stamp out proto-fascists and religious conservatives in this way is a sad spectacle indeed.

What would America look like if it persecuted minority groups as a matter of law? It would look much as it did before the mid-20th century, and people would rightly sneer at its backwardness. But when the same abuses and many more are committed by America's opponents, see how quickly those sneers turn to strenuous denials that the abusers have lost any moral standing.

For that matter, what would these fashionable cynics say if a Christian fundamentalist group waged a terrorist campaign to bring despotic theocracy to the U.S.? No doubt they would condemn such a group as a heinous violator of individual rights. But when it's the Islamist Taliban trying to re-enslave Afghanistan, see again how quickly the objections turn to half-baked justifications.

Of all these things, ask yourself: if it would be repugnant here, why is it not repugnant there? If it would be villainous for an American government to do it, why is a Russian or Chinese government that does it not also villainous? If it would be intolerable for Christian fundamentalists to force themselves upon you, why is it not intolerable for Islamic fundamentalists to force themselves upon the people of Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iran? Most importantly, if you would reject the claim that a government victimizing you lost no moral standing for doing so, why accept that claim when others are victimized?

Remember this when considering the argument that Iran is merely defending itself, or that the Taliban is merely resisting foreign occupation, or that the Chinese just don't care for democracy anyway, or that any of these groups is simply reacting to American policy. Authoritarians by their nature cannot be trusted to uphold individual rights, and it is degrading to pretend that they are no worse than those who do uphold them. The goal of containing and destroying these elements is a just one, but it cannot be pursued effectively if those countries with the power to do so become bogged down instead in self-flagellation and empty-headed relativism.

Watch for this spineless equivocation in yourself and others. The faux jadedness that leads people to lazily remark that no state holds higher moral ground than any other is attractive precisely because it seems knowingly cynical, and it draws in those who have a fear of appearing intolerant or want to feel worldly and wise.

Don't be fooled. Those who would have you believe that conflicts are ultimately caused by American misdeeds are impostors, and their claims of moral equivalence between the U.S. and the authoritarians it combats are meritless. Whatever its flaws, the left was once an admirable opponent of superstition and oppression abroad as well as at home. It, like American politics in general, will be much better off when the relativists have been shown the door.

Eric Harrison is a Wiess College alumnus.



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