Who are we responsible for?

Why do we criticise the USA more than, say, China? Why does is more mud thrown at Israel than Sudan? Why do we emit a highly audible whine whenever someone mentions Guantanamo Bay, or Abu Graib, but barely a whisper when we hear of unjust detentions abroad, in Syria or Egypt?
Obviously (say the many) it is because we are The Self-Haters. We are anti-American. We are the militant Equivalistas, the über-Liberals, who wish to undermine everything that makes Western Civilisation great.
Incomplete. Lazy. Wrong…
We obsess about the USA because it is there that we find the people with whom we have the most in common. Much as we try to trumpet ideas of a shared humanity, One Big Team, these are difficult thoughts in practice. Instead, we seek out allies in those countries, those people, who are most similar to us. We find them in those countries with a shared history, a shared language, shared religious traditions… and we call it a shared culture. We feel so close that we call the Atlantic Ocean a ‘pond’.
And if you feel close to someone, or something, it matters to you that they are the best, the very best that they can be. We hold them to a higher standard. We do not wish to see any faults.
When we do see faults, it is far better that we point them out, than keep quiet out of some misplaced sense of loyalty. I am a critic of the United States government, not because I wish to see its power eroded, but because I wish to see its stature enhanced. That makes me more of a patriot than the person who has backed every action of the Dubya-led White House since 11th September 2001.
In the case of the UK, well, there is an added incentive to whine at every turn. Not only do I have an affinity for the country and the culture, but I am responsible for it too. No matter that our ends are so moral that they justify the means – The means have to be moral too, and when they are not (when sometimes they cannot be) we must complain at the top of our voices. I marched in London against a war in Iraq on 15th February 2003 not because I wanted to throw dust in Blair’s eyes for the sake of, but because our preparation, and the arguments for war were not to the high standard I expect of my country.
So too with our allies, especially Israel. The culture there is very ‘western’, one might say. This is unsurprising, as it was European immigrants who founded it. They are the ruling class now, and they are funded by Western dollars. We have a blood bond. We want the best for them too, and it breaks our hearts to see them lose their humanity, treating their neighbours like third-class citizens.
Notice how the criticisms of the USA, the UK and Israel are quite specific. Notice how the criticisms of other countries are so general. With the USA, I name: the shoddy 2000 Election; the PATRIOT ACT; rushed war planning in Iraq; Guantanamo Bay; NSA phone-tapping; Extra-ordinary Rendition; and this nagging itch (somewhere at the back of my head), concerning the previous employment of Condi, Dick and George. We have been dissecting these issues for six years and there is still more to say. But China? Well, that’s a homogenising dictatorship. Sudan? A desert pockmarked with genocide. Criticising these places for even five seconds seems to be overdoing it – You could make your point in four.
Why waste more breath on the USA, or Israel? Because we have a shared language, a shared culture, we believe their policy-makers will listen. We believe they will take into account the things we say. We must ensure our big brother, the mighty USA, or our kid brother, little Israel, always has the absolute moral high ground. That means scrutinising and challenging them at every step. Only then we can support them with a clear conscience when they take on a radioactive Iran, or any of the tin-pot dictators (Mugabe, oh please God Mugabe) that stain the earth.
The Pedant-General made a comment on my previous post, which is a relevant postscript to this offering too. And down in the comments, Dubai-based blogger Tim Newman adds: “I’ve always thought that people criticise the US more than anyone else because they are more likely to listen. Criticising Russia or China won’t get you very far, with both the governments and the general public. But in the US, there is always a politician or activist waiting to hear your story.”

14 Replies to “Who are we responsible for?”

  1. And I agree with all of this too. This is very considerably more lucid than my comment below.
    The question remains how to enact this without appearing to give the monsters a pass to have a go at us as well. I think this is where the “self-hating wooly liberal” bit comes in.
    The real problem is that we are dealing with an imperfect world and whilst we would dearly love to hold – and generally spend much of our time struggling towards – the absolute moral high ground, the realist/cynic in me does not hold out much hope of achieving such utopia.
    We will always have murderers, crooks and corrupt politicians. Equality of Opportunity necessarily results in inequality of outcome and there will therefore always be some who feel marginalised or hard done by.
    Given that we cannot achieve the ABSOLUTE moral high ground, we need to deal with moral relativity. All becomes a matter of degree. That’s the problem I have.
    Out of the Crooked Timber of Mankind….

  2. Robert, you say that you love Israel enough to criticise them, but that sort of implies you don’t love the Palestinians enough to criticise THEM. In a way that seems prejudiced. Don’t the suicide bombers break your heart too?

  3. The suicide bombers may beleive they are acting for the good of Palestine, but they are in fact crimminals outwith the political process. So we should not feel the sense of wider responsibility that we do with the actions of Israel and the USA – actions perpetrated by an elected and apparently democratic government.
    But after visiting the West Bank, I certainly do feel an affinity for the Palestinians. If Hamas, as elected politicians, continue to sponsor suicide bombings, then that would break my heart too.

  4. Is it because Israel is sort of “Western”, as is the USA? Or is it because we need something from them, so our fortunes are sort of tied up together? What can Palestine do for us? So how does it impact upon us/our fortunes/our self-image if their misdemeanours go uncriticised?

  5. I believe that lions spend the time in between long lazy sleeps chasing antelope around the plains. They don’t waste their energy chasing mice, which do not replenish the energy needed to catch and eat them.
    Likewise, in my profession we go after trolls and then voles, in that order. We tend to avoid the smaller rodents, such as shrew. Technically you might be correct Robert,
    but we find that it helps if we focus on the big beasts.

  6. I really liked this piece especiallly the analogy with family. I agree that we do feel close to America and Israel, they are like family.We think we know something about their culture and their history. It is very upsetting when family behave badly and we feel we have more of a right or is it a duty to criticise them, hopefully in a constructive and understanding way, than we would with people we feel less related to. But perhaps it is more hurtful and provokes a more defensive response when you are criticised by family than by non family?I guess both countries, America and Israel find it hard to accept criticism from the UK and like Bush say “you are either for us or against us”
    And to the Vole Strangler, isn’t China a big beast?

  7. I’ve always thought that people criticise the US more than anyone else because they are more likely to listen. Criticising Russia or China won’t get you very far, with both the governments and the general public. But in the US, there is always a politician or activist waiting to hear your story.
    Although what you say in your post makes perfect sense as well.

  8. Did Scotland more than devolve and turn into an alternate state of reality, Robert?
    This is schoolboy stuff and has all the naive trappings of an irresponsible child.
    As Escobar rightly pointed out and you childishly walked straight into. Criticising a country because you love it more or feel more affinity towards excludes countries you have less connection with. You’re merely trying to justify why it’s “okay” to ignore the suffering of those in non-democratic countries or at least plateau it to a level that conveniently requires next to no response. How brave and modern-day civilised!
    But more to the point, if this were any real attempt to research the question you raised, you’d at the very least answer whom you mean by ‘we’. ‘We’ in a pluralistic society is always a half-hearted almost meaningless generalisation at best. A communist or looney leftist *hates* US success and Israeli self-defence and wants to see both brought to their knees. To include them in a ‘we’ that seeks to see the US and Israel improved or strengthened is merely a case of the blind leading the blind. The same goes with those of an Arabist agenda. Commenter intifada kid is transfixed with the smokescreen that is Israel even when an article is 95% about Sudan. We can’t include him in the list of ‘we’ who wish to see Israel improve.
    So who on earth do you mean by ‘we’, Robert? Every sentence you typed with ‘we’ as the subject is meaningless unless you define the pronoun. Didn’t you learn that in English class?
    Then there’s the morally apprehensible and socially irresponsible web weaved by Tim whose lack of logic you gladly take up.
    If you have two kids, one that is receptive to instruction/discipline and one that isn’t, do you leave the one that isn’t receptive to his own devices for fear that he may not listen? Wouldnt that make you an irresponsible parent?
    On an international scale, doesnt leaving despot states to run amok with the lives of their own citizens make you an irresponsible human being?
    All you show are signs of semanticitis. You have a problem with labels and meanings of words. That’s it.
    Some of the explanations for the obsession with the US, UK, and Israel may very well be “Incomplete. Lazy. Wrong…” but your explanation is logically and historically anaemic and intellectually idiotic.
    Then there are all your factual errors. Why did you fail to be fair to both sides and mention that all Israelis have often had to pay 50% tax to finance the defence of their state? Why did you fail to mention that its Arab neighbours also receive western funding, Russian funding and Arab/Iranian funding, too – most of which ends up in Swiss bank accounts instead of going to the citizens it’s supposed to help. Is it because they’re so “other” in your separatist mind that you just can’t join up the dots?
    You also dont know enough Israelis to be able to generalise about their culture. You’ll find a large percentage of Israel is either Jewish-Arab or Muslim-Arab, why did you ignore their contribution to Israeli society? Is it because you’ve been taught to think in no other way?
    And what shared language or even religion do we have with Israel? They speak Hebrew and are 80% Jewish. We speak English and are 90% Christian. Do you need a crash course in the irreconcilable differences between Judaism and Christianity and the effect of that on culture? And didnt even the European settlers shed their European identities and languages – including Jewish-German Yiddish – for the rebirth of the ancient tongue of Hebrew? Is that a European revival or a Jewish middle eastern one?
    Then there’s the strawman that we’re only ever general about China and other countries. Really?
    Is Tianamen Square and the massacre of thousands of protesters by the Chinese government not specific enough for you? Is the jailing of a Chinese journalist for exercising free speech not specific enough for you? Is the Chinese censoring of the internet (with help of internet companies) not specific enough for you?
    North Korea:
    Was their lying about building the bomb while holding “negotiations” not specific enough for you? Are the concentration camps we’ve received proof of not specific enough for you? The charities that have estimated the deaths of up to 2 million North Korean children not specific enough for you?
    Is Iran’s financing and training of Hamas and Hizbollah not specific enough for you? Is their nuclear bomb building with the intention of wiping Israel off the map not specific enough for you? Is their clamp down on civil rights and dissident voices not specific enough for you?
    Is the extermination of the people of Hema not specific enough for you? Is their decades-long involvement in Lebanon not specific enough for you – even after Israel left?
    Is black septemeber (the mass-murder of Palestinians by the Jordanian army) not specific enough for you? Is the fact that Jordan is 80% Palestinian but still keeps Palestinians in refugee camps against the intentions of both Israel and the UN not specific enough for you?
    Is the genocide in Dafur really really not specific enough for you? Is the decades-old war between the Muslim north and Christian south not specific enough for you?
    I mean, really. Do you really not care as much about Arabs who lose their humanity denying Jews their right to return to the land that was stolen from them in the first place and go as far as to use Palestinians as human bombs? And what do you mean by “our kid brother, Israel”? Israel has a language, culture and religion thousands of years older than Britain. While courts over here were still hanging people for petty theft, Jewish law had hundreds of years previously incorporated the principle of Kavanagh (the Hebrew word for intention or mens rea and a popular name amongst UK lawyer-families).
    You must have enough logic between your ears to know that you dont improve honour-shame cultures by beating up and over-criticising our allies. When you do that, those regimist states spin all kinds of doublespeak and historical revisionism to keep you focused only on democratic states. It’s worked a treat so far. While you’re faffing about microscopically analysing every democratic state that you “love”, thousands of people less deserving of your “love” are dying and being killed in regimist states. When are you going to use you blogging time to stand up to such disregard for human rights? Shouldn’t you at least divide your blogging time by criticising democratic states (a noble pursuit on its own) with criticising regimist states *unequivocally*.
    I believe that you are either trying to make this distinction because you dont have the same access to regimist persecution, or becuase you are wilfully denying it even exists. As Prof. Landis of SecondDraft.org once said:
    “It’s been one of the great revelations of the 21st century that, y’know, Orwell thought that you needed a Big Brother in order to be brainwashed, but in fact, people will brainwash themselves. They will go just to the sites that tell them the things they want to hear. It’s true all around.”
    As a result you should be a little bit more honest with your readers and rename your blog: EyesWideShutFolks.co.uk

  9. The article was written for a very specific purpose, Dan, which is to argue against the ‘Moral Equivalence’ false lemma. This essentially hold that since there are states that are ‘worse’ than, say, the USA or Israel, then we should not criticise the latter. Here I am speaking to people who buy into that false logic, and ‘We’ and ‘love’ are used in the rhetorical sense for those people… those people who constantly speak of Muslims as a monolith ‘other’, for whom Jewish Israel and the Christian West are indeed lumped together as ‘we’. It is a shame if that wasn’t clear to you, but I do not apologise for trying to write something that appeals to those sensibilities. ‘Kid brother’ and ‘Big brother’ refer to simple size and economy here. Point out the inappropriatness if you must, but don’t read too much into my little analogy, it really isn’t important to my argument.
    What also might not be clear is that I spend plenty of time trying to criticise other countries, and The Left in this country when they do not speak out against, say, Sudan. Just not in this post, Dan. I reiterate that I agreed with every word of Nick Cohen’s article.
    Please re-read both posts, because I was at pains to ensure that at no point did I try an excuse the human rights abuses of other countries. I was concerned that someone might read this into my post. I apologise if I was not unequivocal enough in paragraph 9: But I thought “you could make your point in four seconds” captured my distain, as does the final sentence of the piece. As it happens, the kernel for this post was a short comment I wrote criticising Ahmadinejad.
    One thing I might add about your list of condemnations that began with China, is that all on the list are also condemned by my government. I am responsible for my government, and in these cases they are doing their job. I support them. But by the same token, I complain to my government when I feel they are not doing their job, letting more minor human rights abuses slip by in countries that are supposed to be our allies. I think the so called ‘War on Terror’ could be won quicker if we didn’t abuse people in Abu Graihb, for example.
    Your quarrel is not with me, Dan. I’ve written too many impotent letters for Amnesty to worry about whether you have a point or not, because I agree with you on the most trivial and obvious level. Clearly this sentiment was lost in my attempt to compose something short but with emotive and rhetorical force, on a highly specific point of argument.

  10. But you are effectively fighting off a tornado with a mere feather if all you’re going to do is state the blindingly obvious and then trip up over the details.
    There may be those who use moral equivalence as a shield, but is that any wonder when the MSM in particular is awash with democratic crimes against humanity and virtually silent for weeks on end when it comes to regimist states?
    As I pointed out, Israel-Palestine, and the US/UK are always in the news everytime someone so much as farts, but the genocide going on unnoticed in Sudan is all but forgotten about. Who’s really employing moral equivalence here? Both sides might be trying to but I bet the one side that is truly successful isnt us.
    And if what you were really trying to say were really true, why did you go into paragraph after paragraph when all you meant was that “moral equivalence shouldn’t be used by any side as an excuse to evade responsibility”?
    But that’s the one thing you didnt say. Instead you created a separatist system whereby westerners shouldnt use moral equivalence to hide from justice and then conveniently forgot about its most fervent users amongst the far left, pro-arabists and regimes around the world!
    As we’re on the topic of moral equivalence, which actually relates to the other blog entry, much of the modern uses of moral equivalence and it’s proper definition is given here:
    I’m not aware of anyone (except perhaps some US gov’t apologists) who say democracies shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions simply because there are greater evils going on in the world. Nick Cohen was referring to the obsession of those who only focus on Israel, the US and UK while turning a moral blind eye to Sudan, China and others. The Anglican Synod is just a classic case in point and the MSM is another.
    The Synod will happily debate and vote against Israel, but will send its leader to Sudan to ignore the genocide going on there. The MSM will obsess about Israeli walls/fences and prison raids and ignore the financial structure that nurtures suicide bombers, or the military scarring of Africa which has been going on for more than two generations. The MSM will also whine about the US/UK “illegal occupation” of Iraq but we’d be lucky to get any such condemnation of the fanatics blowing up civilians there every day. According to the MSM, it’s our fault terrorists blow themselves up in Iraq because we invaded Iraq illegally.
    Again, the moral responsibility of the suicide murderer escapes any moral judgment even to the point where the leftist-liberal MSM can’t even bring itself to call such murderers terrorists. They’re “militants”, “freedom fighters”, “bombers”, and most morally equivalent of all “attackers”. As if a terrorist who murders 20+ people is no worse than a petty street robber. That’s what I call false moral equivalence and the MSM is the true mouthpiece for it.
    Hell. We still need to organise pop concerts before the MSM faces its news cameras in the direction of Africa. Moral equivalence as well as cognitive egocentrism go to the heart of why this is. The middle east is newsworthy; Africa just isn’t. That’s the crux of Nick Cohen’s article.
    Another – often – supporter of Israel and US Iraqi action is Melanie Phillips, but even she says Israel and the US are not beyond criticism; the criticism though has to be in proportion to the crime. You can’t honestly believe the MSM, the Anglican Church and others are proportional, can you?

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