Amid the cacophony of outrage over the barbarism in Brussels on March 22, 2016, there were some familiar refrains. Flowers were laid and candles lit. The colors of the Belgian flag became briefly ubiquitous. Politicians seamlessly repackaged the horror into compelling arguments for whatever it is they are trying to persuade their electorate to swallow.
From the right of the political spectrum, there was a predictable doubling-down on anti-immigration rhetoric and a railing against the political correctness that prevents brave truth-tellers like Donald Trump from laying the blame where they think it belongs; on the shoulders of all Muslims everywhere.
Meanwhile, on the political left, Brussels was mentioned only in comparison with other places. On The Young Turks, Cenk Uygur chided people for “saying it only counts when we are bombed.” In the UK, Allan Hennessey produced a textbook piece of modern political leftism, sub-headed; “Why do Western media treat the murders of innocent white people as being more tragic than those of brown ones?”
While the ingenuity of the political left in coming up with imaginative new ways for us to hate ourselves can be admired, it is apparent that on foreign policy, all they have to offer is evasion. As Michael Walzer wrote in a Dissent editorial in 2002 entitled, A rhetorical tactic is at play: always change the subject. Censure terror? Well, let’s talk about the ‘real’ issue: globalisation. Ask about a crisis within Islam? No, that’s bigoted; let’s discuss the ‘real’ issue: Orientalism.
The particular flavor of “whataboutery” employed after every terrorist outrage varies. Whether it be Iraq, Islamaphobia, the rise of the political far-right, George Bush, the persecution of Muslims, the racism of cartoonists, or Iraq again; the conclusion is the same. The political left do not want to talk about the matter in hand because they haven’t got anything to say.
Confronted with a choice between wrapping themselves up in the cosy comforts of anti-imperialism or confronting the anti-human ideology of radical fundamentalist Islam, many political left-leaning pundits, professors and journalists have opted to stick with what they know, thus rendering themselves both mute for the purposes of this conversation. Also, they are entirely useless to their fellow political leftists, such as trade unionists, feminists, gay activists and others, who are fighting for survival in the Middle East.
When one can pin them down to anything, the solutions of political leftists tend to involve comforting phrases such as promoting dialogue, although it is never usually explained with whom this dialogue is to take place. Conversely, they are tackling the alienation of young western Muslims.
Barbarism is the correct word to describe what happened in Brussels. The people who did it were not literal foreigners, but their desire for annihilation and their contempt for the society in which they were raised, not their nationality, marked them out as alien. The horrific ideas for which they died ought to be something that political leftists find easy to condemn. The time for evasion is over.
Opinion by Andrew Hughes
Edited by Cathy Milne
YouTube: The Young Turks Youtube Channel
Allan Hennessey: We must mourn the dead of Brussels – and those of Ankara, Baghdad and Raqqa
HarperCollins Publishing: How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World by Francis Wheen (2004)
Image Courtesy of Dr. Les Sach’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License