Moral equivalence does not justify appalling behaviour. Whether it’s Left or Right, it’s pervading modern politics. That which is evil should be called out for what it is. The refusal of key political figures to condemn that which is indefensible, using moral equivalence as a means of less than wholehearted condemnation of evil, is itself dangerous. This article perhaps isn’t going to be popular with many people, because I’m going to condemn it whichever ‘side’ is doing it.
Example 1: Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to properly condemn the IRA and the Venezuelan regime. Corbyn repeatedly refused to condemn the IRA’s campaign of terror, preferring instead to condemn ‘all violence’ in Northern Ireland. By doing so, he cheapens the nature of the terrors attacks during the Troubles. By refusing to condemn the Venezuelan regime’s actions, instead bemoaning violence in general, he repeats the same principle. It’s being used merely as an excuse to fail to call out an appalling government for its actions. Of course we should condemn all political violence on all sides in conflicts; that shouldn’t need to be said – it’s obvious. But use of that platitude is a tactic designed to avoid condemning something that you don’t really want to condemn.
Example 2: Donald Trump condemns all bigotry and hatred after a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. The event that had just happened wasn’t about ‘all bigotry and hatred’. It was about Nazi flags, white supremacism and a deadly attack. The appropriate response is to condemn what has just happened, for what it is. Not to tie in other instances and incidents, but to condemn that which is evil. If you wish to comment upon other evils within society, to condemn other bigotry and hatred, then by all means do so: call it out for what it is – but don’t fail to condemn the issue at hand.
Example 3: The failure of Clinton (and many British politicians too) to call out terrorism for what it is. You don’t have to engage in the vile, narrow-minded attitudes of those who seek (directly or subtly) to blame all Muslims or all of Islam for every terror attack in order to call out radical Islamic extremism for what it is. The words ‘radical’ and ‘extremism’ are the qualifiers which prove you’re not talking about all Muslims. Suppose I were to speak of the organised Sicilian mafia. The words ‘organised’ and ‘mafia’ would be sufficient to prove that it is not referring to all Sicilians. Nobody would consider me to be anti-Sicilian for doing so, and it would be pure political correctness to refuse to say the phrase. I actually quite like Sicily, its people and its way of life. I’ve enjoyed visiting Sicily in the past (but I’ve never got to grips with the Sicilian Dragon in chess – not my thing). The biggest victims of the mafia, of course, were the Sicilian people themselves (and to take this parallel as far is it’s going today) just like ISIS has killed more Muslims than non-Muslims and Muslims have been the victims of most terror attacks globally. I won’t demonise the innocent but I will utterly condemn the guilty. And I won’t for my own political ends imply that some who are innocent are actually guilty.
Example 4: The failure to condemn terrorism against Muslims. When someone ploughs a van into the side of a mosque, that is terrorism. We don’t get to redefine the word terrorism just because the victims are Muslims. When acid is thrown in the face of Muslims stopped at traffic lights in a random attack, that is evil, pure and simple. These things should be condemned simply for what they are: that’s why it’s so sickening when someone responds with a moral equivalence. ‘Ah well, there are more attacks committed by….’ is not an excuse. It’s an attempt to create an ‘us versus them’ society and all that will lead to is more attacks. There are separate conversations that we should be having about the bigger terrorist threat which comes from the ideology of ISIS, but they’re precisely that: separate conversations.
As a society we need to get past this notion of tribalism and start remembering that if you want to confront evil, you’d better start by recognising it and condemning it. Unconditionally. Whoever is perpetrating that evil.