A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Monday, July 25, 2005

On Moral Equivalency

I meant to leave this thread alone, I did. And I don't want tc to feel... what... picked on? Something like that. But his comments on this thread-- compared to most of his other comments which I frequently disagree with but understand and find to have analysis, thought and substantiation to back them-- is just... scary. And they keep niggling at me.

Why do they keep niggling at me to the point where I am writing this? Partly because the post is just, factually speaking, wrong, but mostly because of the moral equivalency inherit in it. For the record, I would define moral equivalency somewhat different than mojo does in the thread linked above. I would say that moral equivalency is to find two acts, good or bad, to be similar enough to be compared regardless of the context of those acts, or the reality of whether they are truly alike at all. Essentially, all bad acts weigh the same, as do all good acts-- there is no judgement allowed as to which is worse, or what sorts of mitigating factors might be involved. These equivalencies seem to be much more predominant on the negative side of things.

Thus, Bush is compared to Hitler because his actions resulted in death and so did Hitler's. Obviously in context, the comparison is ridiculous. Hitler murdered millions by his orders, and killed millions more via the war he started. The closest you can get Bush on the murder thing is probably his unwillingness to consider commuting death sentences while governor of Texas. Last I checked, he hadn't started sending any U.S. citizens to the gas chamber. As to people dying because of the war he "started," I'm pretty sure it's a lot less than millions. I also think the War in Iraq was started for legitimate reasons, but obviously tc and many others would disagree with me on that. Regardless, the comparison of the two is pretty much laughable.

Yet the comparison is made.

Moral equivalency-- what Bush did was bad, what Hitler did was bad, therefore saying Bush is just like Hitler is legitimate. The flip side would be something along the lines of saying my mom is just like Mother Theresa because she fed me while I was growing up and Mother Theresa fed people, too. Obviously, feeding me was a good thing, and I'm grateful to my mother for doing that and for the sacrifices that went with it-- but I don't think it quite puts her on the same level of sacrifice or goodness as Mother Theresa. No offense, mom.

Okay. Now, onto the bits that niggle at me. I posted commentary from a prominent Canadian Muslim woman that was critical of fanatical Muslims, and the parts of Islam that feed fanatical Muslims, terrorism and jihad. In particular I highlighted this passage:

The underlying problem with Islam, observes Manji, is that far from spiritualising Arabia, it has been infected with the reactionary prejudices of the Middle East: “Colonialism is not the preserve of people with pink skin. What about Islamic imperialism? Eighty per cent of Muslims live outside the Arab world yet all Muslims must bow to Mecca.” Fresh thinking, she contends, is suppressed by ignorant imams; you can see why she has been dubbed “Osama’s worst nightmare ”.
tc's response was as follows:

The underlying problem with Catholicism ... is that far from spiritualising Western civilization, it has been infected with the reactionary prejudices of Middle Europe: “Colonialism is not the preserve of political powers. What about Christian crusadism? Eighty per cent of Christians live outside Italy yet all Catholics must submit to the Vatican.” Fresh thinking ... is suppressed by ignorant bishops; ....

Her words are opinion. Whether they are whitewash or propanda depends to a large extent on whether you agree with them.
The emphasis is tc's.

First my problems with the comparison on a factual basis. Which essentially boils down to two things-- one, whatever Christian crusadism there has been-- ie., conversion by the sword-- is long, long past. Christianity has changed since the Middle Ages, and that's rather the point, don't you think-- to improve and change for the better as you go? Two, the comparison breaks down in that not ALL, not even most, Christians must submit to the Vatican-- so maybe Christianity is a bit more diverse than Islam and maybe, just maybe, some of that "fresh thinking" Manji wishes for in Islam has already spread within Christianity? Even within Catholism, while the final authority is the Pope's, priest's, bishops, and Cardinals are allowed to voice their disagreement without fearing for their lives. In many parts of the world, to be a moderate Islamic cleric is to be a dead Islamic cleric. To equate the two is disingenuous.

But that stuff is minor. tc was trying to make an analogy, and those don't always work 100%. What REALLY troubles me, is this:

The actual point, mojo, was that while Nick and others are totally up in arms about Islam, the same tendencies in cultures which are closer to home go without remark.

As I said, subtler. It's not that HER point lacks credence; it's that it's not a onesided issue as it is presented. The world was f-d up before radical muslims started blowing innocent people up; furthermore, people OTHER than radical muslims are blowing shit up.

I'm not a Catholic or a Muslim; I've got no horse in this race.
Subtler? No. It is moral equivalency, and I think it is, sorry tc, rather stupid. To say that bad things have been done by others does not excuse the bad things done by radical Muslims, and to pooh pooh Manji's statement because she is talking about problems with Islam but does not reference problems with other religions and cultures seems, at best, ill-conceived (how could any point be made, then, without including EVERYTHING that could possibly be relevant?) and at worst, petty and petulant. It certainly doesn't invalidate what Manji said, as even tc admits.

And what exactly is the other side of this not onesided issue? The implication is that we had it coming, the Ward Churchill school of thought, because of our policies in the Middle East and our aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq. That's the only other "side" of the argument I can think of, and if that is it, then I wonder if maybe tc didn't fall and hit his head at Summerfest.

Also, I'm not up in arms about Islam, I'm up in arms about fanatical Muslims who believe it is acceptable to blow innocent people up, cut off innocent people's heads, and hang the burned bodies of their victims from bridges to accomplish what they desire. Are those the "same tendencies found in cultures closer to home" you're talking about, tc? If yes, let me know where exactly that's happening, and I'll get up in arms about it-- I can't get up in arms about it if I don't know about it. If not, what are these insidious "tendencies" and do you really think they are equivalent to ramming planes into buildings, blowing up buses, setting off bombs near where children are playing, commiting genocide in the Sudan, etc., etc.?

That the world was f-ed up before fanatical Islam reared it's ugly head is rather self-evident-- does this mean that we must accept fanatical Muslims because not all the evil things in the world are done by them? Down that path lies madness, chaos, and lots and lots of death. The same argument could be made that we should not have opposed Hitler's aggression because our ally, Britain, had done evil things during its l0ng and expansive colonial period. For that matter, we had done bad things to the Native American people, so who are we to call Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini evil and to use force to stop them? The same argument could be used ad infinitum to excuse evil acts and evil people throughout the world and throughout time.

Ultimately, it's about judgement. Is killing another person evil, either by our actions or our inactions? Yes? What about self-defense? If you had been alive in 1942 and had a chance to kill Hitler, would you? Even if it meant killing hundreds of others near him? Thousands? What if it's 1938 and you're pretty sure the guy is crackers and will cause much mayhem and death, but you're not sure? Kill 'em? No?

Where do you draw that line?

The thing that bugs me about moral equivalency, about appeasement, is that the ultimate result of the thinking is that you NEVER draw the line. Because how can you be sure you're drawing it in the right place?

Anyway. My point, not subtle at all and rather far afield from tc's, is that it was refreshing that Manji was calling out the thugs and despots and fanatics that are despoiling her religion, and that our world would be a better place if more Muslims would join her. Because, while I have issues with Catholicism's complete unwillingness to accept gay people, I have a much bigger problem with Islam's nearly complete unwillingness to condemn people within the faith for blowing people up, cutting off people's heads, commiting genocide, etc. etc. The two problems are not of equal weight, and the fact that I don't talk much about the first does not render me incapable of making judgements on the second.

Labels: ,

“…while I have issues with Catholicism's complete unwillingness to accept gay people, I have a much bigger problem with Islam's nearly complete unwillingness to condemn people within the faith for blowing people up, cutting off people's heads, commiting genocide, etc. etc.”

It is an inaccurate statement to say that “complete unwillingness to accept gay people” is a position of the Catholic or other responsible Christian churches. The operative principle is “love the sinner, hate the sin”. People are accepted, loved, forgiven. Sin is the villain, not people.

Our Muslim friends don’t see it that way. Who you are born as is enough for the extremists to consider you less than human. They divide people into two spheres, ‘them’ and ‘us’, and the ‘them’, in their eyes, have no inherent rights or worth.

Of course, that aside, great screed, Nick.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?