Thursday, March 24, 2005

Abusing the Nazi Analogy

Norm Geras, in an extremely thoughtful post from Monday, asks why it is that so many who should know better always cite US actions in the War on Terror when asked for a contemporary analogy to the horrific crimes of the Nazis:

For the past two years such statements have been abundant. Eichinger could just as easily have taken his example from pre-war Iraq, which had more similarities with the Nazi regime than the US occupation has. He could, indeed, have cited Abu Ghraib in Saddam's time rather than since. But no, he found it more apt to use what on any well-balanced reckoning was the more distant rather than the closer example (I mean in scale of moral gravity).


And yet it is almost de rigeur amongst people of liberal and left outlook, today, to use as representative of what we should fear in the way of a possible return of the horrors of Nazism, not the many actual ruthless and life-devouring regimes we have known in recent decades, but... George Bush, or America, or some other Western instance or combination. Why? One answer I would give to this is that I don't know. I've been trying to understand it since September 11 2001 and on some level failing. Yes, you can say knee-jerk this, that and the other, and in its own way it is right to say so. But, more deeply, the failure involved in these de rigeur responses, the failure to give due weight and proportion to moral and political realities which matter more than just about anything else matters, is hard to comprehend.

All one can say - again - is that it's a mindset more interested in, and more agitated by, an internal difference within the democracies than in, and by, brutalities happening elsewhere in the world, and the international rules and institutions which accommodate them. Genocide in Darfur; starvation in Zimbabwe; until recently a virtual assembly line of torture and murder in Baathist Iraq (from a list that could be much and easily extended) - of course, they are all bad things. But they seem not to arouse the same passion or the same knowing collusion of the right-minded as does the endless repetition of the favoured, Bush-flavoured, examples.

The next day, Norm posted an equally thoughtful response from Eve Garrard. Both posts are well worth your time.

My own view is that there are two key phenomena at work. One is that for many on the left there is no higher priority than opposing the United States no matter what it does or what the broader circumstances are. If a particular atrocity cannot in some way be blamed on the US, such people just aren't interested. The second cause is that many on the left (and some on the right) are simply in total denial regarding the nature of the struggle against jihadist terror. Far easier to blame George Bush and the evil neocons for whatever's wrong with the world, than to face the reality of our adversary.

Both viewpoints are symptoms of what Natan Sharansky has accurately diagnosed as a disturbing lack of moral clarity that is all too pervasive in the contemporary West. No, America is far from perfect. However, the fact that so many people have trouble drawing distinctions between a democracy like the United States, no matter how flawed it might be, and murderous fanatics and despots like Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein is deeply troubling. I would only ask such people to imagine what the world, and their lives, would look like if men such as Osama or Saddam possessed the kind of power that America currently wields. The world would undoubtedly be a far different and unhappier place.


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