Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Moral equivalence

In his Nov. 25 column, Mark Harden takes great exception with a Nov. 18 column by Mansour El-Kikhia. Mark is incensed by what he sees as “anti-Western vitriol” in El-Kikhia’s writing. In particular he cites El Kikhia’s reference of a reported case of canabalism during the Crusades of the 11th Century as being offensive to non-Muslims. He also accuses El-Kikhia of trivializing the Holocaust by comparing it to the Crusades.
While I think Professor El-Kikhia fails to make his point by using these two examples, I do not believe that he intended them as an “insult to the Jewish people” and I think Mark goes way over the line in equating him with Holocaust denier David Irving. El Kikhia’s point is to try and equate the suffering of the Arabs with the Jews and show that they both view themselves today as victims of past wrongs.

What I find most objectionable in El-Kikhia’s column, however, is his assertion that Western societies have forfeited their moral standing in the world due to the past actions of people 50 and 1,000 years ago. If I were to critique El-Kikhia’s column, I would start with this statement:

“...it is strange for Western society to claim to uphold lofty social, religious and political values when its history is replete with valueless adventures that brought misery and injustices to many in the globe.”

So we are not allowed to uphold lofty values today because we still bear the sins of our fathers some 1,000 years later? What kind of nonsense is that? Does he expect me to walk around all day long with my head held in shame because one of my ancestors may have participated in some ancient atrocity? And if that is the case, which nation or culture could possibly live up to that standard with a blemish-free past?

As far as comparing the Holocaust with the Crusades, I think it is a silly and useless excercise. Does the fact that fewer people may have been killed during the Crusades make them any less heinous? Do we consider a mass murderer who butchered 10 people to be 10-times more righteouss and upstanding than someone who killed 100 people? Of course not!
Furthermore, the actual body counts have more to do with the times when these atrocities occurred and not with the moral rectitude of the people responsible for the crimes. You can be sure that fewer people would have died if the Holocaust had occurred in 1096 if for no other reason than fewer people were around back then. Likewise, if the Crusades had occurred in 1944 there would have been far more casualties because of the technological advancements in moving armies great distances and in creating weapons of mass destruction.

I think that El-Kikhia is trying to make a good point by saying that Muslims need to get past their feelings of victimization and “rely on their own power, hard work and intellectual sweat.”
But I also think that he is undermining his own point by focusing on things that happened 1,000 years ago and expecting to draw meaningful corelations from ancient history. I mean, what reaction did he expect to get by raising the specter of canabalism?
I also think he is being unfair to Western societies by expecting them to be totally free of discrimination as waves of immigrants continue to pour into their countries looking for a better life. Certainly, there is room for criticism in the treatment of these immigrants in many cases. But does El-Kikhia really believe that Arab nations would be any better if the situations were reversed? If, for instance, the European nations were poor and the Arab nations were prosperous we would expect to see a flood of European immigrants going in the opposite direction. Would the Arab nations be more accepting of these non-Muslim immigrants and do more to integrate them into their societies? Does El-Kikhia seriously believe there would be no backlash against these immigrants from right-wing nationalists in those countries?

No comments:

Post a Comment