• I condemn this atrocity, but…

    Many of you are no doubt familiar with the rhetorical pattern that follows every instance of jihadist violence. While most sane people express some mixture of grief and outrage, others seem more interested in justifying said violence or even victim-blaming. If this hasn’t already happened in the case of the recent attack on Brussels, it won’t be long before deeply illiberal outlets like Salon and Alternet begin to query the length of Belgium’s skirt and the propriety of her plunging neck line.

    There seems to be a belief among the regressive left that pre-empting such views with a condemnation of the atrocity effectively insulates them from criticism. Irrespective of what followed, they can always point to their initial condemnation in response to charges of Islamist apologia. It’s a strategy that often works, too. You’d be surprised how many people set the moral bar so low that simply expressing an opposition to mass murder is sufficient to deflect criticism.

    To be clear, there’s a difference between explaining/examining the causes of a crime and using said explanation to then justify the crime. Not every article on Brussels has to be, or even should be, about mourning the victims. However, in my experience explanation rather often gives way to justification. For example, it’s reasonable to claim that the Charlie Hebdo massacre occurred because the magazine caricatured the prophet Muhammad. But it is not reasonable to on that basis focus blame on the cartoonists for their religious insensitivity. It is morally irrelevant. Unfortunately, this is what I tend to see from people who claim to be liberals. In its simplest form—generally on Twitter—this brand of victim-blaming looks something like this:

    The mass murder of cartoonists is wrong, but those cartoonists were racist/insensitive/Islamophobic.

    So, what’s wrong with the view expressed above? Quite apart from communicating a near-psychopathic lack of empathy, it largely comes down to emphasis. To illustrate my point, let’s flip the clauses and see how the sentence reads.

    Those cartoonists were racist/insensitive/Islamophobic, but the mass murder of cartoonists is wrong.

    If you think the sentences are functionally identical, you’re either lying to yourself or your reading comprehension leaves something to be desired. The emphasis is on the second clause. The former is merely sugar for the medicine of the latter. It’s in many ways similar to the phrases “with all due respect” and “don’t take this the wrong way”. It should come as no surprise that these platitudes are scant consolation to the person subsequently being called an asshole. Their primary purpose is to make you feel better, not the target of your derision. Likewise, condemning mass murder before then going on to justify it is purely an act of self-preservation. At best, you’re communicating indifference toward the victims. At worst, you’re communicating contempt for them.

    That’s why I and, one suspects, many others take issue with people who pay lip-service to moral decency just so they can move onto more important business, such as vilifying the West and laying the blame everywhere except where it belongs: with the perpetrators.

    Note: After a Twitter back and forth with someone whose opinion I respect, it became apparent that I hadn’t distinguished between people who focus on causes as a means of explaining jihadist violence and those who do so to shift blame onto the victims. Hopefully the current draft makes that distinction clear.

    Category: AtheismFeaturedSecularismSkepticismSocial Justice


    Article by: James MacDonald

    James MacDonald is a freelance writer and featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. In addition to sports writing, James holds masters degrees in both Psychology and Social Sciences and covers subjects including sex, gender, secularism, media, and gaming, among others.
    • kraut2

      It is easy to condemn any atrocity and not to ask: how did we get here?
      Who is in the end responsible for the mess that the middle east is in? Who is responsible for the mess the Ukraine is in?
      Who is responsible for the streams of refugees that makes it easy for jihadists to hide among?

      one clue:

      “When a nasty terrorist group calling itself ISIS and composed of Islamic
      Salafi/Takfiri extremists started to seize power in large parts of
      Iraq, and then spread to Syria, something had to be done about it. These
      extremists were being financed by Turkey (which is still buying oil
      from them and sheltering them on its territory) and Saudi Arabia. And so
      the US and NATO decided to put some pressure on Turkey and Saudi ArabiaSyria.”


      “The Syrian story is even more important. In 2011 the Assad regime violently suppressed peaceful pro-democracy protests. This civil society movement rapidly transformed into an armed uprising against the Syrian government. Why? In the early stages of the war, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey began funneling arms to opposition forces, seeing an opportunity to destabilize a key ally of Iran and Hezbollah, their geopolitical foes. As the civil war deepened, extremist groups joined the fight against what they saw as an odious secular regime. They also became the beneficiaries of large amounts of arms and funding from America’s regional allies.”

      Yes, it is always easier to display deep sorrow for the victims in our countries. Conveniently shoving under the rug our responsibility for the mess we helped to create.
      Crying after spilled milk. We did it to our self – be sorry for that

      • There is a difference between explaining and justifying. Honestly examining how an atrocity occurred is what we should be doing. That isn’t what I see happening, though.

        In fact, I’ve just noticed this gem:


        I hadn’t even seen that prior to publishing. These sorts of articles are precisely what I’m referring to.

        • kraut2

          Excusing on terror with another terror is just like the Stalinists excusing Joseph’s terror with Hitlers. It does nothing for the sorrow both created and for the survivors.

          Our duty however is to ask for why it happened and who gains from all that misery. We might not be able to change anything, too powerless in light of an oligarchy that keeps amassing more and more wealth and thusly power.
          But it helps to stop lying to ourselves and frees us from the illusion that we or our beloved leaders had nothing to do with the mess we are in.

          We have to acknowledge to ourselves that by helping the US with their policies of regime change since WW2 we have helped creating the jihadists (the west is not solely responsible, after all it was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan that gave rise to the mujaheddin in the first place), destroyed political structures that we found abhorrent but were obviously in 20/20 hindsight the only way to keep countries together and prevent them from sliding into chaos – see Libya, Syria, Yugoslavia, Kosovo, Iraq etc.).

          We acquiesced in support of terrorism by countries like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, Pakistans support for the Taliban, cried tears over the dead Chechnyan jihadists when Putin really hit them hard after the failed Yeltsin attempt, drone bombed more innocents than guilty and conveniently forget who really profits from this catastrophe.

          We as a population with very little power to effect change – look at the Blair years of a so called Labour leader vs. Cameron and tell me where is the difference – or the difference between the foreign policies of Bush vs. Obama, or the neocon affiliation of Clinton vs. that of Cruz – but at least we should be clear who we blame for the deeper causes of our misery and dead.
          Acknowledge that instead of living in a democracy we are living in an oligarchy where the wealth creates political power and political effectiveness.
          Get rid of not only the illusions of religion, get rid of the illusion that the 99% have any real say in how we are governed.

    • Ronnie

      Tremendous work, James. You see this all the time in the media, opportunistic point-scoring from self-dubbed liberals who hurriedly get the ‘message of condolence’ out of the way before they can press home their agenda or give a mealy-mouthed monologue which sidesteps the indefensible actions of the perpetrators in an attempt to appear ‘right on’ and ‘non-judgemental’.