The soft bigotry of low expectations
It’s time for soft bigotry and double standards to disappear, in the Middle East and everywhere.
Free Syria Army fighters in Saraqeb [file photo] Photo: REUTERS / Handout
The title of this column originated with an American columnist more than two
decades ago during the struggle, undeniably justified, on the part of black
Americans to gain access to university professional schools, banks and major
The argument advanced frequently during that tumultuous
period held that given the persecution, discrimination and violence which blacks
had endured during the slave experience and thereafter for more than 100 years,
they deserved special positive consideration when seeking access to the
institutions described above. This was called affirmative action.
of this argument insisted that this was simply a new variant of the bigotry
which had animated the discourse about blacks and was all the more heinous
because it classified blacks as a race incapable of fulfilling the normal
performance expectations for entry into prestige programs in law, medicine and
While there may still be more to say on this issue, one thing
appears certain – that the phrase itself, “the soft bigotry of low expectations”
– is more than relevant when applied to the current situation in the Middle
THERE, THROUGH the prism of most western media coverage and the
speeches at the UN, it has become painfully obvious that bigotry displays itself
regularly in the reportage over the “Arab Spring,” Syria’s casualty count, the
massacres in Mali, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian
The shocking aspect of the reportage in question is its racist
bigotry against Arabs – who are depicted unconsciously but inferentially, by the
major news outlets, as being incapable of measuring up to the high expectations
of international morality.
In the past three years almost 100,000 Arabs
have lost their lives in the brutal Syrian civil war, the internecine strife in
Iraq, the Egyptian quagmire, the Lebanese imbroglio and the Yemenite insurgency.
The list goes on to include the hapless victims of homicidal violence in the
North African Maghreb and parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
One looks in vain
in the international press for outrage, indignation and lament for the victims
of the conflicts listed above. Here and there one can find occasional words of
sympathy, but condemnation of the perpetrators is rare.
This absence of
judgment can only be explained by the perception, in the western media, that one
cannot really expect Arab nations to embrace the idea of the sanctity of life.
This is a deplorable indictment of a civilization that has contributed so much
to humankind. This soft bigotry must stop.
THE RELUCTANCE to expose and
condemn unequivocally the savage murder of Arab innocents victimized by Arab
governments is not the only anomaly in the Middle East. Another is the invidious
double standard of the indecent and unreasonable rush to judgment practiced by
too much of the western media when Israel is required to defend itself against
rockets from Gaza and terrorism within Israel.
A particularly painful
example of the double standard occurred in the first moments of Israel’s recent
battle against Gazan rockets, when one of its drones took out the leading
architect of Hamas’s terrorist planning against Israel. The response was a salvo
of criticism from Arab sources (expected), but almost equal measures of
condemnation from western sources, as if the life of a terrorist was
Yet American drones have been actively pursuing terrorists and
their enclaves in Iraq, Yemen and Pakistan for the past decade, including as
recently as December 2012. The American press, while ready to dump on Israel for
this brand of warfare, has been remarkably mute on drone strikes.
organizations in the West, with rare exception, have devoted concentrated, one
might say obsessive, attention to the loss of life resulting from Israel’s two
incursions into Gaza in the past decade, while granting only a nodding
recognition to the human disaster in Syria and other parts of the
It’s time for soft bigotry and double standards to disappear, in
the Middle East and everywhere.
The author is a distinguished emeritus
professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.