On a fairly consistent basis people in the West embrace values abroad that they shun at home.
This is particularly odd and contradictory among those who self-identify as “Left” and “liberal” and then embrace movements, leaders, ideologies and religions that are manifestly illiberal and right- wing extremist abroad. For instance American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler said in 2006 that “understanding Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of the global left, is extremely important.”
That contradictory view is emblematic of a phenomenon spanning everything from Michel Foucault’s embrace of the Islamic Revolution in Iran to those “anti-war” activists in the UK who support Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russia’s bombing of civilians.
Why do people who support women’s rights in the US or France excuse the Iranian regime? Why do those who dislike militarism view as romantic people in uniform in Pakistan or Moscow?
Why do those who dislike US presidential candidate Donald Trump find bombastic populists like Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez so endearing?
Why is Assad’s war on terror so good, but George W. Bush’s so bad?
Large numbers of commentators and intellectuals associated with the “Left” in the West have, for over 100 years, continually allied themselves with totalitarian, extremist, thuggish, populist, militarist, extreme right-wing, religious fanatical regimes and movements abroad.
Whether it was George Bernard Shaw touring and apologizing for Stalin’s Russia, or Noam Chomsky claiming refugees from the Cambodian genocide were “unreliable” and that “massacre reports were false,” there is a long tradition of mitigating the kinds of crimes abroad people would never excuse at home.
To understand this phenomenon we have to unpack what it means to be “left-wing” in the West. To be on the Left is to be good, to be progressive, to be for women’s rights, gay rights, environmentalism, social justice, worker’s rights, and to be against racism and discrimination, perhaps against nuclear energy, against war.
It didn’t always mean that.
Before the defeat of Nazism, to be left-wing was largely an ideological choice to be part of a “global Left” of various movements.
Although ostensibly for workers’ rights, right- and left-wing populist movements of the 1920s were essentially the same in their totalitarian fantasies. Since being “Left” was self-defined, it’s not clear what made the Khmer Rouge and its genocide any more “left-wing” than the Hutu genociders in Rwanda.
What made Arab nationalists of one variety, such as Palestinians, “left-wing” whereas those of another variety, such as the Lebanese Forces, “right-wing”?
Loyalty to these left-wing movements was largely ideological, if not contradictory. So Stalin was supported simply because some left-wingers in the West accepted the Soviet Communist Party’s line; others liked comrade Trotsky and therefore did not like Stalin. Not because they were liberals, but because the party told them so.
In those days the ideological Left wanted the West to look like the Soviet Union: a one-party state they would control.
When we get to the 1990s and the fall of Communism, the need to be loyal to a declining and dying official Left abroad was eroded.
But what to do about the void inside, the need to be loyal to fanatical, violent, extremist movements abroad? Where was the romance of “revolution,” as they called the genocide in Cambodia, the revolution of the “peasants” and “masses” and the lioniz- ing of mass murder in the name of populism?
To understand the blind and contradictory loyalty of people who call themselves “progressive” but embrace manifestly reactionary policies abroad is to understand that humans need to fill the void of rage within.
For the self-declared “Right” in the West that void is filled through home-grown nationalism. But the “Left” eschews nationalism at home. Yet the nationalism of the “other” is authentic and palatable. Discarding one’s own flag is de rigueur but filling oneself up with the nationalism of the other is acceptable.
Thus the post-1990s embrace of religious fanaticism and right-wing nationalist extremism abroad has filled the void left by the fall of communism for the intellectual Left in the West.
Look at Chavez as a perfect example; a bloated, bullying, uniformed militarist and former coup leader turned into a “revolutionary internationalist” and praised. He had “uncompromising anti-imperialism” and mobilized “global unity against the main enemy.”
His “grassroots communal councils” were “engaging masses and building meaningful democracy.” Alan Woods in the London Progressive Journal warned of “sabotage” and the “lumpenproletariat riffraff” who were “causing mayhem” against poor Chavez.
Listen to how the Westerner describes the great leader: “Chavez always drew inspiration from contact with the revolutionary masses.” So why don’t they have Chavez in the UK or America? Men in uniform parading, the president’s voice booming on all channels, searching for “enemies,” “sabotage”?
A bit like Donald Trump, but more so.
Because the Westerner wants their “great leader” in Venezuala, not London, religious police to harass “immodest women” in Aceh, not Denmark. Nationalism abroad, pragmatism at home. Bolivarian Revolution abroad, internationalism at home.
Because Venezuelans pay the price now with mass hunger, as a recent BBC report noted, empty shelves, people unable to breastfeed because the country was destroyed by this populist, militarist nonsense.
Chavez was not a “progressive,” he was a right-wing militarist who passed himself off as left-wing in much the same way Hezbollah and Hamas, Bashar Assad and the ayatollahs are all “left-wing.”
WHEN LOOKING at the love and adoration some in the West have for the extreme Right abroad, one notices how people embrace diametric opposite values abroad and at home. They don’t like Jerry Falwell, but if he was Ayatollah Jerry al-Falwell, he’d be beloved and honored.
Rabbi Brant Rosen, who supports “social justice” in Chicago, went to Iran in 2008 and met men in robes with beards who represent the opposite of social justice. He wrote glowingly of the ethno-nationalism of “Persia, a country with a proud and venerable history...all Iranians young and old identify deeply with their ancient history....united in their reverence for Persian history.”
What about the Iranian minorities being brutally suppressed by the Persians, such as Kurds, Arabs, Azeris and Baluch? The American rabbi didn’t mention them, in fact his blog seems to indicate that they don’t exist.
In America social justice means acknowledging minorities, but those preaching social justice at home embrace rabid religious extremism abroad. No one would accept a law forcing women to cover their hair in Chicago, but in Iran they laugh and enjoy the forced religious observance.
Why is Persian nationalism or other foreign nationalism so enticing to some in the West? Because American, French or German nationalism is not.
Abroad is a place to pour one’s love of “proud nations.” It’s where one can openly worship verile, powerful men; nationalism, religious extremism, war, caning and hanging in public, beheadings, stonings – let out all that aggression that living in the West has cooped up.
The love of foreign nation and religion one finds in the writings of so many on the “Left” who ostensibly oppose nationalism is always interesting. The love of “pride,” faith, dignity and roots in the soil, of brawn and flag, of sword and gun, points to a nationalist yearning that the Western self-defined Left cannot allow them- selves at home.
The same values in Trump or Brexit, Le Pen or Lega Nord that the progressives find objectionable in the West, when expressed in Venezuala, Syria, Iran or among Palestinians are admirable.
Don’t kid yourselves and pretend these progressives simply don’t hear their friends in Iran call abortion “satanic” or hear them say homosexuals are a “cancer,” or hear their chauvinist friends in the Muslim Brotherhood say a woman’s “place is in the home.”
They hear it, and they support it. When the overweight, bearded religious leaders in Iran say “women and men are different; women are driven by their emotions,” the same people who speak of “gender neutrality” in the West widen their eyes and say “yes I agree, such an insight,” not “where is the transgender bathroom?”
When Hugo Chavez said he couldn’t be a homosexual because he was “sufficiently macho to pulverize any accusation along those lines,” gay rights advocates didn’t bat an eye. Homophobia is cool – only abroad, not at home.
If you took an average progressive lover of Hezbollah and told them to dunk in a fountain and be born again in Texas they’d mock “ignorant religion” – but take them to the Beka’a valley and tell them to whip them- selves for Ashura and they’ll find it beautiful.
This entire phenomenon is what should be known as “locational liberalism.”
Locational liberalism means you support liberalism only in one place, and support its diametric opposite somewhere else. The result is that there are basically two right-wing forces at war with each other in the West. One supports right-wing religious nationalist forces abroad, the other supports them at home.
The West’s fragile liberal values which took 1,000 years to achieve by eroding the power of religion, nationalism, racism, xenophobia and chauvinism stand no chance against the competing forces of the foreign right wing, the internal right wing and the internal locational liberal who betrays them at home and supports them abroad.
When the history of the West is written it will say: they educated themselves to hate themselves and love what they hate about themselves in the other.Follow the author @Sfrantzman
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