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 370 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS / Handout)
Free Syria Army fighters in Saraqeb 370 (R)
(photo credit: 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 corporations.
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.
Critics 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 commerce.
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 East.
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 triangle.
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 inviolate.
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.
News 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 Levant.
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.