Sunday, 26 May 2013

Wave a White Flag

Rachel Shabi and the Return of the Paul Fauristes


It's somewhat alarming that anyone should still be asking entry-level questions at this late date, let alone an experienced broadsheet journalist who specialises in Middle East commentary, but there it is. More alarming still, Shabi's perplexed tweet was sent during a discussion on BBC Question Time about the implications of Lee Rigby's horrifying murder the previous day, apparently at the hands of Islamist assassins.

On the afternoon of 22 May, Rigby, a 25 year old drummer in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, had been knocked down by a car in broad daylight, stabbed with knives and hacked with a meat cleaver. An attempt was then made to decapitate his corpse before it was dragged into the middle of the road and displayed for all to see. His alleged killers, whose hands were still wet with their victim's blood, then remained at the scene until they were finally shot and taken into custody by the police.

The day after the Question Time broadcast, Shabi trailed her own appearance on Sky News to discuss the Woolwich atrocity with a series of tweets, including this one:


For reasons I'll come back to, I find Shabi's comparison to be fantastically ill-judged. But I happen to agree that we ought to listen to the alleged perpetrators in a crime of this kind. Not least because it will help to determine whether this is a simply a meaningless if spectacularly savage act of random violence, or whether there is an ideology underpinning it which means it qualifies as a political act. Because if it's the latter, a strategy needs to be formulated aimed at defeating such a toxic ideology and protecting society from the barbarous fanaticism of its adherents.

The brave woman to whom Shabi refers is Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, a passer-by who confronted one of the men and was allegedly informed that Rigby had been killed because, as a British soldier, he had killed Muslims. Further rambling testimony was delivered into the cameraphone of another bystander by his alleged co-conspirator:
… Sura at-Taubah — many, many ayat [Qur'anic verses] throughout the Qur'an that, we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for eye and a tooth for a tooth. We, I apologize that women had to witness this today, but in our lands, our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don’t care about you.
Over at zenpundit.com, commentary on Sura at-Taubah or Sura 9 is cited as follows:
It should also be mentioned that this surah does not start with ‘Bismillah’ as do all other surahs in the Qur’an, because ‘Bismillah’ is an assurance of protection and mercy and as per report of Ali (RAA) this surah was revealed with a sword in its hand, and thus could not have the assurance of peace and mercy for the disbelievers.
The author also points out that Sura 9 contains the notorious so-called "verse of the sword" or Sura 9.5 which instructs the faithful to:
...fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war).
Relevant, I would have thought, all things considered. But Shabi seemed curiously reluctant to acknowledge any of the above during her Sky News interview. Instead, she strongly implied that the real victim of this attack was not a young father and his surviving family, but rather Britain's Muslim Community. Nor were the true aggressors the agents of a radical religio-political ideology as conventional wisdom supposed; if we look deeper, Shabi pressed, we will discover as she had that responsibility for the carnage in Woolwich actually lay with the foreign and domestic policies of Western democracies.

She didn't allow herself to be detained by condemnation of the bloodstained suspects even as they threatened her own life and safety and demanded the removal of her democratically-elected government. Presumably she felt that, as members of an embattled minority, they had enough on their plates. Indeed, Shabi had even gone so far as to publicly chastise others on the day of the Rigby murder for expressing condemnation of their own. She could do this because she had grasped something that others apparently had not: context.

What was of paramount importance, she explained, was that we do not use this incident to misrepresent Islam by conflating "terms such as Islam, Islamist, Islamism and terrorism so they all come to mean the same thing". This, she declared, as her sense of perspective deserted her, would be not only "nonsensical" but "offensive"and contribute to rising levels of anti-Muslim bigotry.

Shabi was then shown a picture of the victim and his young son and was invited to share in the revulsion that the anchor suggested was uniting others. But Shabi appeared unmoved. Instead she made some perfunctory remarks of the "yes, yes, of course but..." variety, before continuing:
I think we need to be really careful not to single out or make the Muslim community in Britain responsible or somehow accountable; put the onus on them and kind of "You sort it out" because, y'know, this is a collective problem and we need to have a collective shared approach. And one of the things we can do in this shared approach is actually to own up to the obvious correlation between British foreign policy and the violence that we've seen on our streets in the last few days. And British security officials have been for some time warning about the consequences of British foreign policy in the Middle East and the kind of repercussions it would have on British soil. And I think it's really important that we have this conversation openly and honestly because if we don't then that conversation will go elsewhere and it will be used as fuel by extremists.
"But," protested the anchor, "Is now the time to have this conversation? The government has made it very clear that nothing justifies an attack like this." Unfazed, Shabi replied:
Well, there's a very big difference between justification and understanding. There is of course no justification for any sort of act of terror, but, y'know, we do need to listen to the justifications. And if a woman in Woolwich is brave enough to stand and talk to an armed killer and ask him why he did it, then we need to be brave enough right now to listen to what his answer is.
The difference between "justification" and "understanding" is indeed big. Or can be. That is, until or unless one realises that the understanding Shabi urges in this case refers not to the murderous ideology the alleged criminals voluntarily espouse, but to their ostensible grievances. Grievances with which, as it so happens, Shabi has considerable sympathy.

I say "ostensible grievances", because Islamism's intellectual founding fathers Hassan al-Banna, Sayyid Qutb and Abul A'la Maududi made it quite clear that their aggressively politicised brand of Islam was not a liberation theology in any progressive sense, but a deeply reactionary, supremacist theocratic imperialism which sought to establish the unchallengeable global primacy of Islam and the subordination of men and, especially, women beneath the totalitarian authority of the Sharia. As Ghaffar Hussein of anti-extremism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, reminded us back in 2008:
Grievances are viewed [by Islamists] as opportunities because they can be exploited and manipulated for the sake of furthering the cause. The grievance argument also gives Islamists the chance to cloud their political agenda in public and use it as something to hide behind when they feel the heat. Therefore, to suggest that grievances cause radicalisation plays into Islamist hands and allows them to present a more acceptable version of their position in public discourse.
I have no reason to suspect that Rachel Shabi has any genuine sympathy with totalitarian religious ideologies, or indeed extremism of any kind. And yet the arguments she advanced on Sky News with respect to the role of UK foreign policy in this terrible crime are barely distinguishable from those offered by Anjem Choudary when he had appeared on Newsnight the previous evening. The dissonance produced by the collision of her liberal beliefs with her ad hoc reactionary reasoning had entangled her arguments in an incoherent bind, forcing her to firstly claim there was no justification for Rigby's murder, before immediately claiming there were justifications plural, and that we ought to be listening to them with a view to reassessing our nation's foreign policy. How has an intelligent, liberal person like Shabi managed to talk herself into such a position? And why?

Pondering European hostility to Israel in his 2003 polemic Terror and Liberalism, the American liberal essayist Paul Berman made an interesting and, prima facie, counter-intuitive observation. He noticed that European outrage at the behaviour of Israel tended to rise and fall, not in accordance with the brutality or otherwise of occupation policy and the corresponding level of suffering experienced by Palestinians, but in correlation with incidences of Palestinian terrorism. He theorised the following explanation for this odd phenomenon:
[Palestinian] suicide bombings produced a philosophical crisis among everyone around the world who wanted to believe that a rational logic governs the world - a crisis for everyone whose fundamental beliefs would not be able to acknowledge the existence of pathological mass political movements. The protests against Israel, by putting the onus for suicide terror on Israeli shoulders, served a rather useful purpose from this point of view. The protests explained the unexplainable. [TaL, p. 143]
Six years later, the conservative American journalist Christopher Caldwell reappraised Berman's theory in his own polemic Reflections on the Revolution in Europe and found that he concurred. "Without quite realising what they were doing," Caldwell wrote, "Europeans tended to blame Israel for the terrorist violence committed against it":
Suicide bombing had to be about an unbearable injustice. If it was not, it was a mere homicidal death cult. For a continent scarred by the homicidal cults of the twentieth century that was an unbearable thought. Europeans became more interested in the causes of terror than in terrorism itself. The more Israelis the bombers killed and the more ruthlessly they did it, the more public opinion shifted against Israel....Berman's view sounded eccentric when he advanced it, but he has been vindicated. European hostility towards Israel has diminished since the building of a secure wall between Israel and the West Bank - which has not altered the justice or injustice of Israeli occupation, but which has dramatically reduced the level of suicide bombing. [RotRiE, p. 216]
I would add that it is not just the scars of totalitarianism which make Europeans recoil from the idea of irrationalist ideologies. The idea that such pathological ideas are embedded in the hearts and minds of the wretched of the earth capsizes the entire post-colonial narrative, the desperate defence of which has forced its apologists to take refuge behind increasingly ludicrous arguments from cultural relativism and moral equivalence. It is for this reason that they reserve a particularly vicious hatred for plain-spoken, clear-minded dissidents such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Mona Eltahawy and Maryam Namazie who expose their hypocrisy by testifying with passion and clarity to the moral turpitude of many of the so-called resistance movements lionised by the Anglo-American Left.

Shabi believes herself to be a far more honest and courageous speaker of truth to power than any of the above, and it is her nobility and bravery we are enjoined to emulate. It is she who possesses the necessary perspicacity, the developed appreciation of nuance and the empathy for the plight of the dispossessed which she implies is lacking in her chauvinist opponents. But when one strips away the rhetoric, what her arguments actually recommend is the antithesis of courage; it is appeasement. Objectively, Shabi wishes to give anyone with the inclination to use violence to intimidate the West's electorates and their governments the final say when it comes to policymaking.

Berman had some interesting things to say on the subject of appeasement as well, finding a useful parallel between the contemporary anti-war left's refusal to correctly identify pathological Islamic fascism and the corresponding unwillingness of the French Socialists' Paul Faure faction to understand the true character of National Socialism as the Nazi threat gathered.

The Paul Fauristes, Berman reminds us, were no fans of Hitler. They were, after all, at opposite ends of the political spectrum; as far apart one might think as Rachel Shabi and Anjem Choudary. Nevertheless, at the same time they were terrified by the prospect of further European conflict. They concluded, like contemporary Europeans, that they were not prepared to accept the notion that Nazism was a cult of mayhem, and that a rationalisation of Nazi rhetoric and policy - any rationalisation - would have to be constructed to explain what was happening to Europe. And so in Berman's words, the Paul Fauristes "grew thoughtful".

After all, they wondered, was it not unfair and morally reductive to demonise the Nazi party in monochromatic terms? Hadn't Germany been badly treated at Versailles? Weren't the German people suffering? Wasn't it important to locate common ground? Wasn't conciliation a price worth paying to avoid another continent-wide bloodbath? And although this hysterical stuff about the Jews was rather distasteful, was there not a difference between the legitimate criticism of the ways in which some - or even most - Jews behaved and outright anti-Semitism? Weren't some of those who favoured a confrontation with Germany Jewish? And as wealthy financiers, did some of them not stand to benefit from such a conflict? And on and on and on. And yet:
The anti-war Socialists of France did not think they were being cowardly or unprincipled in making those arguments. On the contrary, they took pride in their anti-war instincts. They regarded themselves as exceptionally brave and honest. They felt that courage and radicalism allowed them to peer beneath the surface of events and identify the deeper factors at work in international relations - the truest danger facing France. This danger did not come from Hitler and the Nazis, not principally. The truest danger came from warmongers and arms manufacturers of France itself, as well as from the other great powers. [p. 125]
Mutatis mutandis, when Shabi used the word "lunacy" in connection with Woolwich two days later, it was not to describe those who had pitilessly butchered an innocent man in a crowded London street; she used it instead to describe the opinions of The Observer's Nick Cohen, who had written a hawkish article on the subject to which she took exception.

There is of course no question that the two individuals suspected of Lee Rigby's revolting murder present anything like the threat to Western democracies presented by Nazi Germany. The fact that Salafi Jihadis are reduced to the kind of squalid crime committed in Woolwich is, I suspect, an indication of the parlous state of disrepair into which the campaign for global jihad has latterly fallen. But as the controversies over the Danish cartoons and the Innocence of Muslims showed, it can still be mobilised to inspire fear and cowardice in those, like Shabi, predisposed to submit to its illiberal demands.

Other countries are not so fortunate. As the Middle East and North Africa see their secular despots fall to popular revolutions, Sunni Islamism is rising in its place. Pakistan and Afghanistan are in danger of being torn to pieces by jihadi violence. Nigeria, Somalia, Iraq and other countries across MENA are trying to cope with Islamist insurgencies of varying kinds. It is looking increasingly probable that when the dust finally settles on the Syrian catastrophe, that country will find itself governed by Islamists. And in Iran, a deeply anti-Semitic and oppressive Shia theocracy is defiantly pressing ahead with nuclear enrichment. Even Turkey, previously staunchly secular, is moving in an increasingly conservative direction under Erdo─čan's AKP.

So what of the Shia, Ahmadis, Copts, atheists and secularists, and the gays and women who are finding themselves increasingly threatened by theocratic reaction in the Middle East and beyond? What scars have they inflicted upon their Salafist oppressors that explains away their persecution? If the Jews have brought Islamist hatred upon their own heads through the occupation of Palestinian land, then what have, say, Muslim women in Gaza and Iran done to deserve their subordination?

Alas, the ideological pacifism of the Paul Fauristes, so deeply embedded inside the heads and hearts of today's isolationist Anglo-American liberal Left, provides no intelligible answer. Instead, perversely fortified by the gory horrors religious fanaticism and violence have visited upon the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan in the wake of their botched liberations, the pacifists declare themselves vindicated. And their demands for appeasement only escalate with every bookstore firebombed, every embassy torched, every innocent victim of fascistic terror and every blood-curdling threat uttered.

Liberals like Rachel Shabi and the new Paul Fauristes are able to advocate surrender to fascism because they refuse to recognise it for what it is. Instead they re-describe it as justice and simply screen out any evidence to the contrary. Having once been unwilling to identify and confront unreconstructed medieval savagery, they are now apparently incapable of doing so, even when it is staring them in the face. "Enough!" they cry. "Let them have what they want!"

*   *   *

PS: As I was putting the finishing touches to the above post, The Guardian published an article by Rachel Shabi in which she attempted to elaborate on the points she made in her Sky interview. I believe  her piece, a laundry list of bitter recriminations about Western foreign policy and deeply disempowering arguments from Muslim victimhood, bears out what I have argued above. I will make just one additional point in response: I find it faintly amusing when journalists such as Glenn Greenwald and Shabi use their platforms at a broadsheet paper to argue that their views are being stifled and silenced. This is simply further evidence of the narcissism that paradoxically undergirds their self-hatred. What they mean to say is that their advice is not allowed to inform policymaking. The most plausible reason for this is that their arguments rest on the catastrophic error of judgement I've described above and it is an error that those entrusted with our safety, thankfully, feel disinclined to adopt.

PPS: It's worth noticing that in neither her Sky interview, nor her Op-Ed piece does Shabi attempt to present any evidence for the causal link between Western policy and Islamist terror she alleges, and on which the entire 'blowback' argument depends. It is instead the result of an intuition that insists such a link is self-evident. Even if it did exist, I still don't believe it would justify the kind of capitulation Shabi demands. But as it so happens, there is some fairly persuasive evidence to the contrary. On that score, this closely argued and well-supported post over at the Anonymous Mugwump blog makes for thought-provoking reading.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Drooling Self-Love & Dime-Store Third Worldism

The Rage, Relativism & Racism of Glenn Greenwald
"Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own..."
- W. S. Gilbert adds to his shitlist
Glenn Greenwald
For a commentator who gets as exercised about the killing of innocent Muslims as Glenn Greenwald does, he has had precious little to say about the ongoing catastrophe in Syria. That is, until Monday 6 May.

After more than two years of an increasingly vicious civil war that has so far claimed the lives of an estimated 80,000 Syrians, events took a particularly ugly turn last week. On Saturday 4, news began to filter out of sectarian massacres committed by regime loyalists over the previous two days in the coastal city of Banias and the neighbouring village of al-Bayda. Graphic pictures depicting the piled corpses of men, women and small children were greeted with a wave of revulsion amid unconfirmed estimates that between 60 and 100 people had been murdered at both sites. Meanwhile, reports and allegations that the regime had begun using sarin and other unspecified chemical agents against rebel forces and civilians continued to emerge, intensifying the debate about whether or not Obama's "red line" had been crossed and what on earth to do about it if it had.

Then on Sunday May 5, Israel apparently rocketed government positions inside Syria, seemingly with impunity and from Lebanese airspace. Although Israel has not taken public responsibility for the attack, it was widely reported that the targeted strikes were aimed at the destruction of shipments of Fateh-110 rockets being held in and around Damascus, en route from Iran to Lebanese Shi'ite terror group Hezbollah. Dozens of soldiers loyal to Assad's brutal Ba'athist dictatorship were killed in the process.

After more than two years of silence on the subject Greenwald evidently decided that a red line of his own had been crossed and that enough was enough. So he drew himself up, approached his podium at The Guardian and declared:
Few things are more ludicrous than the attempt by advocates of US and Israeli militarism to pretend that they're applying anything remotely resembling "principles". Their only cognizable "principle" is rank tribalism: My Side is superior, and therefore we are entitled to do things that Our Enemies are not.
Greenwald, it transpired to the surprise of no-one, was not particularly interested in the horrors of the Syrian civil war - neither the butchery unleashed by Assad's regime in Banias and al-Bayda nor the appalling human rights crisis afflicting much of the country warranted so much as a murmur.

What irks him is that those seeking to defend or justify Israel's very brief and limited involvement in the conflict should presume to offer a moral justification for her behaviour when, so far as Greenwald can tell, their reasoning is nothing more honourable than a naked and single-minded chauvinism rooted in an unjustifiable Western exceptionalism.

In support of this contention, Greenwald defies those he calls "Israeli defenders" to defend equivalent (theoretical) actions taken by Iran or Syria on the same grounds of self-interest, or to condemn Israel's nuclear arsenal with the same vehemence reserved for Iran's ambitions. Stretching the already elastic logic of this argument to its limit, he even implies that those who defend Israel while denouncing Fort Hood shooter Nidal Hasan (the victims of whom Greenwald describes as "incidental") are guilty of double-standards.

The use of this kind of shabby relativist equivalence to denigrate Western democracies and excuse the actions of terrorists and dictators is par for the course on certain sections of the self-proclaimed anti-Imperialist Left. But, oddly, Greenwald is indignant that anyone should presume to characterise his views in this way. "The ultimate irony," he complains...
...is that those [like Greenwald] who advocate for the universal application of principles to all nations are usually tarred with the trite accusatory slogan of "moral relativism". But the real moral relativists are those who believe that the morality of an act is determined not by its content but by the identity of those who commit them: namely, whether it's themselves or someone else doing it....[thus] Israel and the US (and its dictatorial allies in Riyadh and Doha) have the absolute right to bomb other countries or arm rebels in those countries if they perceive doing so is necessary to stop a threat but Iran and Syria (and other countries disobedient to US dictates) do not. This whole debate would be much more tolerable if it were at least honestly acknowledged that what is driving the discussion are tribalistic notions of entitlement and nothing more noble.
Hmm. It seems to me that the only reason Greenwald is perplexed by accusations of relativism is that he doesn't understand what the term means. Moral relativism holds that there is no objective means of deciding right and wrong so, since countries and their respective cultures cannot be judged by any meaningfully objective standard, they must simply be understood as different, rather than comparatively better or worse.

Pursuing this logic, then, a culture which tortures and imprisons dissidents is no worse than one which protects free assembly and expression; a culture which publicly hangs homosexuals from cranes is no worse than one which enshrines their equality and rights as individuals in law; a culture which confines women to the home and denies them the vote is no worse than one in which they run companies and head governments. Lest this sounds like a caricature, it ought to be remembered that Michel Foucault eulogised the Iranian revolution on the grounds that the Ayatollah Khomeini's nascent theocracy was simply a different (and in many ways superior) "regime of truth".

Greenwald's steadfast refusal to arrange countries into a moral hierarchy explicitly endorses the complete suspension of moral judgement required by the above. As does his conclusion that there can be no reason for assigning cultural superiority to free societies, nor justifying acts of violence committed in their defence, besides an "adolescent, self-praising, tribalistic license" on the part of those fortunate enough to live in them. To Greenwald, it seems, arguments about cultural superiority are no better than a debate between competing, morally-indistinguishable subjectivities, each as valid or invalid as the next.

It is this thinking that allows Greenwald to endorse Mehdi Hasan's assertion of a direct equivalence between a theocracy aiding a genocidal dictator by shelling rebels to further its own interests, with the actions of a democracy safeguarding its security and the lives of its citizens from Hezbollah rockets:


Shiraz Maher is correct to identify this as tawdry relativism. Greenwald, on the other hand, misdescribes Hasan's position (and by extension, his own) as universalist because it seems he doesn't understand what that term means either.

The universal application of moral and ethical principles requires the organisation of cultures into a moral hierarchy, according to the degree to which objectively good precepts and values are upheld. These might include a commitment to rationalist (and therefore secular) government; the protection of individual human rights, irrespective of race, gender or sexuality; the defence of free expression and free assembly and a free press; the independence of judicial process and so on.

Those of us who recognise the universal importance and desirability of the above, have little difficulty in ascribing inferiority to a culture that is - conversely - obscurantist, theocratic, misogynistic, racist and oppressive, such as that of the Islamic Republic of Iran. The recognition of this fact is the most elementary form of solidarity one can show to its embattled populace, enslaved by a tyrannical regime and its religious codes, who yearn for modernity.

However, it must be noted that, elsewhere, Greenwald has written passionately and extensively in defence of free speech. This is odd given the above, since it suggests an acknowledgement on his part that (a) freedom of expression has an axiomatic, objective moral worth and that (b) consequently, a society in which expression is restricted is inferior to one in which it is comparably free.

Greenwald has also criticised the US detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on the grounds that they deny those held there the protection of the rule of law and due process. But if these are markers by which it is possible to judge the American administration's commitment to human rights, why are they not also suitable markers by which to judge that of the Iranian or Syrian regimes, whose behaviour by these standards is demonstrably much worse? And if these markers are deemed legitimate points of universalist comparison by Greenwald, then why not others such as the emancipation of women, and the protection of LGBTQ rights? And why the reluctance to judge, and where necessary indict, cultures accordingly?

One will search Greenwald's writing for coherence in vain because, although he espouses moral relativism when it suits his agenda, as we've just seen, he'll vehemently disown it with his very next breath. His is not a thoughtful, principled commitment to a philosophy he's prepared to defend or apply consistently. Rather, his geopolitical outlook might be best described as a half-understood kind of dime-store Third Worldism; a gruesome combination of a thoroughgoing Western masochism with an ostensible compassion for the wretched of the earth that masks the same racist condescension and contempt typified by the worst kind of colonialist paternalism.

Thus, the planet is divided between the sentimentalised poor of the Global South and the brutal, arrogant power of the modern West. The former struggle valiantly beneath the jackboot of the latter's economic and military hegemony, yet are ennobled by a humble commitment to primitive - and often deeply regressive - traditions, and confinement within a pitiable victimhood. Any resistance to the hegemonic power of the West or rejection of modernity is therefore held to be, by its very nature, progressive and laudable, irrespective of how barbarous the groups/individuals/regimes in question, or how retrogressive their aims. As Greenwald's firm opposition to the French intervention in Mali and his unbending defence of the Iranian theocracy's right to apocalyptic weaponry demonstrate, there seems to be no third world regime or militia repellent or cruel enough that he would deny them his solidarity should they come into conflict with the West's democracies.

Greenwald can only withhold judgement of Iran's dismal human rights record or Syria's campaign of sectarian slaughter by affirming that Persians and Arabs are simply not culturally suited to the liberties and protections derived from Enlightenment thought to which Westerners rightly feel they are entitled. Instead, they must be perceived as childlike, simple and sometimes savage peoples whose cultural proclivities demonstrate a preference for subjugation, violence, injustice and fear over liberty and peace, and who are incapable of understanding egalitarian concepts of human rights due to their uniquely 'Western' character.

Greenwald is of course free to believe this if he wishes, but I can hardly think of a more reactionary or racist point of view. And this manichean thinking is only made possible by the application of an indefensible double-standard, one which demands that the actions of the West be judged according to a quasi-Biblical moral absolutism, whilst the actions of those in Third World, no matter how egregious, are afforded a relativist justification, and indulgently excused in the name of 'resistance':


In the end, for all his righteous fulminating about injustice, what animates Greenwald is not a sincere and fair-minded commitment to universalist principles and norms, but simply a myopic and visceral hatred of the West, America and - especially - Israel. This is self-criticism, unfettered by perspective or coherent moral philosophy, and thereby transformed into a disabling self-loathing, manifested in unseemly displays of narcissistic self-flagellation.

With Israel, as with the West in general, no concession will ever be enough; no achievement will ever be deemed praiseworthy; no atonement, no matter how abject, will be sufficient. And if Israel should fall to her enemies, Greenwald would doubtless affect a tone of gravest sorrow and announce that, alas, once again, the Jews had brought it on themselves, just as America had done when she was assaulted by theocratic fascists on 9/11. But on that count, for the time being - at least as long as Israel possesses nuclear weapons with which to safeguard her security and survival, and the anti-Semitic theocracy in Iran does not - Greenwald's spiteful schadenfreude will have to wait.

Those who advance the contemptible argument that Israel's treatment of the Palestinians demonstrates that Jews have 'learned nothing' from Auschwitz contrive to ignore the evidence before their eyes. It is surely because of this experience more than any other that Israel was established as a secular parliamentary democracy in which minority rights and free expression remain protected to this day. This despite being surrounded by peoples and regimes hostile to her very existence since inception, not one of which comes close to affording its citizens the freedoms Israel does.

Which is not to say I agree with everything Israel or America or any other democracy does. Rather that as an emancipatory model, free and democratic societies possess a worth above the immediate benefits they bestow on their own citizens and beyond the reach of the crimes they commit. The space provided for dissent and disputation allows for self-criticism and evolution; political accountability and an independent judiciary provide oversight, punishment and redress. The separation of religion and the State ensure policy will be decided on the basis of reason and argument rather than the enforcing of religious dogma. It is this framework that has allowed the West's democracies to evolve and grow in ways that closed societies cannot, thereby facilitating progress.

The regimes in Iran and Syria may make no such claim in defence of their survival. On the contrary, their very existence ought to be an offence to anyone who cares about individual liberty, as Glenn Greenwald claims to do. And it is for this reason that self-interested actions taken by these regimes to further their interests are not remotely morally equivalent to those taken by democracies to protect their people. That is, unless, like Glenn Greenwald, you happen to be a moral relativist.