Tell me more about ‘Western Values’…

by | 18 Oct 2023

For those of us on the left, the last two years of being lectured about 'Western Values' and 'our rules-based world order' are feeling particularly hypocritical this week. All we can really say through the horror is that militarism has failed.

NOTE: This was drafted last night before the horrors of the bombing of the Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza. I had planed to revise this and publish later tonight, but things are moving so fast and so awfully I’ll just post this as is now. But there must now be urgent pressure from the west for a ceasefire, for the aid corridor to Egypt to be opened without restrictions and for all electricity and water to be restored to Gaza before innocent civilians are starved and dehydrated to death – with the full support of Western governments.

Before I receive another lecture on the supremacy of ‘Western Values’, can I present you a little thought experiment? Can you name me a time in the last say 50 years (or ever) when a person from a nation with dark skin pointed a gun at a person from a nation with light skin and not been condemned by official Western foreign policy?

Meanwhile, can you give me any occasion on which a person from a country with lighter skin has pointed a gun at a person from a country with darker skin and not been condoned by official British foreign policy?

This suggests one of two things; one would be that white people are really, really superior in their morality and somehow just manage to be on the right side of every question on every occasion. The other would be that we’re racists, hypocrites and liars. I guess you probably already fall on one side or other of the ‘global white supremacy’ argument, so I guess you’ve already decided.

I’m about to write about Palestine/Isreal, but before I continue, I want to make clear that I am not one of those on the left who has ever fetishised violence. I’m on the left because I want to create the economic, social and geopolitical conditions in which humans no longer need to resort to violence to deal with their conflicts.

I absolutely recognise that the Palestinian people have been so mistreated by the international community and had fallen so far down everyone’s priority list that they had to take steps to force the world to look again. While I am a believer in non-violence, I am also not a pacifist. I recognise there are (limited) occasions in which armed resistance is legitimate.

So I would be willing to have a (careful) debate about whether Palestine is in that position – but what Hamas did is not armed resistance but an atrocity. We can seek to understand it as the product of brutalisation, but if we drift beyond that to justifying it, we’re the problem. Civilians are never legitimate targets in war. We can’t built a world like that.

However, I barely need to write that, do I? Geopolitical sympathy for Isreal in the aftermath of these attacks has not been hard to come by. What has been a lot harder to come by is any sense of those ‘Western Values’ I hear so much about, or that ‘rules-based order’ of which we’re the self-appointed guardians.

As far as I can tell, the very same Scottish political commentators who were falling over themselves to paint in the lurid colours of easy moralising over Ukraine war are clearly struggling to extend those morals to Palestinians. Had Russia managed to wipe out every single member of 50 families (grandchildren, children, parents, grandparents) in a couple of days, the gnashing of teeth would have been ear-splitting.

If Russia had besieged two million people on all sides, cut off food, water, fuel and medicine and engaged in the mass, forced relocation of a million civilians, I think we’d have heard some objections. Please, please, don’t equivocate or give me the ‘mibby’. These are very, very clearly contraventions of international law. These are war crimes.

When we’re calling for restraint and deescalation from every country of people with darker skin while green lighting a psychotic escalation from the light-skinned people, we have no moral standing

If Russia had started detaining dissidents and harassing the families of medics trying to save lives in a war zone, everyone concerned would be getting prizes. My guess is that neither Craig Murray (detained under terrorism laws this week for dissenting from UK foreign policy) or Prof Ghassan Abu-Sittah (a respected doctor who’s family were visited by the police because he has posted videos from Gaza critical of the Western response to this horror) will be receiving awards.

When Russia had banned peaceful public protest because of ‘the risk of public disorder’ to prevent opponents of its foreign policy from expressing those views, we’ve shouted at the top of our lungs about how wrong this is. Well Germany, Austria and a number of states in the US have done just that. Where’s the noise?

When people in the Labour Party made the slightest reference to Palestine and Isreal, the party was all over it looking for a pretext for expulsions. What Keir Starmer has said about this conflict is way, way worse than anything most of those people said. Is he to be expelled?

(It really is very clear that, as a number of their elected politicians have made clear in their resignations, Starmer’s Labour is not a safe space for Muslims or Palestinians. I presume the British Establishment will go mental and that the EHRC will mount an investigation…)

So is this all really far too simplistic and am I failing to engage with the complexities of the issue? That is my fucking point. The world is a complicated place – but not according to the West. According to our ‘values’ the world is always really, really simple. We can’t discuss any of the geopolitics which led up to the Ukraine war because we aren’t allowed to consider complexity.

Now, suddenly, we absolutely must bend the rules to make allowances for the ‘complexity’. Rules Based Order. Western Values. The more you poke at them, the harder it is to see what exactly it is that we mean by this.

The state of Isreal has taken a very, very sharp turn to the hard right in the last three decades. That is its legitimate right. It is free to pursue that democratic route if that’s what it’s population wants. But that does not apply when you are in a state that is in total and complete control of five million people who are excluded from that democracy.

If Palestine was say Lebanon, a geographically-contiguous state outside the border of Isreal, then the far-right politicians of Israel would be free to engage in all the dehumanising language and violent fever-dream fantasies of ridding ‘the Holy Lands’ of Muslims. So long as they kept it in their own territory, that is fine.

But when you have a politics which takes that position yet is occupying and controlling the lives of Muslims, it is abhorrent. Let’s have a look at how abhorrent. The Israeli defence minister is a far right extremist with a criminal record so long one judge told the New Yorker they had to change the ink in the printer to print the list out.

Another government minister said the following: “The Palestinian people are an invention of less than a hundred years. Do they have a history, a culture? No, they do not. There are no Palestinians, there are just Arabs.” In fact, just go and read this very lengthy list of provocative-going-on-criminal behaviour. And then read (in the same article) the total disinterest of the Americans in even trying to reign this in a bit.

The US gave them the green light for all of what they have done and gave them massive military funding every year to do it. That’s out ‘Western Values’. Those are ‘Western Values’ that have lain silent for three decades while this all got worse and worse and worse. Those aren’t values. Those are what is more generally known as lies.

If you want to get a grip on who we really are, it is China who is currently leading the world in calling for ‘humanitarian values’ and ‘a rules-based order’ to prevail in the Isreal Palestine conflict

We are on the verge of creating an outcome which will change the world forever. If the Muslim world (particularly across the Middle East) responds to what it is seeing in Gaza in the way the West responded to what it was seeing in Ukraine, we’re fucked.

It could start arming Palestinians to the teeth. It could isolate and cut off Isreal from the world. It could militarise their borders and require Israelis to live with the constant fear of attack (like Palestinians do). I don’t want that. But when we’re calling for restraint and deescalation from every country of people with darker skin while green lighting a psychotic escalation from the light-skinned people, we have no moral standing.

I have little hope for the Middle East. The West has done so much relentless damage to that region over this century it is hard to see a happy short term outcome. Just a quick reminder, Iran is a violent theocracy because when they elected a socially democratic government, we overthrew that government and placed a dictator on the throne.

That led to the Islamic Revolution so we picked a hard-man dictator in Iraq and funded him very lavishly to undertake an extended war with Iran, including using chemical weapons on them. We then flooded Afghanistan with weapons to fight the Russians, knowing we were giving these to extreme theocratic groups who then took over the country.

So that’s the Ayatollahs, Sadam Hussein and the Taliban explained in two paragraphs. Would you like me to continue? Lebanon? Syria? Libya (where, need I remind you, we shat all over the United Nation’s mandate, pursued an illegal policy of regime change and converted a prosperous country into one which now openly has slave markets on the streets of major cities)?

Yemen? The various horribly oppressive monarchies we prop up for oil, in between which they execute our citizens and saw them up with impunity? When they’re not brutalising their own population? And we’re the ones moralising? We’re the ones lecturing people about ‘rules-based orders’?

Well, do you know what a rules-based order looks like? It has an International Criminal Court which doesn’t only prosecute black people and our enemies. If Putin must be tried for war crimes, why should Netanyahu go free? Is a war crime a war crime or does it depend who you kill?

I think in particular of a number of Scottish commentators who were quick to call people like me ‘Putin’s useful idiots’ for having the cheek to suggest there is a bit more complexity to the recent history between Russia and the Ukraine than ‘goody-baddy’ narrative. Well what are you now? By your own standards are you not complicit in the genocide of Palestinians? That’s what it looks like from here.

There is only one slight positive I can find in all of this, other than that it might finally lead to pressure for some real justice for Palestine when this is all over. That positive is that you need to be both blind and stupid not to realise that militarism has failed the world most appallingly. The world has escalated its spending on weapons enormously and continuously since the Cold War ended.

In our history we have been safest when the world was negotiating peace and weapons treaties and we have been least safe when it has spent money on guns and bombs. I wish I believed that this could be a turning point. But I doubt it. We’ll flood Isreal with money for guns. We’ll flood Ukraine with guns. We’ll help Saudi Arabia oppress its population. We will crack on as before.

Why? Because there is no global rules-based order, only white-is-might militarism. If you want to get a grip on who we really are, it is China who is currently leading the world in calling for ‘humanitarian values’ and ‘a rules-based order’ to prevail in the Isreal Palestine conflict.

Western values? Gimme a break.

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