The record of the last century has been assembled with mosaic pieces of horror. This explains inquiries directed at those that, as conscious contemporaries, have witnessed these wrongs. The past’s adults are faced with a question: “What were you doing? How could you allow such misdeeds to happen?” The answer tends to be “we knew nothing and cold do nothing”.
Whatever the merits of the defense might be, in our day the question, -and the original answer- is again emerging. The compromising case of being an inactive observer posing as an accidental bystander reoccurs. Our welfare, pseudo-safety and the convenient claims of exceptionalism reappear. Soothingly, the excusing pretensions we love, suggest that there is no problem and that all analogies are irrelevant, while the discerned parallels are not applicable. Well, it is not necessarily so. Also, the denial prompted by the wish to self-sedate releases unexpected forces. These will ultimately haunt those that “failed to notice” what did not fit their preconceptions and went contrary to the desire of the uncommitted to be left alone.
Let us glance at the subjectively determined, popularly accepted, and media-inspired global crisis map. We notice that while full of systemic human rights violations, the list of officially certified moral outrages is selective.
Censure happens according to a discernible criterion. It is not the malfeasance of the deed and the harm to the victim that determines revulsion and sanctions. The protest’s vehemence reflects the quality of the perpetrator and the PR rating of the victim. It is the bulk of the animal, the size of its teeth and its known temper to bite what fails to praise it that determines the articulated charges. This explains why America is blamed. Indubitably, she has teeth and size. However, she lacks the instinct to nibble back before being bitten at least twice. She appreciates the position of those that wish her destruction. Meanwhile, the crimes of other heavyweights provoke measured critique. It is voiced only after a period during which trembling apologists suggest ways to “understand” and for dismissing the victim’s cries for help. This reminds you that not all victims are rated the same. Who has heard of the Yazidis or the Ukrainians? Who will want to know later who the Estonians were?
Societies that share our culture enjoy advantages. To their peril, a “right to privileges” sneaked on the list. One of these is the right to deny the truth. Privileges can never be the subject of a right and ignoring the facts is an illegitimate privilege. Let it be added: This luxury is also an instrument of silent self-destruction.
The case of the struggle for Kobani is an object to make a case. That Syrian town on the Turkish border, defended by its Kurdish inhabitants that resist the Islamic State serves as this moment’s test. At stake for the Kurds is – whether Yazidis, Muslims or Christians - to escape the massacre of the males and the slavery of the women. Even if overlooked, there is an attached issue for those that witness with detachment the struggle fought with unequal arms.
In countless previous cases, the Islamic State of the aberrant zealots has proven its moral quality. Except for the fact that these radicals lack the technology Nazis and Communists put into the service of their cause, the atrocities surpass that of analogous movements.
Here a conveniently ignored aspect of the confrontation with Communism and National Socialism comes to mind. Ultimately, both of these were resisted and with good reason. However, they were not combated for all the reasons that should have been mustered once they took control of states and armies. What was the omission? Resistance arose once their military threat could not be denied any more. The antecedents ignored the wisdom that, if my neighbor’s house burns, I fight the flames because he is my neighbor and because my home will burn next. Besides that shortsightedness, the postponement of resistance until it was nearly too late, demonstrated, that some principles saluted on our national holidays have shrunk to mere bows to folklore. The affirmed unalterable opposition to tyranny was historical and resulted in the kind of speech whose body that lacked bones.
We should state the obvious: Principles do not prevail by themselves. They demand sacrifices. We know that there are no free lunches. Analogously, there is no humanism-determined life as a gift.
As this is written, the fate of Kobani is undecided. For the point to be made, the outcome is immaterial. In Kobani, a crime that violates every value to which we profess commitment is being prepared. Time, such as in “surprise”, cannot be invoked to excuse the “world community’s” defective response. Led by Turkey that demands acceptance to a democratic community of nations, all we have done is to watch. It is akin to being a standby witness in a crowd to a rape in a public place. No one acts because others could intervene. Do criminals need better friends?
Inaction, justified by not being directly affected and because there are others qualified to intervene, tends to mask itself as “statesmanship that refrains from overreaction” or as “neutrality” in the interest of subsequent “mediation”. As Khrushchev put it, at least in some cases, you can only be neutral in favor of someone. Claimed neutrality can be succor for the aggressor.
Process in your mind the stance taken in response to movements that are committed to mass murder and, especially in America’s case, the abandonment of natural allies. A sad insight emerges.
All the mistakes of the 1930s reappear. Those that are unwilling to learn from past errors are not only condemned to repeat them but also become liable to pay a higher price than was paid originally. We end with the conclusion that we are, even if in a position to learn from experience, no better than were our inexperienced grandparents. It is not unfair to state that those of them that were in a position to know and to decide in their own time had failed. If we support that harsh judgment, then we must also conclude: To our shame, we are failing badly.