When your politics shape your moral outrage

The tribal nature of political activism means that in reality the Israel/Palestine conflict does little more than provide an opportunity to 'stick it' to the other side

Protestors in London make their voices heard
Ghaffar Hussain
On 19 November 2012 13:25

Does Israel have the right to bomb Gaza in the name of self-defence? Is Hamas responsible for the recent escalation? Are the people of Gaza being collectively punished? Is Israel being disproportionate in its use of force?

These questions are foremost in the minds of most political commentators, analysts, and observers alike in the West and in the Middle East right now. But should they be?

When people are selective about the causes and the innocent lives they chose to care about, one does begin to suspect something rotten in the state of activism. 

After all, the world is awash with injustice. The Kurds, scattered around Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq, are still struggling for an independent state and, in some instances, the right to practise and preserve their own culture. The Balochis are struggling for independence from Pakistan and being made to suffer with their lives in the process. The people of Kashmir have been struggling for independence from both Pakistan and India since 1948, having suffered gross human rights violations in process.

The world is also awash with violence. Shia Muslims continue to be hunted and butchered in large numbers in Pakistan on an almost daily basis. Iran continues to arrest and execute political opponents. And the Ba'athist regime in Syria continues to use fighter jets to bomb civilian neighbourhoods in Sunni-dominated areas of that country.

In an age of social media and global inter-connectivity, awareness of these issues is a click of a mouse away. Yet none of these issues are able to generate the interest or indeed hysteria of the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Though there may be some very complex explanations for this, I would like to posit a simple one.

Our moral outrage is motivated by a great deal more than concern for innocent lives being lost in zones of conflict. As pattern seeking mammals, we construe political reality through pre-fabricated narratives in order to make sense of them. Thus, narratives that are Manichean in nature and chime with a simple understanding of the world tend to gain popularity much quicker.

Since we can only muster the strength to protest a conflict when it fits well with a pre-fabricated political narrative, Israel/Palestine offers people on the political Left and Right ample opportunity for grand-standing and political posturing. It has all the right ingredients.

Hence, our TV screens and Twitter feeds are dominated by 'The Conflict' as some refer to it, whilst the events in Syria and Pakistan are relegated to after-thoughts.

For many on the Left, the conflict is yet another illustration of western imperialism and double standards, as a high-tech nuclear armed and western-backed wealthy state occupies and oppresses an impoverished people.

For many on the Right, the conflict embodies the struggle between the forces of freedom and liberty on one hand and the forces of terror and medievalism on the other.

It doesn't stop there either. The tribal and parochial nature of political activism means that in reality the conflict does little more than provide an opportunity to 'stick it' to the other side. Like sheep, people flock behind their chosen end of the political spectrum and adopt stances that ensure they remain in the in-group and popular amongst fellow activists and friends.

Faux moral outrage pours out for people on the other side of the world whilst the real targets for our wrath remain at home.

Ghaffar Hussain is a counter terrorism expert and Contributing Editor to The Commentator. Follow him on Twitter @GhaffarH

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