Clarification of an off-hand comment

Josh is taking me to task for a comment I made with regard to a line in a Walter Williams column. From my post:

he [Walter Williams] writes that “We’ve seen widespread condemnation of alleged atrocities and prisoner mistreatment by the U.S., but how much media condemnation have you seen of beheadings and other gross atrocities by Islamists?” I respond that we, rightly, hold ourselves to higher moral standards than we do the Islamists.

Josh points out, rightly, that the Islamists should be held to the same moral standards as our GIs, and anyone else, for that matter. He writes:

Either a thing is a moral outrage deserving of condemnation or it isn’t…. if complaining about conditions at Gitmo is the right thing to do, then I think we have plenty of time left over to criticize beheadings….

I agree. I should have said that the imbalance of criticism is likely based on different expectations, not different moral standards. We expect Islamic extremists to do barbaric things like behead people, while, perhaps incorrectly, we expect our armed forces to not torture prisoners. Both acts deserve condemnation.

There is another component to this debate that neither Josh nor have I touched on yet. Another possible response to Williams’ complaint concerning condemnation imbalance would be to lower the standard we hold our armed forces to; we could hold both the Islamists and ‘our boys’ to a uniformly low standard of moral conduct. Doing so would, of course, lose us whatever moral high-ground we have (or had – the Abu Ghraib torture has surely lost us a good bit already).

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2 Comments

  1. Joshua
    Posted September 15, 2006 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Glad to see a response, but this doesn’t really answer the main complaint, which is that although it’s true that lower expectations of Islamofascists lead us to criticize them less often, and although there’s a sense in which this imbalance of coverage is therefore human nature and can’t be avoided, there is a real danger of losing perspective on things if we only ever criticize ourselves. I think we saw plenty of examples of that during the Cold War (when even the president – Ford – once said in a live debate that the Soviet Union was not occupying Poland!!!), and we continue to see plenty of examples of it regarding the War on Terror.

    Your example of Abu-Gharib torture incidents losing credibility for us is a case in point. There is no sense in which what went on at Abu Gharib is on the same level as the Islamofascists, and yet the media often paints it as though it were worse. It was an isolated incident that made the press and was corrected. Of course there should be some loss of credibility as a result, but in no sense does it imply any kind of moral equivalence between “us” and “them.” And yet a decent portion of the commentariat regularly says that it does. That’s a loss of perspective, an unintended consequence of underreporting on the true nature of the enemy.

  2. noahpoah
    Posted September 15, 2006 at 9:23 pm | Permalink

    Ok, so we risk a loss of perspective from not reporting on the enemy’s atrocities as much as we should. As you point out, though, it’s likely inevitable that this kind of imbalance takes place. “Zarqawi still evil” doesn’t make a very good headline, whereas (hopefully) unusual events like our troops torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib are inherently newsworthy.

    My interest in discussing this is to explain (at least a bit) the imbalance in coverage, not to justify it. I was wrong to state that we hold ourselves to a higher moral standard. You and Williams are right to point out the problems that accompany forgetting how bad Islamists can be.

    It’s interesting that, again, by it’s persistent, repetitive nature, though, if you and Williams (or anyone else) were to keep pointing out how bad these turds are, it would eventually sound more like an indistinct hum than a noteworthy piece of information. In the meantime, someone on our side will likely do something awful, and because it’s a relatively rare occurence, it will get more press than your reminders.


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