When I was younger, I was an anti-imperialist leftist who espoused moral relativism. I believed that western values – democracy and freedom, nourished elsewhere, but best embodied by the west – were morally equivalent to non-western values, and so to make moral judgements of non-western cultures was to display undue arrogance. I accepted Noam Chomsky as a high priest, benevolently bequeathing Truths about western states, unmasking their facade, and consequently exposing the sham of liberal democracy.
Then I became a Eustonite, and accepted the principles plainly expressed in the Euston manifesto: pro-democracy; anti-totalitarianism; and support for universal human rights.
Following these principles has enabled me to possess greater moral clarity, and consequently made transparent the problems that befall much of the anti-imperialist left: a willingness to indulge reactionary forces, under the caveat that they’re anti-western; and a willingness to abandon liberals and secularists in reactionary cultures, thereby puncturing the principle of solidarity.
A couple of incidents have reinforced my beliefs. The first was the reaction to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. The response by some to the murder of anti-racist and secularist cartoonists by theocratic fascists stunned me. The need to equivocate and relativise a plain assault on liberal principles was revealing.
It revealed, that for some, certain principles ought to be subordinate to ‘power relations’. That freedom of speech can’t be defended unequivocally. If it allows an attack on Islam – which, as a set of ideas, deserves scrutiny in an open society – it is attacking an underdog. The value of freedom of speech is then defined solely by whether it attacks oppressive ‘power structures’. The assumption made is that only western cultures are meaningfully oppressive, or, more perniciously, only western power structures deserve our moral scrutiny.
So when some individuals, inspired by a totalitarian ideology, decided to slay blasphemers and Jews (the classical victims of totalitarian forces), the response was not to straightforwardly condemn these fascists. For their non-white identity precludes them from being meaningfully oppressive or deserving of our moral scrutiny. The response, instead, was to equivocate. The response was to qualify the most ennobling principle our civilisation affords – the freedom to satirise, speak, express our moral conscience – with an inelegant ‘but’. I support freedom of speech, ‘but’.
Witnessing this elucidated something important: some are so captivated by the idea of western oppression, they think that when men with guns, enthralled by a fascist ideology, shoot men and women with pens and liberal hearts, the oppressive forces are those subsequently declaring “Je suis Charlie”, rather than the murderers who bellowed “Allahu Akbar”.
The tendency to abandon liberals and excuse regressive forces is a general problem. The consequences of doing so means that individuals who espouse liberal values, and are therefore more likely to face the tyranny of regressive forces, are not given support. When tax-funded, public institutions organise conferences that smear ex-Muslims as native informants, and portray liberal Muslims as imperialist stooges, the concept of solidarity is demeaned beyond recognition.
When the agglomerate of student unions, The NUS, aligns with a pro-jihad group that can’t condemn the chopping of adulterers’ heads, it has completely lost its moral bearing. On top of that, when it supports banning feminists and banning philosophy societies, these progressives have scorched the principles that underpin a progressive society: challenging bigotry and intolerance; supporting freedom of speech; and, critically, extending solidarity to liberal – rather than reactionary – forces in minority communities.
The problem of leftists supporting reactionary movements is now pervasive. Jeremy Corbyn, head of the leading left-wing party in Britain, attracts reactionary forces like a foul luminescent lamp: Islamists, Putinists, Khomeinists, you name it – all have been endorsed by Corbyn, and all have reciprocated his support. Appointing Seumas Milne as director of communications could not have been a more exquisite confirmation of the state of Labour party. When your head of communications has a history of offering apologetics for a regime that kills journalists, foments hostility to homosexuals, and violates the territorial integrity of its neighbours, then your movement can scarcely be called progressive. But, for now, Corbyn’s movement has won: 59% of votes is stunning validation.
The situation is bleak. It can, however, be solved by simply adhering to universal values. That, irrespective of gender, racial, sexual differences and culture, we, as humans, are fundamentally the same, and are thus deserving of equal rights. No to Islamists; No to Putinists – no to all the oppressive forces which happen to be non-western. This is why I’m a Eustonite.
I believe a significant number of leftists don’t believe we are deserving of equal rights and don’t believe some values are better than others. They are, in effect, paralysed by a racism of lowered expectations. This has disfigured their moral clarity and led them to indulge reactionary forces. It is essential, therefore, that they are exposed and rebutted.
This post was originally published at tomowolade.wordpress.com. Tom Owolade is a freelance writer and student.