In 2003, I attended a talk on Islamophobia – in particular, it’s historical background. The speaker, who demonstrated an impressive grasp of the sweep of history, asserted that the Western World had been waging war on Islam ever since its foundation and put forward a historical pattern that seemed to support that argument. Leaving aside the flaws with that approach, there was still one major problem.
It was utter nonsense.
As I saw it, and said at the time, no one in modern Britain really gives a damn about what happened between King Richard and Saladin. Most people think of King Richard as nothing more than a background character in the tale of Robin Hood, the lionhearted king who left his wicked brother on the throne while he went off to fight in the Holy Land. They don’t really draw a connection between the Muslim armies of Saladin (a fascinating character in his own right) and the terrorist scum who slaughter everyone who doesn't agree with their ideology 100%. Very few could tell the difference between the Four Caliphs who followed the Prophet, let alone the origin of the Sunni-Shia Split. It was simply immaterial to them, while 9/11, bomb attacks in Britain, raving madmen in the streets and waves of blatantly uncivilised barbarities were all too material.
In short, modern-day Islamophobia was fed by acts committed by Muslims today.
The average British citizen doesn't have a decent grasp of history. Personally, I find that somewhat regrettable. There have been quite a few darker moments in British history – Bloody Mary, Charles and Cromwell, King John – but there have also been moments we can and should be proud of, if we knew they existed. Most of our historical education is biased or overly simplistic. I’ve had teachers who taught about the glories of an independent Scotland and others who refused to discuss the British Empire out of fear it might offend the students of Indian or Pakistani descent in the class. And, of course, there are no shortages of lessons from history that really should be remembered today.
But this does have one advantage. We don’t let past history overshadow our future.
Let me put this in perspective. We fought two wars with the Germans, last century, that were among the bloodiest in human history. The Germans committed unspeakable acts in the name of National Socialism. But, right now, we don’t hold those crimes against their modern-day descendents. We draw a line between the shockingly evil Germans of the past and the Germans who live today. And we do the same for our other historical enemies. How many people know – really know – that we fought two wars with the United States?
In one sense, at least, history is over. The winners won, the losers lost – and it is over. And everyone involved is dead.
This is true of other nations too. Most of the politicians – Israeli, Arab, Palestinian, American, French, British – who played a role in the foundation of Israel are dead. The holocaust? Pretty much everyone responsible is dead. Japanese war crimes? Pretty much everyone responsible is dead. The Armenian Genocide? Pretty much everyone responsible is dead.
What other historical injustices are there? American slavery and the Confederate States of America? There isn't a single person alive who fought on either side of the American Civil War. The Indian Wars? Ditto. The Highland Clearances? Ditto. The oldest living human being in existence is a mere 116 years old. How responsible are they for crimes that took place before their birth?
The West generally chooses not to dwell on history. And that isn't always a bad idea.
Yes, the Germans committed horrific war crimes. But persecuting the current generation of Germans for what their ancestors did is counterproductive. At best, it will lead to sullen resentment; at worst, it will lead to another war. (Blaming the Germans for everything worked out so well in 1919.) Nor does it do much good to nag the Turks over the Armenian Genocide. The guilty are dead and their descendents are innocent of their crimes.
But, as Dale Cozort points out in his essay, The Power of Get Over It, there are parts of the world where history casts a long shadow over the landscape. They tend to be among the worst places to live. As Dale says, people dwelling on ancient injustices and using them as excuses to fight tear their own societies apart. Anyone with half a brain gets out, leaving the remainder to fight, suffer and die.
That is not to say that we should forget history. Merely, perhaps, that we should not allow it to drive us.
But that isn't the easiest thing to do, is it?
It's easy to say to someone in Palestine (or Israel, for that matter) that they should let go of the past. But how can they? For Israel, history shows that their enemies are determined to destroy them and any show of weakness will only invite attack; for Palestine, history shows that Israel will keep them crushed and weak, while their Arab neighbours prefer to use them as rallying cries rather than treat them as equals. Indeed, history ensures that neither side can actually win, or even escape. The conflict is seemingly endless because there are factors preventing either side from scoring a decisive victory.
Nor are they the only people in the Middle East affected by the curse of history. Much of the current crisis in Iraq could fairly be termed the result of ignoring history – and the underlying realities of the Middle East. As I have noted before, Iraq was divided between three different sects; Sunni, Shia and Kurd. The Sunnis were on top, under Saddam, and thus supported his rule, because they knew that if they fell from power, their enemies would want revenge. In the wake of the American Invasion of 2003, they were proved right ... which forced them to turn to the Jihadists for support. Even when the United States managed to crush the jihadists and build new power structures, Iraq remained poor because the Shia were reluctant to share power and money. Unsurprisingly, the Sunni – feeling themselves marginalised – allowed the ISIS to return to Iraq.
Could this have been prevented? Yes, it could have been, but only if history was acknowledged, then deliberately overridden. Power could have been shared out in a balancing act that supported all three factions, making it impossible (or at least much harder) for sloth, apathy and downright hatred to shatter the peace. This would have required, however, constant engagement from the United States, which simply wasn't forthcoming.
But even that leads to another problem that must be faced.
I referred to ‘Sunni,’ ‘Shia’ and ‘Kurd’ as groups. This does not allow for any recognition of them as individuals. The idea that someone can be born of a mixed marriage – and thus have a fair claim to being ‘Sunni-Shia’ – is not recognised within this structure. There were no shortage of mixed marriages within Iraq, but any children born to such unions would have problems defining which group they actually belonged to. (A problem that also appeared in Ireland and every other multi-ethnic society.) Nor are these the only groups, the only ways o drawing lines between one group of humans and another.
Consider. Christians. Muslims. Jews.
That’s three groups right there. But ... Christians (Protestant, Catholic). Muslims (Sunni, Shia). Jews (Orthodox, Reformist). How many groups do we have now?
And that's only based on religion. What about race? White, Black, Brown, Yellow ...? Sexuality? Straight, Gay, Bi, Mono ...?
To cut short a long list of potential examples, just how many ways are there to separate humanity into subgroups?
This is a very dangerous trend. People are not numbers. How can you lump together people into one group, based on outward appearance, religion or sexuality? I would not care to be judged by some of the worst examples of my kind. But that is precisely what the so-called Social Justice Warriors do.
Like so many other political concepts, particularly those relating to political correctness, ‘Social Justice’ and ‘Social Justice Warrior’ are slippery. Any attempt to define them runs into problems; there are, as always, exceptions to every rule (which ironically undermines their core position.) As I see it, ‘Social Justice’ refers to ‘justice’ for groups, while ‘Social Justice Warrior’ refers to those who fight for ‘justice’ for groups. (Or, given that most of them are active on the internet, rant and rave for ‘justice’ for groups.)
This is problematic for many different reasons, but the most important one, in my opinion, is that it erases the individual in favour of the group. It is more important, according to the Social Justice Warriors, to belong to a group, rather than stand as an individual. What this means, in practice, is that you will be judged by your group, rather than your own merits.
The ideal of the West is that of individual rights and responsibilities, with all equal before the law. Little details such as age, gender, race, religion and suchlike are held to be unimportant; all are equal before the law. The idea put forward by Social Justice Warriors, encouraged by radicals from all sorts of factions, is that the rights of groups come before the rights of individuals. As such – for example – black men in America can be determined to belong to their own group, as do American white men. Homosexuals are another such group; a gay man will not be regarded as an individual, but as part of the Gay Community. Naturally, Islam is considered one such group, even though (as I have noted above) Islam is not one unified entity.
This gets more complicated when you add in the concept of automatic victims and victimisers. By belonging to a designated ‘victim’ group, a person or group of persons is given a free pass by Social Justice Warriors. Alternatively, if a person should belong to a ‘victimiser’ group, he is savagely attacked by ‘intellectuals.’ On a national scale, Israel is always treated as the guilty party by the liberal media, rather than any attempt to provide a balanced view. (For example, rocket attacks from the West Bank or Gaza are ignored, while the eventual Israeli response receives massive condemnation.) On a more local scale, the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman rapidly turned into a media circus, with the prosecutors ignoring all of the evidence that didn't fit their approved story – Martin was shot because he was black (and therefore a designated victim) and his killer was white (a designated victimiser.)
(Just to complicate matters, George Zimmerman was actually Hispanic. Under other circumstances, he could easily have been a ‘victim’ rather than a ‘victimiser.’)
If this is bad enough, consider this. The Social Justice Warriors consider you (and everyone else) to be bound to their groups. Not unlike the ancient idea of social immobility (where if you were born a serf, you stayed a serf until the day you died) the Social Justice Warriors argue that you cannot escape your race, religion, sexuality or anything else that can be used to draw a line between one group of humans and another. It is your task to support your group, because you are nothing without it.
And where this turns actively poisonous is when the Social Justice Warriors attack those who dare to leave, because this calls their entire ethos into question. Thus, in the wake of the last set of midterm US elections, we have been treated to shocking displays of racial attacks mounted against newly-elected black politicians who dared to call themselves republicans. ‘Race Traitor’ is among the kindest charge hurled at them. And this was done, mostly, by Social Justice Warriors.
The average Social Justice Warrior rarely thinks of anyone as an individual, not when said individual can be considered part of a group. It does not suit their narrative to have individuals from such groups setting out on their own ... or calling the narrative into question. If blacks are oppressed across America, one might ask, how did a black man become a Republican Senator? Was he ever truly ‘one of us.’?
This is corrosive to society in so many different ways. Social Justice Warriors, with the best of intentions, may insist that police departments reflect the racial make-up of their communities. BUT ... this raises dangerous questions about the competence of the police force. Did a certain officer get his badge because he earned it ... or because the department had to meet some affirmative action target? Imagine yourself an officer in that police station. Can you trust your fellow officer when you suspect he got the job without the right qualifications? Or, if you were that officer, how would you feel knowing that your fellows distrusted you?
It gets worse. Cries of ‘racism,’ ‘sexism,’ and all other forms of discrimination have only made it harder for anyone to see real racism, assuming it exists. ‘Racism’ has become an easy stick to use to beat someone, with the net result that the worth of the word has declined sharply. Indeed, it has pervaded our society to the point where the so-called ‘racist’ must prove his innocence, rather than the accuser prove his guilt. But how do you prove a negative?
These days, I never believe any charges of racism until I am given substantial proof, simply because it is far too easy to say the word.
And so, with the best possible motives, the Social Justice Warriors have corroded the foundations of our society.
No one would deny that grave crimes have been committed throughout history. The oppressors of one century may well be the oppressed of the next. But constantly digging up crimes and using them as justifications for other crimes only keeps those conflicts going, over and over and over again. It would be nice, perhaps, to build a society on the other side of the moon, where the sole condition for entry is that you leave the past behind.
But perhaps that is only dreaming. Perhaps we have so much history behind us that it overshadows our future.
Christopher G. Nuttall