(Longer Read) Discussing the Arab World and China: The “Equivalence Police” and “Absolved Modernist”

There is a lot of talk nowadays about “moral equivalence” as a cynical diversion tactic which has the capacity to derail and divert serious discussions; or so neocons will tell you, anyway. Still, let’s suppose our lords and masters the conspiracy theorists are right, and that there is indeed a hideous coterie of unpatriotic pinko traitors making moral equivalence.
But suppose there were an even bigger problem?
What if there were an Orwellian Equivalence Police, who were even more disloyal and dangerous than any one of us non-interventionist types?
Suppose that the Equivalence police, (in a manner similarly analogous to the Thought Police of 1984) carry out their rough justice by accusing others of making “moral equivalence.”
In such a case, they would actually be farming out the unpleasant task of derailment to the people they arbitrarily accuse; rather than acknowledging that it is they themselves who are carrying out the dirty work of herring-peddling.
Here is one famous example of someone who accuses others of making moral equivalence, although many other individuals could be mentioned. Ibn Warraq is a famous critic of Islamism and also of Islam. His works are controversial, and I do not want to make any overall value judgment on his work here.
However, there is a particular essay which, to me, is rather representative of the ethos of the equivalence police. The essay is entitled “Apologists of Totalitarianism: From Communism to Islam, Part IV.”
In this essay, Ibn Warraq speaks of “Moral Equivalence or Meaculpaism.” Ibn Warraq provides a whole litany of individuals who allegedly indulged in this moral equivalence of his after 9/11.
The problem here is that the quotations Ibn Warraq provides do not appear to prove his point about “moral equivalence.”
And I will tell you why, although it is perhaps not all that difficult to work out.
To any unreconstructed modernists: brace yourself. I am going to steal your Aristotelian hat.
Logically speaking: it’s important to remember that either moral equivalence means, quite literally, that “one is equally wicked as the other;” or else, it means something else; or both.
In Ibn Warraq’s essay, as with so many accusations of “making moral equivalence,” the speaker or writer does not make clear which of the two following ideas they intend to express:
1. I should bang their heads together, because they are both as bad as each other!
2. A pox on both their houses… the question of who is “worse” is a disingenuous red herring, as it’s not really a competition!
Unfortunately, in the essay linked to above, Ibn Warraq does not clarify what he means by “moral equivalence.”
At most, some of the quotes may be deemed as presenting some kind of morally consequential analogy; if that.
But none of the quotations he provides provides evidence for anything stronger than this.
So, if Ibn Warraq is not accusing others of assuming that “one is as bad as the other,” then it is surely important that he clarifies what his highly exotic and profound, non-literal meaning of “moral equivalence” might be.
If he does not, then it is safe to assume one of two things.
Either, in accusing someone else of making “moral equivalence,” Ibn Warraq means moral equivalence in a literal sense; in which case, he has not proved that the authors of whom he speaks really have indulged in moral equivalence.
Or, he means “moral equivalence” in some generally loose sense that he is unwilling to justify.
Either way, accusations of moral equivalence are rhetorically powerful, but rationally weak.
It is not difficult to agree with the view of Sowell in “The Quest for Cosmic Justice” that “moral equivalence—whatever form it takes—is moral self-exaltation.”
This may perhaps be true. But while we remember the dangers of “self-exalting moral equivalence,” let’s not forget also the problem of “self-exalting accusations” whereby one asserts that others are making moral equivalence.
This is certainly a relevant concern, when one evaluates discussions of relationships between Western countries and countries in the Arab World; or discussions of relationships between Western countries and majority-Muslim countries.
Moral equivalence is a conversation-stopper, and not a serious argument.
Never let anyone tell you that you are making “moral equivalence.”
The accusation is lamentably ignorant at best; and deliberately fraudulent at worst.

Author: Wallace Runnymede

Wallace is the editor of Brian K. White's epic website, Glossy News! Email him with your content at wallacerunnymede#gmail.com (Should be @, not #!) Or if you'd like me to help you tease out some ideas that you can't quite put into concrete form, I'd love to have some dialogue with you! Catch me on Patreon too, or better still, help out our great writers on the official Glossy News Patreon (see the bottom of the homepage!) Don't forget to favourite Glossy News in your browser, and like us on Facebook too! And last but VERY MUCH not the least of all... Share, share, SHARE! Thanks so much for taking the time to check out our awesome site!