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Gaza: an end to whataboutery


8:42 pm - January 9th 2009

by Sunny Hundal    


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The tragic situation in Gaza is a very serious issue. But there is another place where a cessation of hostilities would do no harm – and could even help too. How about a cessation of ‘whatabouttery’ on the internet?

Yes, we mean you. If you can only see the humanity of one side and never the other, one side of the history, and one side of the suffering. If everything you say is to point the finger of blame at the baddies and exonerate the goodies. If you haven’t had a new point to make for five, ten or sixty years.

You are not part of the solution; you are part of the problem.

– if you are ordering pizza for the Israeli Defence Force,
– waving Hamas flags on peace rallies
– organising boycotts, blame and ostracism
– if you think that bombing Gaza will bring peace
– if you think Hamas are a bunch of valiant freedom fighters
– if all you can do is quote SWP or Conservative Friends of Israel talking points…

Peace is difficult because it will come when Palestinians and Israelis recognise the essential truth – that their peace and security is mutually inter-dependent.

That’s difficult for those at the centre of the conflict. But what’s your excuse?

Ever stop and wonder if you’re making it worse? Well, you are

Why not think before you post? Why not give peace a chance instead of just cheering one side?

Whatabout taking a few weeks off?

Please feel free to sign below and/or distribute it with the words changed.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Foreign affairs ,Middle East

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Reader comments


Excellent post! Possibly the first and only sane thing anyone has said so far.

Well said Sunny.

For peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians.

Against whataboutery.

Heh, well Sunder wrote most of it. My own version was a lot more in the style of ‘pox on both your houses bitches‘ explicit.

[troll]
“Peace is difficult because it will come when Palestinians…”

– who only exist as a figment in Western ‘Liberal’ imagination : the people in charge are the Levantine Islamist Arabs and not a nation

“… and Israelis recognise the essential truth…”

– That Islam has 1300 years of hardcore, mainstream anti-Semitism in it because its founder and scriptures were anti-Semitic and in the Middle East the other sort [who ignore or violate Islam’s fundamental anti-Semitism as MOST Moslems in the UK do] tend to get killed –

” …that their peace and security is [sic] mutually inter-dependent…”

-You’ll see ‘inter-dependent’ in five minutes flat when Hamas and Fatah stop killing Jews and calling for the death of Jews as their religion insists and for the destruction of the state of Israel as their logic dictates. The rockets stop, the homicide-bombers stop, and the IDF goes back to barracks, Mah Jong and phoning Mother on Friday nights –

“Ever stop and wonder if you’re making it worse? Well, you are…”

– that would be you, Left-Liberal; believing Islamists are anything other than the God-mandated world-conquerors which their scriptures and political leaders say that they are.
It’s fairies who’ll exist if only children believe in them. You can’t conjure up millions of Middle-Eastern ‘moderate Moslems’ where none exists above ground.

“Why not think before you post? Why not give peace a chance instead of just cheering one side?”

-‘Peace’ isn’t a person who needs ‘a chance’ : let alone a process that happens spontaneously like people forming communities with people they like, or tending to want to support their families firstly and to live amongst familiar sights and sounds, or the way people organise to better themselves if allowed to or…well, all the other things Left-Liberals want to legislate against or govern out of existence.

Peace is the absence of war because one side does not want to fight and the other side lacks the will or means to carry on fighting.

Hamas, like Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Moslem Brotherhood, etc, etc, all have one and one third centuries of hating, on Heaven’s direct orders, everything not-Moslem.
Everything and everyone which does not take that into account is bound to fail – if it is peace that is desired.

Only one side wants peace – Israel. They need to take away Hamas’ will and/or ability to make war.
I’m betting on ability being the easier option in the short term.

Don’t be part of the problem, Left-Liberals. Go back to believing in fairies if you must, and leave the real world to the realists.

Which would be us conservatives, in all our shapes and forms.

Yeah, but whatabout…?

You are right: the amount of ballace I’ve seen on this issue is practically nil. Everybody is motivated (according to their oposition) by either Islamophobia or anti-semitism, both sides want a holocaust, both sides fire indiscriminately, etc. Its tragic enough without the hyperbole.

And even those who don’t care who ‘wins’ this conflict want to know why people obssess about Israel when there are African nations to ask ‘what about?’ And ‘what about’ Tibet? ‘What about’ Chechnya? The IP confliict seems to have become something onto which we can project any neurosis or provide a metaphor for any other conflict, real or imagined, past, present or future. Its a Rorschach war.

Anyone who sees either side as purely victim or purely instigator hasn’t looked at the matter honestly.

I’m not ashamed to admit I don’t have a fucking clue how to solve the IP conflict. Not the foggiest. That’s why I try to stick to needling those who are ‘certain’. On this issue it’s all I can do. This is an issue where indecision and lack of determination on all sides would be an asset.

7. John Sanders

As an ex-member of the “Camel Corps”, I am glad to read something on this subject which is not just a one sided rant. Of course both parties are interdependent; and until they both grasp that whinging on about each others past crimes and carrying on bashing each other will not get them anywhere, there can be little prospect of any real attempt to move the situation on. What is perhaps new in the situation is that Israel has once again found itself, despite its military dominance, unable to achieve by force what it was unwilling to try to achieve by negotiation; and that the Palestinians have not found their use of missiles quite the strategic or propaganda success they may have wished for. Is it, perhaps, significant that in the transition period the US President elect has been notably silent on this matter; and has left it unclear whether or not he endorsed the US decision to abstain in the Security Council vote ? Jan 20 is not far off now; maybe the Inauguration Speech will give indicators of the prospect for and direction of a new effort at US leadership – without which little can be expected to change. There have been so many previous occasions on which similar sentiments have been expressed, that one can have few illusions. The fact remains that unless both sides – and all the factions each side contains – finally decide that peace between them is the top and overriding priority, and stick to it, accepting all the implications for their conduct which such a decision entails
(no rockets, no new settlements), we shall just face the continuation of a problem which may perhaps be contained to some extent and for limited periods, but has no attainable solution.

Well said…
although given that coming to a fully informed & intelligent opinion on the issue taking into account the perspectives of both sides would take years of reading & thought, as I’ve said before, don’t feel you have to have any opinion about this issue.

It’s OK to say “I have no idea who’s right! Why are you asking me?”

Amen.

yeah me too – I’m tired of thinking about it!

You started it

Sunny,

Yeah whatabout not writting anything at all on the subject if you can’t be bothered to find the balance of justice in the situation. You’ve just called it a score draw.

I don’t. I see the massacre of a people almost out of time.

Whatabout that?

Considered neutrality on such a divisive topic is certainly appealing, but it is also somewhat cowardly. The Palestinian militias are a hateful bunch, let’s make no mistake, but to cast these two sides as equal players is to be disconnected from reality. Sure, they may well detest each other with equal vigour, but Israel has one of the world’s largest military machines and uses it against territories occupied and under siege in direct contravention of decades old UN resolutions. That the Palestinian terrorists are able to source weapons at all in such circumstances is more of a disturbing testament to their determination than anything else.

For 28 years the IRA battered Britain. They claimed they didn’t intend to kill – and yet they managed to send hundreds of civilians of all ages to their graves. The organisation and weaponry of the provisionals was in many leagues above Hamas – the idea of anything on the scale of the ’94 bombing of London’s docklands or the ’95 flattening of Manchester city centre is laughable. And let’s not talk about the Grand Hotel in Brighton.

Yet Britain never once felt compelled to launch a full-scale attack on the Irish Republic or the province. It was never claimed that they had a right to defend themselves, that any other country would do the same if it were so threatened. Bloody Sunday was as bad as it got, and the Brits were rightly condemned around the world for it.

Is this more whataboutery? If you like. But I’d rather have the courage to voice a considered opinion than cower under the abstract construct of the median centre ground. People are dying here – on both sides for sure, but by no means in equal numbers. Deconstructing the entire situation to “oh they’re both as bad as each other” is nothing but relativist cowardice and journalistic pretension.

I’d rather have the courage to voice a considered opinion than cower under the abstract construct of the median centre ground. People are dying here – on both sides for sure, but by no means in equal numbers. Deconstructing the entire situation to “oh they’re both as bad as each other” is nothing but relativist cowardice and journalistic pretension.

Amen to that. If someone says something stupid that betrays a lack of context, I’ll challenge it, even if it does piss them off (which is not my intention) – discussion needs to continue, and it isn’t like we have anything to lose by seeking to argue from different points of view. If we treat the internet like it’s “real”, i.e. the consequences of not finding consensus are a feeding of the cycle of violence, then we shut down the debate. Having said that, I have agreed with almost everything LC and PP have said about the conflict thus far, so it’s really just idiot commenters who give Israel excuses that need setting straight. You could argue it’s a waste of time and a “continuation” of the real life conflict, but they do say some offensive shit. Plus I have uni essays I need to avoid writing

both sides are content to do whatever is necessary to keep this cancerous conflict gasping on. ‘It is the endgame lost of old, play and lose and have done with losing.’

opine-blog.com

“Considered neutrality on such a divisive topic is certainly appealing, but it is also somewhat cowardly. ”

Any idiot can be pro-Israel or anti-Israel, as the Internet proves. It takes intelligence and courage to stand up to that and say “You’re both talking emotionalistic nonsense, you’ve never even been to Israel have you?”

this is not to say that considered neutrality is desireable. Clearly, in a perfect world, you’d have time to come to an informed opinion. However, most people have jobs and families and stuff and don’t have time to read 10 books on the history of the Levant and travel through the area talking to people until they can actually judge for themselves what’s going on.

I think the ‘median centre ground’ argument is misplaced, though I can see why it is made. I also think the quietist – I don’t know and I don’t care – response is the wrong one entirely.

– Whatabouttery at its worst is about the use of atrocity and violence to justify the next retaliation.
– Whatabouttery at its most futile is the endless trading of the history and politics without ever seeking to enlarge the context to find the way out of the cycle.

I think people ought to be wary of whatabouttery if they agree with these two points
1. the building of a solution will require an acceptance of mutual interdependence. (the solution must be shared; which is not the same thing as saying that responsibility for where we are is necessarily equally shared).
2. there are some engaged in demonisation, polarisation and promoting hatred (for example, anti-Palestinian racism; for example, anti-semitism) and wherever that is the case, it should be challenged.

None of that should prevent strongly voiced protest and strong views being expressed about every issue at stake in terms of the barriers to peace and what needs to be changed and by who. In my view, this is perfectly compatible with people thinking (and indeed stating) that at present they think that 75% or 90% of the onus to act right now is with X or Y.

I recommend the Avaaz STOP THE BLOODSHED: TIME FOR PEACE petition which does not seem to me to pull its punches while promoting a constructive outcome
http://www.avaaz.org/en/gaza_time_for_peace

If we take some legitimate points of argument and debate, any of which you might agree or disagree with, in every phase of this. It would be pure chance if your own reading of this was that it really is 50-50 in terms of the weight you would give to these different contributory factors.

– There was a need for a Jewish state after the holocaust
– Palestinian interests were ignored when Israel was created.
– Israel was immediately threatened by its neighbours and has always feared for its survival
– Israel is overwhelmingly the regional superpower, especially with US support/acquiescence.
– There is much anti-Israel and anti-Jewish prejudice in the region
– Israel has acted in a colonial way which dehumanises the Palestinians.

– Arafat was mad to walk away from a deal
– Arafat was not offered a decent deal (or he did not walk away from it)

– It is difficult for Israel to negotiate with Hamas when its existence is not recognised
– It is difficult for Hamas to recognise Israel when its election victory does not count.

– Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza was carried out in a unilateral way which
– Israel did not lift the siege, which has horrible international consequences
– Hamas rockets were likely to provoke some response, and may have wanted to do so
– The Israeli action is against international law
– Israel should accept the UN ceasefire
– Hamas should accept the UN ceasefire

– We should guard against anti-semitism in the UK during this crisis
– We should guard against Islamaphobia and/or anti-Arab racism

But you are engaged, in my view, in ‘whatabouttery’ which is doing more harm than good if you are 110% sure about all of the statements on one side, and 110% against all of the statements on the other, and if everything you say is to prove that you are right and they are wrong.

And the internet may only have a small impact on the climate of international discussion, but presumably everybody chuntering away on it believes there is some point to political discussion and advocacy, beyond the pure projection of personal egos.

(i meant horrific humanitarian consequences on the siege)

I am not aware of any anti Palestinian racism , nor even any consciousness that Palestinians are a race . Neither is it true that the sporting event which is UK political engagement is symmetrical .The Telegraph regards it as a peripheral matter in which our security and interest are not directly threatened . It was you , Sunder , that prompted me to look at The Lion and The Unicorn again , and at times the alliance of left opinion against Israel reminds me of what Orwell said about the displaced patriotism of those supporting Russia ( When you have ceased to love your own country ….)
That is an exceedingly clever set of polarities between none of which do not accept there is an equivalence . By positing them you imply there is whatever you say . Two quotes spring to mind

“Gregory Harms “”Objectivity is a word that has almost lost its meaning and has frequently come to suggest imposing a symmetry where things aren’t necessarily symmetrical “
( The _Palestine Israel Conflict )
CS Lewis “ \To every question there are an infinite number of answers until you know the right one . Then here is only one .”

It has struck me that the more people find out the more they sympathise with Israel , this is especially true when we see who exactly is protesting outside the Israeli Embassy . Time for Peace cannot be other than a means of applying pressure to Israel and thereby supporting hamas. It is exactly this body of opinion that causes them to place their arms under schools .
I recommend supporting no-one and signing nothing .|That is surely the only neutral position

How about putting up an article with links to those Palestinian and Israeli groups working towards peace – together?

Daniel mentioned several and there are other projects as well. I don’t know any other UK site that has done this. That would help us all connect to the ‘other’ discourses and maybe inspire those of us who feel unable to do the ‘demonstration’ route to think about ways of supporting such activities.

I agree (to some extent) with many of the statements, because they are mostly fairly moderate, but we would all place different weight on many of them. (You will not that many are mutually compatible; but a couple are not). One could produce a a different set of ‘you started it’ ‘no, you started with’ statements which were mutually incompatible, and pure whataboutery.

Personally, I have changed my mind – at different times – about the weight of responsibilities, and could well do so in the future.

So my personal (non-expert) view has always been that Arafat did miss a really major opportunity, and I have never been convinced by the counter-view on that one that he was being stitched up so that he could be blamed (though that is honestly held by some).

However, when Sharon was the Israeli Prime Minister, I felt that he was deliberately pursuing a dangerous strategy to change the facts on the ground, in a way which could take the resolution I support more difficult, perhaps impossible. The Hamas/Fatah civil war seems to me a regressive barrier on that side. I am instinctively strongly hostile to the Israeli hard right, and strongly hostile to Hamas. It seems to me a classic case of the Likudniks and Hamas being mutual beneficiaries of escalation. But I also think history of conflict resolution suggests Hamas must be brought into an internationally-brokered settlement, and that a (latent) majority for peace must be reconstructed within Israel too.

I can have a reasonable discussion with somebody who takes the opposing analysis of any of those particular incidents, if they can agree on the goal. I can’t with anybody whose primaryinterest in settling the historic blame game to the exclusion of the future.

[troll]
I’ll try to post again today – breakfasted and calm, and hope that your blog doesn’t remove the vowels from my comment.
Is that censorship, by the way [your business if so] or some weird techie thing?

Here goes.

“Peace is difficult because it will come when Palestinians…”

– who only exist as figments in Western ‘Liberal’ imagination : the people in charge are the Levantine Islamist Arabs and not a nation.-

“…and Israelis recognise the essential truth …”

– That Islam has 1300 years of hardcore, mainstream anti-Semitism and that because its founder and scriptures were anti-Semitic and in the Middle East that aren’t [who go against Islam’s fundamental Anti-Semitism as MOST Moslems in the UK do] tend to get killed –

“… that their peace and security is mutually inter-dependent …”

-You’ll see ‘inter-dependent’ in five minutes flat when Hamas and Fatah stop killing Jews and calling for the death of Jews as their religion insists and for the destruction of the state of Israel as their logic dictates. The rockets stop, the homicide-bombers stop, and the IDF goes back to barracks, Mah Jong and phoning Mother on Friday nights –

“Ever stop and wonder if you’re making it worse? Well, you are …”

– that would be you, Left-Liberal; believing Islamists are anything other than the God-mandated world-conquerors which their scriptures and political leaders say that thy are.
It’s fairies who’ll exist if only children believe in them. You can’t conjure up millions of Middle-Eastern ‘moderate Moslems’ where none exists above ground.

“Why not think before you post? Why not give peace a chance instead of just cheering one side?”

-‘Peace’ isn’t a person who needs a ‘chance’ : it’s not a natural process that happens spontaneously like people forming communities with people they like, or tending to want to support their family firstly and to live amongst familiar sights and sounds, or the way people organise to better themselves if allowed to or…well, all the normal things Left-Liberals want to legislate against or govern out of existence. (I digress,: Tory in social-conservative huff.)

Peace is the absence of war because one side doesn’t want to fight at all and the other side lacks the willpower or the means to carry on fighting.
The members of Hamas, like Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, the Moslem Brotherhood, etc., etc., all come for a culture that has a millennium and a third of hating, on Heaven’s direct orders, everything non-Moslem.
Everything and everyone that does not take that into account is bound to fail – if it is peace that’s desired.
Only one side wants peace – Israel. The only way that it will come is Hamas loses the willpower or the means to carry on fighting.
I’m betting on removing the ability being the only option in the short term.

The jihad is religiously mandated, for all male Moslems, for all time and against all unbelievers, and especially Jews. Good people, whom I take Left-Liberals to believe themselves to be, need to recognise that. Many don’t.

Don’t be part of the problem, Left-Liberals. Go back to believing in fairies if you must, and leave the real world to the realists.
Which would be us conservatives, in all our shapes and forms.

One thing you are surely right about though is that the outside world should leave the issue alone and let Israel defeat the terrorists; rather than broadcasting Hamas pictures and other Hamas propaganda as if they were objective, neutral truth.

Thanks for this. I might have to send this to the European Sociologist mailing list…

24. douglas clark

Sunder @ 17 & 21,

It seems to me that this is not really ‘whataboutery’. It is an appeal to the headmaster that ‘he started it’. It is as though there was a single incident, somewhere buried in the past that, should we identify it and somehow reconcile it, would see an idyllic future. A future in which one side would be seen to have been virtuous and it was the other boy that tweaked ones nose.

Your post at 17 details a few of the things that went wrong over the last sixty years or so. There is absolutely nothing either a Palestinian nor an Israeli can do about that. The events only matter as apparently mutually exclusive manifestos for distrust, perpetuation of grievance and indeed hatred for the present and into the future.

Breaking out of that mind set is the challenge that has to be faced. How can that be achieved
is the question that needs addressing.

I agree with the sentiment of your final para at 21. (Although the point of this post is to suggest that I don’t think discussing the past is actually very useful).

I can have a reasonable discussion with somebody who takes the opposing analysis of any of those particular incidents, if they can agree on the goal. I can’t with anybody whose primaryinterest in settling the historic blame game to the exclusion of the future.

“The jihad is religiously mandated, for all male Moslems, for all time and against all unbelievers, and especially Jews.”

With apologies for my coarseness, this is pure ignorant filth. It is true that many Wahabbist Islamists believe this and also true that they claim to speak for all Islam. However they do not. True Islam recognises and respects the ‘people of the book’, and rejects the notion of seeking political power in the name of the prophet. The infidel pagans of Mecca who persecuted the prophet are absolutely not a simile for ‘all unbelievers’.

“You’ll see ‘inter-dependent’ in five minutes flat when Hamas and Fatah stop killing Jews and calling for the death of Jews as their religion insists…

Er, mate, this is the point at which you’re meant to quote the Quran and actually support your statements unless you want to look like a total Islamophobic gimp.

Just saying.

Sunder,

“You are not part of the solution; you are part of the problem.”

-if you are advertising on/subsidising the site that is promoting the ordering pizza for the Israeli Defence Force, a site which is practically throwing a celebration party over human suffering.

*The Fabian Society is* and it’s a horrific juxtaposition of your ‘Fairness’ banner advertising and the venom which appears in the site’s comments.

Did you “ever stop and wonder if you’re making it worse?”

Well, you are

Loved this post Sunny. I couldn’t agree more.

I hate to be such a self-promoter but this is relevant: David Hayes and myself have just published an article on Open Democracy that, in a rather different way, discusses this issue: http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/the-politics-of-me-me-me

Okay, fine, yes, it is obviously not helpful to be dogmatic and irrational about any issue (rather by definition) but _nobody thinks they are_. Pretty much everybody thinks they are considering all aspects and making a rational judgement about the issue; sometimes, making rational judgements results in the conclusion that one party involved in whatever issue it is is very much wronger than others. I mean, that’s not at doubt, is it?

There are a lot of fanatics writing crap about the issue that annoy the hell out of me but another group that does – not saying you’re part of it by the way – is people who use “balance” to basically avoid having to make any definitive statement or do anything. “Oh I saw this but then I also saw that and if you look on wikipedia it says X but also Y so I think basically I’m not going to take a position because that’s the Balanced Thing To Do.” I’m far more comfortable with people who say “eh I can’t be arsed with this, it’s too far away and I don’t care” – at least they’re aware that they’re ignoring it.

Considered neutrality on such a divisive topic is certainly appealing, but it is also somewhat cowardly. The Palestinian militias are a hateful bunch, let’s make no mistake, but to cast these two sides as equal players is to be disconnected from reality.

I think this misunderstands the point I’m trying to make here. No one is saying the two sides are equal. What I am saying is that:

1) There is no moral clarity on the side of who is the nice guy. I’ll write more about this later… but frankly I think the Palestinian cause has been let down by its proponents.

2) This is more about saying the endless circular discussion, where people keep going back to… ‘well you started it by doing this…’ is useless. I think the pro-Israeli side is more guilty of that but both are guilty.

This is more about what is needed for peace. For peace, whataboutery doesn’t help. That said, I have no delusions about the fact that most of the pro-Israeli side (including the Harry’s Place lot) are interested in peace. They’re interested in a continuation of violence and peace on their own terms.

I’m saying we should have the terms (pulling down illegal settlements, breaking down the wall, a fully independent Palestine etc etc) and start on that basis. But endless arguments over who started what… does it help?

Of course, this requires a banging of heads together on both sides. I’m not deluding myself into thinking that those who want Israel to stop attacking Gaza now should roll over and let the pro-war side shout over them.

With the term in widespread use in Northern Ireland, the best definition and discussion of ‘whataboutery’ I have found is perhaps unsurprisingly from Slugger O’Toole.
http://www.sluggerotoole.com/archives/2005/02/glossary_what_i.php

I also hope that John Hume’s frequent use of the term helps to counter the (understandable) concern about excessive neutrality or even-handedness for its own sake. He was the leader of the main moderate nationalist party, for a united Ireland (by consent) and clearly had his own view of the historic responsibility, current politics and any issue within it. But he could also see that whataboutery was an important barrier not just to peace, but to politics, properly understood.


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