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The art of moral equivalence
Posted by: McQ on Monday, September 24, 2007

Last night prior to doing the "Someone You Should Know" segment, Dean Barnett, who was guest cohosting on WRKO's "Pundit Review Radio", brought up the visit of Iranian President Ahmadinajad to NY. While discussing it he mentioned this post from a DailyKos diarist (sallykohn):
I know I'm a Jewish lesbian and he'd probably have me killed. But still, the guy speaks some blunt truths about the Bush Administration that make me swoon...

Okay, I admit it. Part of it is that he just looks cuddly. Possibly cuddly enough to turn me straight. I think he kind of looks like Kermit the Frog. Sort of. With smaller eyes. But that’s not all…

I want to be very clear. There are certainly many things about Ahmadinejad that I abhor — locking up dissidents, executing of gay folks, denying the fact of the Holocaust, potentially adding another dangerous nuclear power to the world and, in general, stifling democracy. Even still, I can’t help but be turned on by his frank rhetoric calling out the horrors of the Bush Administration and, for that matter, generations of US foreign policy preceding.
Read that carefully because it is a demonstration of moral equivalence you're not likely to see so clearly displayed.

Here is a woman who'd be told how to dress, live, worship and, if Ahmadinejad were in charge of NYC, would find herself on the end of a crane in Central Park because of who she loves. Yet she finds the unnamed 'horrors of the Bush Administration' to be much worse than all the real horrors represented by Ahmadenijad which she outlines.

Michael Van Der Galien comments:
Firstly, this diary is yet another perfect example of partisanship gone extreme.

Secondly, the commenter isn’t a reasonable person, but clearly a true ‘believer.’ [The commenter being referred too says "that he believes that Ahmadinejad is the Iranian Bush. This comment received +25 by other readers." -ed.]

Thirdly, it serves as a perfect example of BDS.

Fourthly, don’t the people at Daily Kos understand that these kind of diaries only hurt them? They may (secretly and not-so-secretly) agree with the sentiment expressed in the post, but they should at the very least have the intelligence and understanding that posts like this will hurt them tremendously. Those who disagree with them will - rightfully - point it out and say: “just look at how extreme they are. Now please realize that some Democratic leaders have written and will write for Daily Kos.”
I don't think, given some of diary entries we've seen in the past, that the DK cares how these things are viewed. Kos has his automatic defense in place which says, "this is a big place, what people write doesn't necessarily reflect the belief of Kos and besides we actually believe in free speech".

Well that's all fine and good, but it does reflect on the entirety of the "place" whether Kos admits it or not.

More importantly and specifically though, while it does demonstrate BDS and the extremism it foments quite nicely, it also is a classic bit of moral equivalence, as mentioned.

The left is hardly a stranger to moral equivalence since Bush has taken office. There was Amnesty International claiming Guantanamo Bay to the equivalent of a Soviet-era "gulag" forced-labor system. They backpeddled when called on it. Senator Richard Durbin equated guards at the Guantanamo facility with Nazi guards. He tearfully retracted that. Robert Fisk's numerous attempts to equate Hezbollah's terrorism with Israel's right of defense.

However, Sallykohn's moral equivalence post was most ably destroyed recently by Daniel Pearl's father, Judea, when he said of a movie about his son:
At the same time, I am worried that A Mighty Heart falls into a trap Bertrand Russell would have recognized: the paradox of moral equivalence, of seeking to extend the logic of tolerance a step too far. You can see traces of this logic in the film's comparison of Danny's abduction with Guantánamo—it opens with pictures from the prison—and its comparison of Al Qaeda militants with CIA agents. You can also see it in the comments of the movie's director, Michael Winterbottom, who wrote on The Washington Post's website that A Mighty Heart and his previous film The Road to Guantánamo "are very similar. Both are stories about people who are victims of increasing violence on both sides. There are extremists on both sides who want to ratchet up the levels of violence and hundreds of thousands of people have died because of this."

Drawing a comparison between Danny's murder and the detainment of suspects in Guantánamo is precisely what the killers wanted, as expressed in both their e-mails and the murder video. Obviously Winterbottom did not mean to echo their sentiments, and certainly not to justify their demands or actions. Still, I am concerned that aspects of his movie will play into the hands of professional obscurers of moral clarity.

Indeed, following an advance screening of A Mighty Heart, a panelist representing the Council on American-Islamic Relations reportedly said, "We need to end the culture of bombs, torture, occupation, and violence. This is the message to take from the film." The message that angry youngsters are hearing is unfortunate: All forms of violence are equally evil; therefore, as long as one persists, others should not be ruled out. This is precisely the logic used by Mohammed Siddiqui Khan, one of the London suicide bombers, in his videotape on Al Jazeera. "Your democratically elected government," he told his British countrymen, "continues to perpetrate atrocities against my people ... . [W]e will not stop."

Danny's tragedy demands an end to this logic. There can be no comparison between those who take pride in the killing of an unarmed journalist and those who vow to end such acts—no ifs, ands, or buts. Moral relativism died with Daniel Pearl, in Karachi, on January 31, 2002.
In fact, Judea Pearl went even further, identifying and condemning not only the moral equivalence of the sallykohn's of this world but that of such institutions as Columbia University and its excuses for inviting Ahmadinejad to speak:
There was a time when drawing moral symmetries between two sides of every conflict was a mark of original thinking. Today, with Western intellectuals overextending two-sidedness to reckless absurdities, it reflects nothing but lazy conformity. What is needed now is for intellectuals, filmmakers, and the rest of us to resist this dangerous trend and draw legitimate distinctions where such distinctions are warranted.
And there are some very legitimate distinctions to be made that seem beyond both sallykohn and Columbia. Instead, as Judea Pearl notes, both do indeed reflect the "reckless absurdities" of "lazy conformity" with a idea that there are moral symmetries between the US and Iran. Only such extreme views could find a tyrant such as Ahmadinejad "cuddly" or someone worth extending a speaking invitation.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

Instead of such a long and thoughtful post wasted on these people, may I offer a pithier response to the sallykohns of the world:

We laugh at you and your delusions while you are alive, and will mock you after you are dead.

There really is no other way to deal with these people.
Written By: shark
URL: http://
Doesn’t Sally remind one of the flaky L. A. groupie, right before the alien particle beam vaporizes her and most of the city; in "Independence Day"
Written By: narciso
URL: http://
"Doesn’t Sally remind one of the flaky L. A. groupie,..."

Ah, yes. Such a gratifying scene.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
as funny as they are, Monty Python type quips (I fart in your general direction!) and referrences to SciFi movies doesn’t lend itself to credibility. I think it’s important to intellectually debunk whatever nonsense is spewed with cold hard facts and not emotional quips: that’s what the KOSites do. Let’s not stoop to their level.
Written By: Joel C.
URL: http://
Well, look again at the 60 minutes bit.
Reread, if you have the stoumach for it, the text of that interview.
Tell me that he’s not pulling his answers directly from the DNC talking points. Good lord, he could be the keynote speaker at the convention.

Which ought to show you what it is we are up against, with the Democrats. I mean, is it any wonder the Kossacks are gushing, so? They found their political soulmate in Ahmadenijad... likely, someone who is closer to their own politics than any of the people actually RUNNING for POTUS.

Written By: Bithead
I’m not exactly what to make of this whole thing. bit one thing is for sure ..

this turns the whole notion of "sticking with the devil you know over the the devil you don’t know" on it’s head.

There is nothing "progressive" or "reality-based" about this form of "silly liberalism" (note the small "l" liberal) except that a lot of folks who call themselves "progressive" or "reality-based" believe this way.
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
And you’ve got to learn to live with what you can’t rise above if you want to ride on down in through this tunnel of love - "Tunnel of Love", Bruce Springsteen
Obviously, no rising above anything here.
Written By: Neo
URL: http://
"Let’s not stoop to their level."

I would like to think that the quips and humor here are far above the level of Kos. Furthermore, LIGHTEN UP! ’All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’. ’a little bit of sugar helps the medicine go down’. ’Man does not live by bread alone, he must have peanut butter’.
Written By: timactual
URL: http://
I can only wonder what dear Sally would have made of Hitler’s fashion sense.

Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—
I would like to think that the quips and humor here are far above the level of Kos.
which is why I compared it to Monty Python.

Honestly, though, it’s very easy to fall into the trap of mindless criticism without facts backing up what you’re saying: you can do both and have the same effect.
Written By: Joel C.
URL: http://

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