“Double standards” are a political impasse

Reflections for a different understanding of politics

by Karl-Jürgen Müller

From our media we can learn quite a bit about moral failure in world politics. It is interesting to note that some of this is associated with the demand for political “consequences”; while others, which from the perspective of political morality alone could not be less criticised, are not. Thus, citizens repeatedly stumble upon the “double standards” of politics – and of our media as well. Politicians and the media who act morally lose their credibility in the process ... and are not helpful in any other way.

At present, two places of world affairs are receiving special attention: Belarus and Lebanon.
    Presidential elections took place in Belarus a good two weeks ago. It is claimed that the official results of the elections were falsified. After the announcement of the election results there were protests and after the first protests an intervention – also violent – by the police. The protests continue to this day. The EU decided on sanctions and did not recognise the election results. At present, “analyses” and comments on the situation in Belarus can be found almost daily. There are strong calls for a change of government (regime change). “Lukashenko’s days are numbered” was the headline on the first page of the ”Neue Zürcher Zeitung” on 22 August 2020.

Belarus and Lebanon

In Lebanon’s capital Beirut, a stockpile with a highly explosive substance blew up three weeks ago. The explosion devastated an entire district of the city. There were many dead and injured. 300,000 people are now said to be homeless. Although it is not yet clear how exactly the explosion in the depot occurred, and although there is also the thesis of a missile bombardment, our media and our politicians quickly agreed that this explosion, as well as the long-lasting, fierce protests in the country, are the responsibility of the country’s parties and politicians. According to the front page of a well-known Swiss daily newspaper now “the West”, must “help Lebanon”. French President Macron, the president of the former colonial power, has already been to Beirut. Also the German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas. He demanded “reforms” as a requirement for “aid”.
    This is not to answer the question of what is really going on in Belarus or Lebanon. One could also mention other countries. In any case, the fact is that “our” politics and “our” media have long disagreed with these two countries. As a rule, some kind of political and moral upheaval is given as a reason for this. For example, there are numerous indications that the slogan that in Belarus it is all about a freedom-loving people rebelling against an inhuman dictator falls short.

But also India …

The question of how honest the political-moral argumentation is, becomes even more pressing when looking at other places of world events. Places where no one among “us” thinks of calling for “reforms”, changes of government, sanctions or even a “humanitarian intervention”. Take India, for example: The “Neue Zürcher Zeitung” headlined on 5 August 2020: “‘A betrayal of Kashmiri’”. The subtitle read: “The Indian government wants to use force to make the Muslims in the Himalayan region cower in obedience”. The article gives four affected Kashmiris a chance to speak, and introduces as follows: “It is a year since the Indian government surprisingly withdrew the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Since then, the Muslim population in the Kashmir high valley has lived in a state of emergency. Some of the most prominent politicians of the Himalayan region are still in prison or under house arrest, among them the former head of government Mehbuba Mufti”.
    The reader also learns that there was a months-long curfew, that the Internet was cut off by the Indian state on the eve of the state’s change of status, and that so far 118 “insurgents” have been killed by Indian security forces (army and police). 13,000 of the citizens arrested since August 2019 were still in prison. At the end of the article, a 29-year-old journalist speaks. She writes: “We journalists in Kashmir have been working under incredibly difficult conditions for a year. [...] I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I can and cannot write. We are constantly being watched and we are at risk. [...] I weigh my words and thoughts and sometimes practice self-censorship. I believe it is important to be free and not imprisoned. Only in this way can I continue to tell the stories the world needs to know about Kashmir. And for that, I need to be up to date and out there instead of languishing in prison”.

… and the Middle East

Second example: Middle East. In August 2020, the award-winning Irish author Colum McCann, who lives in New York, published a non-fiction novel about an Israeli and a Palestinian with the renowned Rowohlt publishing house in German translation. Both the Israeli and the Palestinian have lost their 14- and 10-year-old daughters in an act of violence: the Israeli by Palestinian suicide bombers, the Palestinian by an Israeli police operation in the West Bank. But both fathers have not given in to hatred and revenge. They work in the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement. The book has the title ”Apeirogon”. The word is of Greek origin and in geometry it denotes a surface with almost infinite sides. In his preliminary remarks the author writes: “Readers familiar with the political situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories will find that the two driving forces in this novel, Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan, are real people. By ‚real’ I mean that their stories – and the stories of their daughters Abir Aramin and Smadar Elhanan – are extensively documented in film and press”.
    The Palestinian Bassam Aramin, as the reader learns very early on in the novel, spent seven years in an Israeli prison as an adolescent and young man, it was said that he was a “terrorist”. On page 35 you can read: “His fellow prisoners liked his quiet manner. There was something mysterious about the seventeen-year-old with the walking disability, about his dark skin, his wiry strength, his silence. He was always the first to step forward when the guards came into the canteen. The limp gave him an advantage. The first one or two cane blows came almost hesitantly. Often he was the only prisoner who stopped. Bassam spent many weeks in the infirmary. The doctors and nurses were worse than the guards. He literally smelled their frustration. They pushed and beat him, shaved off his beard, denied him medication, put his water out of reach. The Druze keepers were particularly cruel: they knew the Muslims’ attitude to the naked body, their sense of shame. They took away his clothes and bedding, tied his hands behind his back so that he could not cover himself”. … And so on, and so on.

Why “double standards”?

Of course the same applies to India and Israel as to Belarus and Lebanon. The author of these lines does not know the exact circumstances and contexts – besides, the description of Israel and Palestine is ”only” from a novel. But as I said before: Nobody in ”our” media or in ”our” politics demanded or is demanding changes of government in India or Israel or even ”measures” against these two countries. How can this be explained?
    What is certain is that the political-moral argumentation is very patchy. What is considered morally reprehensible in one case is reported and described in the other case ... but sometimes with, sometimes without the demand for “consequences”. Is it so absurd to speak of “double standards” and to come up with the idea that in reality it is not at all about “values” and morals, but about something completely different?

The loss of credibility

Just as important is the question of the consequences of these “double standards”. There are people – and they are not the worst – who draw the conclusion from all this that “our” policy has lost all credibility. The conclusion is not unreasonable. And it has serious consequences. A social coexistence beyond a totalitarian power state requires mutual trust, “good faith” in each other. “Trust is good, control is better”, this saying may have its justification in some areas, but for a good coexistence it is ambivalent. This is not the way to create sustainable peace, neither within a country nor in international relations.

No more wondering about strange things

Some people are surprised at the unrealistic claims and demands made during the (mass) events that have been going on for weeks against the government measures to combat the corona pandemic and the completely exaggerated invocation of a “right of resistance” by the participants in the demonstration. But one need not be so surprised. “Our” politics and “our” media have themselves contributed a great deal to the fact that they have lost a great deal of credibility. “Once you lie, you don’t believe them, even if they speak the truth.” This saying is already 2000 years old and is attributed to a Roman slave released by Emperor Augustus. This basic mood still exists today – and today it is abused and instrumentalised by political pied pipers.
    Is the conclusion to be drawn from all this that “our” politicians and “our” media should in future point the moral index finger everywhere? No, that would be an aberration. It would be better to deal with morals in a much more modest and restrained way. And it would not be bad at all to start with oneself with morality, if at all.  And it would probably be best to stop making mistakes that have been made and recognised as such in the future.

Politics must limit itself …

For politics, a return to limitations would be desirable: helping to increase the well-being of one’s own citizens, above all by providing good conditions for a life of self-responsibility, free development of the personality and dedicated to the common good; not causing harm to people in other countries; being able to defend oneself against possible attacks by others if the worst comes to the worst; stopping interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. It is not the task of politics and the state to be the mouthpiece of human conscience. A unilateral or multilateral world government policy would be nothing more than a world dictatorship.
    The world has indeed been further along, including our modern world. But the striving for power of a few has caused regressions. Also in world politics. For example, the Charter of Paris adopted by the OSCE states in November 1990 provided a good basis for a prosperous coexistence of East and West after the end of the Cold War. Russia and also China, for example, were countries that made many attempts in the years that followed to reach agreements with the United States and its allies in Europe that aimed at equal coexistence in a multipolar world.

… and say goodbye to pure power politics

In contrast, the United States pursued the strategy of the “only world power”. This can still be read in the 1999 German-language classic by former US security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, “The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives”. This book also argues that from the US perspective, access to Eastern Europe and the Near and Middle East should be the most important building blocks for weakening Russia and China in the long run. The words were matched by the deeds: the expansion of NATO to the East, the five billion US dollars for the “democratisation” of Ukraine, the many wars in the Middle East, the US support for radical Uyghurs, money and advice for the opposition movement in Hong Kong, setting fire to all the places where the “New Silk Road” is supposed to run ... and so on, and so on.
    Whether the reactions of Russia and China have always been appropriate is open to debate. But it is surely certain that both countries would still prefer to take up honest peace offers from the USA and the European states rather than wage a new Cold War. Both countries have for some time been primarily interested in domestic reconstruction, not in aggressive adventures.
    The fact that the USA and also Europe are currently in decline cannot be blamed on other states. The European misery does not consist in a lack of weapons, as is repeatedly claimed. The European NATO states alone spend much more on their armies than Russia, for example. In the case of Russia in 2019, the figure was around 65 billion US dollars; Great Britain, France and Germany together spent almost 150 billion. The plight of Europe is the lack of truly independent politics. Such a policy could indicate that the states of Europe would be better off with a good relationship with all countries in the world than with a direct or indirect implementation of previous US confrontation plans.
    This would also include recognising that the “double standards” of our policies and our media have been and continue to be an important part of our policies. This policy is in a dead end. Ever more of the old will not help.     •

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