We all know of Western Leftists who admire political movements that are repressive and regressive. I wasn’t alive when academic Leftists were all hearts and flowers about Stalin, even when they knew of his excesses; more recently, Nick Cohen has documented the hypocrisy of Western liberals in, for example, ignoring the existence of Serb concentration camps. Although Noam Chomsky has taken up some good left-wing causes, he also admired the genocidal dictator Pol Pot. And we know about the Regressive Left, who, while vociferously in favor of gay rights and women’s rights, and strongly opposed to capital punishment and torture, suddenly aren’t so sure when those rights are abrogated by Islamic regimes. That’s what happens when you suddenly see pigmentation as a sign of virtue, and all Muslims as victims of Western oppression. It’s what Maajid Nawaz calls “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”
In his piece in the Jerusalem Post, “Why Western leftists adore right-wing religious extremists abroad“, Seth Frantzman gives other examples:
This is particularly odd and contradictory among those who self-identify as “Left” and “liberal” and then embrace movements, leaders, ideologies and religions that are manifestly illiberal and right- wing extremist abroad. For instance American philosopher and gender theorist Judith Butler said in 2006 that “understanding Hamas [and] Hezbollah as social movements that are progressive, that are on the left, that are part of the global left, is extremely important.”
That contradictory view is emblematic of a phenomenon spanning everything from Michel Foucault’s embrace of the Islamic Revolution in Iran to those “anti-war” activists in the UK who support Syrian President Bashar Assad and Russia’s bombing of civilians.
Why do people who support women’s rights in the US or France excuse the Iranian regime? Why do those who dislike militarism view as romantic people in uniform in Pakistan or Moscow?
Why do those who dislike US presidential candidate Donald Trump find bombastic populists like Venezuala’s Hugo Chavez so endearing? [JAC: Do they?]
. . . Whether it was George Bernard Shaw touring and apologizing for Stalin’s Russia, or Noam Chomsky claiming refugees from the Cambodian genocide were “unreliable” and that “massacre reports were false,” there is a long tradition of mitigating the kinds of crimes abroad people would never excuse at home.
Of course when it comes to Islam I have my own theory, which has to be right because the Regressives assert it themselves: Muslim countries are oppressed, largely by the West, and therefore we can overlook their abrogation of human rights. But that doesn’t explain the admiration for Putin that I’ve seen even on this website, or for Chavez, which I haven’t seen but Frantzman takes as ubiquitous.
Frantzman has two other theories.
1.) Westerner liberals harbor a lot of anger (where it comes from isn’t specified, I’d like to think through observing of injustice), as well as a pent-up nationalism, and it’s politically correct to harbor “surrogate” nationalism by admiring other countries.
To understand the blind and contradictory loyalty of people who call themselves “progressive” but embrace manifestly reactionary policies abroad is to understand that humans need to fill the void of rage within.
For the self-declared “Right” in the West that void is filled through home-grown nationalism. But the “Left” eschews nationalism at home. Yet the nationalism of the “other” is authentic and palatable. Discarding one’s own flag is de rigueur but filling oneself up with the nationalism of the other is acceptable.
Thus the post-1990s embrace of religious fanaticism and right-wing nationalist extremism abroad has filled the void left by the fall of communism for the intellectual Left in the West.
This doesn’t explain, though, why that void is filled by admiration of thuggish ideologues rather than more admirable nations like those in Scandinavia. Perhaps it’s because Scandinavians can’t be seen as oppressed. But Frantzman has another explanation:
2.) Western Leftist nationalism requires a strong-handed, “virile” form of nationalism that helps release our suppressed aggression:
Why is Persian nationalism or other foreign nationalism so enticing to some in the West? Because American, French or German nationalism is not.
Abroad is a place to pour one’s love of “proud nations.” It’s where one can openly worship verile, powerful men; nationalism, religious extremism, war, caning and hanging in public, beheadings, stonings – let out all that aggression that living in the West has cooped up.
The love of foreign nation and religion one finds in the writings of so many on the “Left” who ostensibly oppose nationalism is always interesting. The love of “pride,” faith, dignity and roots in the soil, of brawn and flag, of sword and gun, points to a nationalist yearning that the Western self-defined Left cannot allow them- selves at home.
I’m not so sure about that. One could, I suppose, make this argument, but what’s the evidence? Not many Leftists in the U.S. admire either Putin nor Chavez, though Malgorzata tells me that admiration of Chavez is widespread in Poland and other European nations.
But regardless of the reasons, Frantzman gets the symptoms right if not the diagnosis (content note: fat shaming):
The same values in Trump or Brexit, Le Pen or Lega Nord that the progressives find objectionable in the West, when expressed in Venezuala, Syria, Iran or among Palestinians are admirable.
Don’t kid yourselves and pretend these progressives simply don’t hear their friends in Iran call abortion “satanic” or hear them say homosexuals are a “cancer,” or hear their chauvinist friends in the Muslim Brotherhood say a woman’s “place is in the home.”
They hear it, and they support it. When the overweight, bearded religious leaders in Iran say “women and men are different; women are driven by their emotions,” the same people who speak of “gender neutrality” in the West widen their eyes and say “yes I agree, such an insight,” not “where is the transgender bathroom?”
When Hugo Chavez said he couldn’t be a homosexual because he was “sufficiently macho to pulverize any accusation along those lines,” gay rights advocates didn’t bat an eye. Homophobia is cool – only abroad, not at home.
If you took an average progressive lover of Hezbollah and told them to dunk in a fountain and be born again in Texas they’d mock “ignorant religion” – but take them to the Beka’a valley and tell them to whip themselves for Ashura and they’ll find it beautiful.
This entire phenomenon is what should be known as “locational liberalism.”
Locational liberalism means you support liberalism only in one place, and support its diametric opposite somewhere else. The result is that there are basically two right-wing forces at war with each other in the West. One supports right-wing religious nationalist forces abroad, the other supports them at home.
That seems just a tad hyperbolic, but readers can weigh in about it. Still, just as we can separate the tenets of religion from the adherents of religion, rendering the cry of “Islamophobia” nonsensical, so the Locational Liberals should be able to separate what they consider the “good parts” of autocratic regimes (I’d be hard pressed, though, to identify much good in the Saudi government) from the reprehensible practices of those regimes.