In an opinion piece published by The New Arab on July 26, 2016, Palestinian-American professor, Steven Salaita, argued that in the presidential race between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump, we can only consider the former a “lesser evil” if we believe Palestinians are “lesser human beings.” As Salaita claimed, this is because “Clinton supports the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people.” In other words, those who recklessly endorse the logic of “lesser evilism” often neglect its victims—in this case, the Palestinians.
Almost immediately after Salaita’s article was published, I noticed many leftists sharing it widely on social media, and praising him for highlighting the hypocrisy of those who accept the platitude of “lesser evilism” as applied to Clinton. Astonishingly, they were, in many cases, the very same individuals who have applied that botched logic to Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, claiming he is a necessary evil in the fight against ISIS and other “Islamic extremists.”
In my last two Muftah articles (at least), I have addressed the question of “lesser evilism” and the manner in which it devalues Syrian lives. Two weeks ago, I argued, much like Salaita, that leftists have come to see Assad as a “lesser evil” because they view the Syrian war through Western eyes, fixating on ISIS and Islamist rebel groups because of their perceived threat to the West. As a result, they have ignored the fact that Assad is responsible for more deaths than any other political group in the country, and, thereby, have diminished the value of Syrian lives.
Last week, I discussed the beheading of twelve year old Abdullah Issa at the hands of Nour Al-Din Al-Zinki rebels. In that article, I highlighted how many of those loudly sobbing over his death had said little-to-nothing about the tens of thousands of children murdered by the Assad regime. As I noted, their “[s]eeming concern for Issa’s death” is simply “an attempt to delegitimize the entire opposition” and justify their support for Assad as a “lesser evil.” Indeed, Issa’s death received disproportionate attention “because the abstract image of a child dying at the hands of ‘crazed Islamists’ fulfills the dogmatic….belief that all rebel factions are different parts of the same evil.”
This Islamophobic outlook treats Issa’s death as a signpost for the genocide-like tendencies supposedly possessed by the entire opposition, and says almost nothing about the actual genocide-like crimes committed by the regime and its allies, which are so incredibly monstrous they make Issa’s unholy fate seem comparably benign.
To appreciate the extent of this hypocrisy, consider the fact that less than two weeks after Issa’s death, on July 29, 2016, Russian and Syrian jets attacked residential parts of Atarib—a town west of Aleppo—with cluster bombs, killing twenty civilians. Reporting for Orient News, Khaled Abo Al-Majed said that the jets targeted a vacant lot where children were playing, killing at least nine. Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute who focuses on the Syrian conflict, claimed on Twitter that seventy five percent of the casualties (fifteen of the twenty deaths) were children under the age of twelve.
Many of those indignant about Issa’s death said nothing about this incident. It speaks volumes that they conveniently chose to ignore the blistering realities of a war in which countless children continue to lose their lives. In order to preserve the fantasy of Assad as the “lesser evil,” they persistently treat his victims—whether in Atarib or elsewhere—as a nameless, faceless mass, much in the same way that many Clinton supporters dehumanize Palestinians.
Through these glaring inconsistencies, leftists continue to prove how intellectually fickle, dogmatic, and morally inept they can be.