A Partisan Powder Keg

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader makes an imprecise comparison, but a thought-provoking one nonetheless:

Not to beat a dead horse, but it’s been interesting how many friends and pundits “to my left” have reacted to Western grief over the Paris attacks compared to their previous approach regarding collegiate activists. I had a long argument-by-email this week with one of my close friends from law school about the Mizzou/Yale issue, and her perspective more or less boiled down to:

1) She doesn’t see these college activists as being influenced by the nihilist left, but rather acting of their own accord because 2) they are reacting to real trauma and genuinely don’t feel safe, therefore 3) we should stow our criticism and support these students in their time of need.

The thing is, it’s not a defense that’s being applied consistently. I can’t tell you how many think pieces and Facebook statuses I’ve seen from people criticizing 1) the focus on France at the expense of other foreign tragedies 2) what role the West played in bringing about the rise of ISIS, 3) France’s bombing of Raqqa today, etc. etc. etc.

In short, here you have a real, horrible tragedy, and the same people who think it’s wrong to criticize the tactics of traumatized collegiate activists don’t blink an eye before throwing shade at folks reacting to a far worse set of circumstances. To me this just reinforces the conclusion that for an increasing segment of the American left, it’s really all about whose side you’re on.

For examples, I’m just pulling from friends’ Facebook feeds here:

Salon: “And so the hate speech begins: Let Paris be the end of the right’s violent language toward activists”

Salon: “Nightmare in Paris: Democracy is under attack, and the right makes common cause with ISIS”

International Viewpoint: “The cruelty of imperialist wars results in the cruelty of terrorism”

A Separate State of Mind: “From Beirut, This Is Paris: In A World That Doesn’t Care About Arab Lives”

A Mind Unleashed: “America: Your Solidarity with Paris is Embarrassingly Misguided”

The Independent: “Got a French flag on your Facebook profile picture? Congratulations on your corporate white supremacy”

There are obviously a bunch more articles “from the right” by the Usual Suspects, but these are the ones I saw from my liberal friends. I don't disagree with a number of these articles, in a vacuum—and on a broader level, I think it’s important to maximize discourse even at the risk of offense and/or tastelessness. It just strikes me as deeply disingenuous that this kind of criticism is kosher during a period of global mourning, but critiquing college activists is off-limits or somehow inherently ill-intentioned.

In one of the more intellectually brave responses from the left this week on the Syrian refugee question, here’s Kevin Drum from Mother Jones:

[I]t doesn't seem xenophobic or crazy to call for an end to accepting Syrian refugees. It seems like simple common sense. After all, things changed after Paris. Mocking Republicans over this—as liberals spent much of yesterday doing on my Twitter stream—seems absurdly out of touch to a lot of people. Not just wingnut tea partiers, either, but plenty of ordinary centrists too. It makes them wonder if Democrats seriously see no problem here. Do they care at all about national security? [...] It validates all the worst stereotypes about liberals that we put political correctness ahead of national security.

Your thoughts? Drop me an email. Update: I just spotted these on-topic tweets from Conor:

Update from a reader who dissents over my framing of this note. This is the only such dissent I’ve gotten thus far, so I’m not cherry picking here:

That reader email was not an “imprecise comparison,” but a MASSIVE False Equivalency, and calling it “thought-provoking" is a callous assessment some liberals have been guilty of.

There’s no inconsistency in NOT critiquing the black students and TOO criticizing the one-sided mourners. [CB note: “one-sided” meaning those mourning for Paris but not Beirut.]  The principle here is siding with those who are the oppressed and marginalized groups. Aside from the direct relatives of the dead French people, the two grieving groups are anything but equal:

- The black college students are protesting a SEVERE social injustice that has been going on for centuries. As a group, they have been, are now, and will be the marginalized, disenfranchised group.
-  The one-sided mourners are “winners”; they live in a virtual paradise, they have universal health care, and they won't get shot and killed by the police anytime soon.

“Here you have a real, horrible tragedy.” With such a statement, your reader is casually dismissing as mere whining the 450 years of black enslavement, Jim Crow, Northern and federal racist housing policies that have led to the present SEVERE SEGREGATION everywhere. White racists are terrorizing blacks on universities on a large scale, but this is apparently not a tragedy to your reader.

So, that is why it’s wrong to critique the Mizzou protesters because they’ve been beaten up by white society, and often by the liberal whites they thought they could trust. And by “beaten up” I mean: shoved about, pushed around, disproportionately locked up, laughed at their suffering, raped, killed, lynched, hunted for sport, and maimed.

It's correct to criticize those who mourn Parisians but who can’t seem to give a F--K about Lebanese victims. Or about victims in Africa, who are suffering because of Western wars for diamonds, coltan, and other resources.

I’m not saying that blood isn’t thicker than water. But to casually deny racism is immorally nauseating. It’s pretty clear why whites don’t care about black suffering, because that would put them with the perps; crying about Bataclan [the site of the most killings in Paris] makes whites victims, too.