Svein Sevje, Norway's ambassador to Israel, delivered a rather unique ethical proposition in an interview the other day. Presumably reflecting the official position of the leftwing government in Oslo, the ambassador opined that Palestinian terror attacks against Israeli civilians were more morally justifiable than the bombing and shooting actions of Brevik a week before.
This stance makes manifest the belief within the highest circles of Norwegian politics that the throat slitting of a sleeping infant along with slightly older siblings and the parents during the hours of darkness by a group of Palestinian men was not a criminal act but rather the necessary and understandable consequence of Israel's ongoing semi-occupation of the Palestinian Authority governed West Bank. The fact that Israel continues to dominate in most salient respects the Palestinian population of the lands taken from Jordan during the Six Day War apparently makes right any and all terrorist outrages committed against any and all Israelis. The actions of Mr Brevik in sharp contrast cannot be justified in any way, shape, or form.
With respect to the latter contention, the Geek is complete agreement. Considering the first proposition, the one holding Palestinian Muslim throat slitters, gunslingers, suicide bombers, and rocket firing gangs totally blameless is, in the Geek's estimate, a mind boggling exercise in cultural relativism. Stripped to its essentials, the ambassador's remark as well as the government policy it reflects holds that there is no such critter as an absolute standard of right and wrong, moral and immoral, ethical and unethical.
This is a destructive, preposterous position which serves to undercut the norms and values which, while developed in the West over centuries of bloodshed, have become the centerpiece of such testaments to hope and aspiration as the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Before the rise of the pernicious notion of cultural relativism, the West generally held that there existed a set of ethical (or moral, should you prefer) absolutes which served to define rigidly the outer limits of acceptable individual and state conduct. These absolutes served to progressively render the West more peaceful, more humane, more given to fairness and acceptance, more willing to negotiate, and less ready to reach for the nearest trigger.
These absolutes, primarily predicated upon Christian and Jewish concepts, made the West an evermore kind, decent, generous, and humane place. These bright and shinning lines separating the acceptable from the unacceptable also served to make the wars of the West somewhat less brutal, somewhat less all consuming in their butchery, a bit more ready to seek the possible as opposed to the ideal outcome.
In recent years the rise of cultural relativism, the idea that no culture, no society, no system of beliefs or norms and values was in any way superior to others, has risen to grasp the elites of the West in its bony, clutching fingers. Particularly, people of the Left have allowed themselves to be mentally and morally strangled by the notion of relativism by coming to accept the proposition that by doing so they make themselves paragons of "fairness," of "open mindedness," of "acceptance," and of "tolerance." As the Left elite of academia, of politics, of the media have embraced relativism, these public opinion molders have sought to marginalize anyone who disagreed from the glories of relativism as "racists," or "xenophobes," even as "fascists."
To believe and argue that not all cultures, not all societies, not all belief systems, not all norms and values are equal in moral or ethical strength became politically incorrect to the highest degree. To accept relativism was to be progressive, fair minded, and sophisticated. The best way to parse between a member in good standing of the elite, the hoi olligoi, and a hairy palmed, knuckle dragging, slope browed denizen of the hoi polloi was on the basis of acceptance or rejection of cultural relativism.
Norwegians, particularly those on the Left and in the elite of politics, media, and academia have prided themselves and their country on its open minded, fair, and tolerant acceptance of those different from themselves. That is, of course, laudable--up to a point. The point comes when recurrent acts of terror including those of the most bestial sort are excused as the legitimate response to "illegal" military occupation. That point comes when acts of equal barbarity are assessed as morally different with one justified by purely contextual matters including cultural differences.
It is ironic in the extreme that the Norsk ambassador by his words reinforced one of the main points made at great and repetitive length in Brevik's manifesto--the pernicious pervasiveness of cultural relativism in Norway and Europe generally along with the lethal effects of this belief on political and social structures. Mr Sveje and the government which issued his credentials just don't get it. Neither, one might surmise, do a large number of Norwegians--and Europeans as well as Americans.
The "it" that Sveje and others don't get is simply that both history and contemporary affairs demonstrates clearly that some cultures, some societies, some norms and values, some belief systems, some governmental systems are better, more ethical, more moral, if you prefer, than others. In this context, it is clear that the West is superior in all ethical respects to the Muslim states. The West has gone through a very, very long learning curve of blood, destruction, mass death, suffering on a cosmic scale, and has come out purified in many essential respects. At the same time, the West is aware of its ongoing imperfections and continues to seek to rectify them.
The West may not have been blameless. But, in comparison to Muslim states and societies, it is not blameworthy today. And, in this connection Israel must be considered to be part of the West.
Consider the reaction throughout the West to Brevik's one man massacre. Universal condemnation even from those who share the fears of "Islamification" expressed by the terrorist murderer. Christian entities and clerics have been monolithic in their denunciation of Brevik's actions.
In sharp contrast Osama bin Laden remains a celebrated hero in Muslim societies and states. So do his emulators, his subordinates, his followers, and successors.
Consider Somalia. Thousands starve. Tens of thousands flee starvation. The Muslim group, al-Shabaab, prevents famine relief while engaging in an orgy of religiously predicated violence. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation sits back with folded hands and indifferent expressions watching the famine do its deadly work apparently convinced that starvation on this cosmic scale is the will of the deity such that any relief effort would be blasphemy at best, apostasy at worst.
At the same time it is the West which seeks to provide succor to the displaced and dying Somalis. It is the West which provides food and money, management expertise and aircraft, trying desperately to save lives written off by al-Shabaab and the OIC.
Consider Israel. While there are Israelis both in and out of government who are intransigent in the extreme, there is also a large, vibrant contingent of civil society and religiously motivated Israelis seeking peace, willing to see Palestine come into full, free existence. At the same time, the Palestinians are unwilling to grant Israel's right to exist (Hamas) or unwilling to acknowledge the realty that Israel is a Jewish state (Fatah.) The historical record demonstrates clearly that the "sins" of the Israelis are far outnumbered by those of the Palestinians--going back over eighty years.
Consider terrorism around the globe. How often does one read of radical extremist Buddhists taking hostages or detonating suicide vests? How many violent political Hindus fly aircraft into civilian structures shouting praise to one or another of their pantheon? Are Catholics, or Lutherans noted for their commitment to "martyrdom operations?" The use of terror attacks, of IEDs, of suicide bombings is almost exclusively the dominion of Muslims in service to what they perceive as their duty to their almighty.
No, Mr Ambassador, you are wrong. Dangerously wrong. Your attitude and that of your government and the Norwegian elite behind that government are sabotaging all that makes the West what it is. You, with your dedication to the specious and historically unjustified notion of cultural relativism, are attacking all which has been learned over a score of deadly, bloody centuries by the West and which makes the West today the last best hope of humanity.
Murder is wrong. Period. Terror, which is to say, murder for a political goal, is wrong. Period. The Arab Muslim slitting the Jewish infant's throat is equal in evil to Brevik with his bomb and gun. Period. Get a grip on it, Svein.