In a perverse parody of democracy, Iran last week elected a mass murderer and extreme hardliner, Ebrahim Raisi, as its new president. Two elements of the reaction to it tell us a good deal about the doleful state of Western political culture today.
First, it did not create the slightest stumbling block for the Biden administration’s desire to revive the deal Barack Obama did with Iran, which fully recognised the legitimacy of its nuclear industry, imposed no limits on its missile technology and would allow international credit to flood back into Iran.
But it is the second reaction, or lack of reaction, that most impresses me. Those campaigners around the world, but especially the so-called Squad of congressional representatives in the US, who claim to be most passionately concerned with human rights, have nothing to say about Raisi.
The whole cultural left movement of the West, obsessed with identity politics and taken up with the ideology of intersectionality, has had almost nothing to say about Raisi.
Intersectionality is built around three ideas that are both obnoxious and untrue. The first is that all injustice is a question of identity and concerns gender, sexual orientation, race and other inherent attributes of a person. Second, all these grievance generators need to be linked together to form a grand human coalition of resentment and hatred. And third that the West, and only the West, is built around inherent, structural injustice and mistreatment of all these identities.
Representatives Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Squad are the leading US political avatars of intersectionality. Importantly, they appear to lead a young and growing segment of US opinion within the Democratic Party and across US colleges.
AOC is thought to have a solid chance of defeating left-of-centre but more mainstream veteran New York senator Chuck Schumer in the Democratic primary next year. Schumer is the Senate majority leader. If AOC did defeat him, it would be an earthquake in US politics.
It should also concern Australia deeply. Intersectionality hates Australia, which is condemned as structurally racist, colonial, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, patriarchal, economically exploitative etc. The ideology, one of the misbegotten children of postmodernism, has a deep hatred of the US, and of the West generally.
The Squad and their backers are often very extreme in their language and positions. This certainly generates some criticism but it does not excite anything like the popular outrage, the cultural energy, that far milder offences on the right provoke routinely.
These forces have a particular hatred of Israel that often morphs into anti-Semitism, drawing on classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and caricatures. But the Squad, and especially Omar, represent a distinctly contemporary twist on anti-Semitism. Traditional anti-Semitism condemned Jews because they were allegedly alien to the West.
What is in its way innovative about the modern anti-Semitism to which Squad members give expression is that its hatreds are born not from the idea that Jews or Israel are hostile to the West but that they are part of the West. The two most virulent forms of anti-Semitism today are the far left in the West and Islamic anti-Semitism. The politics of the Squad gives expression to both.
Omar recently tweeted: “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan and the Taliban” and all these groups should be held accountable for their crimes.
It is undoubtedly true that there have been abuses by US soldiers and by Israeli soldiers and by the soldiers of most armies. But abuses by soldiers in democratic societies are against policy and are investigated by democratic institutions. To equate such isolated abuses with the planned policies of murdering civilians and the imposition of totalitarian rule by terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Taliban is intensely offensive.
This tweet was too much even for some fellow Democrats, who criticised Omar. She didn’t apologise but issued a clarification saying she was not arguing moral equivalence between terrorist groups and democracies. Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi decided that was more than enough from Omar and there was no need for any apology.
Under Pelosi’s patronage, Omar serves on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee and is vice-chairwoman of the committee for Africa.
This is frankly grotesque, and a sign of how decadent and bewildered a good portion of contemporary political culture has become in the West.
Incidentally, Omar tweeted her incendiary comment equating the US and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban, but she merely issued the clarification as a statement. But she has a long record of anti-Semitic and excessively anti-Israel statements. In The Washington Post last week regular columnist Marc Thiessen listed some of these. Omar has frequently accused Israel of terrorism. She said she “chuckles” when people call Israel a democracy and that Israel “has hypnotised the world”.
She has called on Allah to wake people up to Israel’s evil. She posted on social media a cartoon that won second place in an Iranian Holocaust denial cartoon competition. She has equated supporting the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel with boycotting Nazi Germany. She accuses American supporters of Israel, and by implication Jewish American supporters of Israel, of dual loyalty, one of the oldest anti-Semitic stereotypes of all. She says supporting Israel is to “push for allegiance to a foreign country”.
She has said support for Israel by American politicians is “all about the Benjamins, baby”. This is a crass reference to US $100 notes, which feature the likeness of Benjamin Franklin. Omar was saying politicians supported Israel because of the influence of Jewish money. This is intensely offensive in itself, and again reinforces an old anti-Semitic stereotype of the Jews using corrupt financial power to weaken Western societies. It also ignores the tens of billions of dollars that Saudi Arabia, and more recently Qatar, and numerous other Islamic societies, have injected into institutions in the West, which money always has an anti-Israel character about it.
Omar is a classically representative modern figure. She is the master of a characteristic postmodern trick in deflecting any reasonable criticism. She extravagantly claims for herself a 100 per cent victim identity so that no criticism or scrutiny of her is legitimate. Although she does attract the vile and hateful abuse that anyone who takes a strong position on anything attracts in the sewers of Twitter and the like, this tactic of claiming victim status is remarkably successful for her politically.
Thus, when taxed on her anti-Semitism, she replied: “I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.” No one, of course, was remotely asking her to do that, merely to refrain from obvious anti-Semitism.
But in claiming victim status, she is seldom as specific even as that. More typical is her statement: “There’s no one else that exists in a space where they have to deal with the hate of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, anti-Blackness, but also with sexism.”
That is one of the grand statements of intersectionality victimhood and political foreclosure. It simply rules out of order any accountability or responsibility. Republicans make a fully justified comparison with the treatment of Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene. Before she entered congress, Greene made statements just as foul and offensive as Omar’s. She said she didn’t think a plane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11, that some school shootings were staged for the media and that California wildfires may have been started by lasers from space controlled by the Rothschild family.
That someone who can utter such insanities should ever make it into congress is a sign that the extremes on the right are today as foul as the extremes on the left. However, Greene at least had the elemental decency to apologise fulsomely for her comments and say that she learnt they were all untrue and now regrets them. Notwithstanding that, congress – all the Democrats and a number of Republicans – voted to prevent her from serving on any congressional committee.
I think that was fully justified. But the rancid hypocrisy of the left is evident in the differential treatment of Omar. Donald Trump unwittingly helped Omar by telling her to go back where she came from – her family migrated to the US from Somalia when she was 11.
This is the very worst way to reject a bad argument. It validates Omar’s claim that opposition to her is based on her identity not her arguments. In this comment, Trump contributed to the degradation of American political culture.
Iran’s new president, Raisi, on the other hand, is not concerned with such niceties. He has spent his life at the death and punishment end of a regime notably punitive and deadly even by the standards of contemporary autocracies. He came to prominence as a young member of the “death commission” that oversaw the execution of thousands of innocent Iranians in 1988.
He does not, apparently, excite the rancour or moral outrage of the Squad because, unlike Israel and the Jews, he is definitely not part of the West. Truly, all this is madness.