Moral equivalence. We’ve seen it a million times since the attacks of 9-11. It is the "peace" movement’s dogma, holding that the collateral, unintended killing of Afghan civilians during the US military campaign against the Taliban and al-Qaeda is the moral equivalent of the 9-11 mass murders in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, DC. By extension, America’s military response is deemed unwarranted "vengeance" that merely perpetuates "the cycle of violence."
A leading proponent of this view is Desmond Tutu, the former Archbishop of Cape Town and the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner for his work against South African apartheid. "Might is not right," says Tutu. "If it is utterly reprehensible that innocent civilians were targeted in New York and Washington, how could we possibly say it doesn’t apply elsewhere in the world?" Last week he lamented how "sad" it was "to see a powerful country [the US] use its power frequently unilaterally" to bully the rest of the world.
Tutu characterizes America’s war on terrorism as an exercise in "vengeance" rather than justice. Subtly underlying this assertion is the unspoken axiom that the enemy that struck on 9-11 was not animated by premeditated evil, but was itself responding to America’s original injustice. While acknowledging that al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization, Tutu maintains that many of its followers are "not lunatic fringe [but rather] are quite intelligent," and that Americans need to ask themselves why such people "should be willing to pilot a plane and go to their deaths" to strike a blow against the US.
To that question, Tutu himself provides a ready answer. The 9-11 attacks, he says, were caused by the "poverty, hunger, and disease" plaguing the Third World, which he blamed, by implication, on the United States. He has even gone so far as to say that if a visitor from outer space were to survey the international scene on earth, such a creature would recoil in horror at the manner in which the wealthy, presumably exploitative US spends so much money on its war-making capabilities and so little on humanitarian causes. "A minute fraction of these defense budgets would ensure that God’s children everywhere would have clean water, enough to eat, a decent home, a proper education, and accessible and affordable health care," says Tutu. In short, if only America would give up its selfishness, the have-nots of the world could live better.
One wonders why Tutu chooses to assign responsibility for the poverty of other nations to no one but the United States. One further wonders why he fails to note that America has historically given far more humanitarian aid to foreign populations than has any other nation on earth. Indeed Tutu makes no mention of the vast sums our country has recently sent to the needy in such far-flung places as Mozambique, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Nicaragua, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Bosnia, and Kosovo – to say nothing of the $848 million in aid to Afghanistan last year. And finally, one wonders whether the vaunted Nobel Prize winner or his mythical "space visitor" have ever contemplated what additional disasters might have befallen the targets of aggression in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Kuwait – if not for the intervention of America’s "war-making capabilities."
While Tutu’s estimation of American culpability for international crises is obviously quite high, the reader may find it refreshing to learn that he considers all evildoers to be ultimately redeemable. Addressing worshippers at Boston’s Episcopal Church of St. Paul last February, for instance, Tutu asserted that it was wrong to categorically depict America’s enemies as "evil." "We’re giving up on a fellow human being when we demonize a fellow human being," he said. Exhorting his listeners to remember that Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and al-Qaeda members are also children of God, he stated that "the Christian God we worship gives up on no one." But it is nothing new to hear Tutu complain that America is too quick to condemn people. Indeed during a 1999 speech, he told an audience of more than 1,300 that "some of the greatest saints in the Christian firmament were notorious sinners," and wondered aloud whether such people as Mary Magdalene and St. Francis "would have survived indictment" in the United States.
Eager though he may be to pass judgment on American policies, this same Desmond Tutu has openly proclaimed not only compassionate understanding – but unabashed admiration – for Winnie Mandela, South Africa’s so-called "Mother of the Nation." Prominent in the Soviet-sponsored African National Congress (ANC), which was closely aligned with the South African Communist Party, Ms. Mandela used her notorious bodyguards in a protracted reign of terror, torture, and murder. The ANC committed innumerable atrocities in the name of liberation, prompting a 1988 Pentagon Report to list it as one of the world's "more notorious terrorist groups."
Many ANC victims were physically pummeled and brutalized until death – some of them on direct orders issued by Ms. Mandela. One such victim was a 14-year-old South African boy, Moketsie Stompie Seipei, whom Mandela suspected of being a police informer. Similar cruelty was meted out for such transgressions as one’s failure to participate in illegal strikes sponsored by the ANC, or not obeying orders to boycott white-owned business establishments. Among Ms. Mandela’s and the ANC’s preferred methods of torturing suspected political opponents was "necklacing" – a practice in which automobile tires were tied around the necks of victims, filled with gasoline and lit on fire. It is estimated that some 1,000 people were set ablaze in this manner, with nearly 600 of them dying. "With tires and matches we will liberate this country," said the celebrated "Mother of the Nation."
Notwithstanding Ms. Mandela’s role in such atrocities (which Tutu did, in fact, criticize on numerous occasions), the Nobel Prize winner spoke thusly to her during the recent hearings of South Africa’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a government panel (chaired by Tutu) investigating apartheid-era crimes: "I speak to you as someone who loves you very, very deeply, who loves your family very deeply. There are people who want to embrace you. There are many who want to do so. I beg you, I beg you, I beg you, please. I have not made any particular finding about what happened. You are a great person, and you don’t know how your greatness would be enhanced if you were to say, sorry, things went wrong; forgive me. I beg you." At that point Ms. Mandela reluctantly admitted, "it is true things went horribly wrong," and issued apologies to the families of two of her murdered victims.
It is also noteworthy that Tutu and the TRC classified an infamous 1983 ANC-sponsored bombing, in which a car packed with explosives was detonated during peak-hour traffic on Pretoria’s crowded Church Street, as an "act of war" and part of a "justified struggle." That remarkable pronouncement was issued by the same man who now condemns America’s war on terror as unjustified and "vengeful"; the same man who deems America’s "targeting" of innocent civilians "utterly reprehensible."
Mr. Tutu’s curious standards of justice are similarly evident in his statements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Last April he joined some 300 people for a pro-Palestinian rally in Boston, a demonstration that called for an end to US military aid to Israel and an immediate pullout of Israeli forces from the West Bank. Later that day he spoke at a conference on violence in the Middle East at Boston's Old South Church. "What is not so understandable [and] not justified," he said, "is what [Israel] did to another people to guarantee its existence." Claiming that his visits to Israel reminded him of the manner in which blacks were once treated in South Africa, he said, "I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about." Notably, he said nothing about the epidemic of would-be suicide bombers that make such measures an unpleasant necessity.
Tutu further claimed that Americans are sometimes afraid to criticize Israel. "The Jewish lobby is powerful, very powerful," he said. "[Y]ou know as well as I do that, somehow, the Israeli government is placed on a pedestal [in the US], and to criticize it is to be immediately dubbed anti-Semitic. . . I am not even anti-white, despite the madness of that group."
Asserting that "Israel is like Hitler and apartheid," Tutu urged his Boston listeners to oppose Israeli "injustices" as fervently as they once opposed Nazism and South Africa’s system of racial separation. "We live in a moral universe," said Tutu. "The apartheid government was very powerful, but today it no longer exists. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Pinochet, Milosevic, and Idi Amin were all powerful, but in the end they bit the dust." How remarkable it is that he chose to compare Israel’s government to the regimes of such monsters, yet had no words of condemnation for his fellow Nobel Peace Prize recipient Yasser Arafat – the man single-handedly responsible for the murder of more Jews than anyone since Hitler.
As a tangible expression of his view that Israeli policies stand in the way of peace in the Middle East, Tutu now endorses the burgeoning Israeli Divestment Campaign. "The end of apartheid stands as one of the crowning accomplishments of the past century," he says, "but we would not have succeeded without the help of international pressure – in particular the divestment movement of the 1980s. . . . [A] similar movement has taken shape, this time aiming at an end to the Israeli occupation. Divestment from apartheid South Africa was fought by ordinary people at the grassroots. Faith-based leaders informed their followers, union members pressured their companies’ stockholders, and consumers questioned their store owners. Students played an especially important role by compelling universities to change their portfolios. Eventually, institutions pulled the financial plug, and the South African government thought twice about its policies. Similar moral and financial pressures on Israel are [now] being mustered one person at a time."
Notably, Tutu makes no call for divestment from any other Middle Eastern nation, though the political oppression, human rights abuses, and barbaric atrocities characterizing life throughout much of that region dwarf anything that the Palestinians have ever suffered in Israel, which Tutu dubs America’s "client state." This double standard is reminiscent, of course, of the equally curious double standard that characterized the anti-apartheid crusade in the 1980s. In those days, there was nary a whisper about possible divestment from any of the myriad African nations where campaigns of ethnic cleansing, wholesale torture and mutilation, and the genocide of millions were simply a way of life.
Clearly, an unprejudiced vision of the world is not a prerequisite for winning a Nobel Peace Prize.