The ability of the human mind to hold two conflicting beliefs at one and the same time is well known. This becomes more of a problem when it comes to the basic principles which form the foundation of a civilized world.
If we believe in a principle which opposes occupation and colonisation then that principle must be applied to everyone. Clearly nations which claim to be democracies who indulge in this will be condemned more powerfully than those who make no such claim. But the universal principle needs to be applied.
If we believe in human rights and rule of law then we should apply that principle everywhere and at all times. If apartheid is wrong on one count, it is wrong on all counts. If holding people under occupation and denying them freedom is wrong on one count, it is wrong on all counts. That is the point and power of principle.
Where we selectively apply principles because of personal prejudice sourced in race, religion, nationality, gender, age or any separative criteria, then we betray the principle itself and its place as part of the foundation of our modern, civilized and enlightened world.
Everyone hates to be discriminated against and that is what apartheid did in South Africa in the past and does in Israel today. Everyone hates to be occupied by another and that is the case in many places around the world today, including Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tibet, Kashmir, East Papua, Chechnya and others. Most people take the view that if they were imprisoned in an apartheid State or held under occupation, that they would fight against it. And yet many of those who see it this way, also hold the conflicting belief that some do not have the same right.
Most people oppose invasion and occupation and yet too many supported America’s invasion and occupation of Iraq in which nearly one and a half million have died. They supported the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and they support the continued occupation and colonisation of many countries. And yet, in principle, they oppose both occupation and colonisation and no intelligent, reasonably educated person could ever support apartheid. But they do!
South African Jews were in the forefront of the fight against apartheid in their country, although many also supported it; and yet most appear to support apartheid in Israel, not because it is just, decent or necessary; but because of religious prejudice. Israelis support it because of racial prejudice, just as white South Africans did.
Who would countenance occupation without resistance? Very few. The same people who glorified the British and Europeans as they fought against German occupation, are just as likely to demonise the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans for fighting against their occupiers. Double standards? Certainly. Irrational? Absolutely.
Americans defend their occupations as examples of fighting for freedom; so did the Germans as anyone studying the history of the Second World War could see. But one is wrong and the other is right? When it comes to principle that is not possible. Either there is a principle that invasion and occupation of other countries is wrong – particularly when they make no threat and are no threat – or it is not. In this day and age we say that it is, so why the selectivity? Do people really not see the egregious hypocrisy of their position.
And apartheid in Israel. South Africans do seem to be fighting against this but ironically, Jewish South Africans are not. In fact quite the opposite. And yet most of them would say they support absolutely the principle of ending apartheid in South Africa. But not in Israel which occupies all of Palestine. Is there cognitive dissonance at work when people take such irrational and hypocritical positions? Probably. Because trying to point out the ludicrous paradox of their position in regard to a basis principle does not seem to get anything but a heated and even more irrational response.
In the modern age we no long believe that dispossession and colonisation is just or legal. But the world has supported Israel in doing just that for decades. If China invaded and sought to colonise Japan would we support that? Absolutely not. But somehow the principle is not applied to the Palestinians – nor in any truth to the Tibetans.
So how important is it to fight for and defend principles when they are so easily betrayed and ignored? Very important. As important as it always has been because there are some things which if not ‘set right’ will corrupt, corrode and debase.
Some things as a matter of principle are simply wrong. Followers of Judaism would argue that they have certain rights because of past suffering and that is why it is okay for them to commit war crimes and human rights abuses in a bid to maintain their occupation, colonisation and apartheid State. But even if one accepted this premise, that is like saying, the person who murders can be set free because he or she had a ‘bad childhood.’
As a matter of principle and freedom, rule of law, human rights and justice are matters of principle, we betray at our peril. Just as it was a matter of principle that we have universal suffrage; female suffrage; gender equality; universal education; an end to slavery – there are times when the principle must be applied for its own sake and for ours, no matter how upset people may get, how much they may oppose it, and how extreme they may become in defending their betrayal of principle.
When it comes to principle it is like ‘white lies.’ There are no ‘white lies’ there are just lies. You can tell yourself it is a small lie or a small betrayal of principle but it is not; it is a lie first and last and it is a betrayal of principle which weakens the foundation on which that principle stands.
From the moment that we become selective about basic principles of a civilized world, we squander the rights for which our ancestors fought and died and we betray our descendants who will inherit the world we have created. Either that is a world of principle to protect them and their descendants; or it is not. The choice is ours.