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Russia, the West, and ‘Moral Equivalence’

There are two main schools of “exceptionalism” in the West: the Europe-centered one and the America-centered one. The first sees the future of mankind as bureaucratic and liberal, the second sees it as democratic and, again, liberal. These schools are exceptionalist because they hold others to the West’s own standards: anyone below the high standards of rule of law, gender equality, political freedom, and freedom of speech that the West currently observes is simply inferior in moral authority and civilizational development.

This is why in forums like the United Nations European states try to pass measures to transform the world into a semblance of their own reality and values. It is why the U.S. occasionally feels compelled to intervene abroad to “save lives” and “spread democracy and freedom.” Because much of the current body of international law originated in the West, the West deeply resents having that same law used against it. When the West breaks the law, it believes it is doing so for good reason and tries to legalize its breaches ex post facto. This was the case with Kosovo, when NATO’s intervention was later legalized with a UN resolution, and with humanitarian interventions in general, which the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine is supposed to justify for the future. In others words, the sovereignty that the West claims is being breached in Ukraine can only be breached on humanitarian grounds—preferably by liberal democratic states.

This helps explain the virulent Western denunciation of false moral equivalence on Russia’s part: Crimea is not Kosovo because in Kosovo an ethnic minority was actually being oppressed and required outside intervention for its protection.

Forbes’s Paul Roderick Gregory [1] put the West’s position eloquently:

We cannot rehash the complicated histories of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, and Kosovo in a few words, but these enterprises share common features that are notably absent in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

First, in each case, there was no masking or disguising of operations a la Putin. … Second, no Western intervention had territorial ambitions or aimed for annexation of territory, or changes in accepted international boundaries. … Third, in each case, the perceived need to remove, or assist in the removal, of  a bad actor or actors, who pose a danger to their own people and beyond their borders, motivated Western military action. … Fourth, in each case, the United States and its allies made every effort, some less successful than others, to attract international partners and the support of international organizations.

While these claims may be generally true, there are exceptions. And they reveal a certain Manichean distinction between good and evil that has less basis in reality than in a number of foreign-policy myths.

First, throughout the Cold War the U.S. did resort to a number of “masked operations,” such as with the Bay of Pigs effort in Cuba or the overthrow of Mossadegh in Iran. After 1989 such practices became unnecessary, but Russia is correct in pointing out that many of the activists who instigated and led the Color Revolutions, and now the overthrow of Yanukovych, were sponsored or trained by Western NGOs. One might ask what the problem is with furthering and teaching democratic/liberal values, but the answer is obvious: Russia doesn’t do the same in the West. What would demonstrations against Western governments during the current economic crisis look like if what Gregory calls “lefties” had financing and education provided by rival foreign governments and NGOs? Indeed, when other governments do provide such financing and education, the West cries foul, as with Saudi-funded Wahhabi/Salafist madrassas across the world.

Second, other countries have indeed annexed territory, or tried to, in recent history, including Egypt, China, Indonesia, India, Armenia, or South Africa. Even Western or Western-backed states such as Turkey, Croatia, Morocco, and Israel have made similar moves—not to mention ongoing disputes between a number of Western states themselves, as for example in the occasional tensions around Gibraltar.

Third, the notion of humanitarian grounds is a bit shaky. While the West always reacts with outrage at any major human-rights violation, the truth remains that it is not always ready to act. If human rights were our primary concern, then recent Western interventions should have occurred primarily not in Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East but rather in Africa and Asia, where rule of law and humanitarian norms are truly lacking. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been accused of being an African court because it focuses much more on African war criminals than Western ones. Yet the ICC is guided by a simple principle: “to act where it is most needed.”

The reason why need is not otherwise met proportionately by action is, simply, because the West could never afford it. If the West were to sanction trade with China every time it violates human rights, or stop buying oil from the Middle East every time a sheikhdom muzzles democratic activists, we would soon find ourselves isolated.

However, there is another reason why the West tends to act more vigorously on its own periphery rather than where its efforts are most needed in proportional terms: cultural bias. It is easier for Western elites to identify with people that possess ethnic and ideological profiles similar to themselves. Many of the men and women fighting Vladimir Putin and Arab autocrats are genuine liberals and were educated in Western universities. On the other hand, Asian or African realities are more distant from the ideological radar of North Atlantic normative empathy.

Fourth, it may come as shock to most Westerners to find that Putin is not exactly an outcast in the so-called “international community.” Several nations around the world are ready to support or acquiesce to Russia’s stance on Ukraine, including India, China, and even Turkey. This reveals that Western outrage is not the same as world outrage—indeed, when many commentators refer to the “international community,” they actually mean “Western community.”

The West is concerned that a UN Security Council permanent member goes forth in annexing territory. Fareed Zakaria writes [2]:

I have generally been wary of the calls for U.S. intervention in any and every conflict around the world. But this is different. The crisis in Ukraine is the most significant geopolitical problem since the Cold War. Unlike many of the tragic ethnic and civil wars that have bubbled up over the past three decades, this one involves a great global power, Russia, and thus can and will have far-reaching consequences. And it involves a great global principle: whether national boundaries can be changed by brute force.

Nothing Zakaria says is untrue, but imagine for a second what it would have looked like if, at every breach of international law by the West, the rest of the world had decided to sanction and isolate us: no more raw materials or fossil fuels would have flowed to the West, no more manufactured goods or technology would have been exported to the globe. Why should the “[non-Western] international community” care if one more global power and UN Security Council permanent member violates international law?

There is a clear divide between Western perceptions and global perceptions of Ukraine. Why? Perhaps it can be partly explained by the different interpretations of history at play.

For the West, history is seen as linear. It consists of an inexorable evolution to today’s sophisticated standards from a primitive and violent past. Francis Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis epitomizes this attitude. Of course, no one in the West wishes to publicly declare themselves superior in any way to the rest of the world other than in material terms. Yet it is obvious from the actions of Westerners that not all democracies are equal—Putin, Yanukovych, and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan were all elected and re-elected—and that some “Europeans” are more “European” than others.

For the rest of the world, history is seen as cyclical and the breach of international norms, while crass, is not a calamity. Unlike in Hegelian progressivism, Asians and Africans don’t find history flowing in any particular direction, they see it as a succession of cycles of prosperity and turmoil. Which is why to them 1945 and 1989 are not crucial dates. There is no acquis [3]intrinsically worthy of being considered sacred or vital to the international system. Reality changes norms, not the opposite.

In 2011, the Malaysian “Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal” found George W. Bush and Tony Blair guilty of war crimes after trying them in absentia. Obviously the trial was a political stunt, but it serves to show that there is growing resentment of Western normative unilateralism. Russia, being on the immediate periphery of Western efforts to spread democracy and liberal values, feels the same.

Russians feel that they have adapted to everything the West required for civilizational acceptance. They democratized, freed their markets, and even tried in Ukraine to play the election game as best they could, sponsoring and advising a candidate they thought would be more sympathetic to their concerns. They did all this only to find that their democracy and economy are still imperfect by Western standards and that even if they manage to influence elections in Ukraine, their freely and fairly elected partners can simply be pushed aside in breach of both constitutional law and international agreements signed and publicly guaranteed by Western powers. As far as Putin is concerned, there is no longer any point in trying to play the election game by Western rules because the West does not see itself as bound by those same rules. Thus, the smartest course of action in his eyes is to cut his losses and use hard power to secure as much of the Ukrainian polity as possible.

Putin is right about this: the West is profoundly discriminatory in its conduct. There is a sense of entitlement and self-righteousness that derives from cultural autism.

Geert Hostede [4] explains that Western universalism—the belief that Western values apply seamlessly to the other societies—is fundamentally linked to individualism:

individualistic societies emphasize ‘I’ consciousness: autonomy, emotional independence, individual initiative, the right to privacy, pleasure seeking, financial security and the need for specific friendship and universalism. Collective societies stress ‘we’ consciousness: collective identity, emotional inter-dependence, group solidarity, sharing, duties and obligations, the need for stable and predetermined friendships, group decisions and particularism.

The rest of the world, along with Russia, sees in the present controversy only a regional power defending particularist interests in Ukraine. The West, however, sees the gravest, most direct threat to normative liberal universalism since Stalin and Hitler.

Much of the world has realized there is no hope of meeting Western standards because many societies are simply incapable of transforming themselves into new Swedens, regardless of how hard they try. Most have adopted the Western bureaucratic state apparatus and political constitutional system. Yet Muslim countries resent Western criticism of their incompatible societal ethics regarding the treatment of women or the lack of secularism, and many southern countries, strive as they may to tackle corruption, find themselves criticized by State Department reports or discriminated against by Western investors.

Academic and bureaucratic elites in the West are only too aware of the striking sociological similarities between the functioning of Russian society and that of other Eastern European ones. The prominent role of oligarchs is not exclusive to Russia, nor is the endemic corruption of the political system or even the lack of independence of the courts. Putin’s strongman politics and Russia’s many other problems are easy targets for liberal critics, but if these critics were true to their convictions they would not single out Russia but take a look at Ukraine itself, or even some former Warsaw Pact states now integrated into the EU.

The scope of these problems clearly indicates that the problem runs deeper than mere political leadership: just as the removal of Yanukovych will not end corruption in Ukraine, so too Putin’s exit would not end corruption. The subversion of the political system and the weak rule of law traverse nonindividualistic societies because there are multiple competing loyalties between the individual and the state: to family, to social circle, to religion, to ethnic group. As one character in “A Game of Thrones” laments:

So many vows. They make you swear and swear. Defend the King, obey the King, obey your father, protect the innocent, defend the weak. But what if your father despises the King? What if the King massacres the innocent? It’s too much. No matter what you do, you’re forsaking one vow or another.

Scandinavia is perhaps the best example of individualism in the West, for it is there that family has lost its traditional role, where religion has been completely removed from every nonceremonial place, and where states are almost perfectly ethnically homogeneous. It is there where individual rights are strongest and hierarchy the weakest, where society represses ostentation and inequality, where children are taught to be independent from early on rather than dependent on their family for social advancement. On the opposite end of the spectrum, in democratic India, there are still villages where rape [5] is an acceptable form of debt payment. Eastern Europe figures somewhere between the subordination of the individual to the collective in India and the subordination of the collective to the individual in Sweden. Societies aren’t static; values can change. But such a monumental change is not within the reach of any one political leader—it will be carried out by structural forces alone.

It is therefore of extreme importance to hold onto moral equivalence because it is the most important way to contextualize the actions of different actors in the world system. Without moral equivalence one is ideologically blind. Context in the case of Ukraine can reveal that while Russia is consciously breaking international rules, its motives are merely parochial and no grand imperialistic plan is afoot; and while the West is morally disgusted, its own watering down of the rules provided precedents that have furthered the world’s apathy—as was foreseen by figures as different as John Bolton and Lawrence Eagleburger, who jointly wrote [6]:

A reassessment of America’s Kosovo policy is long overdue. We hope a policy that would set a very dangerous international precedent can still be averted if that reassessment begins now. In the meantime, it is imperative that no unwarranted or hasty action be taken that would turn what is now a relatively small problem into a large one.

Miguel Nunes Silva has worked with the International Criminal Court and the European External Action Service, as well as written for such publications as Small Wars Journal and Asia Times. He is currently an analyst for the geostrategy consultancy Wikistrat.

28 Comments (Open | Close)

28 Comments To "Russia, the West, and ‘Moral Equivalence’"

#1 Comment By philadelphialawyer On March 26, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

Lots of good stuff here…

I would take exception to the claim (not the author’s, I realize), that Kosovo did not involve “changes in accepted international boundaries,” as it most certainly did. And I find the “annexation” argument to be almost laughable. The West had no desire to annex Kosovo (why would it?), so it set up a comic opera, “independent” State instead, complete with NATO bases, and completely dependent on NATO for its continued existence. How is that any more laudable than simple annexation?

One also wonders why “regime change,” the purpose of which is to replace a hostile regime with a friendly one, is any less reprehensible than territorial ambitions. Moving countries across the ledger, from the oppositional bloc to one’s own bloc, as was at least attempted in all of the cases mentioned (Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Kosovo, Iraq), is no less a naked exercise of power than seeking territory for the nation itself. Sometimes hegemons prefer puppets, for purposes of convenience, to outright land grabbing.

As to the author, I think he gives too much credit to the West (Europe and the USA), when it comes to the motives for its various interventions. Generally speaking, there is a strategic or economic motive at bottom, and the business about “human rights” and “democracy” is there only for domestic political consumption.

It is not merely that the West is choosy in its human rights interventions, and chooses the easier cases. After all, that is actually defensible. No, the point is that the West ignores human rights violations not only when China commits them, but when Morocco, Israel and Turkey commit them as well. These countries get their immunity from intervention not because the West cannot take them on, as is the case in China, but because it is simply more convenient for the West to look the other way in the cases of these allies. And, notice too, that these cases are on the periphery of Europe, which is, according to the author, where European human rights concerns are highest. It is simply not true that the West “always reacts with outrage at any major human-rights violation,” as for example, the case of women in Saudi Arabia demonstrates. Numerous cases in Latin America demonstrate this as well. “Outrage” seems to be reserved only for regimes with which the West already has some sort of conflict. Moreover, “major human rights violations” are routinely fabricated or exaggerated, as was the case in Kosovo, Libya and Iraq. And, again, that happens when, and only when, the regime is already on the target list, and only then.

In a way, the author is sorta agreeing with the West when it comes to its alleged moral superiority. If the West really only intervened to “save lives” and to spread “freedom,” “democracy” and “human rights,” then a case could be made that it really is morally superior. I think the example of Scandinavia contradicts this moral thesis pretty well. Here we have a group of countries that live up to the so called Western values more than any other, and yet it seems to be able to refrain from violent intervention elsewhere. If Scandinavia can do it, why not the rest of Europe, and the USA? Apparently, merely being of the West, merely privileging freedom, equality, human rights, and democracy in one’s own society, need NOT be synonymous with attempting to spread, or, more accurately, purporting to attempt to spread, by violence, those values to other societies.

#2 Comment By James Canning On March 26, 2014 @ 1:58 pm

Many American neocons loathe the “socialism” found in Scandinavia.

Illegal invasion of Iraq had little to do with bringing “freedom” to the people of that country. “Freedom” was more a cover story.

#3 Comment By philadelphialawyer On March 26, 2014 @ 3:34 pm

“When the West breaks the law, it believes it is doing so for good reason and tries to legalize its breaches ex post facto. This was the case with Kosovo, when NATO’s intervention was later legalized with a UN resolution, and with humanitarian interventions in general, which the ‘Responsibility to Protect’ doctrine is supposed to justify for the future.”

Leaving aside the dubious claims about “good reasons,” and also leaving aside what the West “tries” to do, I am not sure I understand the claim about the UN. UN Resolution 1244, which I believe is what is being referred to here, did NOT “legalize” NATO’s breach of international law with respect to Kosovo. Rather, the UNSC, in Resolution 1244, decided to deal with the fait accompli, and authorized and “UN-ized” NATO occupation and administration of Kosovo. But the SC never “legalized” the bombings or invasion, “ex post facto” or otherwise.

On R2P generally, I believe that the claim for the rationale has now morphed from that of a stand alone rationale for war (as claimed by some in the Kosovo affair) to one of providing a justification, an occasion, for a UNSC resolution authorizing war. Thus, the “future” has NOT justified the “doctrine” of R2P, much less the even more nebulous concept of “humanitarian intervention.” Rather, R2P is now something that can be claimed at the SC, as a reason for force, but not as legal justification for force on its own, in the absence of a UNSC resolution.

#4 Comment By dennis mcf On March 26, 2014 @ 5:58 pm

Did anyone else notice the Crimean ” crisis ” ,with the return of Cold War rhetoric , erupted shortly after the announcement of plans to further downsize the U.S. Army to 1940 levels ?

#5 Comment By RadicalCenter On March 26, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

Excellent piece. The reference to Scandinavia as “ethnically homogeneous”, however, is sadly out of date. There are significant, rapidly growing, and increasingly aggressive non-white Muslim enclaves in many Scandinavian cities, including Stockholm, Sweden and Oslo, Norway. It may lead to the destruction of the Scandinavian peoples.

#6 Comment By Paul On March 26, 2014 @ 6:54 pm

@ philadelphialawyer: I agree that R2P is a dubious doctrine that at most allows intervention authorised by the UNSC. Unfortunately, the British government has adopted the view that unilateral humanitarian intervention is legal in exceptional cases (though without using the terminology of R2P), and has said, in a statement on 29 Aug 2013, that the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria was such a case. In the parliamentary debate over whether to take action against Syria, all party leaders agreed on this principle. See:

[7]

Parliament voted against intervention, but the debate suggests it was for reasons of timing and sufficiency of evidence rather than principle.

I’m not sure what the official US position is on R2P, but I’d guess that the unofficial position is close to that of the UK.

#7 Comment By bparis On March 26, 2014 @ 7:26 pm

“Here we have a group of countries that live up to the so called Western values more than any other, and yet it seems to be able to refrain from violent intervention elsewhere. If Scandinavia can do it, why not the rest of Europe, and the USA?”

They can afford not to field any sort of military because the US does on their behalf.

This is not arguing in favor of neocon interventionism, but simply pointing out a logical hole in your argument. Of course certain parts of Western Civilization can afford to not be interventionist, the US/NATO is policing the world on their behalf.

#8 Comment By bill On March 26, 2014 @ 9:09 pm

If you can call Sweden individualistic, then clearly the word has no meaning.

#9 Comment By Chris Atwood On March 26, 2014 @ 11:25 pm

Bringing in anything before 1989 is silly because before 1989, Moscow’s policies then were everything it now deplores in the West and more.

E.g. “One might ask what the problem is with furthering and teaching democratic/liberal values, but the answer is obvious: Russia doesn’t do the same in the West.”

Before 1989, every Western country had a Moscow-financed Communist Party which indeed attempted to do everything NGOs are doing now in the former Soviet Union–and more, such as high-level nuclear espionage. The fact that most of these Communist parties were flops (but those in France and Italy were not) is not relevant to what Moscow WANTED to do. They were all Moscow-financed and Moscow-loyal organizations, participating actively within NATO members’ political, media, and cultural systems.

And of course, Khrushchev, when presented with the chance to get an unsinkable aircraft carrier 150 miles south of Miami did not blanch and say, that that would be unnecessarily provocative or endanger the US’s legitimate sphere of influence. No, he grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

So probably it would be best to drop any discussion of US behavior before 1989 from the discussion, since the Moscow we were dealing with then was very different from the Moscow of today.

#10 Comment By R. J. Stove On March 27, 2014 @ 5:07 am

Impressive, fair-minded commentary from Miguel Nunes Silva, with whose writings (I am sorry to say) I was hitherto unacquainted. I hope that more of his work appears in TAC from now on.

My only caveat concerns the section about religion in Scandinavia. Sure, his general point, concerning the religious spectrum around the world, stands. But has Scandinavia been as purged of religion as one would gather from his remarks?

Sweden – the only Scandinavian land of which I possess some up-to-date knowledge, however slight – still has a surprisingly high proportion of its people (67.5%) affiliated with the Lutheran Church in terms of baptism. This is the case even though the average Swede no longer darkens a church door, and even though local Lutheranism is in practice very left-wing (at least one lesbian bishop, for instance).

#11 Comment By HeartRight On March 27, 2014 @ 7:07 am

Mr Silva is being very even-handed and patient.

Likewise,philadlphia lawyer is raising very good points

Personally, I think that people ought to brush up on their Hobsbawms.

Show me a purveyor of liberal democratic values, and I’ll show you just another Imperialist. Thus it has been since the beginning of the Age of Empire.

#12 Comment By alex On March 27, 2014 @ 9:22 am

excellent article

#13 Comment By alex On March 27, 2014 @ 9:34 am

More and more countries consider, that democracy is not the pinnacle of the development of society, and one of the ways to advance U.S. interests

#14 Comment By John On March 27, 2014 @ 2:10 pm

Well, say thanks that nobody likes Putin in Russia, that he is not Stalin. Otherwise half of the west world would have been put on their knees like in 1945, which you deserved for your crimes and which gonna happen one day

#15 Comment By Mary Quest, Stanford Uni On March 27, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

USA in Obama became the laughingstock of preaching democracy through violence. Nobody wants such a democracy.Obama is the worst president of America.

#16 Comment By philadelphialawyer On March 27, 2014 @ 3:20 pm

bparis:

I think that argument would be more persuasive if we were discussing the Cold War or even some sort of struggle against a revanchist Russia. But the “interventions” that we are talking about (Iraq, Libya, Kosovo, etc) do not really do all that much for Scandinavian security. Sweden is not “free riding” on the USA or NATO when it comes to Kosovo or Libya. Or on the US/UK led “coalition of the willing” when it comes to Iraq. I really don’t see how these instances of US/NATO “world policing” are even to Scandinavia’s benefit at all.

Paul:

Perhaps the US and the UK consider R2P to be “good law” as an alternative to a UNSC resolution, but I don’t think the world concurs in that judgment. Of course, like Russia, the US and the UK are powerful countries, with UNSC veto power, so they can more or less do as they choose. Still, that doesn’t make it legal.

#17 Comment By cka2nd On March 27, 2014 @ 4:04 pm

It can’t be emphasized enough that the ultimate reason that the Western establishment has intervened in Ukraine is to open up the country to austerity, free trade, privatization, deindustrialization, the immiseration of the Ukranian working class and peasantry and their absorption into the great European reserve army of the unemployed with which they plan on bringing their own working classes and small farmers to heel.

#18 Comment By JohnG On March 28, 2014 @ 1:08 am

@philadelphialawyer, great analysis, I agree 100%!

All the intellectual gymnastics to derive the desired conclusion that Kosovo was somehow OK while Crimea is oh-so-bad are even more pathetic considering the fact that the first resulted in over 2,000 deaths and billions of dollars in damage to an impoverished country while the second was basically non-violent. Also, the establishment of the desired regime in Kosovo, NATO bases and boots on the ground included, did nothing to prevent the destruction of dozens of churches and ethnic cleansing of some 200,000 Serbs. In contrast, Crimea saw no displacement of civilian populations and even 2/3 of the Ukrainian military personnel decided to stay on (implying that they were invited to stay on, rather than being chased away), so who are the bad guys in these two cases, really?

I find it astonishing that anyone could still take even half seriously human rights-based justifications for all these military interventions. Yeah right, look at how great things turned out for the people of Iraq and Libya so let’s do the same in Syria…

#19 Comment By HeartRight On March 28, 2014 @ 11:51 am

Mary Quest, Stanford Uni says:
March 27, 2014 at 2:57 pm

‘USA in Obama became the laughingstock of preaching democracy through violence. Nobody wants such a democracy.Obama is the worst president of America.’

Balls. After W, he’s sort of acceptable.

What I mean is, in the sense that a weed-user is marginally socially acceptable – invitable for tea if not quite for high tea – whereas a crackhead is in no sense welcome to enter the home.
And of course, neither of them comes close to van Buren.

#20 Comment By Jack On March 29, 2014 @ 9:15 am

Good article. And he does not even mention the US conquest of Panama in 1989. We used tactics that resulted in the death of about 500 Panamanians. Contrast that to Putin’s tactics, which were calculated to avoid casualties on either side. The more important point, of course, is that we had no qualms whatever about conquering Panama in violation of international law.

#21 Comment By JohnG On March 29, 2014 @ 1:41 pm

@HeartRight, right on the money!

I am definitely not an Obama fan, but he deserves a huge credit for not starting any new wars. Libya was a disaster but this was done basically by the Europeans, and he managed to resist involvement in Syria. I sometimes suspect that there was even some (tacit) coordination with the Russians to outflank the neo-crazies who were determined to see at least some bombing, if not boots on the ground.

Something tells me that much of what is going on with Ukraine is similar (lots of tough talk but no real confrontation with the Russians). And I thank God that someone like McCain is not POTUS right now.

#22 Comment By Prai On March 29, 2014 @ 4:08 pm

Silva is exceptional in his point about the unfairness inherent in western universalism and hypocrisy of the western powers in deciding who is good and who is evil; hypocrisy of the west is quite conspicuous in many such humanitarian crusades. He is also right about the role of western-backed NGOs in subverting national interests of the host nations by promoting western ideals/values thereby engaging in cultural colonialism. More than 17,000 (may be more) NGOs in India, and there are some major ones, funded by many Christian missionary organizations from the west, who have engaged in brutal “religious conversion” activities thereby deracinating the unsuspecting youth of India, trying to tear apart the social fabric of, predominantly Hindu India.

However, it seems as though, Silva is quite casual in using India as the “whipping boy” to emphasize his point on bad behavior in the world. Is Silva so sure about rape as a debt payment in Indian villages? Where does he get this from? There are many social ills in India just as we find people elsewhere in the world who use some vague custom, tradition or religious commandment to justify their mean and inhuman actions. But it is highly irresponsible to drag Indian villages into this negative end of the “spectrum”, Silva likes to draw. There may be few in some villages who commit such atrocities, as law enforcement is likely very weak due to lack of resources and other reasons. This is a cognitive bias…a case of narrative fallacy. The author knows nothing about Indian villages. He has heard or read some atrocity literature on India and he feels he needs no further research into the details before throwing mud on those villages he targets. Is Silva ready to say something like the following: ” On one end of the socio-religious spectrum you have Hindu children in India who are taught to be ‘individualistic’ in choosing the form of higher reality without being subjected to the dogma of “one God” as prescribed by a holy book in Abrahamic religions, and on the end of the spectrum, you have hundreds of children being sexually abused/molested by Catholic clergymen while demanding obedience to the ‘collective’ One God, in the democratic US”? Is that appropriate? How could I make the mistake of creating such a narrative for an entire community, religion and a nation because of the actions of few clergymen?

The point is, it has become fashionable for many journalists, both in India and the west, to casually use some horrifying “incidents” committed by some anti-socials to show India in bad light. In the recent times, some highly publicized rape cases have added fuel to the fire and every journalist who could spell “Indian culture” has used it as the target to write an article on rape being a common crime in India because “India is an oppressive patriarchal society where women, lower castes and children have been oppressed historically.” This narrative was floated by the colonialists to make Indians feel inferior about themselves and then it was further reinforced by the western Indologists (it was a prolific tool in the hands of Christian missionaries to convert Hindus)and now, left/liberal/Marxist historians, academics, journalists and MSM media persons use this narrative for all their descriptions of India, nonchalantly. It is easy to do that; there is no need to go beyond the surface and understand history. Most of these people are linear thinkers with no capacity to understand the non-linear nature of evolution of cultures. Once you are bought into a story and groupthink, a career is built by perpetuating that story, incentives and promotions are won and lost based on one’s loyalty to keeping that storyline alive, there is no escape. Silva is just another in that line who has casually dragged India into his map where he has something negative to portray. That is no good. While I liked his intellectual arguments on other fronts, I just lost respect for him because, it is utterly dishonest on his part to succumb to this negative narrative about India. To stay true in anything we do is a difficult thing to achieve. But those who are in the business of knowledge production and creating awareness must do their best to uphold the truth. That means they have to work real hard and transcend their biases and fallacies.

#23 Comment By Escher On March 30, 2014 @ 6:34 am

In the 21st century the West cannot openly annex countries that are important for their location and/or natural resources. So they install their puppets through these fake color ‘revolutions’.
In countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Kosovo and Iraq, where a Pink or brown revolution was unlikely to succeed, they arm local goons and resort to outright invasions or air assaults.
Countries like Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, which are in bed with the establishment, are never targeted for their lack of human rights, not even by the vocal Western media. Gays and non-Muslims can be legally executed in these countries, but the establishment, including the venerable NYT are shouting about a law passed in Russia that restricts what is taught to children on these topics.

#24 Comment By nilesh On March 31, 2014 @ 8:48 pm

While many things resonate with my view with regards to what is main thrust of his article, why he used unfair and erroneous instance of India in the narrative? Fortunately, before I could comment, another commentator, Prai has adequately commented, hence just want to thank pray for his comprehensive reply, clarifying that India never had any system of debt repayment of the kind his article seems to assume as a routine practice.

#25 Comment By Krzys On March 31, 2014 @ 10:07 pm

Wow, corruption as a sign of cultural choice? who would’ve thought? We have to stop this western imperialism with all those independent courts, civil society, respect of minorities and so on.
I propose also that the eastern autocracies should quickly get rid of Western technology, too, so they can commit themselves to their traditional ways and avoid western pollution. After all, it was all pretty much invented in the west.

Another interesting thing, so it turns out that Sudetenland and destruction of Rest-Tschehoslovakai was so much better than Kosovo. No shots fired! What a blessing it was. Hitler just represented more traditional values.

Kosovo on the other hand, was such a criminal adventure fueled by the lies about Srebrnica. Shame on the US.

#26 Comment By Krzys On March 31, 2014 @ 10:14 pm

Another thing on Ukraine, yes, the Russians tried to sponsor their own candidate. Also, they wanted to introduce their own values: corrupt courts, change the rules and then slowly but surely destroy all opposition: the Russian way.

#27 Comment By Swapnil On April 1, 2014 @ 3:30 am

Agree with Prai,
“While I liked his intellectual arguments on other fronts, I just lost respect for him because, it is utterly dishonest on his part to succumb to this negative narrative about India.Silva is just another in that line who has casually dragged India into his map where he has something negative to portray. That is no good.”

#28 Comment By Gazza On May 7, 2014 @ 7:48 am

“Crimea is not Kosovo because in Kosovo an ethnic minority was actually being oppressed and required outside intervention for its protection”

Ethnic Albanians were not being oppressed, unless you consider a government not allowing drug-cartel financed terrorists to murder people to somehow be oppression. The KLA were murderous xenophobes intent on driving out non-Albanians and taking the province by force, and the Serb federal forces were engaged in legitimate anti-insurrection operations, and only engaged militants, not civilians. There was NO need for external intervention to provide “protection”, but NATO used false accusations to justify a war of aggression to facilitate the overthrow of a national leadership that refused to accept the primacy of the Euro-Atlantic power bloc.

The Kosovo War was the final chapter in US/EU/NATO quest to forcibly dismember a non-aligned Yugoslavia and incorporate its pieces into the EU/NATO power structure. Those nations that co-operated (Croat Neo-Ustashe and Bosnian jihadists) were rewarded and there war-time sins were wiped clean, while those who refused to acquiesce (Serbs) were vilified, sanctioned, threatened and finally pummeled into submission with their political and military leaders then persecuted by politicized show-trials and literally hounded to the grave.