Peter Tatchell: An ethical retreat in the face of barbarity

From a talk by the human rights activist at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature
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The Independent Online

Liberal humanitarian values are under threat. The threat comes not from the far right but from the left's moral equivocation and compromises. Sections of progressive opinion are wavering in their defence of universal human rights. In this era of post-modernism and live-and-let-live multiculturalism, moral relativism is gaining ground.

Liberal humanitarian values are under threat. The threat comes not from the far right but from the left's moral equivocation and compromises. Sections of progressive opinion are wavering in their defence of universal human rights. In this era of post-modernism and live-and-let-live multiculturalism, moral relativism is gaining ground.

This holds that every community is different, and there are no eternal humanitarian values. In the name of "cultural sensitivity", we are expected to respect other people's religious beliefs and ethnic traditions. But sometimes this means colluding with barbarisms like female genital mutilation. We would not tolerate this in Britain. Why should we tolerate it in other countries? Fearful of accusations of "racism", much of the left is reluctant to speak out against human rights violations perpetrated by people who happen to be black. This silence is killing black people the world over. President Mugabe has murdered more black Africans than apartheid; massacring 20,000 in Matabeleland in the 1980s alone. Where were the left-wing mass protests? The threat of being labelled "Islamophobic" creates similar moral paralysis, as evidenced by the way the liberal media ignores the role of Islamic fundamentalists in the Darfur genocide.

I have experienced this ethical retreat first hand. OutRage! is campaigning against the murder of gay Jamaicans, and against reggae singers who encourage these killings. Some black and left activists accuse us of "cultural imperialism". These armchair critics never lifted a finger to help gay Jamaicans, but they gladly attack our solidarity campaign. How can it be "cultural imperialism" to support black victims of homophobia and oppose violent homophobes in the music industry? The real "racism" is not our campaign, but the left's indifference to the persecution of gay Jamaicans.

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