On Selective Solidarity

Unlike compassionate conservatism, selective solidarity does exactly what it says on the tin.

It is a phenomenon that cuts across gender, race, and political affiliation. Born from the desire to stand alongside comrades, it is blunted by the hypocrisy inherent in its (il)logic.

Across campaigns and across the world it can be seen to rear its ugly head, but little is done to confront or change it.

Now I am not perfect, and I have been guilty of selective solidarity in the past, but I have recognised this failing and corrected it. Those that have not taken such steps themselves may say that it is easy for me to criticise and they may attribute a “holier than thou” attitude to what I say. But the burden lies with them. It is their own inconsistencies that make them a target and its is within their own power to change these inconsistencies.

The issue is not one of agreement. Two parties can disagree on an issue whilst still remaining consistent. The problem arises when, for whatever reason, a party changes their reasoning in order to arrive at a different conclusion. Instead of using the same logic that brought them to conclusion A, they backtrack, alter their own argument, and then arrive at conclusion B. Despite the same logic and reasoning being suitable, they choose to go against their own evidence in order to arrive at a fundamentally different conclusion.

This selective solidarity is best illustrated with real life examples. Let’s look at the issue of animal welfare. It is perhaps the most popular topic for selective solidaritists to frequent and comment on.

We all have a friend of a family member who declares that they are an animal lover. But delve a little deeper into their love of animals and you soon discover that it only extends to a chosen select few.

Cecil the Lion is a name that is now widely recognised due to the global outrage at his killing, but there are many hundreds of Cecils that are killed every year to the sound of complete silence. You cannot object to the killing of Cecil the Lion if you are a supporter of the WWF, because they support, or at least tolerate, the practice of trophy hunting.

“As a leading conservation organisation, WWF works to address illegal or unsustainable exploitation of wildlife. Within this framework, WWF accepts or supports hunting in a very limited number of contexts where it is culturally appropriate, legal and effectively regulated, and has demonstrated environmental and community benefits.”

Nor can you mourn for the loss of Cecil if you have Instagram and/or Facebook photos of yourself grinning maniacally as you lounge beside a drugged up big cat. These cats are used in the abhorrent practice of canned hunting and by supporting the industry you are no better than the vile North American dentist who pulls the trigger to end these creatures lives.

NGOs are often guilty of selective solidarity, particularly on the issue of animal welfare. Take RSPB for example; the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. Owls, falcons, and swans all fall under the scope and protection of the RSPB, but ducks, chickens, and turkeys do not. Neither do pheasant or grouse either it seems, both of which the Queen – who is a patron of the RSPB – hunts quite happily.

Royals Shooting

The Queen, a patron of the RSPB, on a hunt with her husband Prince Phillip

The RSPCA is another guilty party. If you were to phone the organisation and report the fact that a local person was keeping hundreds of dogs in near total darkness, depriving them of the ability to move, and then slaughtering them, the RSPCA would scramble a response team quicker than you could say “animal abuse”. But if you were to mention that you made an error and it was in fact hundreds of pigs and not dogs, the RSPCA would tell you to stop calling and wasting their time.

Despite the ethical sounding name, Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, it is down to their own discretion as to what constitutes an animal worth protecting. (Incidentally, the Queen is also a patron of this society)

Animal welfare is a minefield of selective solidarity and selective compassion. People oppose the Taiji dolphin massacre yet happily eat fish; they oppose fox hunting and badger culling, but say nothing about the number of horses that die at horse races; they are outraged by the dog meat festival in Yulin, but say nothing about their local slaughterhouse. The list is almost endless. And selective solidarity is not confined to only issues relating to animal welfare, it relates to humans as well.

Selective solidarity can be seen on a near daily basis on the issue of human rights. Particularly the rights of those humans who reside in Syria and those who reside in Palestine.

Both peoples are oppressed, both are subject to multiple human rights violations, and both fight and struggle for the right to self-determination. At first glance these two cases seem remarkably similar, and though they should not be treated with the same action, they should be treated with the same consistency.

Neither of these struggles should be downplayed or ignored, and yet as was made clear on a image circulating online, many people, particularly those on the Left, have to check whether the image is of a dead Palestinian child or a dead Syrian child before they decide to be outraged.

Tragic though both cases are, each is treated differently. The dead Palestinian child causes incensed discussion about Zionism, the apartheid Israeli state, and the ongoing occupation and theft of land. Activists may mobilise in the streets, vigils are held, and petitions signed. But the image of the dead Syrian child brings little if any of that.

Where the treatment of Palestinians brings demands from the public to do something about the situation – demonstrations, demands for the UK to stop supplying Israel, BDS movement – the treatment of Syrians brings no such demands. In fact groups like Stop the War Coalition (StWC) actively voice their opposition to any involvement or intervention at all. Stating that the UK should stay out of it because intervention “will have regional and global consequences” – yes, the saving of lives – and “foreign intervention will deny the Syrian people the right to determine their own future” – quite obviously StWC have failed to notice the mass of Iranian, Iraqi, Lebanese, and Russian troops fighting to prop up Assad.

And yet when we compare that language to that used when speaking about Palestine we clearly see just how ingrained and hypocritical StWC’s selectivism goes.

On the issue of Syria, StWC demand that the UK not get involved, but on the issue of Palestine they state: “the STWC will demand the government, MPs and politicians now impose sanctions and support the BDS campaign against Israel”. And though they believe Syrians should have the right to determine their own future they do not believe that to be the case for Palestinians. Rather than encourage non-intervention they instead promote active participation in the region. On the 5th May 2014, they published a story written by Richard Falk entitled “Time to go to war with Israel as the only path to peace in the Middle East”.

And though StWC are one of the most widely recognised repeat offenders, they are not alone in their selective solidarity.

In the wake of the Sinai plane tragedy where 224 people lost their lives, disturbing comments can be seen from anti-Russian commenters online. With the caption “great news” the story of the disaster was shared and liked widely. Many of these commenters oppose Russian involvement in Syria because of the death and destruction that occurs as a result, but whilst the deaths of innocent Syrians brings outrage, the deaths of innocent Russians brings joy.

Selective solidarity is a hollow stance to take and serves only to shed light on the shameful individuals and organisations that conduct themselves in such a way.

Recommended Further Reading:

Here is a closer inspection of the selective solidarity or “selective internationalism”, as this blog labels it, between those who support the struggle of Palestinians, but not the struggle of Syrians.

If you are unsure whether you are a selective solidaritist or not, then you can take this handy quiz to check on your (potential) levels of hypocrisy. The questions excellently highlight just how ludicrous it is to be pro-Palestine whilst avoiding being pro-Syria.

Slightly off topic, but still relevant when speaking about showing solidarity with revolutionary forces. An incredible piece that was written in 2012, but unfortunately is still all too relevant. Libya and Syria: When Anti-Imperialism Goes Wrong.


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