Exit Strategies

Kony 2012?


Brendan O'Neill suggests that Kony 2012 is...racist...but then he makes some excellent points about how the viral video campaign is a kind of bastardized last gasp (hopefully!) of "humanitarian interventionism":  

That's true - but who was it who zapped serious politics from international affairs and replaced it with a shallow, knee-jerk moralism? It wasn't the tiny team behind Kony 2012, but rather the far bigger and more influential collective of "humanitarian interventionists" - those politicians, journalists and human-rights activists who have spent the past two decades reducing every messy conflict around the world to a simple case of Good v Evil.

One of key architects of "humanitarian interventionism", Tony Blair, was loudly applauded by serious liberal newspapers such as the Independent and the Guardian when, in 1999, he set out his mission to replace realpolitik with black-and-white moralism.

In a speech in Chicago, unveiling what would later become known as "the Chicago doctrine", Blair declared that when "evil" is occurring somewhere in the world, then "the principle of non-intervention [should] yield to the international responsibility to protect". He explicitly used nursery-style language to describe this new interventionist imperative. So he said that his and Bill Clinton's bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 was a "battle between good and evil, between civilisation and barbarity".

The serious commentariat - including some of the people now slamming Justin Bieber for looking at Uganda through fairytale goggles - lapped up Blair's uber-moralisation of complex international issues. Indeed, many of them treated Slobodan Milosevic, the Serb Yugoslav leader who was attacked by Blair and Clinton, in the same way fuzzy-minded teens now treat Joseph Kony - as a wicked, awful, unspeakable man whom they could conspicuously hate.

So the Guardian described Milosevic as "the chilling embodiment of evil" - the same post-political language now inherited by the organisers of Kony 2012. Other serious reporters openly admitted that railing against "evil" Serbs in the 1990s provided them with a moral rush and sense of purpose. One Guardian columnist said:

My father had the honour of fighting fascism; I instead have the strange privilege of meeting the people who are fighting a pale but unmistakable imitation of the Third Reich [the Serbs].

Chris Hedges, who covered the Yugoslav conflicts for the New York Times, likewise admitted to getting a thrill from screeching at the Serbs.

Many of us, restless and unfulfilled, see no supreme worth in our lives. [W]ar, at least gives a sense that we can rise above our smallness and divisiveness.

This is precisely the same emotion now motoring the Kony 2012 campaign - the narcissistic desire to rise above one's own "smallness" by indulging in an orgy of collective hate against a man who seems simplistically evil and Third Reich-like.

If Kony 2012 really has emptied a complex conflict of its nuance and turned a foreign warlord into a dastardly figure we can all feel good about hating, then it learned those tricks from serious players in the world of modern liberal politics - they've been doing the same thing for two decades.

Indeed, the hacks and activists of the "humanitarian" set have even plied their low moralistic trade in Africa, acting paternalistically towards that continent long before Kony 2012 did.

During the Darfur conflict of the mid-2000s, all the tools now used by Kony 2012 - the language of good and evil, the depiction of certain Africans as mad, the achievement of a cheap moral thrill through lambasting evil wogs - were all honed by liberal campaigners and commentators.

So, very few commentators took George Clooney to task when, in his capacity as a spokesman for the Save Darfur Coalition, he said of Darfur: "It's not a political issue. There is only right and wrong." Apparently it is bad for Bieber to depict Africa in black-and-white terms, but okay for Clooney to do so.

Nor did commentators mind when a celeb spokesman for Save The Children declared in 2007 that "Africa is a very complex place, but the Darfur crisis is quite simple. The conflict is essentially the Arabs against the Africans. It's all tied up in various battles over things like oil and gold." That assessment of Darfur is easily as boneheaded as Kony 2012's analysis of Uganda.

Meanwhile, a veteran British journalist hysterically claimed the situation in Darfur was "comparable to the death camps in Nazi Germany". And the great and the good in the right-on world of caring commentary and NGO activism sagely nodded in agreement.

Indeed, the searing criticism made by the author Mahmood Mamdani of the Save Darfur campaign in 2007 reveals that it was, in many ways, the predecessor to Kony 2012. Mamdani said the serious media and serious activists had connived in the

...reduction of a complex political context to a morality tale unfolding in a world populated by villains and victims who never trade places and so can always and easily be told apart.

That is precisely what Kony 2012 is doing in relation to Uganda. It is very unbecoming of the serious commentators who actually invented that mode of shallow, moralistic politics to now take the mick out of Kony 2012. How easy it is to mock P Diddy and teenage Americans for engaging in collective posturing against evil foreigners.

Yet what such mocking overlooks is that the moralistic zealots of the simple-minded Kony 2012 campaign are actually the bastard offspring of the liberal elite and its cynical, self-serving moralisation of international affairs.