Stephen Harper’s moral relativism

In Stephen Harper’s speech to the recent Conservative convention, referring to foreign policy, he announced that the Conservatives moral stance would be clear. “Moral ambiguity, moral equivalence are not options,” he stated, “they are dangerous illusions.”

They may or may not be, but he is something of a moral relativist himself. A prime example is the Palestine issue. In his view, any violence against Jews is abhorrent but even much greater violence against Arabs is acceptable, even justified. For example, he infamously referred to Israel’s 2008/09 assault on Gaza as an “appropriate response.” The response was to thousands of rocket attacks from Gaza which over an 8-year period had killed about 30 Israelis. The assault on Gaza killed 1,400 Palestinians, including almost 300 children. In addition, much of Gaza’s infrastructure was destroyed, including half of the hospitals. Subsequent to the war, Gazans experienced increasing epidemics of health problems with a 60% increase in birth defects and a doubling in the number of cases of blood cancer. All of this murderous efficiency was, in Harper’s view, an appropriate response to the largely ineffectual rocket attacks.

Slaughtering 300 children is never an “appropriate response.” It is always, under any circumstances, an atrocity.

Harper’s seeming indifference to the suffering of Palestinians is disturbingly reminiscent of that great conservative hero Winston Churchill. At the Peel Commission on the future of Palestine in 1937, Churchill, who supported the creation of a Jewish state, was asked what was to become of the Palestinians. He replied, “I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. … I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.” 

Is this Harper’s attitude toward Palestine? A “higher-grade race” is quite appropriately replacing a lower-grade race? I would hope not. I don’t believe Harper is the racist Churchill was. So how then do we explain his moral relativism regarding the Jews and the Arabs in Palestine? 

Moral relativism is, in itself, a good thing. After all, all morality is relative, all circumstances are different, and good decisions result from thoroughy considering circumstances. But I suspect Harper has been led into his position on Palestine not by fairly considering the circumstances of both parties, but rather by his own moral certainty, an evangelical Christian moral certainty that often leads to conveniently easy but dangerously biased reasoning. Unfortunately, that moral certainty is now guiding our country’s foreign policy.