Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Why Russia watchers should listen to Glenn Greenwald | openDemocracy

From Minsk to Astana, elites throughout the former Soviet Union are clamping down on dissent as they respond to a host of perceived crises (East Ukraine, Nagorno-Karabakh, Islamic State). And with human rights abuses increasing fast, governments across the region, perhaps now more than ever, are legitimate targets of criticism.

But before charging down this road, Russia watchers in the West might do well to pause, take stock, and (re)engage with the criticism, which has been leveled at Western human rights activists in the past. Doing so would not only help stave off such criticism in the future, it might actually help improve the work they produce today.

The criticism

The criticism traditionally aimed at Western human rights activists can be roughly narrowed down to two main points.

Firstly, they fail to scrutinize their own governments with the same ferocity as they do those of others. If you are going to criticize a foreign government, then you are morally obliged to be just as scrupulous – if not more – with your own. It’s easy, Glenn Greenwald and others are keen to remind us, to point to the faults of foreign states. But this criticism counts for very little – particularly in the countries being criticized – if you conspicuously skirt over the failings of your own.

Secondly, by predominantly highlighting the abuses of non-Western governments and the ‘unacceptable’ norms of non-Western societies, Western human rights activists prop up that pervasive narrative which divides the world up into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ countries and ‘progressive’ and ‘primitive’ governments. A narrative which has long been used in the service of empire to dehumanize and subjugate the ‘other’.

As far as Glenn Greenwald and Noam Chomsky are concerned, Western rights activists should start paying a little closer attention to what’s going on at home as well as abroad. And if it means avoiding such criticism in the future, why wouldn’t they heed this advice?

But there is arguably a second reason why Western Russia watchers should listen to Greenwald – doing so could help improve the work they produce by giving it some much needed context.

Complete story at - Why Russia watchers should listen to Glenn Greenwald | openDemocracy

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