Saturday, June 18, 2011

Cheap Courage

When it comes to supporting movements against tyranny in foreign lands it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you're somehow playing a role in the revolution through your minimal involvement from an easy chair thousands of miles away. It feels good to express solidarity with the dissenters in Iran or Syria by changing the color of your Twitter avatar for example. But what good does this really do for the people who are in fact really laying it all on the line? In today's WSJ, Joe Queenan looked at the phenomena of the Gay Girl in Damascus:

There are two ways of looking at the Gay Girl in Damascus hoax. On the one hand, it exposes the threadbare values of people in the West who thrive on bogus exoticism. Much as people who do not actually care about the poor feel their spirits soar when they go to see a movie about the downtrodden of East Los Angeles, reading the Gay Girl in Damascus blog allowed people in free countries to feel a phony rapport with a putatively brave woman in a repressive but colorful country.

It is the same mentality as the Starbucks campaign for "The Kite Runner"—the idea that by purchasing a book about unfortunate denizens of the Third World, along with your double Frappuccino, you not only relieve their misery but somehow, vicariously, participate in their fight against the forces of darkness. It's what inspires people to put "Darfur: Not on Our Watch" signs on their lawns, as if that's going to make any difference. We are here for you, people of Libya! Oh, Bosnia, we stand on guard for thee!

This is rubbish, like sporting a Che Guevara T-shirt at a Beverly-Hills fund raiser. There's no such thing as waging a vicarious war against the forces of evil. Either you are out in the streets risking your own life or you are not. Heroism is not a spectator sport. Reading a blog is not firing a gun.