Whenever there is a conflict, the phrase “false moral equivalence” appears in the media, as in: “One should not draw false moral equivalence between X and Y”. This phrase has been used on many occasions with reference to the Israeli‐Palestinian conflict, at the time of the Afghan war, and is now being used with reference to the Iraq war.
The “X” and “Y” in the above equation is correspondingly “the Israelis” and “the Palestinians”, “the Americans” and “the Taliban”, “the Coalition Forces” and “the Iraqi regime”, or just “us” and “them”. And the intended meaning of this phrase is that, because “we” are better than “them”, we have right to do what they have no right to do, for example, “We can kill them, but they have no right to kill us”.
In all such cases those asserting that they are morally superior abrogate to themselves right to punish or to destroy those they consider morally inferior.
But is this doctrine of “false moral equivalence” right?
To begin with all people are equal under the law — this is the fundamental principle of justice. People cannot be punished for being something, but only for doing some acts, which are crimes.
Let us look at two people A and B. A is a very moral and honest person, while B is, by his character, a very immoral and dishonest person. But B has never committed any crimes of immorality or dishonesty, because of fear of punishment. A, on the other hand, one day, in spite of his high morality, yielded to a temptation and raped a woman and then killed her to cover up his crime.
Clearly it is the moral person A who is a criminal and should be punished, while B, in spite of his inward immorality and dishonesty, is innocent of any crimes.
The doctrine of “false moral equivalence” is just another political ideology used to justify right of some people to interfere with person, freedom and property of others. It is not different from the various “isms”, like the various “socialisms” of the 20th century.
One should distinguish between a moral opinion, which everybody can have about other people, and the duties of prevention of crime and enforcement of justice. Thus one can think that A is a better person than B, and choose him as a business partner, but the right to interfere with the freedom, person, or property of B can only arise out of the duties of prevention of crime and enforcement of justice. And in matters of prevention of crimes and enforcement of justice all people, be they “them” or “us”, “good” or “bad”, are equal under the law.
If it is crime to steal, then it is crime regardless of who commits such crime “them” or “us”, a goody or a baddy. This does not depend on who is the judge or who is to be judged, but only on application of principles of justice to facts.
Once people learn to judge in such impersonal, objective way, then there will be no wars, no terrorism, and no politics — just simple plain “blind” justice and honest and competent government. Sooner or later people will come to it, but, in the meanwhile, people will keep killing each other and living in fear. And the doctrine of “false moral equivalence” will not help them to change that.