Is moderation really a virtue?

While reading Chris Hedges’ contemplations on the Arab-Israeli conflict at the time of the Gaza blockade, I came across this passage by Edward Said:

“Nothing in my view is more reprehensible than those habits of mind in the intellectual that induce avoidance, that characteristic turning away from a difficult and principled position which you know to be the right one, but which you decide not to take. You do not want to appear too political; you are afraid of seeming controversial; you want to keep a reputation for being balanced, objective, moderate; your hope is to be asked back, to consult, to be on a board or prestigious committee, and so to remain within the responsible mainstream; someday you hope to get an honorary degree, a big prize, perhaps even an ambassadorship.

For an intellectual these habits of mind are corrupting par excellence. If anything can denature, neutralize, and finally kill a passionate intellectual life it is the internalization of such habits. Personally I have encountered them in one of the toughest of all contemporary issues, Palestine, where fear of speaking out about one of the greatest injustices in modern history has hobbled, blinkered, muzzled many who know the truth and are in a position to serve it. For despite the abuse and vilification that any outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and self-determination earns for him or herself, the truth deserves to be spoken, represented by an unafraid and compassionate intellectual.”

Only after reading it twice did its meaning really strike me. For as long as I have been learning about international affairs, I’ve been taught to understand both sides of the story, to be moderate and balanced in my approach to the worlds injustices. If one is seen as being too far to one side or the other one’s opinion is not taken seriously, especially not in academia. You are seen as too ideological, too polemical, a radical. But is this really the right approach? When blatant injustice and human rights violations are occurring in front of our eyes, must we always step back and take into account the views and reality of the oppressor? Is it possible to be a champion of human rights and still be “balanced”?

Quote taken from Chris Hedges “The Tears of Gaza Must be Our Tears”, Truthdig


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