| 4.6°C Dublin

Ian O'Doherty: Where are the protests from the Irish Left against Syria?

Nine thousand people are dead so far. Kids are being tortured in jails across the country. There's an active policy of sectarian, ethnic cleansing./p>

Women are being systematically brutalised and raped and without wanting to get too graphic, some of the accounts of the hideously, demonically inventive torture techniques used on detainees sound more suited to something from the SAW movies than anything a human being could do to another person in real life.

Yes, welcome to Syria, where Assad's crumbling regime, like so many other doomed regimes throughout history, has decided that it is going to go down swinging, killing as many of its people as possible.

It's completely senseless and borders on the insanely pointless -- a bit like Berliners being executed by the Gestapo for looting a pot or a kettle from a bombed-out house in the last days of the war.

So, where are the protests from the Irish left against this vile, murderous Government?

Where are the demonstrations, the petitions, the calls for a boycott?

Things sound suspiciously quiet on that front, don't they?

Why are the self-appointed moral guardians of our nation's conscience so uncharacteristically mute?

Well, the answer is simple, nearly, indeed, as simple as the people themselves -- the cause just isn't sexy enough; it's too complicated and tangled and it's hard to march and shout catchy slogans when you're not really sure who is the bad guy.

It's not just the Left in Ireland, of course. It's a global thing as various movements across the world, united and mobilised by the internet, cherry-pick the fashionable cause du jour.

So, we see a 'humanitarian flotilla' making a deliberately futile trip to Gaza, knowing full well that it will be intercepted and they will be either detained or turned away (I particularly loved the line from one of the detained flotilla members that the Israelis had kept the lights on in their cell for too long. Oh, the humanity!).

If the people who boarded this flotilla were really concerned about Palestinian kids they would have done as the Israelis requested them to do and dropped the supplies off in Ashdod, where they could be inspected to ensure there were no weapons and then they would be delivered to their intended recipients.

But that wasn't good enough for these brave humanitarians. Surely, if Palestinian kids were starving to death, they would have acceded to that request.

That's because the 'cause' is always more important than the people they are meant to be standing up for.

We see this selective political myopia everywhere.

Just look at the way Cuba is lionised in so many Irish eyes.

We have elected representatives such as that eejit Finian McGrath who are prepared to say, with an improbably straight face, that Fidel Castro merely had a "different take" on democracy to those of us in the imperialist West.

Well, I suppose locking up dissident writers in a 4x4 cell where they cannot stand upright or lie down properly is certainly a different take on democracy.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm as opposed to the American embargo on Cuba as anyone else. It is punitive and mean-spirited and only hurts the average Cuban who lives below the breadline.

After all, no matter what political form a society takes, the elite never suffer while the ordinary Joe gets shafted.

In fact, I sometimes doubt that the Yanks even really remember why they placed the embargo on Cuba in the first place, but under pressure from the large and extremely vocal anti-Castro Cubans in states such as Florida, it is politically expedient to maintain it.

But that doesn't mean we should be expected to give support and praise to a vile regime that tortures and disappears citizens it doesn't like.

If these people, who are so quick to shout their compassion and humanity from the rooftops and organise on-line petitions, are so genuinely concerned about human rights, where were they when the Chinese Vice- President was here?

Sure, there were a few muted, tokenistic expressions of "concern" from certain quarters but it was merely whispering in the middle of the night.

Compare that to the frenzied cacophony when it comes to American and British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan.

What about the Russians in Chechnya?

'Where was the Left when the Chinese VP visited here?'

Well, you see, that's not quite as sexy a topic because it is almost too complicated to understand from a Western perspective and there are no good guys in this conflict, either Russian or Chechen.

Nick Cohen brilliantly encapsulated this strangely selective world view in his fantastic What's Left? How Liberals lost Their Way.

It's an examination of how he, as a life-long liberal, gradually realised that the values he held were being usurped by an increasingly cynical and nasty, intolerant liberal elite -- if you haven't read this yet, get your hands on it toute suite.

One of the things Cohen points out is the utter uniformity on every position held dear by Liberals and anyone who breaks away from the accepted orthodoxy is immediately ostracised and considered a thought criminal. I've experienced this at first hand and it is both baffling and grimly humorous.

I gave a talk at an Atheist Ireland meeting a while back -- much to the objection of some atheists.

And the reason?

Well, according to one of them, the fact that I was a supporter of the state of Israel immediately made me unsuitable.

The fact that I am also opposed to Israeli expansion and consider some of the Israeli settlers to be as dangerous and, frankly, mental as any other religious fundamentalists didn't come into the equation -- because as far as some liberal atheists are concerned, just because we don't believe in God also means that we must all believe in the same things.

It's a fantastic irony that seems lost on many of them -- we don't believe in religion, but we'll impose our own orthodoxy on you anyway.

So, for all those bleeding hearts who want to save the starving babies in the Middle East, here's my suggestion -- start running some highly publicised flotillas to Syria and then people might take you seriously.

In the meantime, I'll continue to follow South Park creator Matt Stone's philosophy: "I hate conservatives. But I really f**king hate liberals."

Irish Independent