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Logic and rhetoric
Whataboutism (also known as Whataboutery) is a form of defensive propaganda used to counter criticism (usually from "the West", and usually on blatant human rights abuses) with a "What about...?"—question vaguely, if at all, related to the original issue. It is a specialized red herring version of the tu quoque fallacy, sometimes implementing the balance fallacy as well. An old favorite of Communists (especially tankies), the strategy originates from the Soviet era, and was usually used in the form of "And at your place, they hang black people".
Simply put, whataboutism refers to the bringing up of one issue in order to distract from the discussion of another. It does not apply to the comparison and analysis of two similar issues in terms such as why some are given more social prominence than others.
- As mentioned, one of the most common examples of this fallacy was Soviet responses to criticism by pointing out the United States' own failings, such as the mob lynching of blacks. "And you are lynching Negroes" (or "And you are hanging blacks", as the term Negro fell into disrepute) was a common joke in the Soviet Union at Murica's expense, used when Americans accused the Soviets of violating human rights. While often just an informal joke, sometimes this argument was used seriously. It's a tu quoque argument and a type of whataboutism. Instead of attempting to justify the behaviour of the Soviet Union, this argument is an easy way to deflect blame onto America by implying they're hypocrites.
- In the current era, a rather common use of whataboutism is seen from defenders of Israel. No matter what Israel does to inspire global protests and objections—such as the 2014 "Operation Protective Edge" that killed over 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza, a quarter of them children—many Israel-defenders try to change the conversation by asking "What about [fill in the blank with Iran, Ukraine, etc.] Some even admit to the whataboutism, but think it is nevertheless at least partially justified: "It is whataboutery, yes, but a legitimate piece of whataboutery I believe."
- Russia invading a country is okay because IRAQ and LIBYA.
- A complaint about the excessive bureaucracy involved in getting some clothes dry-cleaned was met with a complaint about the difficulty in getting a UK visa for Russian citizens.
- In response to criticism of China's human right record at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, Chinese diplomat Fu Cong told the Council, “The US is notorious for prison abuse at Guantánamo prison, its gun violence is rampant, racism is its deep-rooted malaise. The United States conducts large-scale extra-territorial eavesdropping, uses drones to attack other countries’ innocent civilians, its troops on foreign soil commit rape and murder of local people. It conducts kidnapping overseas and uses black prisons."
- Cuba will often criticize various (admittedly bad) United States domestic policies to direct attention away from its own domestic policy failures. One example comes in the form of a reprimanding of American treatment of Puerto Rico, an island with over a century of American control under its belt.
- Whenever criticism of Islam comes up, its apologists typically tend to do the following. A distinction between criticizing Islam and Islamophobia must be made, however. For instance, Islamophobia would be picking a few violent verses from the Quran and then concluding that Islam and its followers are evil. Criticism would be how violent and cruel the Quran is and how it conflicts with modern society's morals.
- 1. Randomly invoke US foreign policy (the textbook definition of whataboutism)
- 2. Appeal to the Crusades as if they were recent events (while handwaving contemporary Islamist terrorism).
- 3. Recite (admittedly horrible) quotes from the Old Testament, even when their opponent is neither Jewish nor Christian, nor has even invoked the Bible to begin with and despite the fact that many Muslims actually tend to believe in the Old Testament too.
- At home in the rationalism community, the "Dear Muslima" or "Elevatorgate" kerfuffle was in incident where Richard Dawkins used whataboutery to dismiss a woman's conference-creep experiences, implying that her complaint wasn't justified because Muslim women suffer more than her.
- Donald Trump: "What about the alt-left that came charging at the, as you say, the alt-right? Do they have any semblance of guilt?"
- While we're here, basically anytime somebody invokes Hillary Clinton in a topic about Trump.
- On the rare event in presidential debates when US imperialism is criticized, the politicians bring up 9/11 for no reason except to derail the discussion and have the mindless audience cheer.
- Feminism isn't needed in the first world because The Middle East.
- Noam Chomsky has an occasional bad habit here, despite being the source of one of the most famous quotes regarding the issue - see his comments on the atrocities in Cambodia and Charlie Hebdo attacks in particular.
- Neo-Nazi American Front leader Bob Heick responding Geraldo Rivera's evocation of the Holocaust by literally shouting "what about Josef Stalin?!"
- Ann Coulter defended Roy Moore’s alleged molesting of teenage girls by accusing John F. Kennedy of doing the same.
- See the Wikipedia article on And you are lynching Negroes.
- The Economist article that popularized the term
- The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West. Lucas, Edward (2009). Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 307.
- See the Wikipedia article on And you are lynching Negroes.
- In reference to organisations such as the Ku Klux Klan.
- It is in fact the first usage of the term "Whataboutism", used by the Economist
- This joke first began in the 1920s and carried on to the 1960s; after that, the US civil rights movement started to make the argument seem less and less relevant.
- Schwartz, Ian. Trump to "Fake News": What About The Alt-Left That Came Charging At The Alt-Right? Do They Have Any Guilt? RealClearPolitics. August 15, 2017.