One of the prevailing narratives in politics today is the claim that, on average, liberals and progressives display higher levels of compassion and regard for fairness, diversity and human suffering than their more conservative counterparts. But when compassion becomes nothing more than virtue signaling — the adoption of viewpoints for the sake of communicating moral superiority — this narrative falls apart.
On Monday, Nov. 28, an 18-year-old Ohio State University student went on a violent rampage, ramming his car into pedestrians and attacking nearby students and faculty with a butcher knife. He was soon shot dead after refusing university police orders to stop and surrender. The attacker has been identified as Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Somali refugee confirmed to be inspired by ISIS propaganda and whose online rant includes the assertion: “I am willing to kill a billion infidels in retribution for a single disabled Muslim.” The attack left 11 people hospitalized, with five suffering knife wounds.
When this incident occurred a few days ago, there was widespread reporting of the attack. Updates continue to appear by the hour on CNN, Fox News, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among other mainstream and local media names. Naturally, I learned about the attack soon after the story broke, but as I looked through my Facebook newsfeed throughout the day, I noticed that something was different. The typical newsfeed punditry that I had become accustomed to seeing from my social media circle suddenly went missing.
Perhaps people were still processing, and soon they’d post their opinions? Yet now, days later, not a single Facebook friend has decided to opine, let alone post a relevant link. While innocent bystanders faced real danger, supposedly compassionate, politically-active users went silent — not even a “thoughts and prayers” post. With 62 percent of American adults accessing news through social media according to a recent Pew poll, it’s hard to imagine that a significant portion of my friends hadn’t heard about the attack in the past several days — that is, unless the echo chamber effect really is that strong.
So what about this story merits such silence? Where are the posts?
As it turns out, this story presents few narratives ripe enough for political opportunism or virtue signaling. In a space actively fearful of labels like “bigot” or “Islamophobe,” no one shares this story because it misaligns with their favored political narrative.
A Muslim Somali refugee driven by anti-American sentiments and inspired by ISIS leads violent nongun attack at state university. That is not a headline that liberals want to hear on a Monday morning. It’s not necessarily because they are particularly concerned about the 11 injured Americans but rather because the story obviously weakens several of their ideological narratives. Just like when John Podesta, chair of Hillary for America, sent an email about the San Bernardino massacre stating it would be “better if a guy named Sayeed Farouk was reporting that a guy named Christopher Hayes was the shooter,” liberal social media users would have almost certainly seized the opportunity to provide commentary had the attacker been a gun-wielding, white Christian.
I am typically an advocate for caution whenever facts for a story are not fully available. Until facts emerge, I would disapprove of reaching broad-brush conclusions on breaking news that a police officer shot and killed a black man in the same way I would disapprove of making sweeping claims about Monday’s attack. But making claims was far from what people, particularly liberal social media users, did. That’s good, right? Well, yes, if it weren’t for the blatant hypocrisy that comes with exercising selective outrage.
Selective outrage by the liberal majority points to a fundamental inconsistency in this moral superiority that they have sold to the public for so long. Any expression of compassion or care would have been sufficient in this scenario. Not even outrage — just the acknowledgement that this event had even occurred. Yet instead, a vast number of liberals have revealed that they do not act according to the same principles they espouse.
This is neither a statement about Islamic extremism/refugee policy nor an attempt to shame liberals for not following the example of liberal comedian Bill Maher and condemning radical Islam. I would only like to encourage liberals on campus to be more honest with themselves about how much they actually care about empathy and interpersonal concern. Given how this week has unfolded, it’s at least safe to say liberals are no better than conservatives on those fronts.
joshua bansal is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .