Brendan O’Neill Brendan O’Neill

It’s not Palestinian blood that is cheap, Humza Yousaf

(Photo: Getty)

Sometimes a politician says something that makes you wonder if they’re living on a different planet. This week it was Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf. He said there is a dearth of political concern for the poor people of Gaza. It feels like ‘Palestinian blood is very cheap’, he said.

It seems to me that it isn’t concern for Muslim life that motors the protesting classes – it’s contempt for Israel

I’m sorry, what? There have been more public displays of sorrow for the people of Gaza than for any other people caught up in a war as far back as I can remember. Solidarity with Gazans is virtually mandatory at dinner parties across the land. Few wars have pricked the conscience of the middle classes as much as this one.

We’ve seen think piece after think piece about the pain of the Palestinians. Bourgeois youths have hit the streets every weekend to register their compassion for Gazans and their hatred for Israel. MPs have made tub-thumping speeches on the need for a ceasefire. Palestinian flags fly from lamposts. The keffiyeh has become the fashion item du jour for the ostentatiously virtuous.

The real question, Mr Yousaf, is not why people are silent on Gaza (they’re not), but why they seem so much more agitated by this war than by any other of recent times. It’s that question that needs to be answered. And I don’t think you’ll like the answer.

It was in conversation with Laura Kuenssberg that Yousaf issued his colourful cry about Palestinian blood being ‘cheap’. Asked by Ms Kuenssberg if ‘people’ place a ‘different value on Palestinian lives, [on] Muslim lives’, he said: ‘Without a shadow of a doubt.’ Many in ‘the Muslim community’ feel that way, he said.

News outlets were quick to report his damning of the political world for viewing Palestinians as dispensable. The Herald hailed his insistence that ‘people [place] a “different value” on the lives of Muslims and Palestinians’.

But who are these ‘people’? Not our political leaders. Even those who, to Mr Yousaf’s fury, refuse to call for an immediate ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war have made clear their concern for the people of Gaza. ‘Too many civilians’ are dying, says Rishi Sunak. ‘The people of Gaza need aid, food, water, fuel, shelter and medicine in huge volumes’, says Keir Starmer.

It’s not the media class, either. There’s been a tsunami of media coverage on Gaza. Far more than there was for the Saudi-Yemen war, every African war of recent years, or the horrific return of Azerbaijan-Armenia hostilities last year. More than 100,000 ethnic Armenians have been displaced by that conflict. No protests for them. No Armenian flags fluttering on our streets. Now that’s what I call ‘cheap’ blood.

And it’s certainly not our activist class. They have obsessively devoted themselves to the cause of Gaza, to the exclusion of every other issue on earth. War in Darfur, murderous pogroms against Christians in Nigeria, the hunger haunting 50 million people in Central Africa, the Uighur crisis, Ukraine… none gets so much as a look-in with the bien pensant campaigning cliques who have unilaterally decreed that Gaza is all that matters.

The uncomfortable truth, Mr Yousaf, is that if anyone is placing a ‘different value’ on human life it is the activist set, and possibly even politicians like you. Their Gaza myopia, their furious fixation on Palestinian suffering, implicitly accords a ‘different value’ to other people currently living through war, terror and hunger. It says to them: ‘Sorry, guys, you don’t matter right now.’

In a sense, Yousaf is right that the events of the past three months confirm that some people view Muslim life as ‘cheap’. Just not in the way he thinks. It is the right-on middle classes consumed by grief for Gaza who have shown disregard for Muslim life.

Where were these people when tens of thousands of Muslims, including Palestinians, were slaughtered in the war in Syria? Or when Yemeni civilians perished under Saudi bombardment? Or when the mullahs of Iran massacred hundreds of their own citizens for the sin of standing up for women’s rights? I’m sure they said something, here and there, but they certainly did not reorder their lives around those calamities in which Muslims died in unconscionable numbers, as they have done with Gaza.

Let us turn the question back on them. Do the lives of young women in Iran who want to show their hair in public have a ‘different value’ to the lives of people in Gaza? Do the lives of Yemeni peasants? The lives of Syrian dissidents? If not, why did you not make as much noise over those violent assaults on Muslim life as you have done over Israel’s war against Hamas?

It seems to me that it isn’t concern for Muslim life that motors the protesting classes – it’s contempt for Israel. It is only when the Jewish state is involved in the loss of a Muslim life that the middle-class left takes to the streets in vast numbers. A visceral loathing for Israel is now in the political DNA of the western bourgeoisie, it’s the central strain in fact, and I find that deeply troubling.