Pakistan's former Prime Minister Imran Khan (Photo by Aamir QURESHI / AFP)
Artillery Row

Liberalism or else

The persecution of populists

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s ex-prime minister Imran Khan was arrested in Islamabad on corruption charges. The move prompted outrage, with riots quickly spreading across the country, and sparked international condemnation. Not unreasonably, the general feeling appeared to be that a populist leader with the support of millions was being persecuted by the state. Pakistanis suspected that the authorities were attempting to discredit their political opponent and stifle democratic debate, which is exactly correct. The ruling party, the liberal Pakistan Muslim League, has openly considered banning the opposition party.

It’s true that one should be careful before extrapolating too much from this case. Pakistan has never really been a democracy, and it is governed to a large extent by its powerful military. Several former prime ministers have been arrested for some reason or the other. Yet it’s interesting to see how much condemnation the move has attracted on this occasion — especially when you consider that Imran Khan’s experience is far from unique. Everywhere around the world, the liberal left is persecuting its political opponents in the courts.

It suddenly became heresy to question the integrity of the electoral system

Donald Trump is, of course, the other major example. As the former President prepares to face re-election, Democrats and left-wing activists have filed dozens of lawsuits against him. Whilst any claims of wrongdoing or criminal activity must be taken seriously, it’s clearly no coincidence that these issues have arisen months before the Republican primaries begin. Indeed, many of the cases are being held in New York, where in 2019 a Democrat Attorney General was elected on the grounds she would find a way to charge an “illegitimate president”.

When Trump fans shouted “Lock Her Up” about Hillary Clinton — a slogan that was in the most part ironic and certainly never acted upon by the President — we were told that America was on the brink of fascism. Now senior Democrats win elections on an open “Lock Him Up” platform, then pursue that promise in office, and we’re meant to believe this is entirely normal and proper.

Similar levels of hypocrisy are far from uncommon. The Democrats spent years bleating about how the 2016 election had been corrupted by foreign interference and dodgy Russians (the parallels here with the behaviour of Britain’s liberal left after the Brexit vote are almost too obvious to mention). They then performed a complete volte-face in 2020 when Trump argued, as his opponents had in 2016, that the election was “stolen. At that point, it suddenly became heresy to question the integrity of an electoral system that had apparently been completely corrupted only four years previously, and Trump was impeached for “inciting insurrection”.

It’s not just Trump. Boris Johnson — who didn’t challenge the liberal consensus in practice but is perceived to have done so — is facing a kangaroo parliamentary court that could see him kicked out of the Commons over “partygate”. Lula, the left-wing President of Brazil, wants his predecessor Jair Bolsonaro locked up for his handling of the pandemic. Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel has had corruption charges thrown at him. The same goes for Nicolas Sarkozy, who just recently lost his appeal against a similar conviction.

Whilst we’re in France, we might also acknowledge that this trend has also extended to the level of individual citizens. A woman in France is currently facing criminal charges for calling President Macron, the darling of the modern liberal left, “garbage” on Facebook. At times it seems that practically anybody who is considered to be challenging the consensus might be sued or hit with questionable criminal charges.

The modern liberal left is much more muscular than people think

The point of this isn’t to imply that figures such as Trump or Johnson are squeaky-clean because that would be patently absurd. Nobody is above the law, and it’s right that individuals, regardless of their position, face consequences for wrongdoing when it happens. This is categorically not the position of the liberal left.

If it were, Bill Clinton would’ve been investigated by the police for credible accusations of sexual assault. Joe Biden would’ve had to answer serious questions about his involvement in his son’s dodgy business dealings in Ukraine — instead, it was dismissed as a conspiracy theory and censored. Tony Blair would’ve been kicked out the Commons for misleading Parliament over Iraq and charged with corruption over “cash-for-honours”. This is obviously unthinkable because the liberal left seldom, if ever, turns on its own.

Some conservatives remain under the impression that the current political establishment pursues a kind of soppy, wishy-washy liberalism that cares only about not hurting anyone’s feelings. The reality is that the modern liberal left is much more muscular than people think.

Today’s liberal left is more than happy to use the full force of the state apparatus to bully their political opponents into submission, disgrace or obscurity. They see no problem in attempting to defeat their counterparts in the criminal courts rather than at the ballot box. So convinced are they by a sense of moral rightness that they probably genuinely believe they are doing us all a service. They are so deeply intolerant of opposing beliefs that they may sincerely think expressing them constitutes a crime.

This has long been obvious elsewhere, particularly in the realm of foreign policy. Disastrous interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere have demonstrated that its advocates are more than prepared to enforce their beliefs on foreign lands through force. As people in their own countries increasingly begin to challenge whether the path they have taken is the right one, the harder side of modern liberalism is becoming more obvious at home as well.

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