This morning I gave my 69th “Thought for the Week” on BBC Radio Manchester.
As well as specifically critiquing “whataboutism” I made the wider point that you should always be more critical of your "own group" (however defined) than you are of other groups.
Since the pandemic started, I have pre-recorded the "Thought for the Week" and sent it to the BBC in advance. Although BBC Radio Manchester has now reopened to visiting contributors, my schedule had me in my London flat today. Consequently it was another remote appearance.
Accordingly you can hear my recording below.
I have a close friend. Like me, he is a Muslim who was born in Pakistan.
Recently, I complained to him about something that is wrong in Pakistan. His immediate reaction was to defend Pakistan by saying “What about the things that are wrong in India?”
He was defending his group by pointing to someone else’s bad behaviour. This reaction is so common that it has a name. It’s called “Whataboutism.” Look it up on Wikipedia, or a dictionary.
My approach is very different.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” [Matthew 7:3 New International Version.] In other words, before criticising others, think about yourself.
Jesus was referring to individual behaviour. However, the same principle applies to the groups you belong to.
I am much more concerned about a member of my family doing something wrong, than I am about a stranger doing something wrong. Misconduct by Britain concerns me much more than misconduct by any other country. The reason is that I expect my country to behave better than other countries.
The same applies to religious groups.
In the Quran, God says to the believers: “You are the best nation raised up for mankind.” [Quran 3:110] That is not some kind of honour enabling Muslims to sit back and relax. It is a command to behave better than anyone else. That is why misconduct by Muslims bothers me much more than misconduct by people from other religious groups.
The exact opposite of my friend’s reaction.