This is our truth, tell us yours
Why the awkward, slightly clickbaity conjunction in the title? Castro is dead, and Mair is imprisoned until death for the murder of Jo Cox.
That’s not enough reason to pair them up though.
What is enough reason to pair them up is the question of whether you can ever excuse bad things done because of the motives or the principles of the individual doing the bad thing.
Jem wrote persuasively and well about Cuba and the need to be less binary in our appraisals of Cuba here. As I’m one of the people inher close circle who was uttery scathing about Castro’s track record about LGBTQ people specifically and human rights in general Jem was cautious about not giving offence. That’s a measure of both her decency and her care to be even handed.
In the process she administered a gentle corrective to my thinking, by indirectly asking me if my view of Castro had been coloured by the miliu I grew up in. Dear reader, I have to confess, I have hung out with lots of Trots and Communists in my life, and many of them had a soft spot for Castro because they assumed he was one of theirs. My bitterness about Castro was really a bitterness about the shallowness and shabbiness of the British left that would forgive Castro his dictatorship and his human rights abuses because of his adherence to the kind of Marxist orthodoxy in speeches that were as far removed from reality as the claims about Cuba’s health service (perfect in principle, poverty stricken in practice).
If Castro had been your run of the mill Latin American dictator, without the adherence to badly understood and barely implemented Marxism, he would have been laudable by comparison with Rafael Trujillo. The conundrum is that by adhering to Stalinism in one country, he raised expectations of how he would behave, and disappointed many when he became a run of the mill El Jefe, trampling on dissent and using the othering of LGBTQ people as just another tool of repression.
There’s not been a lot of Thomas Mair in this blog so far. There’s a reason why he’s here though. In the aftermath of Mair’s conviction and exemplary sentence there was a torrent of complaints that he had not been tried as a terrorist.My timeline was awash with such stuff; amongst it the plaintive question ‘why wasn’t Mair tried on terrorist charges?’ Mair became the flipside of Castro, a figure to be despised for the reasons why he killed Jo Cox, to be treated in exemplary fashion because of what he claimed to believe in. Just as Castro’s crimes do not become more or less culpable because he claimed to be a marxist, Mair’s crimes do not become more or less culpable because of the things he apparently believes in.
The test of our principles is how we apply them to every case, not just the cases that make our pulse race. In a continent ravaged by the dominance of American foreign policy and interests, Castro was a run of the mill dictator, no better or worse than many around him facing the same challenges, but not quite a Pinochet or Trujillo. Thomas Mair is your average man who who murders a woman, using his anger and imagined slights as an excuse for his brutality. I have no problem with Mair being imprisoned for the whole of his life since that seems like sensible risk management to me, but he is not that different to every other man who takes a woman’s life to make himself feel better about his failures. It took Jem’s wisdom to makeme see that.