Return to Whataboutery (idea)

"the commonest form of moral evasion in Ireland today"1

—[Cardinal] [Cahal Daly]

"Whataboutery" is a factor in modern partisan political arguments. It arises where there are two distinct sides who share a history of mutual animosity, and where each side can be said to have wronged the other.

In [Northern Ireland], where the term seems to have originated, there is a continuous spectrum of opinion on the big issue of whether the province is better off in the [United Kingdom] or in political union with the rest of [Ireland]. There are [republican]s, [nationalist]s, "neutrals", [unionist]s, and [loyalist]s. Forget how you might use those terms to describe political factions in other countries- in [Northern Ireland|Norn Iron], each applies to a specific, small set of particular parties and their traditional supporters and activists. The first and last factions I mention here are noted for the [terrorist] groups associated with their cause.

In this divided society, where each [side] has a long history doing or justifying terrible things, [political] [argument]s take on a peculiar dimension. [Moderate]s will deal very quickly with the sins of their own "side"- issuing condemnations here and there- and then, they will seek to remind everyone that not so long ago, the other side's militants did something far far worse. The phrase used to do this will probably start "What about....".

"Yes, but what about Robert McCartney?"

"Yes, but what about Lisa Dorrian?"

"Yes, but what about last year's [Twelfth of July|Twelfth]?"

"Yes, but what about the year before last's [Twelfth of July|Twelfth]?"

"Yes, but what about [Enniskillen]?"

"Yes, but what about [Bloody Sunday]?"

"Yes, but what about the G.P.O. fire?"

"Yes, but what about [Oliver Cromwell]?"

Etc, ad (literal) nauseum, all the way back to [Cain and Abel] no doubt.

Hence "whataboutery" is the practise of deflecting attention away from your own behaviour by bringing up an equivalent behaviour on the part of your political enemies. Opinion seems divided on whether the term was invented by [John Hume] or [Cardinal Cahal Daly].

The earliest episode of whataboutery described as such in the annals of the BBC News Website concerns the justification of the loyalist bombing of a School in September 2001 with a claim that, "nobody is listening to the fact that their people are being attacked and intimidated by [in Belfast|Ardoyne] republicans".

Of course, this type of argument is not unique to Northern Ireland. The [Arab-Israeli Wars|Arab-Israeli Conflict] has a long history of terrible wrongs perpetrated by two sides- and this history is used to justify current wrongs. In all fields of disagreement, people will seek to mask their own failings by pointing out their opponents' failings- industrial relations, party politics, warfare, have all had their share of whataboutery.

More about whataboutery:
Mockery of whataboutery:
Examples of whatabourery:
  • (Pretty much all of it- every word.)

  1. And that's saying something!

[Oolong] says, rather wonderfully, "Yes, but what about that time when your side said 'What about the whataboutery' huh? Huh? What about that?". What indeed?