Monday, November 22, 2010

The Quandry of Human Rights During War

I think any reasonable person will agree that things that make the Islamists gleeful probably aren't good. This is clearly the idea that motivates many in the West to warn of military action that hits innocent locals in Muslim countries. It's a motivating force for European and American diplomats who wish Israelis and Palestinians would have peace, so as to remove an issue that props up Islamist extremists.

By the same token, the willingness of the British authorities to fork over 10,000,000 Pounds to some British citizens who were incarcerated in Guantanamo should be regarded as a bad thing:
Inevitably, the settlement was seen by some, including Patrick Mercer, a Conservative MP who specialises in security issues, as “giving comfort to the enemy”; Islamist websites celebrated it as a humiliating admission of guilt by the British government. But although it was unpalatable to some, intelligence sources described it as “a price worth paying” to bring the court proceedings to a halt.
In May the Court of Appeal had dismissed an attempt by the security and intelligence services to keep sensitive evidence secret in the case brought by Binyam Mohamed, Bisher Al Rawi, Jamil El Banna, Richard Belmar, Omar Deghayes and Martin Mubanga; they allege that government agencies aided and abetted their detention at Guantánamo and the abuse they suffered there. As lawyers for the six men deluged MI5 and MI6 with demands for around 500,000 documents to support their case, it became clear that an out-of-court solution had to be found.
Let's be clear: Islamist organizations made up of people who are eager to torture, behead, and slaughter anyone who's in their way irrespective of anything, and who've got a strategic goal of terrorizing Western civilization into some form of abject submission, are wielding the principles and laws of human rights so as to bolster their own position in the societies they're grounded in. They complain about how the West doesn't respect their human rights, while doing everything in their power to abolish the entire edifice of human rights, and crow with glee (see above) when the West plays by its own rules.

I'm not advocating that the West not play by its own rules. I've been profoundly convinced of the importance of human rights since reading George Orwell's Animal Farm in elementary school, and since beginning to hear about Nazism and the Holocaust at about the same time. Nor have I ever wavered.

Growing up, however, and then growing older over the years, has forced me to recognize that reality is more complicated (dare I say nuanced?) than what seemed simple in, say, the late 1960s.

Robert Bernstein, founder of Human Rights Watch, who has a head-start of a generation over me in the process of life-long learning, seems also to be still working things through. The other day he gave a speech at the University of Nebraska (Omaha) about how the organization he founded, and the intellectual tradition from which it rises may be losing their moral compass. He talked specifically about the way they report on Israel, but if you read carefully it becomes clear that much of his criticism is actually about the practice of wielding the principles of human rights as tools to criticise democratic societies:
Human Rights Watch’s mandate states that they do not take a position on war, and they are very proud of this. They continually point out that they are not an anti-war group. Iran and its proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas are preaching genocide, not only of Israel but of all Jews everywhere. Genocide is one of the greatest human rights violations, and the Genocide Convention states it must be acted upon when it is first threatened. I believe that Human Rights Watch’s position is that their mandate to not take sides in a war takes precedence over the Genocide Convention at this time. It is fair to ask, “Why?” [...]

This has led me to believe that while there should certainly be oversight over democratic forces in battle, I question whether human rights organizations, unless they change their methodology and in my view, their attitudes, and are more accountable in terms of accuracy, are the right parties to do this. If they wish to continue as judges of democratic armies whose lives are at risk, they must be accountable. It would be interesting to review their past accusations of war crimes by the Israeli Army in view of the statistics that are emerging. War is a miserable business and should be avoided wherever possible, but the judgments being made by human rights organizations separating collateral damage in war from war crimes, I believe, are frequently unrealistic in asymmetric wars, and there should be some input by military authorities on what is possible. The efforts of the Israeli Defense Forces, NATO and the U.S. to avoid civilian death are consistently criticized by human rights groups as being insufficient or even non-existent. Military judgments of their own actions, particularly by Israel, are consistently accused of prejudice or lies. Yet the statistics show that civilian death by democratic uniformed armies are much, much, much lower than the 9 out of 10 civilian deaths in general conflicts. [...]

One of the principle causes of genocide is hate speech. It is common knowledge that hate speech is what is used to build-up to genocide. Human Rights Watch and others, to the best of my knowledge, will not take a position on hate speech because they believe that it interferes with free speech and is a risk that must be taken. Many free speech advocates, including myself, agree that there should be great latitude in tolerating hate speech in an open society where others can attack it. In the Arab world and Iran, there is no free speech, and the hate speech is government sponsored. Here is a typical quote – one of thousands – from Gaza. In a sermon, Ahmand Bahr, acting speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said, “Oh Allah, vanquish the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, vanquish the Americans and their supporters. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one.” Even on the West Bank, where Salam Fayyad is improving the economic condition and security, little has been done to stop hate speech and “martyr killers” are celebrated as heroes. Saudi Arabia’s publishing industry is spewing out textbooks for young children calling Jews “apes and pigs.” When Human Rights Watch went to Saudi Arabia to raise funds, it is doubtful that this was discussed, but they can tell us if it was. I believe this is a major issue, as the hate speech is going out into the Arab world uncontested. To those who say there is hate speech in Israel as well, it is true, but it is contested and the number of people it can affect is infinitesimal compared to the 350 million of the Arab population.
Life isn't simple, and fighting wars against monsters who don't give a fig for human rights except as an additional weapon against their foes isn't simple, either. Since that's where we're at right now - not only Israel, but also the US, Europe, India and eventually others - there needs to be more thoughtful discussion about it, and less silly sloganeering.

Postscript: Bernstein tells that Ted Sorensen has died. Now that's a name from the 1960s! He may have originally penned John Kennedy's "Ask not" inauguration line, and generally was a central figure in the Kennedy administration and in the subsequent recording of its annals.


Anonymous said...

in case somebody wants to listen to Sorensen himself


I felt reassured by Bernstein seeing things as I have done quite some time ago i.e. Israel is a country at war just like Vienna was at war when the Turkish sappers worked on digging tunnels under its fortifications

I was particularly concerned that the wars were stopped but not ended – so they became wars of attrition.


AKUS said...

One has to wonder why it took Bernstein so long to realize how he had unleashed a golem on his own people with HRW, which has become nothing much more than one of the leading purveyors of Anti-semitism in the world, one that would cheerfully ask for Bernstein's head if they could.

Herbert Kaine said...

As lawyers for the six men deluged MI5 and MI6 with demands for around 500,000 documents to support their case, it became clear that an out-of-court solution had to be found....who paid for these lawyers? That is the real story here. Perhaps it is from the estate of Francois Genaud, Nazi banker who has funded every anti-Jewish cause since WWII

Sérgkio said...

The Islamofascits learned well the lesson of Hitler´s "seizure of power": to exploit the democratic process to the utmost in order to undermine it. What is really crazy is that the West, and european in particular, seemed to have forgotten the recent history and are prone to cringing appeasement based on the proverbial tyranny of guilt, political correctness, moral relativism and, yes, good ol´antisemitism.