Saturday, October 11, 2003

From His Most Elevated Holiness St John ('Humanitarian Land-bridge') Pilger

Yes, from him, and this:
Only when a genuine international community discards the current grotesque double standard and demands that Israel end its brutal and illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories, will the murderous cycle stop.
Now, being of a generous nature and not given to excessive grumbling, I start by registering the pluses here. First, the ending by Israel of an unjust and brutal occupation, whether under pressure from outside or otherwise, is indeed one of the necessary conditions for a peaceful settlement in Israel/Palestine. Next, 'cycle' may be interpreted as showing an awareness on Pilger's part that it's not all just about one side, the occupier side; and 'murderous' – I’m riding here with my generous nature – as showing an awareness that there is... well, murder; though I feel bound to add it doesn't have to show this since there's also a looser, more generalized sense of 'murderous’ which would make it more about the badness of the overall process than any attribution of moral criminality to anyone.

And there's the rub. In the 'murderous cycle', Pilger fixes on just one point of actual responsibility. Only when Israel this... that. Not: only when Hamas and co the other... that. But a necessary condition is a necessary condition and compatible with there being further necessary conditions, together with which it might combine to make jointly sufficient conditions. Pilger's is the language of the one essential cause, being used so that a properly distributed ascription of moral responsibility gets lost. It's the language of the real cause of suicide bombings being the occupation - which I believe a well-known left-winger to have written recently in the usual place, but cannot attribute since I've been unable to find it again. It is, in any case, the Noam Chomsky language of draining the swamp to get rid of the mosquitoes. It's a condoning and exonerating language vis-à-vis Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians, since by representing such violence as merely caused, rather than deliberated about and chosen, it erases moral responsibility on that side of the conflict. Apparently morally benign towards that side, it is in fact as deeply insulting as any overt racism could be, as the swamp/mosquito business might serve to indicate. Just part of the natural background they are, moved one way and another by causes acting upon them. It's not a whole lot better than saying 'What do you expect from them?'

posted by norm at 12:38 pm | link

2,500 a year

Peter Finn details here one of the more notorious blackspots of the Saddam Hussein regime:
U.S. officials who are renovating Abu Ghraib, where 1,000 people have been incarcerated since the occupation began, estimate that 30,000 people were hanged there in the Hussein years. The total may be higher. Ahmed Abbas, a statistician at the prison from 1999 to 2001, said he recorded about 2,500 executions a year of both criminal and political prisoners. The execution rate in the prison was higher in the 1980s, when the government launched oppressive campaigns against its perceived enemies in both the Shiite and Kurdish communities, and again in 1991, when it put down revolts following uprisings in the Shiite south and Kurdish north.
Be warned: there are things here some would prefer not to read. But if you opposed the war you should put yourself to the discomfort of reading it anyway - and of reconsidering whether you are content to have acted in a way that might have helped to prolong the likes of all that. (Thanks to Matt Kramer for drawing my attention to this article.)

posted by norm at 12:24 pm | link

Save the children - not the regime

A report of the Children's Rights Alliance was in the news this week. According to the Guardian it warned that, 'Britain is failing to protect some of its most vulnerable children from poverty, imprisonment and neglect'. The report raises serious concerns indeed, including 'that nearly 4 million children - one in three in Britain - continue to live in poverty'.

I want, though, to comment on a detail incidental to the main story. This is that one of the participating charities in the Children's Rights Alliance is Save the Children. Save the Children publicly opposed the war in Iraq. As a long-time supporter, I wrote to them asking how a charity working to improve the lot of children could have acted knowingly in such a way that, had its viewpoint prevailed, it would have helped to prolong the life of a regime which, among other things, tortured and murdered children in front of their parents and vice versa. On 6 August I received a reply from a Lorraine Smart which assured me of the good work Save the Children does - as I was aware, this being my reason for having supported the charity - and also contained the following affirmation:
[A]s a non-partisan humanitarian agency Save the Children takes no position [my emphasis] on the question of who should govern Iraq.
Out of the mouths of babes. I mean that in a twofold sense. First, it is a kind of moral infantilism not to reckon with the predictable consequences of one's actions. In opposing the war Save the Children did at least commit itself, I would say, to the position that Saddam Hussein and his gang should continue to govern Iraq for the time being in preference to any interim authority that might arise out of a US-led military intervention. To have opposed the war and deny this is about as convincing as it would have been to support the war while denying you took any position on whether the US should be a serious player in determining the post-war aftermath in Iraq.

However, I mean that well-known phrase in a second sense as well. Out of the mouths of babes, wisdom. As a humanitarian agency Save the Children should have done precisely what Ms Smart claims it did do, when it didn't. It should have taken no position, just continuing to pursue its stated goals vis-à-vis children in all circumstances.

posted by norm at 12:15 pm | link

Friday, October 10, 2003

The rights and wrongs of amnesty 3

[The first two instalments were posted on Monday and Wednesday.]

A form of trade-off reasoning is offered in the 'amnesty to avert suffering' argument that in another context is generally, and rightly, looked on with suspicion: it says that in order to avert or minimize some putatively large future suffering we are justified in causing or incurring this actual suffering to known individuals. Where this is said in favour of terrorist violence or cold, end-justifies-the-means, thinking by some (not all) kinds of revolutionary to allow grave harm to innocent people, it tends not to get that sympathetic a hearing (unless the victims are Israelis, in which case you never know). I grant, the analogy isn't fully exact. For, the terrorist, cold end-justifies-the-means case involves directly causing harm to innocents, whereas the amnesty policy involves, or so I argue, discounting such harm already done. Nevertheless, there is something common to the two justifications in that known harms to actual persons are in both cases set against an estimated future good, and the benefit is speculative, and projected as often as not by others than those who are (to be) the victims. Speculative. There may be a high probability of further violence from pursuing a policy of justice - without amnesty - so far as possible, but how much violence will there be? And how much additional suffering for the victim group from a policy of amnesty? Further, there is a reflexive element here making calculation harder. A certain privilege is extended to the perpetrators, who can strengthen their prospect of securing amnesty by maximizing the threat of further violence and disruption. Apart from the fact that the moral framework is set by the criminal, which is repugnant, there is also the likelihood that a known openness to the policy of amnesty by authorities-to-be could contribute to the incidence of crime by encouraging such a show of power through disruption.

Perhaps most seriously of all, the speculation is anyway internal to some given national context and in aid of harmony there. If one broadens the perspective to encompass efforts within the international community to strengthen the legal and moral framework against tendencies towards political and military crime in situations of conflict, we are entitled to ask about the probable effects of amnesty policy on these. (The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has consistently held that amnesty laws passed in Latin America violate states' obligations under the American Convention on Human Rights. Likewise Human Rights Watch is opposed in principle to the granting of indemnity.) Note also that the thinking behind this amnesty policy can be applied before as well as after the fact: to the next rather than the last country; by thugs and torturers as well as by jurists and forward-looking democratically-minded politicians; by Mugabe as well as by Tutu and Mandela. In general I have a worry about the speculative trading-off of known wrongs to particular persons against future possible benefits in situations of great uncertainty such as the situations we are concerned with mostly are.

Just war doctrine, in an influential version, embodies a better moral framework. It upholds, even for situations of extreme conflict, rules against targeting the innocent - in the sense here of non-combatants - and against using excessive, unduly cruel methods to attack those who are legitimate targets. It centres on respect for individuals as having rights against violation, rather than trading these speculatively against estimated consequences. Am I saying such rights are absolute, then, never to be transgressed or violated under any circumstances, their violation never to be discounted or overlooked or weighed against other considerations and then set aside? No, they cannot be absolute. But they are nearly so. They must not be violated, or their violation discounted, except to avert a great moral catastrophe which is both imminent and certain - or something bordering on this. I acknowledge that specifying conditions of exception thus ('nearly' absolute, 'great moral catastrophe... or something bordering on this') creates a grey zone between moral catastrophe and mere crisis or danger. So be it. It is a better position than the available alternatives*, and nobody has guaranteed us that the application of moral thinking to the realities of political life** will be easy.

*Available alternatives. For example, forbidding the deliberate taking of a single innocent life even to save the population of a city, on one hand; allowing the violation of many people's fundamental rights in favour of 'important' counter-considerations, on the other - so reducing the force of these fundamental rights to next to nothing, since it is a feature of situations of conflict that there are always important counter-considerations in abundance.

**Application... to the realities of political life. It has to be judged whether in Chile or Argentina or South Africa, in former Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Indonesia, in Israel and in Palestine, the gravity of the possible consequences of trying to secure justice for the victims can outweigh the wrong that is done by offering amnesty to their killers or torturers.

[I shall post the fourth and final instalment on Monday.]

posted by norm at 2:11 pm | link

Genius? - You bet

Michael Greenspan of Harrison, NY, writes a follow-up to his previous email, featured here yesterday:
I inadvertently misled you.The way Dylan sang the lines in the final recording sounded nothing like how Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie sounded when they tried to convey what they wanted. So in the end, the video makes plain Dylan's inimitability, thereby strengthening your case, not weakening it.
Ha, redeemed - 'It's true we make a better day, just you 'n me'.

posted by norm at 11:20 am | link

The normblog profile 3: Alan Brain

Alan Edwin Brain was Born in Earley, Berkshire in 1958 and emigrated to Australia in 1968. He was educated at Loddon Infants, Polehampton Primary and Bigshotte Preparatory School (in the UK); then at Newport Primary NSW, Sydney Grammar School, and Sydney University, where he studied Computer Science and Pure Maths. He is currently on the last leg of a Masters in Information Technology at Charles Sturt University. Alan was a systems architect for the STN-Atlas (now part of British Aerospace) COSYS Naval Combat System, worked on ISUS-90 Submarine Combat System (for Israeli boats now supposedly carrying Nuclear Weapons), and headed the Onboard Software Development Team on FedSat, Australia's first Satellite since the 60s. He lives in Canberra, and has been married since 1981 to Carmel Brain; they have a two-year-old son, Andrew Edward Brain. Alan blogs at A.E. Brain which he intends to bequeath to his son.

Why do you blog? > 'I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream' (the title of a story by Harlan Ellison).

What has been your best blogging experience? > Getting praise (readership) from people I respect.

What are your favourite blogs? > InstaPundit, Evil Pundit and James Lileks.

Who are your intellectual heroes? > Alan Turing, Stephen Hawking and Jeremy Bentham.

What are you reading at the moment? > Analog SF Magazine and Winston Churchill's History of the Second World War.

Who are your cultural heroes? > Rembrandt van Rijn, William Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci.

What is the best novel you've ever read? > Earth by David Brin, tied with A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr. and The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein.

Who is your favourite composer? > Mike Oldfield.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you've ever changed your mind? > Growing more leftist as I get older and have more illusions shattered. The free market is just a useful approximation, not Holy Writ. Marxism doesn't necessarily entail idiotic value theories or mass slaughter.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > Self-criticism leading to continuous improvement. Continuous evolution not revolution.

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > Anti-rationalism, typified by the post-modernist 'Triumph of the Will'.

What would you do with the UN? > Prune and salvage, retaining baby, jettisoning bathwater and making membership conditional on following the Atlantic Charter. Give it teeth and surrender a lot of sovereignty, but have checks and balances in place. Don't follow the EU model.

What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Don't sweat the small stuff.

What do you consider the most important personal quality? > 'I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.'

What personal fault do you most dislike? > Pompous arrogance without the ability which could excuse it.

What is your favourite proverb? > 'Never attribute to malice what is adequately explained by incompetence' - Napoleon Bonaparte (whom I detest).

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Status symbology.

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Painting miniature figurines and reading. But I have a two-year-old son, so what spare time?

What is your most treasured possession? > A German ladies' pocket watch, given to my Grandfather - who was a sniper in 1916 near Thiepval, the Somme - for rescuing a German sniper in no-man's-land he'd just shot after a 3-day duel. He originally went to him to 'make sure', as per standing orders on both sides. As the enemy was already permanently disabled, my Grandfather used his field dressing on him (a court martial offence) and summoned a German stretcher party instead.

What talent would you most like to have? > The ability to play the music that's in my head.

What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > Lawyer, teacher or astronaut.

Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > Rolf Harris, under-appreciated as an artist.

Who are your sporting heroes? > Eddie 'The Eagle' Edwards; Eric 'The Eel' Moussambani.

If you could have one (more or less realistic) wish come true, what would you wish for? > The wisdom to know what's most right to do with a wish.

If you could have any three guests, past or present, to dinner who would they be? > Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot and Josef Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili - so I could poison the bastards. But I'd listen to their conversation first. 'Know thine enemy'.

[The first two normblog profiles were of Chris Bertram (on September 26) and Michael J. Totten (on October 3). The fourth one will appear here next Friday, with others to follow on a weekly basis, barring unforeseen events.]

posted by norm at 10:09 am | link

Thursday, October 09, 2003

In the footsteps of Isabel Costly

From an interesting account of an Iraqi woman's return to Baghdad this summer:
When we arrived on the outskirts of Baghdad, Abou Haider pointed out the notorious Abu Gharib prison, where just about every Iraqi had had at least one relative imprisoned or executed.
Many Iraqis are returning from exile, some briefly, some to stay and rebuild the country. They are coming to see family they haven't seen in decades and reestablish ties with siblings and cousins. Many are optimistic about a new Iraq. Businessmen are excited about what they see as "a virgin market."
Baghdad turned out to be a city of surprises. Press reports had led me to expect a substantially bombed-out place, and although there was plenty of visible damage to government buildings, most homes were intact.
"Whatever bad thing you heard" about life under Hussein, Yaser told me soon after welcoming me, "multiply it by 10. Those of you who lived outside cannot possibly fathom what we went through living under his rule."
His only concern was whether his jailers would be Iraqis or Americans. When he heard Sgt. Stevens say Americans, he was relieved. Years of Baathist torture had left its mark.
See. Pretty good, hey? Read the rest.

And if you do, you'll also find passages like these:
A young woman and her children were among those killed in the Mansour bombing; her husband survived. At first, neighbors said, the husband just sat quietly in front of the house, refusing to move. Now, when people greeted him at the market he said, "The children are fine. Sana asks why you don't pass by anymore."
However people got their information, many of those I met who had initially welcomed the Americans with smiles now felt abandoned. When, they asked aloud, would the chaos end?
Cue John Pilger, scratch everything before 'A young woman...' (Thanks to Steve de Wijze for the link.)

posted by norm at 6:32 pm | link

Is a bell costly?

Depends how you reckon it. Here's a paragraph of Isabel Hilton's (with numbering inserted by me) from yesterday's Guardian:
The cost of this adventure [the war] can be counted in many ways: [1] there is the damage to future potential for international action against rogue states; [2] the risk of terrorism is heightened; [3] and the possibility of disaffected personnel from Iraq's weapons programmes throwing in their lot with some kind of jihad is higher than before. [4] Equally dangerous is the manner in which a system of internationally sanctioned monitoring and control has been sacrificed in favour of unilateral action.
Now, I could argue with [1] and [2] since arguable is what they are and they are certainly not proven. And about [4] I could say that the US, the UK, Australia and Poland are more than one country; or if unilateral is just supposed to mean 'without UN authorization', I could say that it didn't have to be like that since the UN could have authorized it. But none of this is my purpose; which is rather to ask yet once more how it is possible to write as a liberal or leftist for a liberal newspaper and construct a balance sheet like that. Focus particularly on [3], for [3] is not only in a general way a putative cost, it is specifically a regime-change cost. How can you register this possible danger from the overthrow of the Baathist regime and not, not by so much as a flicker, also the benefits of the same regime change? It's almost as if it would have been better for the regime to have endured so that there would not have been 'disaffected personnel from Iraq's weapons programmes'.

Unimaginable that Isabel Hilton might actually think the Saddam regime was a good thing. But it's as with far too many in the anti-war camp. They don't have to think it. Their arguments think it for them.

(Amended at 8.30 PM.)

posted by norm at 5:44 pm | link

Norman-style wisdom

You know the thread within 'The war against terror has failed' story, saying that one sign of this failure is the West's inability to catch Bin Laden. Well, Tom Bower has a different view. It's that Bin Laden is in fact dead (nothing new in that hypothesis), and it's in some people's interest to keep up the myth he's still alive:
Why don't we accept that the same folk who invented the "WMDs ready in 45 minutes" and the Iraqi purchase of uranium ore in Niger for a non-existent nuclear programme, have a vested interest in keeping Bin Laden alive? Without the bogeyman, it becomes harder to focus popular anger against the Arabs.
Don't let it totally disorient you, now. There's a common structure. Same people at fault, whether failing to get Bid Laden or pretending he's alive 'to focus popular anger against the Arabs'. Let's call this, henceforward, the Norman Mailer slot (for bullshit explanations).

posted by norm at 3:01 pm | link

Hostis humani generis

There is much good sense in this article by Avraham Burg. Including this:
I hear the cries of joy when a suicide bomber completes his task. I know the claim that the Palestinians have no helicopters or jet fighters and so the bombers are their strategic weaponry. That is their truth. Well, this is mine: suicide bombing is a weapon of monsters, not freedom fighters.
By tradition, indeed, the perpetrator of such crimes is 'an enemy of all mankind'. Read the rest.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad today there has been another suicide bombing:
Baghdad, Oct. 9 - Twin attacks in Baghdad killed a Spanish diplomat and at least eight Iraqis Thursday... A suicide car bomber crashed through the gates of a police station, killing at least three policemen and five civilians and wounding scores in the blast, Iraqi police said... A police spokesman said hundreds of people had been in the building waiting to receive salaries.
See also here.

posted by norm at 2:12 pm | link

What is Rugby – Rugby Union?!

In my collection of books relating to cricket I have one by Arthur Goldman, What is Cricket – Rugby? (Johannesburg, 1969). The title is taken from a question asked of Bollie Sieff, 'one of the greatest flyhalves never to gain a Springbok cap', by his (Jewish) Mom. The book is basically anecdotes about South African Jewish sportspeople. Which reminds me that in one of those 'plane spoof movies - possibly Airplane - an air hostess offers a passenger, for reading matter, something called 'Jewish Sporting Legends' and it's a leaflet of just a couple of sheets. However, I digress before I've even started. This was only the lead-in.

The lead-in to an outraged email I've received from Richard Bayley. I've excised some preliminary comment of a political nature, but otherwise it reads as follows:
What a disgrace that in the week leading up to the Elimination Semi-Final you choose to publicise the game of Empire: yes, doctors' and lawyers' playtime (ably assisted by their hired muscle of farmers and policemen). Truly, a game designed to suit all the shapes and sizes in an English public school, with the main aim being to kick the ball into touch. The real Rugby issue is whether Wigan should start with Lam at scrum half, with Luke Robinson coming off the bench after half-time, or whether the boy wonder should get a starting place (increasingly my position) in Friday night's game at Headingley. Prediction? Wigan to win the semi, and to beat the Bulls at Old Trafford. - p.s. Do you have to wear a Barbour jacket whilst blogging on Union?
I have to confess that I couldn't understand one word of this, and wrote back to Richard asking if he was writing in a foreign language. I also invited his entry for the normblog Rugby World Cup thingie, and he duly obliged. I have a few entries now, but only a few. Come on, people.

posted by norm at 12:23 pm | link

One thing I don't get about the Rio Ferdinand business

In ordinary life, as opposed to the Up There of Celebs and Great Public Organizations, when you have a plan or arrangement for the day and something starts to go wrong with it, one of the things you can do is communicate with relevant people in a relevant way to try to find a plan B or C. Of course, you can also just say, 'Naah, we'll sack it'; but it depends. It depends on what turns on it all. So, these guys want Rio to take the test, and the consequences of his not doing so could be serious, which is presumably known by someone; but Rio leaves the training ground, venue of the test. Why doesn't someone ring him on his mobes? 'Hey, Rio, come back. Important and urgent that you do.' Can't be he doesn't have a mobes.

posted by norm at 12:17 pm | link

Genius? - Ouch

From Michael Greenspan of Harrison, NY:
I don't know whether you saw it, but there was a documentary about the recording of "We Are The World." It included a very funny moment in which Quincy Jones and Lionel Richie tried to explain to Bob Dylan how they wanted him to sing his line. It was as if they were teaching Bob Dylan how to sing like Bob Dylan.
Oh dear. I haven't seen this programme and didn't know about it. It rather knocks out of the water my hypothesis about Dylan's singing on that occasion being (further) proof of his genius.

posted by norm at 12:14 pm | link

Norms of address

Apropos the John Lloyd article, Julie Cleeveley writes to say what certain BBC practices and attitudes remind her of:
A sober and sharp article on the failings of the BBC... It appears to me that BBC news and current affairs is guilty of all the crimes it automatically accuses all politicians of - arrogance, dishonesty, spin. The BBC has become a theatre of cruelty where presenters wear a sneer as a fashion accessory... These monstrous egos on parade remind me very much of the lowlife of my youth. The self-hatred externalised. The contempt for all others; for all those not on the team. The stupidity. The superficiality. The bullying. The dishonesty. These attitudes and behaviours are familiar to me; I thought I'd seen the last of them years ago. But no, here they are, back again, and on my TV screen... A year ago the BBC became the publicly funded media arm of the Stop the War coalition, and it continues to refight the war.
Me, I'm waiting for the day when the politician (or whoever) being interviewed says to one of these interviewers: 'You asked me a question, and I'm in the middle of my answer. Be so good as not to interrupt me'; or something more robust, depending on the degree of rudeness they're facing. The patience or attention span of some of those putting the questions is often shorter than a single sentence.

posted by norm at 12:11 pm | link

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The rights and wrongs of amnesty 2

[The first instalment was posted on Monday. Continuity: 'Might the above kinds of consideration (political settlement, discovery of the truth, national reconciliation) speak in favour of amnesty for (some of) the perpetrators of the crimes of the former regime?']

First, suppose as a limit hypothesis, that the perpetrators of the crimes under discussion are let off just like that, as we say, the whole matter forgotten without more ado. The rights of the victims have in this case been set at nought. It is as if they never had any. For consider. We, as the responsible authority, say to you: 'You have these fundamental human rights, p, q, r and s. Should they be transgressed - and assuming we are in a position to do something about that - we will... do nothing whatsoever.' This is as good as saying the rights are not in fact fundamental but of no consequence. But I have started here from the assumption that people do have fundamental rights which are to be taken (at least) very seriously. Pure amnesty, as I call this limit case, is not defensible. The legal correlate of that: 'certain rights are so fundamental that they cannot be suspended even in the event of an emergency... [e.g. those] violated by extrajudicial execution, torture, disappearances... Immunity for these crimes constitutes an impermissible ex post facto derogation of rights which could not have been suspended at the time the acts were committed'.

Suppose we now say, instead, that the political counter-considerations earlier adduced do speak in favour of amnesty, but because it is indefensible, unthinkable, simply to discount the victims and their rights, we seek another way - to, or in place of, justice: we ask for truth, in aid of reconciliation, from the criminals seeking amnesty for their crimes; we demand of them, as the basis of amnesty, that they confess to what they have done, fully disclosing all the pertinent facts. However this might look as a political expedient, or even necessity, I claim it does not suffice morally; not according to any ethic in which individual rights against personal violation are taken seriously. To take these rights seriously entails ethico-legal mechanisms or processes of rectification and redress. For again, consider: we say to you, 'You have these fundamental human rights, p, q, r and s. Should they be transgressed, we will... demand a confession from the culprit and then let him go free.'

I do not say that the truth-and-reconciliation element is neither here nor there. It is better than nothing. It requires something of the perpetrator: both to acknowledge the truth and, with any luck - for this doesn't follow necessarily - to recognise the wrong done, even possibly make apology for it. Still, it is not taking the rights seriously enough. It makes of them, so to put this, a memorial rather than ethico-legal fact. We note and mourn that this was done to you, we will remember that it was done to you, but there is no further consequence upon the perpetrator. It is somewhat akin to religious consolations, which mean something to the devout, but don't, or don't directly, to the rest of us.

(I interject the following to which I will later return. Viewed prospectively rather than retrospectively, the choice structure created by amnesty-with-truth for potential future perpetrators of grave crime is not: this must not be done or there will be severe consequences for me - but: this may be done so long as I am willing to own up to it.)

It may be objected that I am ignoring here the consideration uppermost with those who resolve for amnesty-with-truth: namely, to avert further suffering, further violations of persons and their fundamental rights. I do not overlook this. However, before giving it its due I want to enter a caution or two.

The statement of this consideration is in the first instance a profession of concern about possible suffering/violation of rights (henceforth, for short, just 'suffering'); but this profession should be subject to at least mild provisional scepticism. For it begins by saying: we will place the suffering that has already occurred at some discount, by not responding to it with full weight. It seems not altogether out of order to interrogate the sincerity of the profession of concern if it is willing to discount actual against expected suffering.

I anticipate the riposte: but future possible suffering can still be averted; suffering already caused we can do nothing about. This is false. We can respond (if we can, that is) with the full weight of what justice and a concern for the victims require. Adjusted riposte: OK, not that we can do nothing about suffering already caused, but we can do nothing in the way of averting that suffering. But even this is not fully true. Some of the victims of the earlier violations, the crimes committed, are still alive; and then there are the loved ones, both of these living and of the dead. Not to deliver justice, proper redress, can prolong or add to the suffering of this group.

[I hope to post the next instalment on Friday.]

posted by norm at 5:16 pm | link


This post may be treated as a footnote to the previous one immediately below, though I suppose this should make it a headnote. It pertains to the phrase 'members of actual socialist organizations'. One such member is veteran left-wing journalist Paul Foot. Here is what Foot wrote on December 11, 2001, regarding suicide bombings:
In an exchange in the Commons last Wednesday, Jack Straw made no distinction between the violence of the oppressed and the violence of the oppressor; no distinction between the violence wrought on an impoverished population by the fifth most powerfully-armed state in the world on the one hand and, on the other, the suicidal violence of a few individuals, all of whom were born and grew up in a place illegally occupied by a foreign power.
And here is what Foot wrote on March 5, 2002:
The violence of the Israeli army and police... is the violence of the oppressor, and the consequent violence of the Palestinians is the resistance of the oppressed. Anyone who favours the Israeli occupation of the areas, or the settlements, or who denies the right of violent resistance to the Palestinians is siding unequivocally with the oppressor against the oppressed.
Especially pathetic on the part of our apologists for Israeli oppression is their bleating about anti-semitism.
Violence of the oppressed, violence of the oppressor - it's that simple. This lifelong anti-Stalinist has learned nothing whatsoever from what was done during the last century in the name of socialism and 'the violence of the oppressed'. And it may only be a chance detail here, for which one must doubtless excuse him on grounds of absence of intent, but 'bleating about anti-semitism' is particularly unfortunate given that it is sheep that bleat and it is Jews who are so often said to have gone like sheep to the slaughter.

Which major national newspaper does the comrade write for? Why, the Guardian.

posted by norm at 12:46 pm | link

For shame

From yesterday's Slimepool, we have these words from that slimester, not exactly supreme, but certainly most accomplished, Chris McGreal:
Mr Sharon seeks to persuade the world that the suicide bombings are not about occupation, Jewish settlements or the racially driven seizure of Palestinian land. Israel, he says, is a victim of international terrorism and therefore part of a much greater struggle between western civilisation and Islamic fundamentalism. The raid on Syria fits neatly into that paradigm...
Got that: not about 'occupation, Jewish settlements or the racially driven seizure of Palestinian land' - the clear implication being that this is what suicide bombings are about. A lovely indirection. Try this thought: 'The lawyers for [name of Guantanamo detainee] seek to persuade the world that his detention is not about the terrorist threat to America and the victims of September 11'. Or this one: 'The spokespersons for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International seek to persuade the world that the handing over of prisoners to foreign intelligence services which practise torture is not about the terrorist threat to America and the victims of September 11.'

The suggestion that suicide bombings are 'about' the injustices done to the Palestinian people and the grievances arising from these is a miserable piece of apologetics, half saying what it doesn't have the courage to say openly. Yes, suicide bombings arise in the same political context as the context McGreal invokes by saying that that is what they are about, but the context doesn't justify them - any more than the war against terrorism justifies the use of torture (if it is true that the Americans are handing over people for torture to other national agencies). Suicide bombings are not just carried out by aggrieved people. They are part of a planned and co-ordinated strategy by Palestinian political organizations, directed against a civilian population. This makes them crimes against humanity according to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court - endorsed as being such by Human Rights Watch. It bears repeating and then repeating once more. Suicide bombings are crimes against humanity, the concept of which emerged during the twentieth century precisely in order to put moral constraints upon what states and other organized political entities could do or require in pursuit of their objectives. Not even the struggle on behalf of a just cause legitimates them. They should be unreservedly condemned by everyone with civilized values and not 'understood', unless in the non-condoning sense of that word, where the effort of understanding is in order the better to oppose and combat them. Suicide bombings are no more 'about' the occupation or 'about' Jewish settlements than genocide is 'about' war.

The extent to which this kind of morally debased talk now infects the thinking of the Western liberal and left intelligentsia, including much journalism, is a matter for grave concern. Here is Danny Statman, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Haifa, in a personal communication. He's talking about the BBC, but it applies to much dnoc-fare as well:
Yes, this was indeed one of the worst terror attacks. I can't stop thinking of the two families murdered. The tragedy is just beyond imagination.

The BBC's response expresses a [complete] moral bankruptcy. By almost totally ignoring the crime and the criminals and shifting to the "understanding" mode and to concern for the safety of Arafat et al., the BBC slowly but surely strengthens the view that the murder of Jews is "of course" "condemnable," but not so bad after all. I think it has brought itself to the point where almost no crime against Jews couldn't be "understood".

We face a new version of the Original Sin: Because of Israel's sin - be it the very Zionist project, or the events of 48, or the 67 war, or the settlements - whatever is now done to her is understandable. The blame is forever on Israel.
And here is Dr Ala Khazendar, currently of the Institute of Theoretical Geophysics of the University of Cambridge and a Palestinian:
The killing of Israeli civilians in Haifa or west Jerusalem is being justified by the same groups that claim to be acting in the name of Palestinian victims of Israeli aggression in Gaza and east Jerusalem. Yet, once a society creates different categories of people, some of which are less human than others, it can never hope that the process will not eventually extend to its own ranks... There has never been a time when it was so urgent for the Palestinians to have a coherent and rational debate about their aims and methods. At the heart of such debate should be a recognition of, and an appeal to, the humanity of the enemy, even while burying the victims of its cruelty daily.
Khazendar's point about 'different categories of people, some of which are less human than others' is worth focusing on, although it will conduct us on to uncomfortable terrain. It is indeed a feature of certain, though not of all, types of crime against humanity that they target people simply for who they are, by religion or nationality or ethnicity. Random terror against civilians in Israel may hit some others as well - as in Haifa it indeed did - but obviously its principal target is Jews. Not soldiers, not even armed civilians guarding settlements. Just Jews, any Jews: children, infants, whatever. In Europe not 60 years after that continent became a graveyard for the Jewish people - and a graveyard from which there echoed forth the most solemn and high-sounding of statements of intent for the future - there are now members of the left and liberal intelligentsia, to say nothing of members of actual socialist organizations, ready to 'understand' an organized policy of murdering Jews. If it is not altogether OK to murder them, well… but you can see why it happens.

Apportioning blame, finally, speaking forthrightly against moral crimes, is not a zero-sum activity. To properly condemn Hamas and their ilk, and to oppose their aims insofar as these are morally criminal or unjust, does not disbar anyone from criticizing Israel for the wrongs it has done and is doing. So the situation doesn't even provide that excuse. For shame.

posted by norm at 12:06 pm | link

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

All power can tend to corruption

John Lloyd has a long and thoughtful piece on the BBC in the Financial Times:
But even now, the broadcaster appears unable to understand fully that what is at stake is the preservation of a notion of public-service journalism... Public-service journalism is primarily concerned with one "output": better informed citizens. In an organisation as rich as the BBC, this could be done by deploying journalists to report on the complexity of the world. The broadcaster could underpin, not seek to replace, democratic politics. It should assume that all power, including political power, can tend to corruption and it should investigate any possible abuses. But it must also do what the British media does not do: recognise that the media has become one of the largest powers in the world, and thus needs investigation too. In that way lies some hope of trust, even in a cynical world.
Thanks to Eve Garrard for the link.

posted by norm at 11:03 pm | link


The Dude in conversation with Hossein Khomeini, the Ayatollah's grandson:
He refers as a matter of course to the work of the coalition forces in Iraq as a "liberation." He would prefer, he says, to live in Tehran, but he cannot consider doing so until there has been "liberation" in Iran also.
I asked him what he would like to see happen [in Iran], and his reply this time was very terse... The best outcome, he thought, would be a very swift and immediate American invasion of Iran.
(Via Harry’s Place.)

posted by norm at 11:02 pm | link

Dnoc dnoc dnoccing on Plastic's door

In a recent post, and then again in an email to me, Anthony Cormack of Plastic Gangster (scroll down to 'Unsurprising Guardian...' on September 27) has posed me a question which had to come I guess: that of why it is I stick with a newspaper of which I'm so critical. I don't know that I have an altogether thought-through answer, so I'll just assemble some elements for one. First off, it's a close thing. Many a morning after some further episode of revulsion, me and WotN talk about giving up the Guardian again. For, second, during the Iraq war we did in fact stop taking it for two or three weeks, switching to the Times. But, third, we found that paper a bit dull and - this is harder to put my finger on - I just missed the 'feel' of the one I'd become used to, missed knowing my way around it and those writers whose stuff I still like or respect. Fourth, and most crucially, of the major national newspapers the Guardian is still, in some overall sense, politically where I belong; for all that both it and many of its readers have adopted positions on terrorism and the battle against it, and towards openly illiberal and anti-democratic forces and regimes, that I believe to be wrong-headed, and detest. So what to do? I go on taking the paper and arguing with it. Like it's a member of my family who's gone astray.

posted by norm at 12:41 pm | link

Down for the Cup

The Rugby World Cup begins Down Under this Friday. It's an event that it would be good to mark in some way, and I just happen to have an idea how. Here it is: you (those of you who care, those who just like to take part in things) send me your prediction as to which nation will lift the Cup. Since predictions will converge on a small number of likely candidates, we need further means of separating the entries.

Therefore: a) which nation will win? b) first tie-breaker, which nation will be the other finalist? c) second tie-breaker, what will be the points margin between them in the final? d) third tie-breaker, who will the other two semi-finalists be? (Make sure you go for possible pairings, not impossible ones. That's up to you. No spoon-feeding at normblog. This is what you need to study before making your prediction.)

What do you get if you win? Honour, praise. What more do you need? However, I will also donate to a charity of your choice (within limits: I won't donate to one that opposed the war to free the Iraqi people from Saddam Hussein's rule) thirty pounds sterling or an amount equal to the total number of points scored in the final, whichever is the greater. Entries by the end of my Sunday (October 12) please.

posted by norm at 12:34 pm | link

Monday, October 06, 2003

Musical bits and pieces

> The entries are in for the jazz albums poll. Thanks to everyone who submitted one. Please bear with me while I collate them, a bigger task than I anticipated. My appeal evidently did not go unheeded.

> According to Simon Hoggart, 'the world divides into two groups about Abba: those who love them and don't mind admitting it, and those who love them but pretend they don't.' I belong in the first group.

> As regards the genius of Bob Dylan, I was reminded of it again yesterday: and, more particularly, that it's the genius not only of the song-writer, of the melodies and lyrics, but is there also in Dylan's singing (well, much of the time anyway). I caught a snatch, on the radio, of 'We are the world' - written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie, and sung by everyone and his sister - and the snatch I heard included those few crucial seconds. It's not a bad song, and I'd not listened to in some long while. It has the brief distinctive twang of Willie Nelson; Bruce Springsteen insisting on his point; other stuff. But late on, Dylan takes his turn, that voice of his appearing fleetingly, 15 seconds and gone before you can hold on to it. Just another thing altogether. 'It's true we make a better day, just you 'n me'.

posted by norm at 9:48 pm | link

Glorious Arafat?

Not really, I don't think so. But I can tell one endearing story in connection with him, though he takes no credit for the endearingness of it. This happened to Wife of the Norm. She was in our local library some years ago, queueing to check out a few books, when she overheard an enquiry from a woman ahead of her. 'Do you have a copy', the woman asked, 'of Glorious Knitting by Yasser Arafat?' This link completes the story for those who don't already know the end of it.

posted by norm at 9:34 pm | link


#1 The Haifa bombing:
'People who were sitting at the tables next to us and talking were lying with their heads in their plates,' she said. 'We were saved by a column which we sat behind. It took the force of the blast.'

Islamic Jihad named the bomber as Hanadi Jaradat, a 29-year-old lawyer from the West Bank town of Jenin. After the attack - the 103rd suicide bombing in three years of violence - Jaradat's severed head lay in the middle of the floor of the restaurant, her long black hair clearly visible. A policeman broke down in tears as a blood-stained pram was brought out of the building.
A response:
Dozens of peace activists entered the compound [Arafat's] just before midnight to act as human shields.
Another response:
In a statement, Arafat strongly condemned the attack, adding that he considered 'this grave explosion operation a departure from the national consensus in this critical situation'...
Oh no, anything but a departure from the national consensus!

#2 Terry Jones:
In invading Iraq he [Tony Blair] has replaced the brutality of Saddam with the brutality of an uncomprehending invading army.
There it is within the sentence: brutality of Saddam/brutality of an invading army. Being a Python is obviously no guarantee of an eye for proportion.

#3 Suzanne Goldenberg:
Gratitude at having been freed from Saddam has given way to resentment and mistrust in a part of Iraq that could never remotely be considered as Ba'ath country.
Almost every person I met along the way had had a member of their immediate family jailed or executed by the regime, or had been jailed themselves... All were thankful to be rid of Saddam, but months after that cataclysmic event they detect few dividends from the occupation. "You have done very little for the people of Iraq," says Salaam Daoud Salaam, an English teacher in Basra. "Yes, you removed that man from power - a very good thing. But what about the rest?..."
Here the juxtaposition I'm interested in is the one between Goldenberg's article and all those earlier articles, spread like hers across three pages of the Guardian, detailing the gratitude of Iraqis to Britain and America after the war. You don't remember them? No, neither do I. About some people the only good fact is a dead fact, or the small yes-fact about to be buried under the giant but-fact.

# 4 According to Gary Younge, the war was 'a criminal act of military violence expressly executed against the global will'; and the impact of the anti-war movement 'explains the reluctance of other nations to relieve America of the burden of clearing up its mistakes'. Any other angles on either the one or the other, Gazz, the war or the burden?

He's a good sort, though. He says: 'The notion that a better world is possible should always drive us'. Only not towards support for building a better Iraq. There's a remarkable consistency to Gary Younge. You might think of him as the Guardian's Seumas Milne did the Guardian not already possess one too many of these.

posted by norm at 2:04 pm | link

Ecological and humanitarian catastrophe

Gary Jones has a post up over at Crumb Trail about the destruction of marshlands in Iraq:
Saddam Hussein's intentional destruction of the Marshlands of Lower Mesopotamia... was an ecological and humanitarian catastrophe that deserves wider attention. In addition to arrest, detention, torture, summary execution, and military operations such as poisoning and napalming the local population and the Marshlands, dams and pumping stations were built to drain the marshes and deprive the rebellious local population of their homes and livelihoods... Marshes have unequaled ecological importance as centers of biological diversity and breeding grounds for many migratory species as well as being extraordinarily efficient at filtering and purifying surface flows.
If the link produces a partial blank in the post (as it keeps doing for me), click on 'Main' and scroll back down to October 2, 'Filling the swamp'.

posted by norm at 1:52 pm | link

The rights and wrongs of amnesty 1

[This post is adapted from an informal presentation first made to a conference on 'Amnesty, Truth and Reconciliation' at the University of Hull in April 2000, and repeated on two or three subsequent occasions.]

Let me begin by making clear that, although what I shall have to say here is pertinent to certain current or recent political situations, I shall make little reference in this post to the details of any actual process. My aim is to set out abstractly an ethical position I believe to be somewhat compelling, a sufficient task in itself. The discussion of its application to cases is an important exercise but one I will not pursue.

I set up the question. There has been, or is about to be, a change of regime or government or, simply, political situation, where agents and/or officers of the previous dispensation are known to have committed grave crimes against persons and on a wide scale. Important is the gravity of these crimes: people have been kidnapped, tortured, murdered, 'disappeared' and so forth. In consequence, some or many are dead, others carry the pain of what was done to them, probably for the rest of their lives, loved ones grieve for those they have lost, wonder about their fate, grieve or wonder probably for the rest of their lives.

Are there circumstances which justify amnesty for (some of) the perpetrators of these crimes? If so, what are they? Under what assumptions and under what constraints, if any, should amnesty be available to anyone?

The ethical position to be set out and defended in this paper is based on taking for granted as bedrock certain principles for which I proffer no meta-ethical argument. I plead division of intellectual labour (there are others attending to this work) by way of apology for not doing so. These are the principles I mean.

(a) Individuals have basic rights against personal violation - not to be assaulted, physically harmed, have their lives taken, and so on - however these may be founded philosophically in different conceptions of rights.

(b) In moral reasoning about human conflicts we are unable to do without rights-type considerations on the one hand, and we are unable to do without welfare-consequence considerations on the other hand, and these two types of consideration will sometimes pull in opposite directions.

(c) Notwithstanding this last point, in discussion of what is or is not justified in the way of treatment of individuals in situations of acute conflict, the threshold set by fundamental rights such as those against personal violation must be held very high.

By way of one final preliminary, I observe that the position to be argued for here is influenced by thinking within just war doctrine; more particularly by an old article by Thomas Nagel ('War and Massacre', Philosophy and Public Affairs 1, 1971-72), and by Michael Walzer's great book Just and Unjust Wars.

Because individuals have fundamental rights against being violated by others, it is not permissible to do certain very harmful or cruel things to the innocent (I return later to a special sense of 'innocence' in this context) - and it is not permissible, indeed, to do some of these things to anybody - not even in pursuit of important political objectives. To do so is a wrong and, other things equal, to be put right. Ex hypothesi here, we are talking of situations of precisely such wrongs, situations in which there is much 'unsettled' crime against persons. Ex hypothesi also, no defence of the perpetrators of these crimes along the lines 'They committed them in pursuit of important national objectives (security, virtual war)' is relevant. There is an initial presumption, consequently, that justice to the victims of such crimes calls for a righting of the wrongs that have been done to them. This is the moral correlate of an emergent principle in international law according to which states have a duty to investigate and prosecute violations of protected human rights.

Let us remind ourselves, however: the relevant nation or community is living under, or entering upon, some new dispensation (regime or government or political order more generally), where the crimes in question belong to the old one and on account of which it can be argued that there are political or other counter-considerations.

These might be some of them. The pursuit of justice could pose an obstacle to or undermine the new political settlement, could prolong or lead to civil war. The pursuit of justice could actually make it harder to uncover the nature and extent of the crimes committed, by encouraging a concealment of the evidence, a withholding of information about those crimes. It could, more generally, serve to mire the new in bitterness and recrimination about the past rather than underwriting a fresh start, a new leaf. As one commentator has written: '[I]t is important that new democratic institutions, where they exist, be protected and consolidated and that reckoning with an evil past not imperil them.'

I digress briefly to say that I am finessing the problem of legal positivist versus natural law arguments over the assumptions on which a new legal order tries 'crimes' or wrongs committed inside the old legal order. I am doing that by simply supposing for the purposes of this discussion that the crimes we are interested in were already crimes under the body of law that was contemporary with their occurrence, and which included, let us say, some of those basic moral norms concerning inviolability of the person which are putatively part of any decent candidate-code of natural law.

Might the above kinds of consideration speak in favour of amnesty for (some of) the perpetrators?

[I hope to post the second instalment on Wednesday.]

posted by norm at 11:20 am | link

Sunday, October 05, 2003

I can't blog a rainbow

So I'm walking home from Old Trafford yesterday in a mellow frame of mind. Liverpool haven't in fact beaten Arsenal, despite my rare support, but somehow Liverpool not winning is a state of affairs I can bring myself to live with. And Manchester United have won comfortably, which is cool. It's a windy sort of a day and round about mile one there's a build-up of cloud, the sky darkens, and a light, blowy rain starts. No worries. It's Saturday afternoon, I'm partly protected by my waterproof and well in my stride as I move along, the rain is on my face - it's all good. At mile two, the rain eases off and there's a long rainbow. It's one of those where the whole arc of it is in sharp colours and, but for the houses behind which it drops on each side, you can see from one end to the other. (I've tried to find something similar on the internet, but most of the rainbow pictures are, like, Nevada, or California, or Australia; they're out in the sticks, not North of England urban. The closest I can manage is this one, though Manchester's yesterday was better, the colours at the bottom clearer, the arc less truncated.) The rainbow is there for the better part of the next mile of my walk, at first ahead of me, then after I turn into Nell Lane, to my left and slightly behind me, so that I turn my head periodically to look back towards it.

And suddenly I'm pitched back into 1964. Because along Nell Lane there's a line of cars backed up, coming away from the football and towards the traffic lights at the Mauldeth Road intersection, and there's one alongside me - I'm passing it when it's stationary, it's drawing abreast of me again when the line of cars rolls slowly forward – and it's driver is playing If I Fell from A Hard Day's Night. Beautiful song. Indelible moment of my life. I start to sing and, as if slightly crazed, simultaneously to gesture my appreciation towards the car's driver. He, understandably, does not respond. My mood shifts from contentment to elation all the same.

I'd like to be able to say that this experience induced in me some profound reflection, and I did try for one, I can tell you. But all I came up with was something already pretty well-rehearsed. Take the moment. There are enough of the other kind, goodness knows.

posted by norm at 4:11 pm | link

New guy on the street

Stroll on over to EnviroSpin Watch. This is the online home of Professor Philip Stott who's just joined the blogversation. Philip it was whose email to the Guardian in support of the Royal Society's reproof to that newspaper I featured yesterday. He sets out the scope of his new blog as follows:
A Weblog monitoring coverage of environmental issues and science in the UK media... The aim is to assess whether a subject is being fairly covered by press, radio, and television. Above all, the Weblog will focus on science, but not just on poor science. It will also bring to public notice good science that is being ignored because it may be politically inconvenient.
normblog greetings and good wishes for the venture.

posted by norm at 3:58 pm | link

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonda

Yup, Fonda is the not very cryptic cultural reference in the second Sophie Hannah poem (two posts down) - contained in the final word of each verse: Peter, Jane and Henry. From a distant time it comes back to me, though I no longer remember where I got this from, that they were also known as Peter Honda, Jane Fondle and Henry Founder.

Much praise and all honour to Helen Beebee of my own wonderful Department but presently down under in Aus, Chris Brooke of Magdalen College, Oxford and The Virtual Stoa, Jackie D of au currant, Bernard Fancher (doing it with a 'heh!') and Chris Smith, up in Shetland, for returning the correct answer.

posted by norm at 3:53 pm | link

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