Monday, May 28, 2007

Fantasy International

Amnesty International has published their report of the state of human rights for 2006. As usual the pretentious scolds at AI are obsessed with painting the US and Israel as the Great and Little Satan of human rights abuses, while ignoring or downplaying the most egregious offenders in the world community. To introduce a year of human rights horrors AI uses the story of the poor, pitiful Palestinian farmer who has to traverse Israeli army checkpoints to tend to his farm:

On 10 December 2006, while the world celebrated International Human ights Day, I was in Jayyus on the West Bank. The small village is now divided by the Wall – or more accurately a high iron fence. Built in defiance of international law, and ostensibly to make Israel more secure, the Wall’s main effect has been to cut off the local Palestinian population from their citrus groves and olive orchards. A once prosperous farming community is now impoverished. “Every day I have to suffer the humiliation of checkpoints, petty obstructions and new restrictions that stop me from getting to my orchard on the other side. If I cannot cultivate my olives, how will I survive?” cried one angry Palestinian farmer.
As I listened to him, I could see in the distance the neat red roofs and white walls of a large and prosperous Israeli settlement. I wondered if those who lived there believed that a Wall threatening the future of their neighbours could truly enhance their security.


Let's go over the sequence of events. Israel offers peace deal to Yasser Arafat. Arafat refuses to make peace, calls for Intifada. Palestinian suicide bombers kill hundreds of Israelis, and make life miserable for the rest. Israel builds a security fence. Suicide bombings stop. I'd say that the Israelis have a very good case for believing that the wall enhances their security.
The AI report is shot through with such exercises in moral equivalence. No attempt is made to assess the relative culpability of political actors or governments in causing or sustaining conflicts, all parties are equally guilty. Guilty of what? What does AI see as the number one crime against humanity in 2006? Is it the targeting of noncombatants for indiscriminate slaughter? Ethnic cleansing? The brutalization of women by thuggish theocrats? No, it is the promotion of Fear:

In 1941, US President Franklin Roosevelt laid out his vision of a new world order founded on “four freedoms”: freedom of speech and of religion; freedom from fear and from want. He provided inspirational leadership that overcame doubt and unified people. Today far too many leaders are trampling freedom and trumpeting an ever-widening range of fears: fear of being swamped by migrants; fear of “the other” and of losing one’s identity; fear of being blown up by terrorists; fear of “rogue states” with weapons of mass destruction.
Fear thrives on myopic and cowardly leadership. There are indeed many real causes of fear but the approach being taken by many world leaders is short-sighted, promulgating policies and strategies that erode the rule of law and human rights, increase inequalities, feed racism and xenophobia, divide and damage communities, and sow the seeds for violence and more conflict.
[...]
History shows that it is not through fear but through hope and optimism that progress is achieved. So, why do some leaders promote fear? Because it allows them to consolidate their own power, create false certainties and escape accountability

But isn't the AI report itself an exercise in fear-mongering? Why are they trying to get us so alarmed and exercised about Palestinian farmers? When fear is prompted by real acts of agression, fear is not only justified but expected of any sane, responsible populace. Do the AI activists want us to supress our fear response in the face of atrocities perpetrated against us? May as well ask us to repress our gag refles or our blink reflex. Fear is what keeps people alive. The AI fantasists would have us believe that real threats to our well being don't exist, that we only manufacture them through our fears. Tell that to the widows and orphans of 9/11.
The AI report is full of such New Age, Kung-Fu pacifist goo packaged as serious moral concern. Nowhere do the authors of the report make a serious attempt to identify actual perpetrators of human rights abuses. No names are named, only the countries where these abuses occur. It makes no differentiation between the purposes motivating the actions that are allegedly abuses of human rights, whether those actions are legitimiately in defense of the security of a free people, or whether they are motivated by a desire to extinguish the rights and security of people. Neither do the authors make a distinction between the relative innocence or guilt of the parties whose human rights are being infringed. So the detainees at Guantanamo Bay are afforded the same status as victims as are women who are killed for advocating women's rights in Iran.
The authors perpetrate another form of moral equivalence in the report. By focusing upon this abstract idea of human rights, they are pulling together a host of personal infringements perpetrated by governments that are not all morally equal. For instance, Iran is cited five times in the report. The five instances are as follows:

1. Promoting the denial of the Holocaust
2. Placing restrictions on the use of the Internet.
3. The murder of women's advocates.
4. Compelling women to wear the veil.
5. Undermining the credibility of the UN Security Council

They do not mention the supression and murder of religious minorities, the execution of women and girls for "honor" crimes or the sponsoring of terrorist movements to destabilize the governments of Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon. Syria is mentioned twice in the report, for resricting the Internet and for its complicity with the US in receiving the terror suspect Maher Arar for interrogation under torture. No other mention is made of their support for terrorist cells in Iraq and Lebanon.

For all their moral handwringing, the authors of the report have no serious proposals for improving the human rights situation around the globe, only Hallmark card platitudes befitting a Miss America contestant:
A FUTURE FREE OF FEAR
One can get sucked into the fear syndrome or one can take a radically different approach: an approach based on sustainability rather than security. The term sustainability may be more familiar to development economists and environmentalists, but it is crucial too for human rights activists. A sustainable strategy promotes hope, human rights and democracy, while a security strategy addresses fears and dangers. Just as energy security is best provided through sustainable development, human security is best pursued through institutions that promote respect for human rights. Sustainability requires rejecting the Cold War tradition of each super power sponsoring its own pool of dictatorships and abusive regimes. It means promoting principled leadership and enlightened policies. Sustainability requires strengthening the rule of law and human rights – nationally and internationally. Elections have drawn a lot of international attention, from Bolivia to Bangladesh, Chile to Liberia. But as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Iraq have shown, creating the conditions in which people can cast their ballots is not enough. A bigger challenge is to promote good governance, including an effective legal and judicial structure, the rule of law based on human rights, a free press and a vibrant civil society.

You got that? Make nice, and all will be good.

4 Comments:

Blogger Harry Eagar said...

'5. Undermining the credibility of the UN Security Council'

Say it ain't so, Joe!

May 28, 2007 10:01 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Well, there is some good news in their report: As of 2006, "104 countries have ratified the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), [and] 100 states have concluded an 'impunity agreement' with the USA – which excludes US citizens from prosecution".

We rock.

But what exactly is this "international law" of which they speak in their report ?
Who or what enforces that ?

Also bizarre is that they list "Control Arms" and "Death Penalty" among "Amnesty International’s key areas of work for 2006".

But attempting to stop the global arms trade is at best quixotic, and AI themselves count only a few thousand people worldwide officially condemned to death.

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe gets worse and worse, and there are 13MM people there, most of whom are in dire straits.

While AI does acknowledge this, it's apparently not a priority of theirs.

May 28, 2007 8:17 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Yes, I have to laugh when tranzis demand that the US follow 'customary international law' instead of its own statutes.

In what place do the people customarily adhere to the standards of 'customary international law'?

May 28, 2007 10:11 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

There are indeed many real causes of fear but the approach being taken by many world leaders is short-sighted, promulgating policies and strategies ...

I could be wrong about this, but I'll bet that any piece of writing containing the word "promulgate" is hopeless, eye-glazing, twaddle.

May 29, 2007 10:33 AM  

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