Thursday, March 25, 2004
Michael Ignatieff Drops a Norm... posted by lenin
Norman Geras has fragments of a speech by Michael Ignatieff, Imperialist Lite, to the Carnegie Endowment on the subject of terrorism:
"[W]hat do I mean by terror? Can we define terrorism when one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist? There is no moral relativity on this at all: A terrorist targets non-combatant civilians to achieve a political goal. Those who undertake political actions that target civilians are terrorists."
Presumably this definition is selected to protect the United States from charges of terrorism, since we all know that the US of A never hurts the good guys on purpose. (Ahem! Sanctions? Vietnam? Nicaragua? Never mind). But mark the sequel:
"Human rights claims do not justify the targeting of civilians under any circumstances. Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands does not justify terrorist attacks on civilians under any circumstances. The Palestinian people have a just cause. The end of military occupation of territory acquired after the 1967 war in Gaza and the occupied territories is a just cause. But a just cause does not ever justify the targeting of civilians."
Now, Ignatieff makes a number of points against Israeli policy as well, but fails to connect the word terrorism with their actions, knowing as he does that Israel has committed many intentional acts of violence against civilians . There is, of course, no question of connecting the United States with terrorism. Only Hamas, only Al Qaeda, only the IRA.
Why? I suggest, just a possibility, that Ignatieff's silent conditional is that a violent act targetting civilians is terrorist by nature if and only if it is carried out by extra-state organisations (or perhaps even by states he happens to dislike). State crimes of this kind are often deemed war crimes, but as H.U.H.? points out:
"The problem here is that the distinction between terrorism and war crimes is inherently ideological: unless you believe that states somehow have a right to violence that individuals do not, terrorism and war crimes are not just morally equivalent, they are exactly identical."
I would suggest that this ideological operation is at work in the distinction between the IDF and Hamas, between the Parachute Regiment and the IRA. Incidentally, Ignatieff falls into a noose of his own making on the latter topic:
"You can't win a war on terror without a political strategy. But you must calibrate that strategy in such a way to avoid rewarding terrorism as an activity.
One admirable attempt to this end has been that of the British Government. They have always mixed a political initiative to both the Unionist and the Nationalist communities with a very firm military attempt to control terror. They’ve balanced a military and political strategy in a way that seems less than exemplary, but the broad strategic judgment -- never negotiate with the IRA but talk to Sinn Fein, holding your nose -- seems the right way to go."
Well, this would be more impressive if it hadn't transpired some time ago that John Major had been in secret discussions with the IRA in order to reach a peace which has, remarkably enough, lasted for some time. As why should he not? As the representative of a state which had itself sponsored terrorism through the UFF for years, he was on a perfect moral footing to do so. Similiarly, when Mark Steyn made the point in The Face of The Tiger that there could be no negotiation with Islamic fundamentalists since their message was not one of poverty or oppression but their willingness to behead Danny Pearl as a symbol of their hostility to the West, he missed the absolutely essential point that the US and its allies are on a perfect moral footing to talk turkey with Al Qaeda and the rest. Can't you just imagine Donald Rumsfeld sharing his cheap wisdom with Mullah Omar while bin Laden makes herbal tea? If not, it is only because they are on opposite sides of the coin.
Perhaps lurking beneath it is a rebuke to the Iraqi Resistance - sorry, Ba'athist remnants, fascists, malcontents and whatnot. If they undertake actions they know will kill civilians, they are terrorists. If the US undertakes actions it knows will kill civilians, it is the vanguard of demoracy in the Middle East. We, liberal democracies, cannot possibly negotiate with them. We might slip a hint or two the way of their supporters, offering modest concessions here and there. But to simply roll over and give the Iraqis what they ask for (an end of the occupation and a complete transfer of power to the Iraqis) would be to encourage and reward terrorism! For my own part, I would rather see Iraqi "terrorism" rewarded than US imperialism at this juncture. Get out, stay out and get the fire brigade out as the ads used to say.