Sunday, April 26, 2009

War and Peace: My First Conference Presentation and My Weekend at Purdue (Part II)

(Part I)

The second paper was “The Moral Significance of Recognizing Violence in Pogge’s Borrowing and Resource Privileges,” presented by Mark Balawender of Michigan State University. Thomas Pogge attacks borrowing and resource privileges, arguing that the developed world acts as an enabler to authoritarian governments as they borrow money and cause economic harm to their people. This process of borrowing money in exchange for resource privileges allows corrupt third world governments sell out their own countries. There is not normative standard to judge the legitimacy of governments. This allows authoritarian governments to seize power and gain money quickly even though this harms the population. How does one deal with this from the perspective of liberalism which allows economic transactions that only incidentally cause harm to other people?

A useful analogy is the case of two parallel paths one higher up than the other where the rocks from the higher path can cause harm to those on the lower half. Such a situation is okay where the population freely chooses which path to take. What happens when you have a case where the path one chooses is dependent on one’s social or economic status? This would create a different moral situation. Thus such instruments of global Capitalism as lending money to corrupt third world regimes in exchange for resources should be classified as forms of violence and should be viewed as wrong within the parameters of liberalism.

I found this presentation amusing mainly because it reminded me so much of Talmudic dialectics. As a good traditional liberal I oppose the aiding and abetting of authoritarian regimes. As a believer in free markets, though, I have the ultimate weapon against such regimes, Capitalism. Under free market conditions it is not in my interest to support authoritarian regimes even when control over their natural resources. Such regimes are likely to fall and the new regime is unlikely to respect its predecessor’s agreement, particularly if they are able to make the case to the world that this was a bargain made between thieves, designed to impoverish the country. I raised this issue with Balawender and he responded that Pogge had used a similar argument.

The final presentation of the first session Nathan Stout of Western Michigan University, “The Torture Memo: A Philosophical Critique” Prof. John Yoo’s Torture Memo, on behalf of the Bush administration, allowed for extreme interrogation tactics. Yoo defines Al Qaida members both as enemy combatants and as unlawful combatants. He assumes that 9/11 was a declaration of war on the part of Al Qaida and therefore the United States entered a formal war with Al Qaida no different than a war with a established state. This makes what happens next to fall under the military; Al Qaida fighters are military combatants. On the flip side, since Al Qaida does not keep to the established protocols of war, they are unlawful combatants, no different than spies. Congress does not have the authority to interfere with the President’s handling of unlawful combatants and the President is free to do with them as he wishes. How does one go about defining combatants and unlawful combatants? We assume that enemy combatants lose their rights to life and liberty because they choose to participate in war. This is in keeping with Just War theory. An unlawful combatant wishes to fight while maintaining the protections of a non combatant; he therefore loses the rights of lawful combatants. Yoo’s model would require one to assume that Al Qaida soldiers had a right to fight to begin with. Yoo, though, rejects the notion that Al Qaida is in any way a legitimate political entity. This being the case one should not be able to say that the United States is at war with Al Qaida.

I have not studied Yoo’s arguments, though the argument he makes seems to be very similar to the one that I made in a debate on Atheist Ethicist. I argued that the Al Qaida fighters held on Guantanamo Bay get the worst of both situations. As out of uniform combatants they have no legal rights. As prisoners captured during combat they do not need to be tried. The challenge being raised against Yoo seems to have a very simple solution, accept that Al Qaida is a political entity and should be treated as a state. I raised the scenario with Stout where Al Qaida would have acted “legally.” Al Qaida issues a formal declaration of war on the morning of 9/11 before they hijacked the plans. Uniformed Al Qaida soldiers get past security and hijack civilian airliners. After somehow getting all civilians off the plans they then crashed the planes into military targets such as the Pentagon. America declares war against Al Qaida and invades Afghanistan. Uniformed Al Qaida fighters clash with American forces out in the open, away from civilians, and are captured. I would have no problem with saying that Al Qaida prisoners should, under such circumstances, be treated with full legal rights as if they were from England, France or Canada and protected from torture. Since this is not the case, I have no problem in stripping Al Qaida fighters of their legal rights and handing a blank check to our government to torture them.

(To be continued …)


esmoota said...

Hello, this is Aileen Genaidy, the proud presenter of "Waltz with Bashir..." As I noted in the Q&A session, the term "genocide" was admittedly influenced by the most recent attacks on the open prison of the West Bank, in which about 15000 Palestinian civilians were killed. Remember that? No, not the event itself, but my saying it. I remember you nodding quite satisfied with my response, but I am flattered that you felt so moved as to blog about it.

Anywho, I guess I don't believe in candy-coating the reality of colonization, and though I am not anti-Israeli per se (as it was the British that supported the creation of the Jewish state), I do have problems with the Zionist movement.

As for my pointing out of the problematic terms with which Palestine has become rhetorically figured in the mainstream US, I challenge you to go ask 100 assorted people what Palestine is. In my extensive research of Palestine, I have found an alarming number of scholars who do explicitly point to the creation of Israel and loss of land as concomitant with Palestinian identity. If you can find some other sort of mainstream representation (and I admit I say this loosely), then I welcome the input.

Aileen Esmat Genaidy

Izgad said...

Genocide is a specific term with a very specific meaning, the targeting of a specific racial or ethnic group for destruction. If Israel were attempting a genocide against the Palestinians there would be far higher body count than even the fifteen thousand number you are quoting. By the way, according to the Jerusalem Post the number was 900. ( Israel fought against an enemy that hide within its own civilian population and civilians died. That is not Israel’s fault. Basic fact about law: if I hole up in a building when I know the cops are coming after me and an innocent bystander gets killed as I shoot it out with the police than it is my fault even if the police actually fired the fatal bullet.
“I guess I don't believe in candy-coating the reality of colonization, and though I am not anti-Israeli per se (as it was the British that supported the creation of the Jewish state), I do have problems with the Zionist movement.”
We are not dealing with colonization here. There is no move to rule over other people. What we do have here is something that occurs every day; people from one place in the world emigrate to another. For example, hundreds of thousands of people from Cuba emigrated and went to Florida. If the US decided to give these people their own state in the greater Miami area would anyone have cause to complain? The British did not support the creation of Israel. They held back from voting on the partition plan.Get your history straight.
Individual people own land, states can also own land though it is a weaker claim because it can point blank be lost through war. Races and ethnic groups do not own land. Jews have no racial claim to the land. As individuals they were free to acquire land and eventually form a state.