Friday, October 22, 2004

Some Are More Equal Than Others

Joshua Muravchik's essay at the American Enterprise Institute shows how hard it is to create a culturally neutral One World.

This month, the United Nations Security Council voted to condemn terrorism ...but the convoluted text and the dealings behind the scenes ...reveal is that even after Beslan and after Madrid and after 9/11, the UN still cannot bring itself to oppose terrorism unequivocally. The reason for this failure is that the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which comprises fifty-six of the UN's 191 members, defends terrorism as a right. ...

True, the final resolution condemns "all acts of terrorism irrespective of their motivation." This sounds clear, but in the Alice-in-Wonderland lexicon of the UN, the term "acts of terrorism" does not mean what it seems. For eight years now, a UN committee has labored to draft a "comprehensive convention on international terrorism." It has been stalled since day one on the issue of "defining" terrorism. But what is the mystery? At bottom everyone understands what terrorism is: the deliberate targeting of civilians. The Islamic Conference, however, has insisted that terrorism must be defined not by the nature of the act but by its purpose. In this view, any act done in the cause of "national liberation," no matter how bestial or how random or defenseless the victims, cannot be considered terrorism. This boils down to saying that terrorism on behalf of bad causes is bad, but terrorism on behalf of good causes is good. Obviously, anyone who takes such a position is not against terrorism at all-but only against bad causes.

The resolution itself "condemns in the strongest terms all acts of terrorism irrespective of their motivation, whenever and by whomsoever committed, as one of the most serious threats to peace and security". But what, Murvachick asks, does the United Nations consider to be a terrorist act? The United Nations Policy Working Group on Terrorism tried to tackle the "use of ideology (secular and religious) to justify terrorism" -- without success. The Policy Working Group's own report admits that it could reach no conclusion:

13. Without attempting a comprehensive definition of terrorism, it would be useful to delineate some broad characteristics of the phenomenon. Terrorism is, in most cases, essentially a political act. It is meant to inflict dramatic and deadly injury on civilians and to create an atmosphere of fear, generally for a political or ideological (whether secular or religious) purpose. Terrorism is a criminal act, but it is more than mere criminality. To overcome the problem of terrorism it is necessary to understand its political nature as well as its basic criminality and psychology. The United Nations needs to address both sides of this equation.

14. While terrorist acts are usually perpetrated by subnational or transnational groups, terror has also been adopted by rulers at various times as an instrument of control. The rubric of counter-terrorism can be used to justify acts in support of political agendas, such as the consolidation of political power, elimination of political opponents, inhibition of legitimate dissent and/or suppression of resistance to military occupation. Labelling opponents or adversaries as terrorists offers a time-tested technique to de-legitimize and demonize them. The United Nations should beware of offering, or be perceived to be offering, a blanket or automatic endorsement of all measures taken in the name of counter-terrorism.

15. The phenomenon of terrorism is complex. This does not, however, imply that it is impossible to adopt moral clarity regarding attacks on civilians. Terrorism deserves universal condemnation, and the struggle against terrorism requires intellectual and moral clarity and a carefully differentiated implementation plan.

The last paragraph is pure United Nations; and its total indefiniteness constitutes the definite heart of the cultural neutrality problem. Under the stated criteria, acts such as the recent Israeli missile strike against Hamas second-in-command Adnan al-Ghoul, and his aide, Imad Abbas in Gaza could could come under condemnation just as easily as the massacre of schoolchildren in Beslan.

Oct. 21 - An Israeli airstrike in Gaza City on Thursday night killed a leading weapons maker of Hamas who was responsible for some of the group's most powerful bombs and its homemade rockets, Israel's military said. A white sedan carrying the bomb maker, Adnan al-Ghoul, and his aide, Imad Abbas, was hit by two missiles and burst into flames, according to Palestinian witnesses. The two men were killed and four Palestinians on the street were wounded, according to doctors at Shifa Hospital.

From a certain point of view the missile strike against al-Ghoul is an act of terror while the beheading of British hostage Kenneth Bigley is a legitimate act of resistance against occupation.

An Australian TV journalist who was kidnapped and freed by Iraqi militants was under attack today for saying that the executions of British and American hostages were understandable. ... "These guys, they’re not stupid. They are fighting a war but they’re not savages. They're not actually killing people willy-nilly. There was no reason for them to kill me," Martinkus said when he arrived at Sydney airport on Tuesday. "There was a reason to kill (British hostage Ken) Bigley, there was a reason to kill the (two) Americans. There was not a reason to kill me," he added.

Terrorism is condemned, but the terrorist act is left undefined. With this background, point 10 of the UN Security Council's vote to condemn terrorism reads differently. The Security Council asked the Working Group, which will almost certainly include the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to consider how victims of the unspecified act of terrorism might be compensated:

10. Requests further the working group, established under paragraph 9 to consider the possibility of establishing an international fund to compensate victims of terrorist acts and their families, which might be financed through voluntary contributions, which could consist in part of assets seized from terrorist organizations, their members and sponsors, and submit its recommendations to the Council;

It would be naive to assume this refers to the seizure of Osama Bin Laden's assets to compensate the victims of September 11, or those of the sheiks who may have bankrolled Bali, Madrid or Beslan. Depending on the eventual definition of terrorism, it could theoretically, and may eventually justify the use of Israeli or American taxpayer money to compensate Hamas or the Al-Qaeda. And why not? In a world where all causes are equal, it is impossible to insist upon a particular point of view. John Kerry understood the inadmissability of parochial viewpoints in in the conduct of international affairs.

In 1994, discussing the possibility of U.S. troops being killed in Bosnia, he said, "If you mean dying in the course of the United Nations effort, yes, it is worth that. If you mean dying American troops unilaterally going in with some false presumption that we can affect the outcome, the answer is unequivocally no."

But how then, if this very United Nations considers all viewpoints equally valid? How if you have a logical system in which, since no truth table is possible, everyone is free to construct his own? Then you have a system where every function call returns a null; where sentences start, but never end. You have One World, as in the days when the jungle once covered the earth.

Best of the Comments New Feature!

Terrorism will remain undefined until the the World Polity -- the UN with teeth -- arrives. Then it will be defined as "actions which threaten the security of the state". #