Thursday, December 09, 2004

The Absence of Evidence

The embattled Secretary General of the United Nations took the media offensive by calling for UN "reform" while forgetting to mention his own behavior was a major reason for seeking reform in the first place. The Bakersfield Californian has more:

Annan on Tuesday rejected calls for his resignation and said he would concentrate on U.N. reform in the last two years of his term. In his speech, he did not refer to the calls to step down. Instead, he praised the panel for providing "a new and comprehensive vision of collective security for the 21st century." "One of its key messages is this: because of globalization we live in a world of interconnected threats and mutual vulnerability between rich and poor and weak and strong. No country can afford to deal with today's threats alone, and no threat can be dealt with effectively unless other threats are addressed at the same time," Annan said.

Earlier Congressman Dennis Kuchinich (D-Ohio) and 20 members of Congress offered their support to the Secretary General in the face of the Oil-for-Food allegations. He believed there was no hint that Annan had committed any impropriety but ample evidence that the United States was somehow partially behind the fraud.

We are writing to express our support of United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who has recently been under attack by some American lawmakers for the U.N’s Oil-for-Food program scandal occurring under his watch. Such an attack on the second-term Secretary-General and Nobel Peace laureate is disgraceful and premature. There has been no hint of impropriety on the part of the Secretary-General, who on numerous occasions has proven his honesty and integrity. Furthermore, we specifically reject all calls for his resignation.   ... we want to highlight the shared responsibility by the United States for the alleged fraud and abuse that occurred in the Oil-for-Food Program.

The Secretary General had the day before spoken at a UN seminar called "Unlearning Intolerance", which that day focused on combatting Islamophobia. It was designed to forestall the "hatred that breeds more hatred", otherwise known as perpetuating the 'cycle of violence'. As ever, the onus was on the West.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan opened the first U.N. seminar on confronting Islamophobia Tuesday with a plea not to judge Muslims by the acts of extremists who deliberately target and kill civilians. ... Seyyed Hussein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, said Islamophobia was a question not only of fear but also of hatred -- often by people who know little about the religion. ... Fighting Islamophobia, Nasr argued, requires swift action from those in the West who understand that hatred breeds more hatred. Muslims must also take the lead in speaking out against extremism - steps that should be complemented by educational reforms and more effective use of the media. ... R. Scott Appleby, director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame, said that in the United States and much of Europe, terrorism had created anxiety about the vulnerability of Western societies, drawn unwanted attention to Muslims, and elicited intolerance and hatred among some Americans. This is what terrorists wanted, he said. In the United States, Appleby said, patriotism should require a willingness to recognize differences and honest self-criticism, not condescension towards people cast as "the other."

The difficulties inherent in not judging the intent of the "other" by their actions in order to "break the cycle of violence" was highlighted by the collapse of the Northern Ireland peace talks over the question of verifying IRA disarmament. In an article strangely entitled Photo dooms peace hopes, the Herald Sun reported that:

Hopes of a final breakthrough to end paramilitary violence in Northern Ireland collapsed within sight of success yesterday. With agreement close, and the IRA having at last agreed to give up all its weapons, a deal fell through over whether their destruction should be photographed. Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, said the photographs would represent a humiliation for militants. ... Mr Adams said: "I recognise that some unionists do have genuine concerns about verification of arms being put beyond use. But Ian Paisley has to recognise also that the IRA will not submit to a process of humiliation." The stand-off is a massive setback for Prime Minister Tony Blair, who had been hoping to fly to Northern Ireland today to publish details of the agreement that was so nearly clinched.

Here, as in Annan's 'reform' proposals, and at the UN Seminar, a platitude is offered in answer to a specific question.

Q: Did you steal billions of dollars and help rearm Saddam?
A: We must reform the UN because no one nation can solve the world's problems.

Q: Are radical Islamists funding international terror?
A: If you ask such questions they will resent it so much that what you fear will come to pass.

Q: Will the IRA photograph the destruction of the weapons it promised to decommission?
A: It is humiliating to require proof.

Any objections that these anwers are unsatisfactory are met by the claim that the questions themselves are illegitimate. "There has been no hint of impropriety on the part of the Secretary-General, who on numerous occasions has proven his honesty and integrity." It is impertinent to observe that Annan has proven nothing. Any further argumentation is met with the assertion that 'it is your fault anyway'. In Congressman Kuchinich's words "we want to highlight the shared responsibility by the United States for the alleged fraud and abuse that occurred in the Oil-for-Food Program." Any suspcion that the Jihad may exist is put down to "intolerance and hatred among some Americans" and "condescension".

The implicit assumption underlying this discourse is that "we" -- and not you -- ask the questions. The United Nations and no one else sits in judgement. That's final: it is International Law. As Robert Kaplan pointed out in The Media and Medievalism, the most powerful tool of totalitarianism is to don the guise of righteousness and assume "the right to question and to demand answers, the right to judge and condemn, and the right to pardon and show mercy." It is in the end an attempt to usurp the wellsprings of legitimacy. Do you hold it to be self-evident that you have the right "to assume among the Powers of the Earth" a separate and equal station? That's being a rogue nation. Do you presume that "that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights". That is not in the Koran. It is illegitimate and utterly intolerant to impose such a view upon anyone, even upon yourselves.