February 4, 2008

Enemies, Foreign and Domestic

I had to write an article review and this article was really, really interesting. Of course, it may only be interesting if you like politics, but it was amazing how the author looked at the consequences of how we react to terrorism. I'm posting part of the review that I wrote if you don't want to read the article itself.

"The author's main point was based around the premise that the fight against terrorism must be construed as a fight for human rights, but that governments are using terrorist acts, and September 11th 2001 in particular, to usurp human rights and has become a fight against a small group of radical criminals rather than an effort to end that which incites terrorism. The evidence that supported this included a broad look at how the societies that deny basic freedoms are or can be a breeding ground for terrorist sympathies. Also, Roth examines how the West interacts with countries because of the possibility of instability that comes with democratizing.
"An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." -Muhatma Ghandi


This was written just after the United States invaded Iraq and before the fall of Saddam Hussein, and the author points out that "an immediate democratic transition may not be possible in such a warped political environment." Immediately after September 11th, many governments rephrased their actions in foreign countries, labeling them anti-terrorist to avoid human rights violations repercussions. Roth points out that governments can acknowledge civil liberties, without inciting extremist groups and organizations. He cites Iran for "a gradual and partial political opening has corresponded with a movement demanding greater respect for civil liberties." and that "the appeal of violent, intolerant movements diminishes as people are given the chance to participate meaningfully in politics." Another problem that occurs with an attempt to encourage human rights is America's unwillingness to support human rights, even "refusing to sign treaties on women's rights, children's rights, economic, social, and cultural rights" In May of 2002, the Bush administration even went so far as to un-sign the International Criminal Court, a forum for prosecuting future cases of genocide, that the Clinton administration hesitantly signed.
Roth also notes that the Patriot Act was used as a blanket to obscure the reasons for the over 1000 detainees that the US government held after September 11th. In addition, Bush's refusal to follow the Geneva convention codes in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba not only endangers possible American prisoners of war, but flaunts Washington's aversion to human rights standards."

It's frustrating to think that our own government has ignored human rights and civil liberties. A country that was founded on the ideals of liberty and freedom and yet, now is a country that denies these most vital rights as they are taken from the neediest of citizens. This begs the question, what then, are the measures of human rights? How do we know that America is different from Saudi Arabia? Or Nazi Germany? We have all heard the reports of Muslim women in their birkas being forced to remove them at airports while catholic nuns in habits are allowed to pass free. Is this a violation? How about when we demand just treatment for our men in arms when they are prisoners of war, and then blatantly refuses to follow the Geneva Convention codes of conduct towards POWs. Referring to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Bush said 'Well, Al Qaeda members are prisoners of war, but Taliban members are not.' OK, then American military are POWs, but private contractors who are American citizens fighting beside our military, are not? Can we pick and choose the specific enumerations of the Geneva Convention that we choose to follow? How about the human rights we choose to honour?
How can we, as a people, encourage our government to behave like those they govern have inherent value, and inherent rights? All people have value and deserve to be treated like humans. Regardless of race, creed, or country of origin. And now, you might say to me, But Jane! that doesn't make sense. If someone is a terrorist and is trying to take lives, don't we have the right to protect ourselves and interrogate them and do whatever is necessary to protect America? Well, the answer is nuanced and complicated. No. Alright, that was a little easier than I thought. Who has not heard the phrase "Violence only begets more violence." It's like when people think that capitol punishment is a deterrent for crime, when every study says otherwise. You can't FIX terrorism. You can't fix ANYTHING by usurping human rights and using it against a group of people. The only possible way to stop violence and terrorism is to provide civil liberties to an oppressed people, and to give them hope for participation in their government.

2 comments:

Amanda said...

Jane! Wow, that was a really good article review – your prof better give you a good grade! You’re so articulate when you write  Me and my friend Tim were actually talking about this very topic a few days ago after we watched the State of the Union…

One of the main things we were talking about was how “terrorism” is defined and who gets to define it. A state that holds power (i.e. the US) can use the tragedy of 9/11 to define “terrorism” in a way that serves its strategic interests – using it as a blanket term to target Arab “extremist” groups. Ironically, the term “terrorist” was first coined during the Reign of Terror that followed the French Revolution, and it was used to describe those in the government – not some extreme splinter groups. When the US does talk about terrorism in terms of governments, it is very selective – extending the term to Arab “state sponsors of terror” that are viewed as the “enemy”, while simultaneously funding the state terrorism of Israel and carrying out its own terrorist activities.

You were absolutely right about the US failing to address the roots of terrorism – we try to simply capture and kill the terrorists, but for each one we get there will be 2 more to take his place. This is not traditional warfare in which the troops are finite – unless we deal with the conditions that create terrorism we will never be able to win. And just like you said, one of the principle conditions is denial of basic rights. When a people group is oppressed and stripped of legitimate means of making its voice heard, it makes perfect sense for them to turn to illegitimate or violent means. But if given access to the political process, those violent methods hold less appeal, just as Roth said. (btw, is this the Roth from Goshen? I think I may have read this article for a class a few years ago…) I would add that conditions of poverty and lack of hope of opportunity for the future are also key sources of terrorism that must be addressed. And of course our foreign policy… Osama bin Laden’s initial reasons for hating the US were based not on ideology or religion, but on our foreign policy – specifically, our stationing of troops in Saudi Arabia near the holy site of Mecca, and our support of Israel which has mistreated the Palestinians so much. These are the things that must be addressed in order to stop terrorism. MLK (my hero! well, one of them…) has an amazing quote that talks about that – it’s pretty long, but you should check it out on Steve’s profile in his Quotes...

The hypocrisy of our government when it comes to human rights is indeed frustrating – apparently, the US only advocates human rights when it suites their strategic interests. Our citizens must be protected at all costs, but we can do whatever we want with those suspected of terrorism. We can heed or ignore international law whenever it is convenient or expedient for us. It’s true that people will always argue that if the terrorists are trying to kill us we must go to any lengths to protect ourselves. Yet in doing so, we must not lower ourselves to their level – then we lose our moral high ground and are really no different from those we are fighting. Human rights belong to all people – regardless of their skin color, accent, or country of origin. And it’s about time the US starts respecting that…

As a side-note, I was shocked to learn that Bush un-signed the International Criminal Court – although I have ceased being surprised by his actions. I told this to my friend, Tim, and he immediately asked “What strategic advantage would this have for the US?” concluding that either the US was planning to commit genocide or one of its allies was – bingo, Israel. Scary…

Amanda said...

Haha, so my post was so ridiculously long that I put it on my blog and linked your blog – so if anyone other than you actually reads my blog, they can read your article review too :)