An eye for an eye in Libya

I can’t argue with Marc Lynch’s call for NATO to intervene in Libya’s bloodshed.[1]. Surely if any situation calls for outside intervention, the specter of a regime massacring its own people is it. But that’s the problem—this is all too often the argument.

Among the rationalizations used for the U.S. invasion of and continued war in Afghanistan is Taliban treatment of women.[2] Notwithstanding the limited progress women have achieved since the overthrow—however temporary—of the Taliban and a historic relatively liberal Afghan attitude towards women’s rights,[3] it is clear that Afghanistan does indeed have a serious problem with respect to cultural attitudes towards women[4] that does not seem amenable to outside influence. For all the shock value of atrocities, the bumper sticker wisdom that war doesn’t prove who’s right, but only who’s left remains valid.

That doesn’t mean that any available means should not be employed to halt atrocities—whether or not they attract attention in the mainstream media—but that we as a society need to think much harder about how we come to this conundrum, where again and again, crimes against humanity are a too-convenient excuse for intervening against regimes we don’t like while similar actions by regimes we do like are too often overlooked.[5] And we need to more carefully consider the political and social arrangements that facilitate atrocities, not only those so visible with mass killings but the less-frequently noticed but more common structural violence waged against humans around the world.[6]

And if the social and political arrangements that facilitate violence cannot be distinguished from hierarchy, than we must think much more carefully about responding to violence with violence, lest we repeat the Marxian error of attempting to use authority, here in the form of physical force, to achieve freedom.[7]

As I said, I do not mean this to argue against intervention to halt atrocities. Assisting anyone in true self-defense surely must be a legitimate form of authority. But the legitimacy of that authority is undermined if we merely reproduce problematic actions and fail to address the causes.

  1. [1]Marc Lynch, “Intervening in the Libyan tragedy,” Foreign Policy, February 21, 2011
  2. [2]Priyamvada Gopal, “Burkas and bikinis,” Guardian, August 3, 2010
  3. [3]Jennifer Peltz, “On Time cover, Afghan woman symbolizes war stakes,” Associated Press, August 4, 2010; Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, “Myths about ‘unwinnable’ Afghanistan,” CNN, February 17, 2011
  4. [4]Alissa J. Rubin, “For Afghan Wives, a Desperate, Fiery Way Out,” New York Times, November 7, 2010
  5. [5]Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media (New York: Pantheon, 2002).
  6. [6]David P. Barash and Charles P. Webel, Peace and Conflict Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002).
  7. [7]Brian Morris, Bakunin: The Philosophy of Freedom (Montreal: Black Rose, 1993).

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