Of Human Rights and Wrongs

It is now apparently the view that this is all about saving the Iraqis from Saddam Hussein. It’s not, of course; as I’ve pointed out before, in so far as this is about the Iraqis at all, the main benefit from them is the possibility of saving them from us and our insanely, murderously cruel sanctions regime. But apparently, having given up on the bin Laden connection and the Saddam-has-nukes idea, we are now going to be emotionally blackmailed into a war. In my experience, good ideas don’t usually need quite so many outright lies told to support them, but what the hey. (parallels here to the accounting treatment of executive stock options, another practice which was once held to be so universally beneficial that it was imperative that the truth about it should never be disclosed).

Of course, the new gambit is a much more difficult one for some people on the left in particular to resist. In general (perhaps because, to generalise, so many of them work for the government), left-wing people are suckers for an argument based on the idea that “We’re from the government. We’re here to help” is anything other than the punchline to a joke. The idea that the kind of “help” that governments provide using guns and bombs has a record of failure only rivalled by subsidised cinema, tends to go a bit against the grain. As does the important principle that there should be a very strong presumption against intervention, because the examples of Latin America, SouthEast Asia and Africa all tell us that when it comes to justifying interventions in other people’s countries on “humanitarian” grounds, great powers tend to take roughly 500,000 hectares for every inch you give them. Even if one points out that the people who have become such humanitarians in the case of Iraq have a truly contemptible record on the issue, you get people like Jonathan Freedland who draw the incorrect conclusion (“maybe they’ve changed”) rather than the correct conclusion (“clearly, they’re up to something”). To sharpen up your intuitions in dealing with the “we made Saddam, so we should remove him for the benefit of the Iraqis”, imagine that a notorious local thief shows up on your doorstep asking for the keys to your grandmother’s house, on the pretext that he wants to repair some of the damage to her guttering that he did during his last break-in. Do you act all pleased at his sudden change of heart with respect to the welfare of old ladies, or do you kick him up the arse and tell him you weren’t born yesterday? Put it this way; I wouldn’t like to be Christopher Hitchens’ granny.

Compounding this, we have the tendency of well-meaning liberals to read a lot of newspapers. Although everyone knows that the press is full of propaganda at war time, it’s quite difficult to internalise this to the necessary extent. The objective facts of the matter are that 95% of everything you see in the papers about conditions in Iraq comes to you via Western governments or via the government of Iraq, both of whom are proven liars on the issue, so what you in fact know about Iraq is precisely 95% of bugger all. Any sentence which has as its premise “Saddam Hussein is such a terrible dictator that his regime cannot be tolerated …” is intrinsically flawed and cannot be used as a premise for a rational (as opposed to rhetorical) argument, because we do not know how bad he is relative to the kind of dictator who we don’t mind remaining in power. A good way to clear your mind is to try and formulate all your arguments in such a way that you would be able to defend them without resorting to any factual statements where your only source is a newspaper or a government document. It clears things up wonderfully, and it stops you pretending you have more information than you have.

In support of the above, I would like to present the following links: one, two, three. Amnesty International don’t have a position on war against Iraq, because that’s a political question outside their remit. But they do appear to be downright pissed off at the selective and tendentious abuse of their human rights files on the subject by the War Party (in particular, they have gone into print objecting to the use of quotes from the 1994 report by Condoleeza Rice on the subject of dissidents having their tongues cut out, in a context where she did not make clear that it was eight years old). Iraq is a horrible place, right enough, from a human rights point of view. But the people pressing for a war there are squatters on this moral high ground, and the actual owners of the real estate (the human rights agencies) do not appear to regard their case as highly as they do themselves. As I say, if this is the right thing to do, why do so many lies need to be told about it?

While we’re on the subject of lies and Amnesty International, by the way, I seem to remember from my college days that some people were convinced that Amnesty International was “a political organisation” and “not a registered charity”, and thus that it was not a suitable recipient of donations from our college charitable donations fund. Things don’t change that much, so I’m sure that someone somewhere is pushing this lie still today. If any of my readers have occasion to need the Amnesty UK’s registered charity number, it’s available here.


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