Monday, 18 August 2008
One might be forgiven for thinking that the borders of another sovereign state are supposed to inviolable since the drafting of the UN Treaty, yet we have one country who seems to think that is irrelevant. No one dares stand up to the menace and threat this action is to the sovereign equality of states and the long term protection of that principle.
To be honest the Security Council has not been on best behaviour since the end of the cold war. Its mandate is to maintain ‘international peace and security’ under the UN Charter. It has used this, dubiously, to build courts such as the International tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the International tribunal for Rwanda. These tribunals brought in alien international criminal rules to try persons that had little or no idea that such rules existed. Legitimacy was assumed on the basis that a few utopian idealists thought it was the moral thing to do. The consent of either state to this system was wholly ignored, despite state consent being the cornerstone of the UN charter and international law. The Security Council went further in its desire to intervene in matters that seemed to be internal affairs of states. In 1994, through the passing of Resolution 940, it would decide what type of Government ought to be present in Haiti, when the dictator baby-doc brought a coup to the democratically elected Government. That was, perhaps, a good thing if one weighs the morality of democracy over the legitimacy of the Council in acting in this way. However, there was a lack of consistency in this approach. This was, of course, conveniently forgotten when the fraudulent dictator Mugabe demanded a second election through sheer brutal use of violence. No action was sought, express or implied when the janjaweed were bashing Sudanese villages to pieces from the Security Council. The use of force in Iraq 2003 was justified with complex, difficult arguments of implied authorisations (those that the Council does not state expressly) based on Security Council resolutions passed over a decade earlier. Despite the soundness of these contentions, what the lawyers that backed the war failed to realize is that there comes a point when sophistry of a legal argument is so great that it undermines its credibility. Such circumstances, as Iraq, demonstrate the clear lack of uniformity of the system, as there is no consensus of values amongst its states. Those who criticize the system excessively forget that the Security Council or the UN was not designed to be a cohesive system of accountability of states. The system was designed to defer largely to will of states. There has always been a clear disparity of values between far too many states for a cohesive, uniform and practical international institution to work. Perhaps it is time for a league of democracies to form their own separate institution with distinct values, where real economic sanctions will have effect and isolationism hurts those intransigent states hard. Or a system based on accountability with a court whose judgments can be enforced against assets of states who violate the principles in other states. The system’s weaknesses were hidden by the cold-war. It was not used in that period as security could not, ironically, have been left to a neutral international institution with a power to make real hard enforceable law. State sovereignty, at the cost of accountability, has been preserved often to justify a human tribal insecurity of placing one’s nation free of the possibility of commonly agreed rules. It was only the complacent that thought that after the end of the cold war the real battle for ideas and values had been won. In fact, as the conflicts and regime changes in the 1990s showed, it had just begun and that one without further firm action today from Western democratic states is at risk of being lost through inexcusable complacent apathy.
During the Georgian crisis the US, France and the UK have just watched, not Georgia of course, but the convenient distraction of the Olympics. Even most of the papers in the UK had the games as the leading story not the pouding that a small ex-Soviet state received. The answer to why this is of course is simple: We believe that Churchill was wrong in the 1939-40, and we wish, very sensibly deep in our hearts, that the job had been given to Lord Halifax.The cowardice of complacency is so much better than the virtue of courage. Winston, you were a rotter, how dare one have the spirit to act. There's a lesson here for Herr Hitler too. Better have given the gold to Jesse Owens whilst one is busy invading Poland.
Thursday, 7 August 2008
A post by Dr M Niblett
Those of us old enough to remember will recall that it will be twenty years next month since the publication of Sir Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses, a novel which has achieved the rare distinction of being famed more for the reaction it provoked than its content. For the first time since the age of enlightenment, British booksellers were the subject of firebomb attacks for selling 'blasphemous' material, and citizens witnessed book burnings by angry mobs on public streets. On our television screens, we saw news stories in which translators of the book overseas were murdered and stabbed. This was the Britain into which the university students of today were born.
Astonishingly, following these activities, the largest booksellers in the UK withdrew the book from public view. Elsewhere, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, suggested that the blasphemy laws needed to be extended in order to limit criticism of Islam. For religious radicals, it was apparent that it was the rule of the mob, and not the rule of law, that was best placed to achieve their goal of censorship. At the same time, authorities in Britain demonstrated that they were quite prepared to abandon liberal democratic values for the false promise of the quiet life. It was the beginning of a brave new world.
Twenty years on, and we are an older, if not a wiser generation. Sir Salman has not yet been murdered by fanatics (though this owes much to living under 24-hour-a-day protection from armed guards), and The Satanic Verses can still be found on the shelves of most British bookshops. But the lesson learned by religious (and particularly Islamic) fanatics - that mob anger could induce self-censorship throughout large swathes of society - has gone unchecked.
Nowhere has this been illustrated more clearly in recent times than through the reaction in Western nations to the Danish cartoons of Mohammed, first published in September 2005. In Britain, veterans of the Rushdie affair, together with new recruits, marched on London carrying placards proclaiming 'Slay those who insult Islam'. Later, the present Archbishop of Canterbury offered proposals similar to those of Runcie in favour of amending the blasphemy laws to cover 'thoughtless or cruel speech' against all religions, including Islam. No mainstream British publication dared print the offending material (with the exception of the Spectator). But on this occasion we were able to witness how the cancer of religious censorship had spread to other Anglophone nations, a point I was reminded of today with Ezra Levant's acquittal in the Canadian cartoons case.
Levant, the first person to be prosecuted for blasphemy in Canada for more than 80 years, was accused of 'illegal' discrimination for reprinting the Danish Mohammed cartoons in his magazine, the Western Standard. His statement of defence can be watched here. Admittedly, his trial took place in a pseudo-court, a 'Human Rights' commission with special legal powers, and not in a criminal or civil court. But the road to such pseudo-courts has already been opened in Britain with the establishment of the Commission for Equality and Human Rights in 2007, an organisation which a number of human rights lawyers would like to see acquiring similar powers to its sister body in Canada.
In today's National Post, Levant remarks:
Some 900 days after I became the only person in the Western world charged with the “offence” of republishing the Danish cartoons of Muhammad, the government has finally acquitted me of illegal “discrimination.” Taxpayers are out more than $500,000 for an investigation that involved fifteen bureaucrats at the Alberta Human Rights Commission. The legal cost to me and the now-defunct Western Standard magazine is $100,000.
The case would have been thrown out long ago if I had been charged in a criminal court, instead of a human rights commission. That’s because accused criminals have the right to a speedy trial. Accused publishers at human rights commissions do not.
And if I had been a defendant in a civil court, the judge would now order the losing parties to pay my legal bills. Instead, the Edmonton Council of Muslim Communities won’t have to pay me a dime. Neither will Syed Soharwardy, the Calgary imam who abandoned his identical complaint against me this spring.Both managed to hijack a secular government agency to prosecute their radical Islamic fatwa against me — the first blasphemy case in Canada in over 80 years. Their complaints were dismissed, but it is inaccurate to say that they lost: They got the government to rough me up for nearly three years, at no cost to them. The process I was put through was a punishment in itself — and a warning to any other journalists who would defy radical Islam.
Unfortunately for residents in Britain, such self-censorship applies even without the shadowy presence of these quasi-legal institutions. In perhaps the most absurd instance, at Clare College, Cambridge, a student was investigated by the police and disciplined by University of Cambridge authorities for daring to print the cartoon in a student magazine. Since the Satanic Verses controversy erupted, it appears that our authorities have become more timid in the face of religious outrage, not less. Let us hope that there are, somewhere out there, plenty of British Ezra Levants waiting in the wings, willing to challenge the taboo of blasphemy.
Friday, 1 August 2008
This is a guest post by Mr Simon Paul
Following the recent report by The Times into the historic absence of morale in the armed forces, an investigation is required into the cause of this unnerving phenomenon. The proximate cause is, of course, the strain of fighting two wars simultaneously, with a military ill equipped for such adventure. But it is also the specific nature of those conflicts that has engendered such an unprecedented disaffection amongst our fighting forces. Iraq demonstrated that the polity will no longer blithely follow their leaders into the abyss; competence de guerre is questioned on all fronts. But it is not just the polity at large that entertains this new spirit of moral enquiry. Statesmen would do well to acknowledge that the debate on when and whether the use of force is just needs to be had in the public domain, as well as in the chamber of the House of Commons. The dark forces of the twentieth century compelled man towards a new moral agenda, that could barely countenance the use of force, excepting the most grievous circumstances. But the UN model of self-defence ceded its authority to the warning sounds of human rights - and thus was born the doctrine of humanitarian intervention. It is crass to say that the use of force by British governments on behalf of a third party is some kind of post-imperial harbinger. Those who enter debates on warfare should do so with appropriate gravity, and leave such cynicism at the door of the chamber. Those who have the power to provide aid must see it as their duty to do so. But it is the murkiness of this sentiment that has confounded the British public. Tony Blair attempted to elucidate this new doctrine in his infamous Chicago speech. But, rather than obey his own strictures, his carefully articulated criteria of just intervention were inflated to accommodate virtually any Westminster fiat.