Monday, 18 August 2008

Russia's Georgian Rampage

Did anyone hear about what Miliband or Brown had to say whilst the Russians were on their excursion into Georgia? No. Because, whilst the crisis raged, they didn't say anything. They were probably hiding under their beds wishing like a child, that the horrible monster would just disappear. Now they can just pretend it was shadows caused by the light through the window. Did any eminent international lawyer dare stick a head above the parapet? No, incase one day the whole thing ends up in court and they might be precluded from representing either side. Only David Cameron responded appropriately and firmly to the lawless actions by Russia. Who needs to seek a Security Council resolution these days to justify the use of force? The council is irrelevant- we might as well say the truth and state that the whole thing is defunct and perhaps only useful when the little countries are being a bit naughty. Then only of use to satisfy the loopy lefty tree-huggers that we are doing something. Converse to the recent Russian actions, at least with regard to the NATO air-strikes in Kosovo, Security Council Resolutions 1119 and 1203 talked of a 'humanitarian catastrophe' and thus provided some legitimate basis upon which to act. As far as the so called genocide and other humanitarian breaches putatively claimed by Russia, they were so axiomatic and clear cut that it was worth not even bothering tabling them at the UN. One state can subjectively decide by itself and the whole system will operate better that way. A global community based on tit-for-tat is far more sensible idea, one is inclined to agree with Mr. Putin.
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

The taboo of blasphemy...

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.
As Levant points out, this is hardly a victory for freedom of the press, since the whole case rested on the whim of a certain Pardeep Gundara, a low-level bureaucrat who judged whether Levant had provided enough 'context' in order for the discrimination charge to be dropped. At stake was no criminal issue, but whether Levant's actions had offended a particular religious sect. He is unlikely to be the last Canadian journalist prosecuted in this way for insulting Islamic sensibilities, but the costs he has had to endure will be enough to dissuade most journalists from following in his path.

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

Apathy in the armed forces, a sign of maligned youth and politics

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.

Now the seeds of doubt have crept into the nerve centre. The role of a soldier has historically been peculiar. It is rarely the duty of an individual soldier to weigh up the moral worth of his military actions , despite a regular imbibement of the basic premises of humanitarian law . But convention may be more of a potent force than duty. It is a fine tribute to the worth of our fighting forbears, that the gross suffering of the Great Wars has yielded a widespread pacifism. But soldiers are no longer respected; they are suffered as a curious sub-culture within the pacific polity; they are ostracised, and they must move in their own circles. This dichotomy is beginning to take its toll. Besides suffering from lack of funding, the soldier will suffer more greatly when he is starved of the 'soft support' that is so essential to his success as a professional, and his contentment as a human. This is just another symptom of how lost we are as a nation. In the strange consitutional welter that is modern Britain, all sectors balk at the use of words such as 'right and wrong' (excepting David Cameron, who has only recently appropriated that most worthy of niches). And this fear of moral judgement is no less prominent when directed at the use of force.

When I discuss the ethics of war with my young peers, the prevailing mood is that war can never be just. And if war can never be just, it can never be justified. The presumption against violence is almost universal. To phrase it in such terms elevates the sentiment - and it would certainly be a worthy and defeasible position were it arrived it by a useful measure of academic scepticism. But I fear that is not the case. It is cynicism that leads to this presumption; a cynicism that is the product of inadequate investigation. The facts have not been presented in a robust manner, and in so doing, the presumption against violence - worthy sentiment! - has concealed a much worthier and historically sympathetic presumption: that against injustice. The horrors of twentieth century warfare have exposed the use of force to be brutal and indiscriminate. But this should never detract from the fact that our moral judgements should always be couched in terms of justice and injustice. Indeed, to neglect this distinction, and to presume that violence can never have a noble end is to condemn our soldiers to the realm of irretrievable inhumanity. No wonder, then, that the support that a soldier cherishes is at present so cruelly withheld.

I would say this is a failure of education. Patriotism has become something of a dirty word. Current guidance on citizenship lessons requires students to focus on diversity, globalisation and the role of the United Nations and European Union. That is all very well and good. But we would do better to educate our students in the world as it is, not the world as the Labour Party thinks it should be. For whilst we live in a system of states, patriotism will remain a virtue. It is a virtue that does, though, require a redefinition, and careful separation from nationalism. It must be the first duty of an educational system to instruct its subjects in the history of their land. Now this is not because 'we used to have an Empire, you know, and Empires are jolly good things...'. To suggest that teaching the history of this country from the perspective of this country is an imperial action is worse than laughable. It is morally wrong. It is because we are afraid that people are not able to form the right moral judgments that history is presented in a furtive and roundabout manner. But this absence of trust has a price: moral judgments are made in a vacuum.

My proposals for the remedy of this problem are twofold: draft a constitution of the military of this country, reflecting its aspirations and intentions, and a renewed focus on British history in schools. We must all of us be aware that there are instances that require the use of force in the service of justice. To neglect this important point is to appease the darkness. We must all of us reflect upon the singular evil of Nazism, and the triumph of the Allies. We must also be aware of the excesses of that war: Dresden, the misplaced efforts of Bomber Command. But our engagement with this history must never cede truth to relativism. For there are moral truths; I will tell you one: Hitler was evil. And if you think that is a commonplace, then may I suggest that Hitler's status as evildoer is growing increasingly tenuous by the day. I was discussing this matter with a friend of mine. I had contemplated a military career. Her response was intriguing: "I don't think anything justifies the taking of a life". I responded that I think there are some things worth dying for. Had she not been a friend, and the conversation amiable, I would have pointed out what an insult that was to those who died protecting the liberties that we savoured in that very conversation. But then she said: the only worthwhile battles are those of ideas. And ideology never merits death. She was half correct. Today, more often than not, the only worthwhile battles are battles over ideas. Thus, to say they are not worth dying for is false , misconceived and demonstrates the ostracisation of modern youth from the true value of modern democracy. This being the ability to form and discuss ideas, openly, honestly and without restriction. I would venture to suggest that ideas are almost the only thing worth dying for. Perhaps, in these times, where are own moral and ideological values of the west are at risk, they are to be placed on parallel and integrated into the needs of foreign policy, and placed above short-term domestic political gain of the incumbent Government.