Thursday, December 25, 2008

Are We Proud of How We Behave?

I was asked to deal with the issues of when dissent is ok and when someone is an enemy.

Dissent is always ok. The reaction to the shoe thrower suggested that dissent was not ok for two reasons. Firstly, because it was done to the President. Secondly, because what the thrower did was an assault or battery. The first reason is crass - in Zimbabwe it is a crime to gesture towards Mugabe as he guides his people to starvation, cholera and death. Only dictators feel the need for their position to be specifically protected.

The second reason just isn't a reason why dissent isn't ok. Within a democracy many people hate what is being done. We all agree that people are free to dissent in writing and in thought. But, occasionally, that dissent crosses over into action. The deal is that you are free to dissent if you are willing to face the consequences. That applies to whistle blowers, who frequently face the loss of their livelihood, and shoe-throwers, who may be locked up.

The critical point is that the reaction to the dissent must be proportionate to the dissent itself. If someone kills another human being we lock them up for a long time. If they blow the whistle on their employer's criminal hiring practices, only the blinkered and the stupid suggest that anything should happen at all. If they throw their shoes at someone - be he President or pauper - and miss, they shouldn't have ribs broken and internal injuries inflicted.

The question of how individuals react to such shows of dissent has been falsely linked by a number of people here to the act of dissent itself. But one can applaud the shoe thrower for expressing the view of thousands, for wiping the smile off the Bush features, for having the courage to make his views crystal clear at some risk to himself, without supporting lawbreakers. Why? Because the critical thing is that one must also support the State's right to punish a criminal offence in exactly the same way for everyone.

And I do. There is no contradiction between being pleased that this happened and being pleased if justice then takes its course. If someone walked up to the leader of Britain's Nazi Party and shot him I would be delighted. But if that 'gentleman' was simply walking down the street then there would still be a price to pay, because the killing would be a crime.

If someone is at war with me everyone is still treated the same - but the standard of treatment is different. Contrary to some of the wilder suggestions here it would not be ok to bomb civilians.

But the question of whether someone is my 'enemy' is irrelevant. To justify different treatment, the question is whether someone is at war with me, in the accepted legal meaning of that word. Bush and his cheerleaders have circumvented that process by means of unilateral declarations - not that they are at war, which might be ok - but that others are at war with them.

Simply labelling someone an 'enemy' or a 'traitor' should make no difference. However, it is used to permit appalling treatment of people so labelled, including torture. But these people are not captured prisoners of war or enemy agents in any sense save the unilateral one declared by Bush. There is no war in any legal - or objective - sense. These people are either criminals or innocents and, either way, they are entitled to the same treament as you and me. Instead, they are kidnapped in a foreign country, smuggled out to another foreign country and tortured until they confess to what the people torturing them want them to confess to. Not only is that outright morally wrong: it produces unreliable evidence and it ensures that everyone who knows the person detests the USA and everything about it. In treating them like this, Bush has dignified criminal activity by treating it as if a State has carried these acts out. What a legacy.

If you cannot prove this criminal behaviour using the standard rules of a just society, that is likely because the person you accuse is not guilty. Bush hasn't even tried. The rhetoric is wild and the 'evidence' anecdotal or torture based. The remedy available to every citizen - access to a fair justice system - is ignored in favour of conspiracy theories and Gitmo.

These are not Jewish values. I truly don't understand why others do not find them detestable.

Buy the book - and be warm this winter.
Buy DB's wife a gift and feel warm inside.

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