For a little while I couldn't figure out why it was that Europeans' reaction to Condi Rice (she was mistrusted because of the "secret CIA prisons" that seem to exist in some countries in Europe's ex-communist east) annoyed me. A half-formed objection seemed to lurk in my head, but what was it exactly? Was I just a "my country, right or wrong" nationalist?
And then it hit me: These are the same people who wanted to leave Saddam Hussein in power
A little historical background: Saddam Hussein was the dictator of Iraq for thirty-five years, one of the most totalitarian rulers in the world in his time, who killed millions of Iraqis, plus invading his neighbors and gratuitously exposed his people to terrible suffering under UN economic sanctions in order to keep out weapons inspectors (even though Saddam actually had far fewer WMDs than was thought). He was removed by the US and its allies in 2003, paving the way for elections and a democratic constitution in 2005. US troops were welcomed as liberators, a fact which was televised all over the world, so that those of us who are old enough to remember these things, and who are intellectually mature enough to be resistant to the desperate brainwashing attempt that has been undertaken by the mainstream media since then, can bear witness to that fact. (The revisionist historians have their work cut out for them if our children are to know the truth.)
Under Saddam Hussein, human rights were nil, and hideous atrocities took place. Since his fall, Iraqis have acquired a gamut of new freedoms, and are struggling their way towards the enshrining of these freedoms in law and political practice.
If you care about human rights, you support this. If you really
care about human rights, you support this.
I'm going to make a statement that maybe very few will agree with, maybe it will make a lot of people mad, but to me its logic is just too powerful to be resisted. Those who opposed the war in Iraq have no standing to talk about human rights. Those who wanted to leave Saddam in power have no standing to talk about human rights. Or at any rate, I won't listen to them. I can't listen to them. The cognitive dissonance is deafening.
Moral indignation against secret CIA prisons in Europe may be a creditable emotion, or maybe it's an untenable moral absolutism that, if converted into a generally applied principle, would render liberal civilization unable to defend itself. I don't know. But if moral indignation against secret CIA prisons is not
coupled with much greater moral indignation against Saddam Hussein and his crimes, and with rejoicing in his fall, then the moral indignation against CIA prisons is exposed as phony, a tool for some other end.
Of course, not all Europeans opposed the war in Iraq, so some of them do have standing to object to the secret prisons in eastern Europe. Here a distinction is called for: Europeans vs. EUropeans. Europe is a great civilization, or blend of civilizations, a tapestry of nations and cultures, with a mostly Christian heritage and a deep and brilliant historico-cultural legacy. EUrope is an ideological construct, which aspires to bind the nations of Europe into a supra-national political entity, which views consultation as a substitute for warfare, not in some cases (a universal and necessary belief) but in all cases, which has evolved its own new set of moral imperatives, including the social welfare state and the abolition of the death penalty, which sees the outside world through the lens of post-colonial leftism, which protects its own farmers at the expense of the world's poor farmers having a potential lucrative market in Europe, but meanwhile channels much development aid to poor people's governments. Europe did not necessarily oppose the war, but EUrope did.
To the extent that Europeans speak as Europeans, not EUropeans, they are entitled to a hearing. But anyone who is tainted with unrepentant solidarity with Chirac and Schroeder can only be treated with contempt when they speak of human rights. Of course this contempt should be veiled, not out of politeness but out of self-interest since EUropeans have some power, in refined diplo-speak, and lawyerisms, if necessary. Like Condi did. Good job.
UPDATE: Andrew Beath comments: "So Nelson Mandela has 'no standing to talk about human rights'? Try telling him that."
Okay, there's one exception here: principled pacifists have a pass. If you think that peaceful love will overcome, I admire that. I admire Mahatma Gandhi. I admire Martin Luther King. I admire Nelson Mandela.
I've love to talk to Mandela and ask him: What do you have to say to those who suffered worse than you in Iraqi prisons until they were liberated? What do you say to those whose relatives were disappeared by the regime? Were they wrong to desire their freedom? Were they wrong to give flowers to the American soldiers? What about Iraqi exiles like Allawi and Chalabi? Were they wrong to try to bring in Americans to invade? You struggled for your whole life to bring freedom to your people. Do you want to deny that to another people? Why don't Iraqis deserve what you and your fellow South Africans, at long last, have gained?
Maybe you object to the violence with which liberation was accomplished? Do you think that everyone state will eventually succumb to non-violence resistance and peaceful love? Would that that were true! You are alive today because the regime that you lived under, though grotesque, was not the worst of them. It was not Stalin's Soviet Union. You lived to become the beloved leader of a liberation movement because there was humanity and liberality in the apartheid regime, even if for far too long there was also terrible injustice for blacks. If you had lived under Saddam, you would have been long since dead, and forgotten.
But of course Nelson Mandela has "standing to comment on human rights." My bad. I let my indignation against Saddam's crimes blind me for a second.