Thursday, February 05, 2015

Why hang al-Rishawi?

To take a person's life is an extreme thing.  Only the gravest of circumstances could justify it.  And while blogging about such matters is nowhere nearly as serious a thing, it is still a very serious matter to suggest someone's life should be taken.  It 's not a subject for cavalier pronouncements.  Now that Shajida al-Rashawi is dead, and now that I have a minute to write, why do I think her execution was called for?  Where is the justice in all this?  Doesn't this simply beget further violence?  Where would be the harm in simply keeping her alive in prison?  And how can anyone take such power into their own hands...are we so blameless?   Well, let me explain.

Was this just?  Yes.  It was just to execute al-Rashawi; she was a failed murderess who attempted to slaughter innocent people in a vicious act of terrorism.  As such, she forfeited any claim that we should respect her right to life.  One has a right to life and liberty only so far as one respects the equal rights of others.  For sufficiently small offenses against others' rights, death is hardly an appropriate penalty.  It would be unjust to execute, say, a petty thief.  But al-Rashawi participated in a crime that took her far beyond the bounds civilized society can tolerate.  She has (had) no right to live as a mass murderer.  Executing her was just.

But does this not beget further violence?  That's hard to believe.  To answer in the affirmative is to suggest ISIS will become more violent than previously.  It's hard to imagine how that could be.  ISIS already specializes in wholesale tortures and executions of the most brutal sort.  I suspect ISIS is largely impervious to outside influence and largely driven by its own internal dynamics -- first of all its theology.  But to the extent this does drive ISIS to further violence, so what?  Any resistance to ISIS will have that effect.  If that's what one really believes, one should then counsel avoiding all actions that might stir them up.  Capitulation and submission follow.  It's clear that dealing successfully with ISIS will require substantial violence.  This isn't something that's desirable, it's simply a fact, imposed on us by ISIS itself...

...which implies the answer to where would be the harm in simply keeping her alive?  One cannot negotiate with ISIS, not because members of ISIS are not rational, but because there is no common ground over which to negotiate.  There's nothing to compromise on -- the modern world and the vision pursued by ISIS are utterly incompatible.  On the other hand, ISIS, I think, does understand power and violence.  ISIS is emboldened by weakness and cowardice in its enemies, and threatened by their strength.  A calculus in which two of them die for each one they murder is a calculus they can understand, and it threatens them.  On the other hand, a calculus in which each victim they execute results in further embarrassing handwringing by John Kerry and further idiotic statements that ISIS is not Islamic from Barack "that's a red line" Obama simply amuses and emboldens them by giving the impression that the modern world is helpless before them. Preserving al-Rashawi's life under these circumstances would have been wrong.

But who are we to take such power into our own hands? ISIS is actually a fairly small, weak, and not particularly well-equipped or trained force.  But it does have one very powerful strength -- moral clarity.  Despite the "it's not Islam" myths perpetrated in the West and elsewhere, ISIS is Islamic.  They are driven by a very powerful religious vision.  I'm quite sure they genuinely believe in their enterprise of building the new Caliphate.  That moral confidence is what empowers them beyond what their numbers and materiel suggest.  It's a nasty, vicious, and anti-human morality, but a morality all the same.  It's that moral clarity that Westerners -- especially the modern left (but also, sadly, many of my fellow libertarians) -- lack.  And it's that lack of moral clarity and resulting self-doubt that leads to questions of the who are we to judge? sort. The moral confusion of multiculturalism becomes moral cowardice.

Who are we to judge?  We're living beings, that's who.  If we choose to live, we cannot escape making moral judgements.  We should simply identify the best values (some cultures are dysfunctional, you know, some are even evil), identify what is right and wrong, think carefully about consequences, and act accordingly, with confidence.  It's wrong to think we have to be perfect before we can decide anything, and it's crazy to think that because someone in the past did something wrong, we are responsible and thus cannot pass moral judgement.  (E.g. "Islamism is a just response to the West's colonial injustices, so shut up.")  Pfffttt.

I suppose in utopia we could take all the al-Rashawis of the world and make them see the errors of their ways, turn them in to repentant and productive, creative human beings.  But we can't.  Sometimes the best thing to do is simply kill them.  I fear that before we are done with our transition to a genuine world civilization, we may be required to do a fair amount of this, given the anti-liberal, antihuman ideologies that seem to be proliferating.  Let it be the least amount possible, but no less than is needed.

How do libertanians manifest their loss of moral clarity?
I'm thinking particularly of Ron Paul and his followers. Paul has suggested that the attack on Charlie Hebdo was caused by Western intervention in the Middle East -- it's blowback. He stops just short of saying "we had it coming," but he implies it. He did the same sort of thing in response to the Detroit underwear bomber.

But it's not just Paulistas. Another example is Sheldon Richman, former editor of FEE's Freemanwho repeatedly condemned Israel as a criminal regime deserving of elimination, while refusing to say anything negative about Hamas. I couldn't get him to answer a straight answer (or any sort of answer) to questions such as which has freer speech, freedom for gays, etc....Israel or Gaza under Hamas?

I think many libertarians have adopted the left's anti-West anti-U.S. perspective and end up seeing nothing but evil in the U.S. and turning a blind eye to greater evils elsewhere.
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