18 December 2018

To point fingers while Yemenis starve is morally wrong

First things first: kudos indeed to Senators Sanders, Lee and Murphy for their principled stand in favour of not starving the Yemeni people and attempting to put some brakes on the amoral and (from a realist perspective) irrational US-Saudi alliance. On the other hand, shame upon the neocon senators like Marco Rubio who defended this pointless war (while attempting to slap sanctions on China for supposed human rights violations). And shame upon Paul Ryan and his cowardly effort – now successful, it appears – to block a vote on Yemen in the House, thus ensuring their continued starvation for no good reason whatever. Like Rubio, of course, Ryan is a man who considers himself in good neocon / liberal-hawk fashion a champion of human rights and democracy, who touts American ‘moral leadership’, who lectures Russia, Iran and China on human rights, even though none of those countries are currently starving eighteen million people in Yemen to death as our government is. (In fact, China has been one of the few countries actively working for a political settlement there.)

In honour of the great linguist Noam Chomsky’s 90th birthday just past, then, I thought I would share a small nugget of his political wisdom here.
My own concern is primarily the terror and violence carried out by my own state, for two reasons. For one thing, because it happens to be the larger component of international violence. But also for a much more important reason than that; namely, I can do something about it. So even if the US was responsible for two percent of the violence in the world instead of the majority of it, it would be that two percent I would be primarily responsible for. And that is a simple ethical judgment. That is, the ethical value of one's actions depends on their anticipated and predictable consequences. It is very easy to denounce the atrocities of someone else. That has about as much ethical value as denouncing atrocities that took place in the 18th century.
Why do I bring this up now? Because it seems there is a growing chorus of selective outrage and crocodile tears from the Anglophone media, and predictable calls from the Blob to ‘do something’ involving sanctions and possibly bombs, over China’s purported mass detention of Uighurs (which, I hasten to add, has yet to be substantively verified). This has seemingly suckered a lot of otherwise well-intentioned people, even quite a few critics of American foreign policy, who haven’t been otherwise paying attention. At the same time, I reiterate, our own government presides over the starvation of eighteen million Yemenis at the behest of the Saudis. On the other hand, our government continues to threaten the Syrian people by using that very same ethno-religious group – Uighur Salafi Islamists – as a political proxy in our hybrid war against Baššâr al-’Asad.

First, following from Chomsky, there is simply nothing just or ethically laudable about cheap and impotent outrage directed against China, whose government has not the slightest interest in responding to such virtue-signalling from white and banana liberaltarians, let alone from the discredited Republican Party establishment. Second, China is completely within its rights to point out our hypocrisy on this question. Third, our governments and news media simply cannot justly pretend that they are neutral, disinterested parties on this question. We have been giving weapons and money directly to the Uighur terrorists who are spilling Syrian blood. And this sudden upwelling of concern about the plight of the Uighurs comes conveniently hard on the heels of both yet another propaganda push against al-’Asad from the Saudis, and assurances from the Chinese government that they will send aid to the Syrian people.

Fourthly, those of us who have been against the war in Syria from the very start have every reason to be sceptical of the motives of our government in moving against China at this particular moment, when the latter government is both more openly showing their support to al-’Asad, and as the Islamist fighters in Idlib look increasingly impotent to inflict any kind of damage on the Syrian government. The proposed sanctions on China by Rubio et al, in the present moment, look very much like an act of irrational spite. This is not understandable logically, but psychologically it makes perfect sense. As Russian philosopher Aleksey Khomyakov deftly pointed out, in reference to the French Catholic attacks on the Orthodox Christian faith as such during the Crimean War:
Among the laws that govern the world of the mind, there is one whose severe, divine justice does not admit exceptions. Every undeserved insult, every injustice strikes the perpetrator more painfully than it does the victim. The victim suffers; the perpetrator becomes corrupt. The victim can forgive and often does forgive, but the perpetrator never forgives. The crime implants in the perpetrator’s own heart a seed of hate that constantly grows until an inner renewal occurs to purify that person’s whole moral being. This law is of great historical importance.
The American foreign policy establishment has perpetrated, not one, but a long series of insults and injustices upon the peoples of Yugoslavia, of the Middle East and of North Africa over the past thirty years; yet we cannot answer the people we have thus deprived and destroyed – or, indeed, the critics abroad who point out these injustices – with anything other than the renewed claim that we have a special, exceptional right to do these things in the name of human rights, or else by lashing out with the implements of our unjust foreign policy at these same victims and critics.

But it needs to be said – for the benefit of those who still have and exercise their powers of conscience, who have eyes to see and ears to hear. Pointing to the imagined crimes of China in its western reaches, while Yemeni children die by the hundreds of thousands as a result of our continued aid to the Saudis, is not only useless and counterproductive, but actually wrong. If nothing else, if you won’t listen to a cranky anti-war grump like me, then consider listening to an actual Middle Easterner on the subject (and a King, at that), whose birthday we will be celebrating soon:
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

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