war – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com Free Markets and Social Justice Wed, 15 Nov 2017 17:16:21 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.8.3 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/cropped-site-icon-BHL-32x32.png war – Bleeding Heart Libertarians http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com 32 32 22756168 If You Love Freedom, Thank an Anarchist http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/05/if-you-love-freedom-thank-an-anarchist/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2016/05/if-you-love-freedom-thank-an-anarchist/#comments Mon, 30 May 2016 23:37:00 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10760 It’s often said – particularly on holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day – that Americans owe their freedom (such as it is) to u.s. military veterans. This claim has always puzzled me. In what war in living memory was the freedom of Americans at stake? Without u.s. military action, were Japanese or German troops … … Continue reading

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It’s often said – particularly on holidays like Veterans Day and Memorial Day – that Americans owe their freedom (such as it is) to u.s. military veterans.

ifulove-blogpic

This claim has always puzzled me. In what war in living memory was the freedom of Americans at stake? Without u.s. military action, were Japanese or German troops – let alone Italian, Vietnamese, Korean, Panamanian, Afghani, or Iraqi ones – really going to be marching though Times Square? If anything, given the notorious ratchet effect whereby wars tend to produce permanent increases in government power, it seems more probable that u.s. military action has contributed to a diminution of our freedom.

Yet Americans do enjoy a greater degree of liberty, however inadequate, than citizens of many other countries around the world. To whom do we owe that fact?

Many people wear shirts that say, “If you love freedom, thank a veteran.” I wear a shirt that says “If you love freedom, thank an anarchist.”

So what have anarchists (and other fractious dissidents) done for the cause of freedom? In answer, I quote from two recent articles:

Anarchists have never taken power. We have resisted authoritarianism and oppression in every arena. From calling out Marxism long before its draconian aspirations became public record, to fighting and dying to resist Fascism, fighting Franco until he couldn’t afford to join Hitler and Mussolini and leading the resistance against the Nazis across Europe. We’ve fought the robber barons, the czars, the oligarchs, and the soviet bureaucrats.

And we’ve been extraordinarily popular in different regions at different points in history, although we have not yet had sufficient critical mass to completely transform the world. In every instance where anarchism surged to localized popularity with a few million adherents, as in Spain but also Ukraine and Manchuria, every surrounding power immediately put their wars on hold to collaborate in snuffing out the examples we provided of a better world, of better ways of interacting and settling disputes with one another, that do not turn to control but build a tolerable consensus for all parties when agreement is needed.

We’ve been at the forefront not just of technology like cryptocurrencies and the tor project, but we’ve also been at the forefront of struggles against patriarchy, racism, homophobia, ageism, ableism, etc., etc. Since long before there were popular coalitions like “feminism.” We smuggled guns to slaves and ran abolitionist journals. We’ve coursed through the veins of our existing society, pioneering myriad social technologies like credit unions and cooperatives. We’ve consistently served as the radical edge of the world’s conscience, and played a critical role in expanding what is possible while developing and field testing new insights and tools.

Anarchism – as many commentators have noted – has served as the laboratory of the left, of social justice and resistance movements around the world. Even where we remain marginal, the tools we invent eventually become mainstream.

— William Gillis, “Transhumanism Implies Anarchism

 

 

[The] claim that our rights are something “given to” us, handed down from above by the government and its soldiers, is a pernicious, authoritarian, damned lie.

Who has given us our rights? Nobody. We have taken them. Every right we have, we have because we fought for it from below. We have these rights because we resisted violations of them, because we fought those who violated them &#150 sometimes fighting “the Soldier” – and compelled the state to recognize them. And the state recognizes them because it’s afraid that if it violates them we’ll damn well fight it – and its soldiers – again.

Rights have never been granted by authority. They have always been asserted against authority, and won from it. We don’t have our rights because the government and its soldiers are nice – but because we’re not. It’s not the Soldier – it’s the dissidents, the hell-raisers, the dirty flag-burning hippies, the folks with bad attitudes towards authority in general, who have given us our rights throughout history, by fighting for them.

— Kevin A. Carson, “No, It’s Not ‘The Soldier’

 

 

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Donald Trump, John Locke, and Religious Toleration http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/12/donald-trump-john-locke-and-religious-toleration/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/12/donald-trump-john-locke-and-religious-toleration/#comments Fri, 11 Dec 2015 13:03:03 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=10047 Donald Trump has recently said, in a variety of forums and using a a variety of verbal saltados, that people who believe in Allah, the Muslim version of God, should not be allowed to enter the U.S. He has apparently slathered onto this steaming dish the claim that even American citizens who travel abroad in … … Continue reading

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Donald Trump has recently said, in a variety of forums and using a a variety of verbal saltados, that people who believe in Allah, the Muslim version of God, should not be allowed to enter the U.S. He has apparently slathered onto this steaming dish the claim that even American citizens who travel abroad in Muslim countries should not be readmitted.

Trump

One could argue, as Justin Wolfers has done in the NYTimes, that we shouldn’t focus so much on the “noise,” but rather recognize the signal.  Maybe, but words have meaning, and arguments have consequences.  Could any reasonable person take Trump seriously?  Is there an argument here other than simple religious bigotry?

I recently encountered (or reread, but noticed for the first time, perhaps because of recent events) a portion of Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration.  Here is the relevant passage (emphasis added) :

[T]he magistrate ought not to forbid the preaching or professing of any speculative opinions in any Church because they have no manner of relation to the civil rights of the subjects. If a Roman Catholic believe that to be really the body of Christ which another man calls bread, he does no injury thereby to his neighbour. If a Jew do not believe the New Testament to be the Word of God, he does not thereby alter anything in men’s civil rights. If a heathen doubt of both Testaments, he is not therefore to be punished as a pernicious citizen. The power of the magistrate and the estates of the people may be equally secure whether any man believe these things or no. I readily grant that these opinions are false and absurd. But the business of laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of the commonwealth and of every particular man’s goods and person. And so it ought to be. For the truth certainly would do well enough if she were once left to shift for herself. She seldom has received and, I fear, never will receive much assistance from the power of great men, to whom she is but rarely known and more rarely welcome. She is not taught by laws, nor has she any need of force to procure her entrance into the minds of men. Errors, indeed, prevail by the assistance of foreign and borrowed succours.

Later, Locke elaborates (and again emphasis added):

That Church can have no right to be tolerated by the magistrate which is constituted upon such a bottom that all those who enter into it do thereby ipso facto deliver themselves up to the protection and service of another prince. For by this means the magistrate would give way to the settling of a foreign jurisdiction in his own country and suffer his own people to be listed, as it were, for soldiers against his own Government. Nor does the frivolous and fallacious distinction between the Court and the Church afford any remedy to this inconvenience; especially when both the one and the other are equally subject to the absolute authority of the same person, who has not only power to persuade the members of his Church to whatsoever he lists, either as purely religious, or in order thereunto, but can also enjoin it them on pain of eternal fire. It is ridiculous for any one to profess himself to be a Mahometan only in his religion, but in everything else a faithful subject to a Christian magistrate, whilst at the same time he acknowledges himself bound to yield blind obedience to the Mufti of Constantinople, who himself is entirely obedient to the Ottoman Emperor and frames the feigned oracles of that religion according to his pleasure. But this Mahometan living amongst Christians would yet more apparently renounce their government if he acknowledged the same person to be head of his Church who is the supreme magistrate in the state.

Now, Locke is taking a shot at Catholics here, with the “Mufti” playing the role of the Pope in Rome.  To be clear, Locke thought that openly Catholic citizens were in fact a problem.  Not because of the religious doctrine they held, though he thought that doctrine to be absurd.  The problem was that a consequence of honest faith in Catholicism meant that one rejected the law, and sovereignty, of the civil authorities in England in favor of a civil, not just religious but civil, authority in Rome.  This point has been noted elsewhere, and on it I will say no more.

The relevant question for present purposes is whether one can, and perhaps should, understand Trump’s point in the same context.  That is, the claim is not that religious freedom should be limited.  Rather, Trump’s claim is the same as Locke’s:  any religion that ipso facto requires loyalty to a foreign power,  or requires that an honest believer reject the civil authority and its laws, is a political threat and an overt incitement to violence and revolution.  Locke’s experience was that Catholic and Protestant could not coexist peacefully.  Is there anything in American experience that could say that US government and laws cannot coexist with domestic radical Islam?

My own view is that Trump has this wrong.  But I’m not as sure that Trump has this wrong as I was before I reread Locke.

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Gun Rights http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/05/gun-rights/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/05/gun-rights/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 21:04:28 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=9299 When is it permissible to forbid a person from owning a gun? We’ve talked about gun rights and self-defense around here before, so I thought I would draw your attention to a challenge to gun rights over at the Practical Ethics blog. Jeff McMahan writes, [Imagine] a situation in which individuals are continuously at high … … Continue reading

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When is it permissible to forbid a person from owning a gun? We’ve talked about gun rights and self-defense around here before, so I thought I would draw your attention to a challenge to gun rights over at the Practical Ethics blog. Jeff McMahan writes,

[Imagine] a situation in which individuals are continuously at high risk of being wrongly attacked and even killed but in which the state aggressively prevents them from having guns, or indeed any means of self-defense at all.  Instead the state compels them to rely for their security on third party defenders who, like the police in domestic society, cannot be continuously present to protect them.  What [gun] advocates say scathingly of the police – “when every second counts, the police are only minutes away” – is often true of these third party defenders.  The central claims of advocates ought to apply most forcefully to people in these conditions.  It seems that such people, who are in constant danger of being attacked or killed, would be safer if they had guns to protect themselves and that the state violates their rights of self-defense by preventing them from having guns and confiscating guns from any who might acquire them.

McMahan goes on to say that this describes conditions in prisons, but that no one would ever say that prisoners should have gun rights for reasons of self-defense. Prisoners don’t have gun rights even though they do retain their rights to defend themselves against wrongful aggressors. And they would not be safer if they had guns, even though prisoners currently must rely solely on guards who cannot effectively protect all of them.

Since each prisoner is more secure in the absence of guns, McMahan argues that their rights of physical security/self-defense are not violated by a gun prohibition in prison. Similarly, if everyone in society would be more secure in the absence of private gun ownership, then rights of self-defense cannot justify gun rights.

Then Alan Buchanan and Lance K Stell posted a reply. They argue that a better case for gun ownership is not that people have rights to own guns in virtue of their rights of self-defense, which require access to guns. Instead, there should just be a presumption against depriving people of the means for defending themselves.

On their account, McMahan’s prison analogy cannot overcome that presumption because we should not presume that prisoners have the same rights as citizens, in part because states are required to provide a higher standard of physical security to prisoners than to the general population. Another reason that presumption is not met is that, if guns cause more wrongful assaults and homicides, gun prohibition may have even worse consequences in society at large, even if the consequences are good in prisons.

But their most powerful point, it seems to me, is that even if banning something had good consequences and prevented wrongdoing on balance; it doesn’t follow that the state should prohibit something just because a prohibition would make people safer, even if it made people much more likely to be wrongfully attacked. This point doesn’t even require that we justify gun rights on the grounds of self-defense. Gun rights can be justified just on the grounds that there should be a really strong presumption against banning stuff that isn’t intrinsically wrong. Owning a gun is not intrinsically wrong, so most people aren’t liable to be coerced by a gun prohibition.

The question we should ask isn’t whether gun rights are necessary for rights of self-defense, it’s whether citizens are liable to be prevented from owning guns. Even if McMahan is right and self-defense cannot justify gun ownership, citizens still wouldn’t be liable to gun prohibitions. Turning to liability, it’s surprising to me that McMahan is seemingly so against domestic gun ownership given his views about just war theory.

First, some context. Traditional just war theorists argued that all soldiers in war should be held to the same standards, a principle known as ‘the moral equality of combatants.’ It also held that combatants should be held to different ethical standards from noncombatants because there should be a presumption that noncombatants are morally immune to attack.

But McMahan convincingly argues that the principle of the moral equality of combatants and the presumption of noncombatant immunity are false because soldiers who are fighting for a just cause are not liable to be killed whereas soldiers who are fighting for an unjust cause are liable. And noncombatants can also be liable to be attacked if they are morally responsible for advancing an unjust cause. One of the mistakes in traditional just war theory was thinking that a person’s institutional role as an agent of the state was morally significant in itself. Common sense morality, when applied to war, shows us that what we really care about is whether someone is liable, not whether he is wearing a uniform.

So return to gun rights. Some members of the state and some citizens use guns to unjustly coerce or assault people. These people are bad guys. Other members of the state and other citizens use guns to protect people, or for recreation, or to decorate their homes. These people are good guys, or at least morally neutral. It seems that as in the case of combat the bad guys are liable to coercive limits on their ability to use guns (e.g. violent felons should not be permitted to own guns) but that non-liable good guys and neutral guys should be permitted to own and use guns.

Why does McMahan maintain that it is not morally significant whether a person is an agent of a state when it comes to combat, but when it comes to guns in the domestic context he suddenly thinks a person’s rights are determined by whether he is wearing a uniform?

 

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On Attacking ISIS http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/02/on-attacking-isis/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2015/02/on-attacking-isis/#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 21:32:40 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8981 Libertarians are rightly skeptical of military interventions. A simple reason is that military interventions tend to do more harm than good. This simple reason was enough to justify opposition to the war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was horrible, but the prospects of instability and civil war were always high. And, indeed, intervention in Iraq did more … … Continue reading

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Libertarians are rightly skeptical of military interventions. A simple reason is that military interventions tend to do more harm than good. This simple reason was enough to justify opposition to the war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was horrible, but the prospects of instability and civil war were always high.

And, indeed, intervention in Iraq did more harm than good. At least one hundred thousand Iraqis are dead, and the government that replaced Saddam is unstable and fractious, unable to maintain basic territorial integrity in certain areas. And now ISIS runs much of Iraq.

So when people suggest military intervention against ISIS, we have good reason to be skeptical. But I think we have less reason than usual.

The reason is that if we intervened against ISIS, we could probably destroy most of their organization, given that they are an essentially territorial movement. Further, and more importantly, while there will be blowback in the form of guerilla warfare, new terrorists, casualties, etc., it is hard to see how anyone worse would replace ISIS. If we “roll the dice” again with an intervention, even though the odds of coming out morally ahead are generally low, the odds of coming out morally ahead of having ISIS run parts of Iraq and Syria are probably pretty high.

Conquering ISIS with a multinational army seems more likely to do more good than harm than any other proposed intervention in my lifetime. I don’t support intervention. But I have a much harder time getting upset by the prospect.

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The Jailhouse Theory of International Relations http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/11/the-jailhouse-theory-of-international-relations/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/11/the-jailhouse-theory-of-international-relations/#comments Wed, 12 Nov 2014 19:39:20 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8712 Tesón’s reaction to my post reminds of me of this: [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FnO3igOkOk&w=560&h=315] It’s wrong in the way Jessup’s speech is wrong. We might need some men on some walls, but we don’t need Jessup on that wall. Isolating Cuba, refusing to trade with them, and imposing embargoes didn’t do any good, and did a lot of … … Continue reading

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Tesón’s reaction to my post reminds of me of this:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FnO3igOkOk&w=560&h=315]

It’s wrong in the way Jessup’s speech is wrong. We might need some men on some walls, but we don’t need Jessup on that wall. Isolating Cuba, refusing to trade with them, and imposing embargoes didn’t do any good, and did a lot of harm.

Tesón thinks the Iraqis should be grateful to the United States for liberating them from Saddam. I agree that Saddam was an illegitimate and non-authoritative ruler (heck, I don’t think even quite good regimes like Canada and Australia qualify as legitimate or authoritative), and that Saddam had forfeited his right to life, but that’s not enough to justify intervention. One has to take into account the likely consequences of such intervention, including projected deaths to innocent civilians. The case was weak before hand, and in retrospect, the most pessimistic predictions came true.

There is a case for a big and powerful US military. The analogy is to an stereotypical American jail: Imagine you’ve unfortunate enough to end up in an American jail, a brutal sodomy factory. You’ve got a bunch of gangs of misfits. To protect yourself, you’ve got to show you’re tough, so you’ve got to show you’re ready and able to kick ass. Moreover, if you can organize a strong enough gang on your side, you might be able to make the jail a bit more peaceful than it otherwise would be, because you keep the other gangs in check.

Many people, e.g., Loren Lomasky and Thomas Cushman in the comments on Tesón’s post, say the US is a bit like that. There are lots of crazies out there, and what keeps them in check is US military might. Europe can afford to spend lavishly on social welfare because we subsidize and enforce peace.

There’s something to this line of argument; it’s at least partly right, I think.

But this kind of argument suffers from the same problem that many theodicies face. (A theodicy is an attempt to explain and justify why God would allow evil.) For a theodicy to succeed, it’s not enough to justify some apparent evil, to show that some of what appears evil at first glance turns out to be necessary. Rather, one needs to justify all the (apparent) evil that actually obtains in the world. Similarly, for the conservative argument to succeed in justifying US military adventures, it’s not enough to justify some of what the US does. One needs to justify all of it.

That’s going to be really difficult to do with most US military action over the past 50 years.

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QED http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/09/qed/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/09/qed/#comments Thu, 11 Sep 2014 15:15:52 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8576 Given: a) That politics is a violent business in a fallen world; b) That it is conducted by a mixture of good and bad actors with good and bad motives and various mixtures of opportunism, bad faith, and genuine pursuit of the various and contradictory goals they think best; c) That there are asymmetries of … … Continue reading

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Given:

a) That politics is a violent business in a fallen world;
b) That it is conducted by a mixture of good and bad actors with good and bad motives and various mixtures of opportunism, bad faith, and genuine pursuit of the various and contradictory goals they think best;
c) That there are asymmetries of attention and information between ruling political elites and other persons, especially with regard to things happening in other parts of the world;
d) That no country or alliance of countries will ever be powerful enough to end all political violence and politically-created suffering in the world even if they were genuinely motivated to:

1) There will always be a abundance of political violence and politically-induced suffering in the world;
2) Political elites will never effectively follow a consistent rule of eliminating it all;
3) There will always be enough of it that political elites can choose among episodes of violence and suffering in order to rally support for acts of warfare at the times and in the places of their choosing.
3a) They will usually be able to do this by telling the truth about one episode at a time and just focusing on it to the exclusion of other episodes. When not, they will often be able to do so with partial truths about the episode. When not, they will often be able to do so with facially plausible falsehoods that non-elites have no way to effectively check or challenge.

e) A maxim of political judgment must be understood to be usable by real political actors of the sort described in (b).

4) The maxim “my country must fight a war to end this episode of political violence and politically-induced suffering” is approximately equivalent to the maxim “the political elites of my country may fight wars at the times and places of their choosing, for the reasons of their choosing, whether their motives are good, wicked, or opportunistic.”

Note that this is compatible with thinking that some particular episode really is unusually appalling.

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Fernando Tesón’s “Hang Tough, Israel”: A Response http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/07/fernando-tesns-hang-tough-israel-a-response/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/07/fernando-tesns-hang-tough-israel-a-response/#comments Sun, 13 Jul 2014 00:02:42 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8254 Given the importance of this issue, I’ve reproduced here a guest post on my blog (and also on C4SS) from Irfan Khawaja:   Fernando Tesón’s “Hang Tough, Israel”: A Response by Irfan Khawaja In a recent post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, “Hang Tough, Israel,” Fernando Tesón takes issue with those of his “libertarian friends” who … … Continue reading

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Given the importance of this issue, I’ve reproduced here a guest post on my blog (and also on C4SS) from Irfan Khawaja:

 

Fernando Tesón’s “Hang Tough, Israel”: A Response

by Irfan Khawaja

In a recent post at Bleeding Heart Libertarians, “Hang Tough, Israel,” Fernando Tesón takes issue with those of his “libertarian friends” who are “relentless” in their criticisms of Israel, and responds to them by translating a longish passage from Spanish by the Argentinian writer Marcos Aguinis. What follows are four remarkably ignorant and offensive paragraphs on the Israel/Palestine dispute which I’m assuming that Tesón endorses. The post is too short to deserve a very long response, but I think it deserves more criticism than (with some notable exceptions) it’s so far gotten. Since I assume that Tesón endorses Aguinis’s claims, I’ll refer mostly to “Tesón” rather than “Aguinis”; if Tesón doesn’t endorse Aguinis’s claims, I have no objection to his publicly disowning as many of them as he now decides to reject.

Much of Tesón’s post involves generalizations about the moral character of Palestinians, and Palestinian youth in particular. Here’s a particularly offensive one:

In our postmodern times it is increasingly irrelevant where the good and the bad reside. Does it matter that the Israeli youth dream with being inventors and scientists, while the youth of Hezbollah and Hamas dream with being martytrs? Apparently not. Does it matter that in Israel children are not taught to hate the Arabs, while among the Arabs, the Protocols of Zion and Mein Kampf are best sellers, and that the Egyptian TV broadcast a repulsive series where the Jews would extract children’s blood for their rituals? Apparently this doesn’t matter either.

It doesn’t seem to have occurred to Tesón that if you’re going to describe “Israeli youth” in one clause of a sentence, the contrasting clause should make reference to “Palestinian youth,” not “the youth of Hamas or Hezbollah,” as though Palestinian youth were, as a whole, reducible to a faceless mass of terrorist fanatics, among whom the very essence of “badness” resides.

More fundamentally, I’d ask Tesón pointblank how much face time he’s ever had with Palestinian youth (or Palestinians generally), and if he hasn’t had very much (as I’d surmise), what conceivable basis he could have for a generalization of the sort he endorses in that post. How fluent, for example, is his Arabic? Evidently not fluent enough to list on his CV. But then, how can a person who speaks no Arabic know what Palestinian youth are like? Imagine generalizing about American youth but being unable to string together a sentence in English. That’s the caliber of the discussion he’s initiated, and which he regards as a serious contribution to the debate. (For the record: my Arabic is very rudimentary, and I have no facility at all with Hebrew, but then, I’m not inclined to make wild generalizations about either Palestinians or Israelis, as Tesón is.)

palestine-protest

Last summer, I spent some time in the West Bank, and in particular in the city of Hebron and the village of Beit Umar. One contrast that I observed between Israeli and Palestinian youth was instructive: In Beit Umar, I watched youthful Israeli soldiers (in their 20’s) taking physical control of the village by force of arms – machine guns, tear gas, armed vehicles – blocking its roads so that settlers could help themselves to its resources. Meanwhile, unarmed Palestinian youth confronted them and remonstrated with them by discourse.1 This is an everyday occurrence in Beit Umar and the West Bank generally, though not one typically reported in our media or current in our discourse. It doesn’t exactly square with Tesón’s picture of terroristic Palestinian youth.

Meanwhile, just a few miles away, in the town of Abu Dis, my friend Munir Nusseibeh runs the Human Rights Clinic at Al Quds University, specializing in property rights claims – a kind of Palestinian version of the Institute for Justice. Munir leads a group of non-violent activists in property rights litigation against a military occupation whose bureaucrats literally enforce their whims and those of the settlers they protect, at gunpoint. After a few intense hours of conversations with him, it occurred to me that he had a better grasp of the nature and value of property rights than most political philosophers I know – and certainly better than Tesón himself who, despite his official rejection of collectivist conceptions of property ownership has nothing to say about the explicitly collectivist and expropriative character of Israeli land use policy. (For more details on Israeli land use policy, see Oren Yiftachel’s excellent book, Ethnocracy.) None of this squares with Tesón’s picture, either.

And then there is Lucy Nusseibeh, a one-woman powerhouse who runs MEND, an institute for non-violent protest and democracy.2 Her message? She wants to “demilitarize our minds” – not exactly the stuff of Hamas or Hezbullah. The non-violent nature of her activities has not, of course, prevented her from being raided and shut down by the Israeli authorities – the same authorities whom Tesón advises to “hang tough” as they hunt down such threatening Islamist figures as Big Bird, Cookie Monster, Ernie, and Bert.

Excuse me, but who is operating by the pen here and who is operating by the sword? And my anecdotes merely scratch the surface of the work that Palestinians are doing to create the basis of a non-violent civil society in the West Bank. In mentioning these anecdotes, I don’t intend them as data for generalizations about the depravity of “Israeli youth” or the heroism of “Palestinian youth,” but as data against facile generalizations of the kind Tesón takes for granted.

There’s no doubt that Palestinian political culture has its deformities, some of them deeply grotesque, unjust, and irrational. I have no qualms about saying that to anyone anywhere, as I have for decades – whether in The New York Times in 1987, or in front of an irritable West Bank audience in 2013.3 (Feel free to do a search on “Irfan Khawaja” in this book for some more documentation.) But Tesón writes as though the cultural deformities were all or uniquely Palestinian. As it happens, the falsity of this claim is becoming increasingly obvious, and has been obvious for decades. This past Friday’s New York Times has a story that makes explicit what most informed Israelis probably take for granted:

Tamir Lion, an anthropologist who studies youth, said he was troubled by the changing attitudes among Israel’s young people. For many years, Mr. Lion interviewed soldiers about why they chose to enter combat units. “The answers,” he said on Israel Radio, “were always about the challenge, to show I could make it, the prestige involved.”

That began to change in 2000, he said. “I started to get answers – not a lot, but some – like: ‘To kill Arabs.’ The first time I heard it, it was at the time of the large terror attacks, and since then it has not stopped.”

A generation has grown up in a period of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with suicide bombs and military incursions, rocket fire and airstrikes. Young people on both sides may think about the other more as an enemy than as a neighbor.

Mr. Lion, head of research at the Ethos Institute, said he was troubled. “Today I can say, and everyone who works with youth will say it, Jewish youth in Israel hate Arabs without connection to their parents or their own party affiliation and their own political opinions.” (“Killing of Palestinian Youth Puts an Israeli Focus on Extremism”).

Those tempted to excuse these attitudes as a justified or understandable response to Palestinian suicide bombings may want to remember that such inferences run both ways: if it’s understandable that terrorism-traumatized Israelis should want to kill Arabs, it ought to be equally understandable that occupation-traumatized Palestinians should want to kill Israelis. It also ought to be rather obvious that a forty-seven-year long military occupation offers more than its share of opportunities for Israeli depredations. The inferences can only run asymmetrically if we assume either that Israelis have intrinsically greater moral weight than Palestinians, or that Palestinians are always the aggressors and Israelis always the defenders against their aggression. Neither assumption is true, and neither issue is adequately addressed by Tesón’s post. (Israeli rights violations are systematically documented by such organizations as B’Tselem, Al Haq, and the Human Rights Clinic at Al Quds University. I don’t necessarily agree with everything that they say or do, but their work is generally admirable and indispensable for understanding the realities of life under Israeli rule.)

I can’t literally replicate the reality of Palestinian life under military occupation in a short essay like this one, but You Tube offers a useful supplement to the written word. In offering the videos in this essay as evidence for my claims, let me stress that I am not making global generalizations about Israelis or Jews as such, much less making claims about their heritable traits. I’m pointing to well-established socio-political trends within Israel, trends that are the predictable result of its occupation and settlement of the West Bank, and of Zionist ideological assumptions generally.

This seven minute video provides a disheartening account of Anti-Arab sentiment in Israel (though I think Uri Davis understates the degree of anti-Semitism on the Arab side). This ten minute video candidly discusses “Israel’s New Generation of Racists.” This eight minute video offers a rather unflattering picture of attitudes among Israeli youth and of specifically American complicity in those attitudes. While you watch it, imagine a comparable scene involving thousands of white American youth with anti-black attitudes marching triumphantly and gleefully through a historically black neighborhood (in drunken throngs, at 3 am) – be it Harlem, Watts, Newark, or Detroit – while expressing themselves as these Israelis do. For a glimpse at life in Beit Umar, watch this video. For an ordinary day in Hebron, try this one. While watching these videos – and you can find hundreds more like them online – you might ask yourself how long Palestinians are supposed to endure behavior of the kind depicted in them without taking it upon themselves to engage in retaliatory self-help. You might try to put yourself in the place of the Palestinian victims in these video, a heuristic familiar to most grade school children but notably absent from Tesón’s post.

I’ve saved the best and most topical video for last. It doesn’t need much in the way of comment, at least if you’ve been following recent events in Israel. As you watch the video, try repeating the following Tesónite mantras to yourself and observing how they affect your ability to process what you’re watching:

Does it matter that the Israeli youth dream with being inventors and scientists, while the youth of Hezbollah and Hamas dream with being martytrs?

Already several generations of stoic Israeli citizens have defended the country with one hand while working with the other.

Does it matter to Tesón that the Israeli youth depicted in this video are not dreaming of being inventors or scientists, but of revenge fantasies which they’re enacting in real life? Does it matter to him that what we see here are not “Stoic Israeli citizens” defending the country with one hand while working with the other, but overwrought Israeli soldiers beating a child with their hands and feet in broad daylight?

I said I would focus here on Tesón, but I should perhaps say a word about Marcos Aguinis. I don’t know a great deal about his work, but if what I’ve read is any indication of his knowledge of the region and its issues, he’s little more than a crude propagandist at the level of Joan Peters, from whom he seems to have gotten a good part of his rhetorical playbook. To quote from an article of Aguinis’s:

No me gusta ser apologista, pero hay hechos demasiado evidentes que se tratan de negar falazmente.
[Rough translation: I don’t like having to function as an apologist, but there are facts that are sufficiently evident yet are gratuitously denied [and require a response].]

Delete the “No” and the whole second clause of this sentence, and you have a good summary of the agenda involved here. Twenty-two years after Rodney King and the LA riots, American readers ought to know better than to accept rhetoric of this nature about a whole ethnicity – and frankly, deserve better in the way of reading material on Israel/Palestine from supposedly eminent experts on the ethics of international relations. That Tesón should offer this post in all seriousness to a supposedly serious audience suggests that as far as attitudes about Palestinians and Arabs are concerned, we have a long way to go before we achieve even minimal decency in discussing the subject.

The bottom line is that Israel is a country that has operated a nearly fifty-year long military occupation and militarized settlement campaign at the expense of the millions of Palestinians who live under its rule. It claims to fear Palestinian terrorists, and has built a “security wall” to keep them “out,” but then insists on placing its own population on both sides of the wall, nullifying the point of having a wall, and erasing the “inside/outside” distinction which gives the wall whatever point it was supposed to have. Unfortunately, this desire to have things all ways at once is the classic hallmark of pro-Israeli discourse today, especially in its militant right-wing variety, which, regardless of his intentions, is the variety that Tesón’s post exemplifies. Israel may in many respects be a liberal democracy as Tesón and Co. claim, but unfortunately, the occupation proves that you can’t have your liberalism and eat it, too. That, I’m afraid, is the unintended but actual message of Fernando Tesón’s post.

Irfan Khawaja
Dept. of Philosophy
Felician College

 

 

 
Notes

[1] This is what force looks like when it confronts discourse, by the way. So where is the closed area, exactly? Is it just wherever the soldier’s tear gas happens to float? It turns out that one can’t ask IDF soldiers simple questions like this when they’re mad and on patrol – qualities that seem to go together a lot. Their rather non-responsive answers to simple questions often seem to take the form of dirty looks, lots of yelling in Hebrew, angry spitting on the ground, and the gratuitous firing of tear gas rounds. But I don’t regard any of that as an answer. Actually, I have a feeling they don’t, either.

[2] Lucy Nusseibeh and Munir Nusseibeh are not related, but Lucy Nusseibeh is married to Sari Nusseibeh, the well-known Palestinian intellectual. Coincidentally, she’s also the daughter of the philosopher J.L. Austin.

[3] I signed the 1987 letter with my middle name rather than my last name after my father took exception to it. I was a minor at the time, and living under his roof.

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Israel: Tough Enough http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/07/israel-tough-enough/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/07/israel-tough-enough/#comments Sat, 05 Jul 2014 19:55:00 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=8193 Fernando Tesón urges the Israeli government to “hang tough.” The prospect of a libertarian (and a self-proclaimed “bleeding heart,” no less!) cheering on governmental rights abuses is a puzzling and frankly gruesome one. It is true, no doubt, that people living in Israel can claim many remarkable achievements, including “Nobel prizes” and “effective irrigation systems.” … … Continue reading

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Fernando Tesón urges the Israeli government to “hang tough.” The prospect of a libertarian (and a self-proclaimed “bleeding heart,” no less!) cheering on governmental rights abuses is a puzzling and frankly gruesome one.

It is true, no doubt, that people living in Israel can claim many remarkable achievements, including “Nobel prizes” and “effective irrigation systems.” It is likewise true that many of Israel’s enemies are guilty of rights-violations and hateful attitudes as well. But I cannot see how either of those facts even begins to be relevant as a defense of the Israeli government’s actions, any more than the equivalent facts about Imperial Rome – a remarkably progressive civilisation in many ways – would have served to justify its conquest and enslavement of its neighbours. (And ditto of course for the United States, Great Britain, and other nations whose histories combine genuinely liberal aspects with monstrously oppressive ones.)

I’m also rather skeptical of the claim that Israel is hated solely for its liberal aspects and not for its government’s policies of expropriation, apartheid, and murder. If I massacre your family while wearing a fancy hat, and you seek to retaliate, it would take a fair bit of effrontery on my part to claim that you hate me for my hat – even if my actions have probably not endeared my hat to you either.

Since Fernando devoted most of his post to quoting someone else, I shall do so as well – in this case, Nathan Goodman’s recent commentary at the Center for a Stateless Society, “Collective Punishment and Israeli State Terror”:

The abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers is a contemptible crime. But the Israeli government’s response has been to engage in a violent crime spree of its own.

When someone commits a violent crime against another person, the perpetrator should be held accountable. Not the perpetrator’s family or roommates, not those of the same race or nationality, not those with similar political views, not those who live in the same geographical area. Collective punishment is immoral. It is a war crime under the Geneva Convention and it constitutes aggressive violence that all who care about individual rights should abhor. But in response to the deaths of these teenagers, the Israeli government chose to engage in it.

Israeli soldiers demolished the homes of Marwan al-Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisheh, suspects in the abduction and killing of the Israeli teenagers. This punishment was inflicted without trial. The demolitions terrorized innocent family members and neighbors and damaged their property. According to Reuters, “Before blowing up the house, soldiers shattered the windows and threw sofas to the ground. Toilets and sinks, along with every step in the staircase, were smashed with a sledgehammer. Sugar, yogurt and bread were thrown across the kitchen floor.”

This gratuitous destruction didn’t help apprehend the suspects, nor did it provide restitution to the families of the victims. This is senseless destruction that terrorizes a neighborhood and makes the world less prosperous.

The collective punishment doesn’t end there. According to Amnesty International, the Israeli government “launched at least 34 air strikes on locations across Gaza on the morning of 1 July. There have been reports of Palestinian injuries.” Such actions predictably harm innocents by causing injuries, death and property destruction indiscriminately.

Amnesty also reports multiple deaths at the hands of Israeli security forces since the search for the abducted teens began. While the Israeli government alleges that one of the dead, Yousef Abu Zagha, hurled a grenade, the Associated Press reports that “his family said he had been carrying eggs home for a predawn meal before the daylight fast for the Ramadan holiday.”

Collective punishment is not a new practice for the Israeli state. That state has long forcibly kept the people of Gaza in poverty with a draconian blockade which separates families, deprives individuals of the freedom to seek medical care, and forcibly prevents peaceful trade that could produce mutual benefit and prosperity. The UN has condemned this blockade as a violation of human rights.

The Israeli state arbitrarily locks up Palestinians, according to Amnesty, “with at least 364 Palestinians currently under administrative detention, the highest number in years.”

Checkpoints are used to restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement. Palestinians’ homes are demolished as the Israeli state forcibly displaces them and steals their land.

The Israeli government seeks to justify all of this violence in the name of fighting terrorism. Yet the Israeli state is engaging in violence against civilian populations in order to terrorize those populations and thus achieve their political aims. Israeli state violence is terrorism.

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We Should Not Intervene in Syria http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/06/we-should-not-intervene-in-syria/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/06/we-should-not-intervene-in-syria/#comments Tue, 18 Jun 2013 18:39:42 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=6041 As some of you may know, I have long argued that humanitarian intervention is morally and legally permissible (see here).  I stand by those arguments, and that is why I firmly believe that we should not intervene in Syria. I have several reasons, but two are prominent. 1) A justified intervention must be on behalf … … Continue reading

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As some of you may know, I have long argued that humanitarian intervention is morally and legally permissible (see here).  I stand by those arguments, and that is why I firmly believe that we should not intervene in Syria. I have several reasons, but two are prominent.

1) A justified intervention must be on behalf of those who have a just cause. In Syria, the available evidence shows that neither side has a just cause. The government is your standard Middle Eastern oppressor, while the rebels are dominated by Al Qaeda and similar sinister characters.

2) It is unjust for our government to tax American citizens to try to help people who do not want to be helped and who, even after they have been helped, instead of thanking us for liberating them, they viciously turn against us for domestic political gain or some other spurious motive. Iraq and Afghanistan are cases in point. The U.S. and their allies helped them get rid of their tyrants, only to see the new governments posture about how bad Americans are. When this happens, our response should be simple and direct: we will leave you alone to lead your miserable lives. And if you dare attack us, we will kill you or bring you to justice.

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The Pinker Angels of Our Nature http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/06/the-pinker-angels-of-our-nature/ http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/06/the-pinker-angels-of-our-nature/#comments Wed, 12 Jun 2013 23:33:32 +0000 http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/?p=5999 Stephen Corry criticises Steven Pinker and Jared Diamond on the diminution-of-violence thesis. (CHT Jesse Walker.) See also my exchange with Matt Zwolinski and Gary Chartier on Pinker here, and my comments on Diamond here.

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Stephen Corry criticises Steven Pinker and Jared Diamond on the diminution-of-violence thesis. (CHT Jesse Walker.)

See also my exchange with Matt Zwolinski and Gary Chartier on Pinker here, and my comments on Diamond here.

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