Monday, 17 June 2013

The Moral Degeneracy Of The West

[When I use the word 'degeneracy' in association with 'the West', I'm not talking about sexual promiscuity, which is what people normally imply; in fact, I have libertarian views on that topic. I'm talking about the West's abdication of the right to lecture the rest of the world on democracy and human rights. The War on Terror has revealed that our own governments have become public enemies, endangering us as well as innocent people elsewhere.]

A curious thing happened on the way to Iraq - both times, in fact. It's the story of how the West gained legitimacy and then lost it.

In 1990-91, in the wake of Saddam Hussein's ill-advised invasion of Kuwait, George Bush Sr. organised a genuine coalition of the willing to drive the Iraqis out of Kuwait. That was the last great noble war the West fought (after NATO's peacekeeping operation in Bosnia).

The second war on Iraq was in 2003, when another (less noble) coalition under another George Bush reprised the 1990 operation. The provocation, if any, was hardly clear-cut. There was a "sexed-up" document that claimed entirely fictitious links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and that fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). I would say the biggest casualty of that war was Western credibility (specifically that of the US, the UK and Australia).

I am obviously no fan of Jihadism, but I now think the worst and most lasting terror that Islamism has inflicted on the free world is not through its random bombings and killings but through the reactionary terror of our own governments, who have gleefully seized on the excuse of security to strip away our freedoms and our right to privacy. The move has been so successful that a significant proportion of the populace (maybe even a majority) believes that a sacrifice of liberty and privacy is a necessary price to pay for security. One can almost hear the chuckles in the corridors of power. The people have willingly chained and manacled themselves, and handed the key to their nominal servants.

As Ben Franklin said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

John Le Carré wrote a strongly-worded article on the dangers of letting spies dictate the terms of our polity. I wonder if anyone paid attention.

Whatever happened to the public's right to know? Public accountability has gone out of the window, and we have watched idly as this has been happening.

We said nothing when whistleblower Bradley Manning was charged as a traitor. He has been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment in the three years he was held before his trial, and potentially faces life imprisonment with no chance of parole.

The prosecution and the establishment-friendly press paint Bradley Manning as "the man who may have put U.S. military secrets in the hands of Osama bin Laden". (Oh, really?!)

Why isn't Manning seen as the man the US army is torturing because he revealed the truth about US war crimes to the world?

Our protests at the hounding of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange were muted by the effective tactic of having him charged with an unrelated offence of rape. Public outrage was effectively dissipated.

Now we are treated to the fittingly ironic spectacle of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden fleeing the US as a pro-freedom dissident, to seek refuge in Chinese-controlled Hong Kong, where he enjoys huge popular support. Can there be a stronger indictment of the West for its betrayal of its own vaunted principles?

So much for the freedom of speech and the public's right to information. Human rights get short shrift too, and in this our own xenophobia and latent racism play a major part. When 8 year old Martin William Richard died in the Boston bombing, we were outraged at the monsters who would stoop to killing such "an adorable boy". He certainly must have been an adorable child, and I am as outraged as the next person. But innocent children are killed each week in the tribal badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan, collateral damage of the war on terror. But such killing simply doesn't cause us the same outrage! We expect the people there to understand, and to mourn their young quietly. If they protest too much, we conclude that they must be terrorist sympathisers, not anguished parents and relatives. After all, the ones who die are little Ahmed, Yusuf and Fatima, not little Jack, Michael and Nicole. When we treat "their kids" as somehow less precious than "our kids", we lose the right to talk about human rights. This is not just the fault of our governments. We are all complicit because our outrage at the deaths of innocent people is not race-blind or colour-blind.

In a way then, we had it coming. This monster is devouring its own children (citizens of Western democracies)  just as it devours others'. Up until 9/11, fresh from the glow of the righteous First Gulf War, we (virtually every citizen in the world) placed our childlike trust in the responsible adult supervision of Western governments. It was clear to us then that they could always be trusted to do the right thing.

After the shock of 9/11 began to wear off, we have begun to see a different kind of Western government. What we thought were responsible and caring parents turned out to be slightly older kids who were bullies.

Western governments have made victims of us (citizens of Western democracies) as well as innocent people in other countries. We have lost our privacy, our right to know and our right to dissent. They have lost their right to life, liberty and dignity. And no one can protest lest the wrath of these powerful states turn on them.

But indeed, there has never been a more crucial time to protest than the present. We don't all have to come out onto the streets (although that would be nice). We have organisations like GetUp! and Avaaz that can rally millions online. All we need to do is type a few words and click a couple of buttons. It's not too much to ask to defend our freedoms. Manning, Assange, Snowden and countless others have made huge personal sacrifices to protect us, the common people, from our increasingly evil governments. We have to stand up and let them know that we will not let this steady erosion of our freedom continue any further. When we have the freedom to speak and to dissent, we can also question the evil that our countries do to people elsewhere.

This is not an appeal to go soft on Islamic terror. Jihadism must obviously be crushed, but there are more effective ways to do it.

We are told by the US to view Iran as the great Islamic evil, whereas anyone with a modicum of knowledge of the Middle East knows that Sunni Wahhabism is behind the global terrorist threat, not the Shi'ite Islam practised in Iran. Iran may meddle regionally through proxies like Hezbollah, but if there is an evil empire behind the kind of Islamism that threatens the citizens of democracies worldwide, it lies on the Riyadh-Islamabad axis.

To my mind, the way to bring the War on Terror to a swift and successful conclusion is to cripple Saudi Arabia (the financier) and Pakistan (the training ground). But these two countries are "allies" of the US and hence above reproach, let alone retribution. It makes one wonder what sort of game is being played, with ourselves as the biggest suckers.

We have to wake up and show we care, because our world will be a distinctly more unpleasant and scary place in a few short years if we don't.

To quote Jefferson, another American Founding Father, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.
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