“Religious” violence

My response agreeing with someone’s post on an Open University blog:

Every conflict which has escalated into terrorism has ultimately been resolved by listening.  “I think there has to be a political solution.  All wars have to end in some kind of political compromise.”  (Jeremy Corbyn)

I think you are right.  In this case it is not militant Islam that is the problem, that is the excuse.  It is the tool used by cowardly and genuinely evil people to get angry young men to commit murder and become suicide bombers.  It is the lazy branding used to explain the behaviour and ‘other’ those aligned with or sympathetic to their views.  But the claim that it is the cause or the causation is misinterpreting the situation; if it wasn’t religion making the divide it would be race or nationalism or political belief.

There were a lot of unhappy people in the Middle East cross with the Western world, united in a woolly concern about cultural imperialism or economics or tired of being sidelined or concerned about the future of the Middle East given an apparent bias in financial and political support to one particular country, or even a number of other things too.  And we weren’t listening, so the shouting got louder until a couple of buildings got destroyed in New York.  Given they were a global emblem of globalised capitalism I suspect we can take a guess at what the protest was about: cultural imperialism and the imposition of products, media output and values upon a number of closely-related societies who found those impositions increasingly intolerable.

And when protests are not heard, they get louder and louder until they go bang.

I am not aware of any great effort on the part of Western governments to say “Hmm.  There’s some unhappy people here.  Let’s find out what the problem is and come to an agreement.”  But there are many calling for airstrikes and selling weapons and destabilising governments and killing civilians.  And the protests are getting louder and more frequent.  The combined political view seems to be “The question is whether we can kill people who hate us at a faster rate than we make other people hate us by killing so many people.” (David Mitchell)

If there is a religion involved here, I fear it is the worship of Mammon or Plutus, or one of their many allies.

Why do otherwise sane people do this?

Do you mean the suicide bombers and murderers?  I think that is fairly easily answered; a lot has been researched and written in psychology and criminology about how people can be made to believe what our philosophy says is nonsense or wrong.

Do you mean those who recruit, indoctrinate, train, equip and despatch them?  The easiest ones to explain: power-hungry cowards who get a kick out of disruption.  ‘Psychopath’ and ‘sociopath’ probably cover it.  Every terror group needs those, as does most nations I suspect – I bet there’s plenty work in the various secret services.  It’s just these ones are the baddies and ours are the goodies.

Or do you mean the government leaders who believe airstrikes really are accurate, that military intelligence from foreign agents is never unreliable, that killing people because they hold a different passport is morally good, that killing people will make the related survivors more friendly, that using their land for our proxy wars won’t upset anyone?  The sort of people who proudly proclaim they would conduct the first strike to start a nuclear conflict?

We need to UNDERSTAND violent, militant Islamism – and writing if off as a form of insanity is simply an admission that we don’t understand it.

I agree.  Coming to the realisation that you have no option left to make your voice heard other than kill yourself and take others with you, is a very sane act.  When done in our name we consider it the highest form of self-sacrifice and heroism.  And it is done to make a point, whether it is holding out one’s hand in the flames when being burned at the stake for religious freedom, dousing one’s self in petrol and self-immolating for national freedom or any of the people who have died on hunger strike in prison.  These people are not killing themselves and others because they are insane.  They are trying to make a point, to be heard, a final desperate act in the hope their life can mean something by throwing it away.  Or rather they are the poor unwitting victims of the militant section of a much larger unhappy group of people.  It is that larger group who need to be heard.

But I don’t think we know who that group are.  And I’m not sure we’re even asking the question.

Principles of Just-War Theory

Lynn Roulstone at the Open University raised the questionsWhat do we think to Aquinas’s Just War theory?  Is it ever possible to have such a thing?” and provided a link to a short explanation of the seven principles of Just-War Theory.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by them and this was my response:

1. Last Resort
Sartre, Ghandi and Jesus said a violent response need not be the final resort.  Deciding not to use violence is also an available option.  It was certainly the best way for your civilisation to survive an invasion by the Roman empire, the Mongol hordes or many other invading forces who purpose was to subjugate.

2. Legitimate Authority
We have a representative democracy so if Tony Bliar decides to start a war despite dodgy evidence and 3 million people protesting, he is perfectly entitled.  If Obama declares war on Mexico tomorrow, he has legal, personal, absolute authority to do so under USA law.

3. Just Cause
Righting a wrong done to A committed by B by killing C is as logical as bombing for peace.  It just results in tit-for-tat feuds that need never end.

4. Probability of Success
If it is wrong to fight in case you lose – and there is always the possibility of unexpectedly losing – then one should not fight.  Conversely, if one has such overwhelming power that victory is inevitable, there must be diplomatic alternatives to using overwhelming violence.

5. Right Intention
A hollow argument.  The victor is always right, after the event.  Also, if the intention of war is to re-establish peace, then the best outcome is genocide of one’s enemies and destruction of their culture since that best guarantees peace.

6. Proportionality
The minimum amount of force absolutely necessary is often the assassination of one person or one dynastic line.  However, international conventions have long, long agreed that targeted execution of the leaders of sovereign states is against the rules.  Killing millions of the people who happen to live in the same country is OK though.

7. Civilian Casualties
The concept of total war (which is thousands of years old) means that the economy and production ability of the enemy are part of the war machine and valid targets.  Bombing dams to flood valleys is fine.  Armaments factories employ civilians as do the mines and refineries that serve them.  There is no point continuously killing their soldiers if they just keep breeding and equipping more – one must raze their cities, salt their fields, sabotage their infrastructure and starve the population into defeat.  The civilian capacity to raise armies must be destroyed.  The alternative is to not use total war, but then you lose to someone who is.

I do not see how there can be a just war.  Expedient, yes, but just, no.

Finding and documenting empirical evidence for peace

Utilitarianism is the aim of choosing ones actions (be they of individuals or governments) such that the most happiness is achieved for the most people.  However, empirical evidence is required to quantify the results of the various possible actions.  Also, definitions are required for ‘happiness’ and scales are required to quantify the measures.  This was the aim of 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham when considering such things as social policy for punishing criminals.

I suppose what I want to achieve is to gather together empirical data for the cost and implications of different approaches to preventing international violent conflict as well as for conducting international violent conflict, such that the various options can be considered in a measurable way.  Utilitarianism is a way of doing this by—at the risk of oversimplification—using the formula:

happiness = pleasure - pain

I am thinking more along the lines of:

peace = positive outcome expected - negative implications

where ‘violent conflict’ is quantified and included with the investment cost to form the ‘negative implications’.  Those wanting to start a war must be claiming a positive outcome, so that can be quantified too.

This should help eliminate, or at least help counter, “for our security” and “because they are a threat” and other such woolly thinking from the decision making, at least publicly.  It is also more human than my original idea which was purely cost-based.

Nuclear deterrent – Lord Gilbert

Lord Gilbert spoke a few months ago in the House of Lords on how the nuclear deterrent is effective in preventing wars.  At some point I’ll put his argument up here.  Meanwhile, a subset of his words were used in a number of articles online to say he was claiming we should “nuke the Taliban”.  It is ironic he was advocating a solution for maintaining peace to prevent the deaths of huge numbers of civilians and got attacked for it.

Anyway, you’ve gotta love the outraged headlines it produced.  Examples are:

As for what he said, this is taken from Hansard’s proceedings for 22nd November, 2012:

Lord Gilbert: … I draw your Lordships’ attention to what used to be called the neutron bomb.  The main thing was that it was not a standard nuclear warhead.  Its full title was the ERRB: Enhanced Radiation Reduced Blast weapon.  I can think of many uses for it in this day and age. … you could use an ERRB warhead to create cordons sanitaire along various borders where people are causing trouble.

I will give an example.  … nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them.  If you told them that some ERRB warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there.  You would greatly reduce your problem of protecting those borders from infiltration from one side or another. These things are not talked about, but they should be, because there are great possibilities for deterrence in using the weapons that we already have.

© Parliamentary Copyright

He did not say we should nuke the Taliban.  He was saying there are options for deterrence that are not being considered because the subject is taboo.  The media reaction proved him right.  If you want to read it in context, which is about how deterrence is preferable to war, he started speaking at 3.42 pm.

One has to be very careful what one says when advocating peace methods other than going to outright war.  Many people don’t like it.  Weird, innit?

As H used to say:

If things don’t change, they’ll stay the same.