Category Archives: Pacifism

If we stand by Charlie, we must end the Global War on Terror

The Worlds Reaction

The response to the recent attacks in France has been a mixed one. World leaders and media pundits have flocked to condemn the killings. Vigils have been held across France and the world, defying this apparent assault on our freedom of expression. While many Muslims have been forced to distance themselves from the attacks, due to a fear of reprisals from a growing far right.

However, my intention today is not to vindicate Muslims for the crimes of these men. Nor is to condemn the attackers, who are just one facet of a political struggle for power in the Middle East. My contention is with the conflicting values we seem to place on a human life.

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On Wednesday last week, 10 civilians and two police officers were killed by French gunmen of Algerian descent. These two men had been trained in Yemen, a country that has been targeted with US drone strikes since 2009. Within days they were made to pay for these crimes with their lives, in a dramatic hostage situation broadcast across the globe (in full HD of course).

In comparison, back in Yemen two years earlier, 12 innocent people were killed when a US airstrike hit a wedding convoy. But the US government refuses to acknowledge its role in their murder. Two years have passed and there is still no justice for these nameless people. Still no justice for the thousands of innocent Iraqis, Afghans, Yemeni’s and Pakistani’s killed during our supposed war on terror.

My question is simply, why?

Why is it that the loss of an innocent life thousands of miles away does not move us in the same way as those in Paris? Why does the death of journalists in Palestine not cause us to cry out in defence of Freedom of Speech? If every life holds the same objective value, then by standing by those killed in Paris, we must also stand by all those innocent lives lost, irrespective of who pulls the trigger.

The value of a human life

Even when confronted by truths such as these, many of us react with indifference at the loss of innocent lives in such countries. “We are good, and they are evil”, is the kind of one-dimensional thinking used to justify such murders. When Islamist militants are thwarted in distant lands, many of us commend the actions of our armed forces, rather than question the collateral damage incurred. But when a domestic attack takes place, we are moved to tears, anger and retribution. These are, ironically, the very same feelings that compel those in such war torn countries to seek out a similar kind of vengeance.

To some extent, this reaction can be explained as a biological mechanism. While philosophers are free to explore moral questions about the value of a human life, we must also look at how in practice people make this judgement. This is known as Descriptive Ethics. By doing so, we gain an insight into why foreign deaths of non-combatants, such as those killed in drone strikes, is often met with indifference in the West, whereas domestic attacks, such as those is Paris, stir up defiance and sorrow.

By combining the study of Morality with Evolutionary Biology, we start to see the emotional adaptations that influence our moral judgments and behavior. Peter Singer, a prominent ethicist, argues that “evolutionary theory can make a contribution to this debate” by offering us “reasons for believing that some of our emotional attachments are deeply rooted in our nature as intelligent, long lived primates, or even in our nature as social mammals.”

He argues that we as human beings find it easier to empathise with those who fall within certain proximity of our daily lives. As a result, we tend to place a greater value on the lives of our own kin in comparison to our neighbours. In a purely practical sense, this instinctive desire to protect our loved ones ensures the survival of our own genetic lineage. Yet despite this, our neighbours life still holds more importance than a strangers, perhaps because we consider them a friend. So here we can see a clear dichotomy begin to arise – a hierarchical manner in which we value the lives of others, based on moral intuitions acquired through evolution.

Put very simply, we tend to place a greater value on the lives of those who we see ourselves in. Yet with the Enlightenment and universalism – the idea that all sentient life has universality in experience – followed natural rights, then human rights, which bound together notions such as freedom, equality and justice, declaring them inalienable rights of all human beings. To reach such enlightenment ideals however, we had to first break ourselves from this innate way of thinking. So when we use our rational minds, we conclude that any loss of innocent life, irrespective of the context, ought to be met with the same kind of defiance that was shown in response to the Paris attacks.

Collateral Damage

When innocent people are killed in war, it is not considered murder, but callously labelled “collateral damage”.

Since 2004, an estimated 3212 people have killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. Only 2% of them killed intended targets. The rest are civilians such as women and children. What differentiates this kind of collateral damage from the 17 murders that took place in France?

Some make the distinction that a terrorist attack is a deliberate act of violence on innocent people, while collateral damage is an unintended consequence of warfare. But they are similar in that both cause needless deaths for the political interests of a minority.

War is waged knowing that there will be noncombatants killed, and in that sense, there can be no accidental killing on the battlefield, but only an expectation that some innocent people will die. When noncombatants are killed in drone strikes then, it is no more an accident than an inevitable consequence of war, and therefore no less intentional than the murders committed in France earlier this week.

By allowing such military operations to continue in countries like Yemen and Pakistan, we facilitate extremism by providing a moral justification for groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIL. There is no doubt that the rise of jihadism is in part due to western influence. US backed coups and foreign control of natural resources has led to an anti-western sentiment in these countries. We can extend this thread of causality back to the conquest of Mesopotamia during the Great War, and the subsequent partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The events that followed, rightly or wrongly, have to led to the volatile situation we see in the region today. Decades of extreme poverty, political repression, and poor education have created a fertile breeding ground for violence. To some extent therefore, we are culpable in the proliferation of extremism at home and abroad.

The verdict?

Thus the lessons we ought to take from this tragic event is that when we escape the constructs of our own subconscious mind, and the biological mechanisms that underpin our thinking, the deaths in Paris only highlight the hypocrisy of our actions, given the thousands killed and injured over the past decade. Similarly, by allowing our governments to continue hostilities in these distant lands, we are partly culpable for the inception and proliferation of these extremist movements. I want to stress that this is not a justification of Islamist aggression, but a call to all who stand by Charlie and by human rights, to use this incident as a catalyst to end all the human suffering caused by our war on terror. So while arguably justice has been restored in France as of yesterday, and calmness will quickly follow, for many millions elsewhere, the nightmare still continues…

 

A View from the Streets of London: Syria

Should we go to war with Assad? Or should we stay out of Syria?

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This WorldBytes production interviews people on the streets of London, to see what we the people have to say about military intervention in the sovereign state.

As the western hemisphere prepares to go to war with Assad, we at Worldbytes think the views of us, the citizens of this nation, ought to be taken into consideration. FInd out what the people we met in London had to say about military intervention in Syria.

About WorldBytes

If you live in London, please consider volunteering or donating to Worldbytes, the charity behind this production. Worldbytes provide free vocational training in producing media to anyone. Find out more, and watch the rest of their clips by heading to the website.

Peace or War?

 

Two very strange tweets I saw today. Of course separately, they’re perfectly normal. The UNDP posted an article about Indonesia, a country that was rife with sectarian violence not to long ago.

The Maluku conflict began in early 1999 and lasted three years, finally ended in February 2002, when a settlement was signed between warring parties (Malino II Accord).

According to the piece,

The fishermen in Halmahera Island’s Kao Bay are amongst thousands of people in eastern Indonesia who have benefited from a peace and conflict prevention project supported by the Government of Indonesia and UNDP.

Yes, all very good work, and I commend those persons involved in these efforts, which are reportedly the “Governments of the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida).”

It irks me however, to see developed nations, one’s that are part of the UNDP doing things like selling weapons to known authoritarian regimes. Read the following tweet:

So it seems, on the one hand we promote peace through organisations such as the UNDP, but on the other, we facilitate violence in other regions by selling weapons to known dictatorships.

In fact, Britain has supplied £12bn of arms to some of the world’s most brutal dictatorships, with half of its imports going to Israel alone. While I concede the latter is not an authoritarian regime, Israel’s occupations of the West Bank and Gaza have been received by widespread criticism and condemnation by the International community.

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There are a great deal many more examples I could find of this strange conception of morality we have in the developed world. We give aid and steal oil. We promote human rights then torture prisoners. We argue for fair trade but then subsidize domestic agriculture. We commend those who speak the truth, but then actively silence and imprison whistleblowers.

Am I missing something here? You can’t arm the world on the one hand, and then claim to be the bastions of peace on the other. At some point we must collectively decide what it is that is important – peace or war?

Nonviolence and protesting

Nonviolence and protesting

So I’m sure you’ve all been following the increasingly violent protests breaking out around the world. These last few years have seen many revolutions throughout the Middle East, recently Turkey and now even Brazil. And I suppose it would be rather ignorant to assume that this current trend is different to any other period in history.

Demonstration and revolution are fairly regular events in human society it seems.

Seeing the violence these demonstrations have instigated however, has disheartened me somewhat. I understand that a riot is the physical manifestation of frustration. I am pleased by the push for progress, the desire for equality and secularism. But being a person who believes that we can absolve our problems with democracy, with peaceful civil disobedience means that I still feel we could achieve so much more without the use of aggression.

But this begs the question – why should we adhere to pacifism? It’s a difficult question to answer, because we often find nature to be inherently violent. From the explosive eruptions of distant stars, to the gruesome murder we witness every day in human society. Violence, therefore, is simply a part of nature.

But is this necessarily the case?

I think this is a rather absurd argument against pacifism to be honest. Everything is part of nature, by the very definition of nature. Rape is a part of nature for instance, yet we look upon those who commit such acts as savage monsters, and rightly so of course. But we can see how such behaviour accrued by the impartial force of nature herself.

Another example – killing in nature exists, because protein is a more condensed form of energy. This is just one reason animals will kill one another. You don’t need to spend as much time grazing on grass, and digesting it, than if you were to kill another animal and steal its accumulated energy. And as a direct consequence, most living organisms are programmed through millions of years of evolution, to fight against such aggressors trying to steal our accumulated calories.

Hence violence began in such a manner, through a struggle to survive.

But I make the argument that violence is not necessary to humanity – not anymore at least. And we can find many examples throughout nature where it is pacifism that makes a species successful. Yes, violent action has played an integral role to humanities success to date, but I think it is no longer necessary to the future of humanity. In fact, I believe it is quite the opposite in fact.

Just as violence exists in nature, so too does non-violence.

Reciprocity, mutual benefit, kindness and empathy – this is the future of humanity in my eyes. And I think such qualities are just as inherent to human beings and their success then violence ever was. In modern times, nonviolent methods of demonstration have been a powerful tool for social protest and social/political change. Mahatma Ghandi, César Chávez, Martin Luther King, Leymah Gbowee – all bear testament to the power of nonviolence and civil disobedience.

A recent example stemming from the protests in Turkey, also shows us the power of pacifism. One man stood in Taksim square in defiance of the police crackdown of protestors. Within hours, hundreds had joined him.

Imagine if thousands joined, imagine if the whole nation stood with this man in solidarity? A million people wanting to be heard, is much more powerful than a hundred men with guns trying to silence them.

If we speak loud enough, we will be heard. But if we fight, if we kill, if we destroy in the name of freedom and peace – how does this make us any better than those who wish to oppress us?

What we need is cooperation; we need a common goal to unite under. And we mustn’t be afraid, for the “only thing to fear, is fear itself.”

 

The Boston Bombings put in perspective


A terrible tragedy occurred yesterday in Boston.

Left: Victim of Boston Bombings  Right: Victim of US Drone Strikes
Three innocent people were killed and dozens more injured at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The cause of this disaster? Two bombs were detonated 50 to 100 yards apart as competitors crossed the finish line at the world renowned sporting event.

The reaction, and rightly so of course, has been a volatile mix of sadness and mourning, coupled with anger and a seething appetite for justice. In regards to the issue, President Obama made a statement, claiming that they “will get to the bottom of this”, and “any responsible groups will feel the full weight of justice.”

Three people needlessly died yesterday in Boston, lives brought abruptly and very sadly to a catastrophic end. My question is, what would constitute as justice in this regard? More death? More destruction? This has been the response from the White house in regards to previous attacks on the US mainland.

The Boston attack has been the worst of its kind since the September 11th bombings, hence it is of no surprise then that this should be such a pressing matter for the US government, and a dominating headline for the media worldwide. The army, navy and FBI swarmed the devastated city to catch any lingering presence of the assailants – closing down phone lines, roads, and searching bags for any more explosives left undetonated. And we all saw this with live coverage,  beaming into our rooms, from the many news teams scrambling to give us every morsel of information they could conjure.

And this pertains to the issue I hope to raise today, which is simply; why does something like this always seem so much worse when it happens to a wealthy industrialized nation? What constitutes as justice to such an abhorrent attack on innocent people?

I think we need a little perspective before we can really gauge what is an appropriate response to the deaths and injuries incurred yesterday at the Boston marathon. If we are to accept the premise that every life counts, every life has objective meaning – then surely the weight of yesterday’s tragedy pales in comparison to the many deaths that accrue worldwide on a daily basis. Many of these deaths may also be directly correlated to actions by the US government, the actions of wealthy industrialized nations and their citizens.

For instance, one of the three killed yesterday was an eight year old child, and we mourn for them – rightly so of course. However, when you look at the issue of infant mortality worldwide, over 16000 children die a day from easily preventable causes, such as hunger, poverty or curable illness. Throughout the 1990’s more than 100 million children died from starvation. A terrible loss undoubtedly, and more so even, when we consider that all these deaths could be prevented for the price of ten Stealth bombers. All these lives could of been saved with what the world spends on its military in two days. Did you know, that the cost of a missile could feed a whole school full of children for five years straight? Even in wealthy countries such as the US, one out of every eight children under the age of twelve goes to bed hungry every night. A child died as a result of a suspected retaliatory attack from the loosely grouped extremist organisation known as Al-Qaeda. Thousands die every day because we’re to busy waging war to care about our sick and impoverished, our poor and destitute – you tell me, what is the real tragedy here? 


Disparity between the wealthy and poor families in the world. 
In aggregate, there are a great deal many more lives lost in the pursuit of power, the financing of destruction for profit.  Similarly, there are also many lives lost through capitalism and the allure of unrbidbled wealth and enterprise. All of these deaths are considered acceptable,  as they produce substantial economic gain for a privileged and unscrupulous few. And often we find such stories are very rarely adequately reported, and such data only found and used by the most persistent of fact checkers and activists. Sadly, it seems the majority of us are uninterested in the cold hard facts, which make for somewhat depressing and uninteresting news. Several more people were killed in Iraq? Happens to frequently to care about. Thousands die of hunger every day? We’ve heard it all before apparently, and we feign empathy for these poor individuals, watching their plight on fifty inch plasma screens whilst we tinker away on frivolous and expensive gadgets. 

Three die in bombings in Boston, and it’s all over the news – 24 hours of unrelenting live coverage. I turnt on the TV at 3am yesterday, in the UK, and there is still little I can do to avoid coverage of the attack. Yet there was no talk of world hunger, there was no mention of the Iraq attacks, the Afghan drone strikes that killed 40 at a wedding prior to the Boston bombings. We can’t just cherry pick what lives matter like this. We ought to be impartial in how we treat others and how much we value their well being.  While a dramatic and fear provoking attack in Boston caused people weep, caused the world all over to send their prayers to the people killed and maimed, their families – yet today alone, over 16000 children have died quietly and unknown of starvation. The most basic human need, we could not provide for these children. And not a single tear was shed by us for them, the people in the wealthy west, who live lives of comparable luxury. 

Death knows no hierarchy, hence every life should hold equal importance. Every life lost should surmise in the same amount of sadness and anger. But being merely evolved primates, that rely on social interactions, that depend of mainstream news outlets to tell us what to think and how to feel – we simply can’t empathise with these people who we seemingly hold no relations to. The use of repetitive, headline grabbing, mass produced and simplified content for the general public has blinded us to the real grave injustices  perpetuated in this world. US led drone strikes to the Mumbai bombings in 2011, where 26 were killed and 130 injured – they just don’t seem to resonate with us as much, nor do the killings seem as profound. The many deaths as a result of world hunger or curable disease also seem to lack the potency of a terrorist attack in rallying a nation behind a cause. But the point is, they are just as appalling, and even more so, when we consider that our tax money pays to finance such destruction, and to antagonize those who now wish to harm us. 


What would you rather we made? Schools or Missiles?
Instead of sending bombs to oppress those in these distant lands, why don’t we build schools to educate their children? Instead of making missiles and stealth bombers to kill and destroy, why don’t we facilitate the industrialisation and modernisation of these countries? What’s really important to us in this world? The lives and wellbeing of others? Or our own safety? The well being of our neighbours over the well being of people in distant lands unbeknownst to us?

We advocate, or at least allow the killing of many innocent souls in state sponsored terrorism. Families destroyed, lives wiped out by an unmanned drones that drop well coordinated, and well financed terror from the skies. Two days ago, four innocent people were killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. Yesterday, 40 innocent died in Afghan drone strikes, and many more seriously debilitated. Where is these peoples press coverage? Where is the outrage we feel for the Boston victims? Why should these lives matter any less to us? If we are to accept that these are people also, with their own dreams, hopes, ambitions and worries – then why do we not care for these lives, as we do for the citizens in our own nations? 

The problem is that these people have become mere statistics to us. A foreign life destroyed holds no comparative importance to a domestic life lost. Where is this sense of entitlement coming from? Simply because we live in a rich and powerful nation, and we are not used to such domestic attacks, a domestic attack seems so much more unjust. Yet the reason for this infrequency is predominantly because we are too busy oppressing the very nations that are likely to have carried out the Boston bombings. When you wage war in other nations, of course you must expect some retaliation. If this does ultimately turn out to be another “terrorist” attack, it seems America’s chickens are coming home to roost yet again. 

In regards to the far right’s response to the issue – I read a story of a Fox News reporter, who tweeted after hearing about the bombings, with no evidence or inkling as to the perpetrators, that we should kill “all Muslims”  because they are “evil”. This is a foolish and narrow minded viewpoint to take. If the Boston Bombings upset us, so too should all deaths worldwide, particularly those we could alleviate by simply objecting to our government’s foreign policy, and those lives we could save with little loss to our own well being. Erik Rush should know very well that genocide is never an acceptable means of ending violence – there are innocent Muslims just as there are innocent American’s. Further death is never the solution to such problems. 

On the issue of media bias – of course we expect, and are used to media bias for a news agencies country of origin. And perhaps the frequency of such events, or the lack of more concisely, played a part in the stories dominating of headlines. Yet the US media is wide reaching and pervades many global news outlets. Thereby the stories leaving the US have a large sway in what the world thinks, and how the actions are perceived by the international community. Afghan media for instance, does not have the financial backing nor international credibility to spread such stories of US terrorism as effectively. And any US citizen who should question the US’s tacit use of drone strikes is an unpatriotic extremist supporter in the eyes of many. However, I believe that the media at large should be an impartial force for good in the world, and consider the welfare of all people when choosing what news to report. Hence, news outlets ought to report stories impartially, giving the appropriate time to all tragedies and human rights abuses that require our attention. And similarly, we the public who consume this content, ought to take the time to treat all stories objectively, and give all people the love and respect we show our neighbours, friends and kin – even those in distant lands that are unknown to us. 


Mourners from different parts of the world.
Left: Boston Bombings Right: Drone strike victim in Pakistan
My love and condolences to everyone who died today. The starving children and adults alike, the people who died in the Iranian earthquake, the Afghan bombings – those murdered through the pretence of war,  those who died as a result of curable illness in poverty stricken lands, those of us who are underpaid and overworked, those who’s lives were cut short working as slaves to the corporate elite. RIP to you all, and may the responsible groups “feel the full weight of justice” one day soon.