There’s a lively little debate going on about the Obama administration’s use of drones to swat Jihadist nutcases like Anwar al-Awlaki in the tribal areas of Pakistan and Somalia and whatnot.
In this case I am coming down solidly on the side of my colleague over at No Cross, No Crescent, and against the Arizona Atheist. Before I get into that, let me heartily recommend the following debate. Douglas Murray is on form as always:
And there’s also a subscriber only article by The War Nerd on this. The War Nerd is a chap who, amoral scum though he may be at times, tends to see things with a degree of clarity probably because of that. His argument is that the drone campaign is perfectly in line with the whole Obama method of doing things: cool, clean, technocratic solutions. No fiery speeches or blood-stirring rhetoric, just a series of discrete explosions that prune the Jihadi ranks. Keeps the bodies off the front pages, and even those journalists who aren’t court-eunuchs will find it hard pressed to interview a drone. And so forth.
Now, the reason that I disagree with my other colleague over at Arizona Atheist is misunderstanding something fundamental. The conflict with the Jihad is not a struggle with organised crime, it’s a war. A war that will, one way or another, determine the course of human civilisation. That means totally different rules apply.
You probably have guessed that my heart in no way bleeds for Alwaki and I do not see why it should. You may remember the tender mercies shown to the peoples of Dresden and Hiroshima. Of course one can have a very good and tough debate on those cases, but the issues here are not really comparable. Anwar al-Awlaki isn’t an innocent civilian but an open Jihadist. Why on earth should anyone care what happened to him?
My colleague’s response – a very principled response, I might say – is that as an American citizen, he should have stood trial, and that the measures of the ‘war on terror’ tend to spread (and that there is a risk to innocent civilians). Leaving that latter point out, I would like to focus on the bulk of this, as it get’s at the heart of the debate here, namely what the nature of “rights” is, and how we come to enjoy them.
The paradox in all system of “rights” is that, while rights may be natural and inalienable, their defence is anything but. Nature or God will not strike you down if you take it on yourself to assert your power against someone else’s rights. The protection of rights – of the liberties we all agree on – can only be achieved by a social entity: family, tribe, city, nation etc. The social compact is “I will defend your rights if you will defend my rights”.
“A Declaration of Rights is, by reciprocity, a Declaration of Duties also. Whatever is my right as a man is also the right of another; and it becomes my duty to guarantee as well as to possess.” – Thomas Paine
If you default on that – why the devil should I defend your rights? Why should I care what happens to you?
Part of the great swathe of human development has been to slowly extend this compact outward. One of the wonderful things about the current world is that we can extend this compact, or at least try to, beyond the level of the Nation State, to the level of civilisation. This is the true meaning of internationalism: we are learning that we can best secure our own rights from encroachments by our governments by defending the rights of our brothers and sisters elsewhere. By holding Greenpeace to account for its scummy crimes against humanity against our fellows in the developing world, we best prevent it from doing the same to us in the developed world.
But how on earth will a non-Jihadists rights be infringed by the vaporisation of al-Alwaki?
There is one counterargument, which is made, that this will open the door for the use on domestic groups, and that this will spread. I agree with that one, but that is down to the fundamental spinelessness of both the Obama and Bush administrations. What they should have done is to declare war on Islamism, or Jihadism, not ‘terrorism’, in the same way that the United States once went to war against the ideology of Imperial Shinto. Given, however, that the Jihad owes allegiance to no specific state, and is principally advanced by non-state actors, either administration should have pushed to have Jihadists declared hostis humanis generis. This would allow the war to be defined and, importantly, delimited – people could not suddenly claim that drones should be used on domestic dissidents or whatever.
What I principally object to, in other words, in the drone campaign is the crashing parochialism of this. Why is there not, say, drone support for the southern Nigerians? Why instead do our brothers and sisters in Nigeria have to, not only face the Jihad alone, but have to put up with 1) having their country classified as a center of “radicalisation” and 2) being hassled by John Kerry to not be terribly mean to the poor ol’ jihadis?
We should instead summon our internationalism and our solidarity, and stand with our fellow kafirs whereever they are to be found. That means taking on the slave trade, that means defending women’s rights, that means supporting apostates, that means standing by refugees, and that also means blowing to pieces those responsible for the attacks on our fellow.
Now, from the moral to the practical – which is much easier to do. First of all, there is the old argument that this ‘recruits more terrorists’. Arizona Atheist quotes Faisal Shazhad
I want to plead guilty and I’m going to plead guilty a hundred times forward because until the hour the US pulls it forces from Iraq and Afghanistan and stops the drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan and stops the occupation of Muslim lands and stops killing the Muslims and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking US, and I plead guilty to that.
Now the only correct response to this would be to say: Very well. As long as Muslims keep murdering our brothers in Nigeria and the Central African Republic, and in Bengal, and, what the hell, in Woolwich and Paris, we will keep blowing you to bits. More of you will rise up? Fine: we can produce missiles quicker than you can recruit Jihadis. Bring it on.
Are we already so beaten that we have to just worry about not making these people mean? Or is it just that chaps in the developed world want a quiet life? Either one seems a perfectly rotten attitude; millions of our brothers have to face far worse attacks every day, and do so in the teeth of poverty and immisertation, and they stand and fight. I think the least we can do is at least try to equal that level of courage.
UPDATE: Once again, Kerry can’t keep his nose out of other people’s business.