5.29.2006

get out

Canada out of Afghanistan now.

Canada is not wanted there. The US is not wanted there. No one wants foreign powers occupying their country. Why is that so difficult to understand?

This thought brought to you by the most recent round of rioting.

33 comments:

Lone Primate said...

The real telling point for me is that this is happening in Kabul, not someplace out of the way where rightwingers can claim the people are being manipulated by warlords. These are folks in the one place in Afghanistan supposedly Allies-friendly. Well, apparently, it ain't all that amenable to us after all. When the one place that we've supposedly got tied down to be forcefed our blessings is telling us "get the f*** out", I think it's time to swallow our pride and admit we're not doing ourselves or them any favours sticking around. Afghanistan is going to be whatever Afghanistan is going to be. It's not for us to decide, determine, or demand. It's theirs. If they make of their country something we don't like, that's fine... we don't have to live in it. And if and when the day comes that they want to found a representative democracy, they'll do it themselves without being forced from outside, just as the US did, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, etc., etc., etc.

I want my country's reputation as a peaceful one back. We were Britain's cheerleader and toady in too many wars of empire; must we adopt that role again in yet another? Let's return to Afghanistan the same sovereign right we've always claimed for ourselves: the right to self-determination; to be whatever it suits us as a nation — and no one else — to be.

L-girl said...

What he said.

James said...

Let's return to Afghanistan the same sovereign right we've always claimed for ourselves: the right to self-determination; to be whatever it suits us as a nation — and no one else — to be.

I completely agree that we shouldn't be anywhere we're not welcome, but I have to point out that our leaving isn't going to give Afghans self-determination. They haven't had that since before the Soviets moved in.

Not that the recent invasion helped in any meaningful way.

MSS said...

I'm all for Canadians deciding whether they want to be involved in Afghanistan. That is their privelege as citizens of a democracy. But please be clear on what a pullout of all foreign troops would mean: The country would be back in the hands of the Taliban or something like it, supported (again) by the militant Islamists and the ISS from neighboring Pakistan. If you call that "self-determination" then I have no idea what the term means anymore.

My biggest complaints with the invasion have been from the start that it was too late, too aerial, and too unserious about securing and rebuilding the country. Bush has never been serious about fighting terrorism except as a soundbite. But if the rich democracies of this world--yes, including Canada--can't stand up against imposed governments that oppress women, destroy ancient cultural heritage sites, and welcome terrorists with open arms, then, honestly, what can we stand together for?

L-girl said...

We can stand for peace.

L-girl said...

oppress women, destroy ancient cultural heritage sites, and welcome terrorists with open arms

Is that the US you're talking about?

James said...

We can stand for peace.

Unfortunately, there won't be any peace, whether we leave or stay.

L-girl said...

Unfortunately, there won't be any peace, whether we leave or stay.

I understand that, and I still say: we can stand for peace.

We can stop adding to the violence.

My heart breaks for oppressed people everywhere, but Canada's and the US's presence in Afghanistan isn't liberating anyone, isn't (apparently) making peace, and isn't making us any safer.

sharonapple said...

oppress women, destroy ancient cultural heritage sites, and welcome terrorists with open arms

It is sad, though, that the Taliban destroyed those Buddhist statues.

There's a Buddhist verse that I wish more people knew:

All that we are is a result of what we think.

How then can man escape being filled with hatred, if his mind is constantly repeating... He misused me, he hit me, he defeated me, he robbed me - ?

Hatred can never put an end to hatred; hate is conquered only by love. This is an unalterable law. People forget that their lives will end soon. For those who remember, quarrels come to an end.


The odd part is that I think a military presence could work -- but only if the soldiers were sent there not to kill but to protect civilians -- in a way treat them like they would their fellow citizens back home.

Lisa said...

I’m surprised at the level of support this venture seems to have among Canadians. Including among many people whom I love and agree with on so many issues. Who were all adamantly opposed to the US invasion of Iraq, and (to a lesser degree, I must admit) the invasion of Afghanistan back in 2001. So here I am left sputtering “What!! You support this!!??...but….but…but..!!”.

Okay, I do find it all a bit confusing, and I’m the first to admit that I’m no expert on international affairs. On one hand, it seems like a noble cause -the Taliban are evil, Afghanistan is a “failed state” that can perhaps be salvaged with some assistance (this is the best argument I’ve heard so far), but, but, but, it seems so clear where this is inevitably headed. Let’s see, Iraq (and Vietnam) turned into quagmires because these young US soldiers went in trying to fight a war (funny how they were once supposed to be liberators), in a society they can’t even begin to understand (whom their country has already bombed the crap out of – not a good start to winning the hearts and minds of those you are ostensibly there to help…), against enemies who are indistinguishable (to North American eyes) from innocent villagers, who take advantage of the Western military presence to further their own sectarian causes (psst…that guy there, in that house there, yeah, well he’s an insurgent! – says the Sunni to an American soldier about his Shiite enemy – and how the hell is the American soldier supposed to see through this??). And invariably some American soldiers get hurt or killed, they get angry, they kill civilians, the civilians get pissed, and before you know it the citizens of the country you went there to help become the enemy.

And Afghanistan will be different…how??? I may be totally na├»ve here, but as far as I’m concerned, violence begets violence, and this foray into Afghanistan will NOT turn out well. And I HATE what this is doing to Canada’s reputation (the Kyoto thing alone is bad enough…!!) :((

latour said...

We also need to stop messing around in Haiti... We haven't done a bit of good there

James said...

I’m surprised at the level of support this venture seems to have among Canadians.

The thing is, it could have been a great success, had it been done correctly. The Balkans are much better off now than they were ten years ago, thanks in part to the participation of Canadian peacekeepers.

But it was doomed from the start because it was run by Bush's bunch of incompetents who see war as a tool to increase domestic political power, and we got suckered into going along with it. So, instead of a mix of diplomacy and policework, we ended up with a full-out invasion.

Then, just when things got to the "too far in to back out, not far enough to finish" stage, Bush decided that Iraq would be much more fun to bomb.

And now that that's turning out to be not as fun as originally anticipated, well, there's always Iran...

Never hand a country over to someone who's never had to face the consequences of his own failures.

Lone Primate said...

We need to be careful here to distinguish the term "self-determination", which is an attribute of a society in general, from the concept of "personal liberty". Of the two, self-determination is easier to define in absolute terms: a society's rights to determine its own cultural and political paths are either respected, or they are not. Currently, Afghanistan's are not. Personal liberty is a more subjective term, and it can be defined in myriad, often contradictory, ways in different places and different times. For example, our society sees personal liberty in the ability of women to have careers; other societies see this as an onerous obligation forced upon women by an economic structure that divorces them from their children. Obviously we would disagree, but the point is, there's more than one way to view a situation.

I find so many Westerners, supposedly cosmopolitan, are surprisingly earthbound and static in considering the human universe as having a central moral point, at which they are (of course!) to be found standing. It's incredible to me to hear people say things like 'if we leave Afghanistan, we're abandoning it to the Taliban'. This is like the British saying 'if we leave America, we're abandoning it to the Minutemen', the Germans saying 'if we leave France, we're abandoning it to the Gaullists', the Americans saying 'if we leave Vietnam, we're abandoning it to the Communists'... In every case, we're talking about a foreign invader leaving, and a native element taking on the shaping of their own society, which they have every right to do. But so many people here seem to think, probably without even realizing it, that it is the right of such people only so long as they are walking the same path as us, in lockstep. Understand that they are not obliged to live their lives or shape their societies to suit our needs, our conceits, or our preconceptions of how human beings ought to live. That's the very antithesis of self-determination. The ability to live differently and establish local norms is at the heart of the reasons we have separate nations and traditions in the first place.

Afghanistan will be whatever it is meant to be, if we will stop interfering with it. That does not necessarily mean it will one day be a representative democracy in all the aspects and facets with which we are familiar. But it doesn't have to be. The idea that it must inevitably come around to our way of thinking and living is as arrogant an idea as those of our ancestors who insisted that given enough time (or force), all nations would see the light and come around to the message of Christ. If Afghanistan, or any other such nation we would consider 'backward', is to become a democracy in the manner of Canada, the US, Britain, France, Germany, etc., then it must do so on its own, plotting that course according to the wishes of its own people, who, if they really do desire to create such a nation, will eventually cause it to come about en masse. But we must consider the shocking idea that they may not wish to follow the trail we blaze. We have no right, none at all, to insist that they do. We may advise, demonstrate, suggest, even boycott if we must. But there must be a limit to the character of compulsion. If we ourselves would not be forced to amend our own society at the point of a gun, we cannot elect to use those means simply because it is at our disposal to do so. Afghanistan, or any nation, must be true to itself. Not to us.

Certainly Afghanistan has had, and exercised, self-determination in the past. From the the 1930s, when the British left, to the 1980s, when the Soviets arrived, Afghanistan plotted its own course, largely uninvolved in, and untrammeled by, the outside world. Its unity was shattered in the withdrawal of the Soviets and a civil war, not surprisingly, resulted, but by 1996, the Taliban had effectively reconstructed the nation, with a few holdouts in the north of the country. Now I will grant you that they were a government largely repugnant to Western sensibilities, but here again I must stress that they are no more obliged to govern themselves to please us than we are to please them — and never think for a moment there aren't as many things about our society, ugly to them, that they would change as the reverse is true of us, so ably demonstrated in views expressed here, and the actions of our militaries.

Though I should not need to say so, I will state that I would not want to live under a Taliban-style regime — of course I would not, having been brought up in the Western tradition — and were one imposed upon Canada, I would fight it. But I do not live under such a regime, and no such regime has been forced upon me. On the other hand, we are forcing a foreign regime, fronted by quislings, upon Afghanistan (among other nations). And though we would not suffer that to be done to us, we are constantly amazed that others object, when after all, all we're trying to do is make them free. It's time for us to understand that they were already "free" in their own definition of the word, and our showing up, sticking guns in their faces and telling them we've accomplished it for them is nothing more than the modern version of Columbus showing up, planting the banner on the beach, and telling the natives within earshot they are now the Catholic, Spanish subjects of Ferdinand and Isabella. I'm sure he thought he was doing them a big favour too.

Kyle_From_Ottawa said...

I agree with LP here.

We shouldn't involve ourselves in internal conflicts of other lands, no matter how terrible things look from the outside. Outside involvement just makes things worse, much in the same case that if you tried to involve yourself in a couple's marital problems would just escalate things.

It's a diferent scenario when its an external conflict, i.e. the Gulf War, Balkans, or WWII. If Country A attacks Country B, then its justifiable to aid Country B in repelling the attack. It will still be almost as bloody as an internal conflict (which means you should weigh the costs carefully) , but unlike the internal conflict you won't end up becoming the enemy of both sides and getting stuck in a quagmire.

Lone Primate said...

I'm all for peacekeeping, but again we have to be clear on what that means. We aren't doing that or anything akin to it in Afghanistan. Peacekeeping involves being invited in by two belligerents who want a face-saving neutral cushion between them so that they can cease hostilities without having to actually officially cease hostilities. That gives them a chance to let things calm down and cooler heads prevail around the bargaining table. I think that's a legitimate role for Canada and our armed forces. Extending imperial hegemony, however, isn't something to which we ought to subscribe our reputation and our lives.

James said...

'if we leave Afghanistan, we're abandoning it to the Taliban'. [...] In every case, we're talking about a foreign invader leaving, and a native element taking on the shaping of their own society, which they have every right to do.

The trick is, we're not talking about a native element helping shape their society; we're talking about a (mostly, but not entirely) native element completely dominating the society, forcing an extremely restrictive social order on the socity at gunpoint. The kind of "shaping" that was seen last week in Iraq when Iraqi atheletes were murdered on the street for wearing shorts.

Maybe I'm just a short-sighted Westerner, but somehow I suspect that most of Afghan society doesn't actually want to move in that direction. But it's the warlords and the Taliban who will get to say where the society goes, because they have the resources to murder anyone who disagrees.

Soogirl said...

I believe the operative word is peacekeepers. We can stand for peace.

Lone Primate said...

The trick is, we're not talking about a native element helping shape their society; we're talking about a (mostly, but not entirely) native element completely dominating the society, forcing an extremely restrictive social order on the socity at gunpoint.

This is hyperbole that can be leveled at any nativist group with a program for aligning their own society according to their shared values. It goes without saying that those who oppose them will see their program in such terms; to the British, the aims of the American Patriots amounted to nothing more than an attempt to overthrow the rightful established order that would result in anarchy and chaos and needed to be resisted for the good of the colonists. At least that's how they sold it. In truth, they were looking out for their own interests, as are we when we presume the interests of others to mirror our own.

Maybe I'm just a short-sighted Westerner, but somehow I suspect that most of Afghan society doesn't actually want to move in that direction.

You're entirely free to speculate; however, the only real proof will be in the reaction to the Taliban as government by the people of Afghanistan. If they rule in accord with the sentiments of the country (and really, what reason have we to presume the didn't, aside from our own preconceptions and prejudices), their government will endure; if not, like-minded factions will arise and coalesce into a broad-based opposition, just as the Taliban themselves did (why do we suppose that the ability to rise and arm in Afghanistan would necessarily be restricted to the Taliban...?). It's all too common and all too easy for Western eyes to see in the Taliban a cancer on Afghanistan, when in fact they might be better conceived of as an immune system, given rise to as a natural expression of the culture and general will of the Afghan people. Again, Afghanistan will be what it's natural for Afghanistan to be; what we think hardly matters, it's what they think and how they're prepared to live that counts.

James said...

You're entirely free to speculate; however, the only real proof will be in the reaction to the Taliban as government by the people of Afghanistan. If they rule in accord with the sentiments of the country (and really, what reason have we to presume the didn't, aside from our own preconceptions and prejudices), their government will endure; if not, like-minded factions will arise and coalesce into a broad-based opposition, just as the Taliban themselves did

Historically, though, that doesn't work. Oppressive dictatorships are generally quite robust, because they're oppressive. As soon as there's any sign of opposing factions rising or coalescing, the crackdowns start.

(why do we suppose that the ability to rise and arm in Afghanistan would necessarily be restricted to the Taliban...?).

Because no-one is shipping weapons to opposition groups the way the US did the Taliban. The Taliban didn't rise and arm themselves. They were propped up extensively by the US so they could fight the SU.

Lone Primate said...

Historically, though, that doesn't work. Oppressive dictatorships are generally quite robust, because they're oppressive. As soon as there's any sign of opposing factions rising or coalescing, the crackdowns start.

Name me a "modern democracy" where that wasn't the case starting out. Even Canada had the 1837 Rebellions prior to the Durham Report. In all cases, an established order — even in a democracy — is going to resort to the use of force to maintain the status quo, unless it's abundantly clear from the outset that the armed forces aren't on side. So essentially what you're saying here is an ipse dixit. It neither applies strictly to regimes we would term totalitarian, but is true universally, and nor does it provide proof that a regime of which its people have tired is immune from overthrow... in fact, the history of Western civilization stands largely as a direct demonstration that the reverse is true. What can be said is this: there are bounds within which the people of any given society are willing to live, beyond which they revolt, and while a regime may survive, if the situation is not ameliorated (either by the regime itself or its overthrow by the opposition), the society as such will break down and anarchy will result. What those bounds are will vary from place to place, era to era, and that's where the concept of self-determination becomes key. No matter what Winston Churchill may have thought, government is not one-size-fits-all.

Because no-one is shipping weapons to opposition groups the way the US did the Taliban.

First of all, why would they be? The Taliban ARE the resistence; the government that they're trying to overthrow is supplied by foreign occupation. Bluntly, why would there be a separately-funded opposition to the opposition? And surely the US is not responsible for the weapons the Taliban are using today, 15 years after the Soviets left. Mechanisms break down, bombs and bullets and rockets get used up. The point obviously does not hold much water.

It also begs the question: if the Taliban in opposition to the Soviets could be supplied from without, why could not opposition to the Taliban (presuming it to exist) be similarly supplied, by that very same United States that did the job back then, for example? And even today, it's clear that someone is supplying the opposition, which implies perforce that were they to become the government, someone ought to be able to fund and supply whatever opposition to them the Afghan people chose to muster... if they chose to.

And another question: the Taliban spent a decade recovering control of the country from local warlords, and for five years, exercised effective control over the country and the state, until we invaded. If opposition to the Taliban and their policies were indeed commonplace in Afghanistan, how could that have been accomplished, and why was there relative peace in the country for those five years — particularly contrast to the last five years, when we've been there sprinkling the land with the holy water of democracy? Try to look past the obvious, self-serving bromide that the Taliban crushed any opposition and entertain, just for a moment, the possibility that the people of Afghanistan (from among whom the Taliban rose in the first place) don't have a problem with the way they ran things because, generally speaking, that's the way they like things. I know it's heresy to suggest that not everyone in the world wants to march up and down waving red, white, and blue flags on the way to electing the local dog catcher, but it's just possible they prefer their own ways to ours. Isn't it?

L-girl said...

I've just caught up with this conversation.

Kudos to Lisa, that was really well put and on the money. I'm no more an expert on international matters than you, but my memory and reading of the situation come to the same conclusions as yours.

Lone Primate's distinction between self-determination and personal liberty is central, and crucial, albeit sometimes painful to accept. We've all laboured under the mistaken belief that western-style democracy is the evolutionary progression of any society - that not only is it the pinnacle of human society, but the inevitable result. But that's a fallacy. Democracy won't be universal any more than Christianity or Islam will be.

Even as I ultimately believe in every people's right to self-determination, and hold that as an absolute value, I have deep concerns about the intersection of - the sometimes contradiction between - a nation's self-determination and a class of humans' self-determination and personal liberty. For example, what of a people/nation who condone and encourage slavery? The people at large choose to incorporate slavery into their society. What of the enslaved people? Does the nation's right to self-determination outweigh their right to basic human freedom? No. It cannot.

How much can and should be done to force the society to free the slaves? The best modern model to answer the question is the fall of apartheid in South Africa. Support the resistance in whatever ways they ask (including with weapons, because armed resistance is probably necessary), and economically isolate the oppressors. Apartheid fell from within.

The fate of women under the Taliban may be another example. Yet when international women's groups all over the world were raising the alarm about the Taliban's oppression of Afghan women - I read about it for years before the American public had ever heard of the Taliban - no one listened, no one cared. Afghan women were on their own. Until Afghanistan was seen as a threat to the west a la 9/11, then suddenly "we" were there to liberate the women.

Of course troops were never sent to Afghanistan to liberate women. They were never there to save ancient cultural sites. That's the most disingenuous backpedaling possible. Don't we think US bombs have destroyed a statue or two here and there?

Please know, too, I'm not equating traditional Muslim societies with oppression of women. I don't think the way I live is the only way all women can and should live. Basic human rights, however, are absolute, and women are denied basic human rights under the Taliban.

Lone Primate said...

I think I've come up with a good analogy for what I'm thinking when I take the stand I do... Unrequited love, and magic. Suppose you loved someone who did not love you back, and one day you came upon a magic wand, or a potion, or a talisman or some item that would make them love you back. Would you use it? You might. But you would be burdened in your soul with the knowledge that their love was not genuine, that you had denied someone you supposedly loved the most basic right of all: to determine for him or herself the most basic, fundamental aspect of human emotional existence. You'd be selling your soul. Most of us, I think, would not do this. We would rather live with honourable regret than the ignoble farce.

In a way, the use of military force — terrorism, plain and simple, on the highest level — to cause a regime change is the real-life equivalent of using a magic wand. You may tell yourself you are liberating people, giving them what they wanted all along... but is this any truer than saying "she loved me anyhow, she just didn't know it" of the person upon whom you cast the spell? You may suppose, but you'll never know, because what results is unnatural; corrupt and foul at the heart of it. For a person to love you, or for a nation to chose its course (democracy, say)... those must come from within. Choices made, options weighed, risks assessed and taken or avoided. Indeed, a nation with democracy dropped upon it in the form of shells and iron bombs is less akin to my magic wand analogy and rather more like forcing someone to "love" you by holding a gun to the head of someone they really do love.

Is that the kind of "person" we want Canada (Britain, the US, etc.) to be?

James said...

Name me a "modern democracy" where that wasn't the case starting out. Even Canada had the 1837 Rebellions prior to the Durham Report.

But it never got to the degree of oppression that the Taliban can (and has) used.


Because no-one is shipping weapons to opposition groups the way the US did the Taliban.

First of all, why would they be? The Taliban ARE the resistence; the government that they're trying to overthrow is supplied by foreign occupation.


I was talking about resisting the Taliban itself -- the idea that, if they're really oppressive, then Afghans can rise up and overthrow them. But chancse are good the opposition won't be able to do that without aid.

It also begs the question:

Prompts, not begs (sorry, pet peeve).

if the Taliban in opposition to the Soviets could be supplied from without, why could not opposition to the Taliban (presuming it to exist) be similarly supplied, by that very same United States that did the job back then, for example?

In theory, no reason. In practice, because the groups that would oppose the Taliban are more likely to be "socialist", and the US would never support a "socialist" resistance.

The US has a long history of preferring to fund right-wing dictatorships over left-wing democracies.

Curiously, examples include Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq...

In the end, the problem boils down to this: unless effective help is provided, it will not be the people of Afghanistan determining their own future. It will be the thugs with guns in Afghanistan determining the future for everyone else there.

Lone Primate said...

For example, what of a people/nation who condone and encourage slavery? The people at large choose to incorporate slavery into their society. What of the enslaved people? Does the nation's right to self-determination outweigh their right to basic human freedom? No. It cannot.

This raises another interesting point. What, exactly, does it mean to be a slave? When we think of the term, we imagine its most blatant form, in which one person presumes to "own" another, even to the exclusion of that person's owernship of him or herself. But let's consider it in its particulars, with an eye to your example and where the slippery slope lies.

For best effect, let's consider the United States. The government there (as here, as pretty much elsewhere) presumes to "own" our labour, to whatever extent it choses to confiscate; we call it income tax... payroll tax, consumption taxes... None of us ever really consented to this; we were born into it, and it is our burden until we die. In the case of the US, you, Laura, will be expected to file a tax return to the IRS every year as long as you live, even if you become a Canadian citizen. Even if you never set foot in the United States again, you are expected to keep the United States government apprised of your income for the rest of your life, regardless of whether or not you actually ever have to pay them a cent. That aspect of your life if considered government property no matter where you go.

Though it is not in force at the moment, the United States reserves the right to draft its citizens (and even certain resident non-citizens!), disrupting their lives, exporting them to foreign countries, and potentially spending their lives, as though they were jeeps or shells. While they won't be whipped, they may be required to lose arms, legs, eyes, and be crippled and disfigured permanently, with no penalty befalling anyone for having made it so.

The United States, and the majority of its states, also reserve the right to deprive a person of his very life, under the guise of due process. As if a person's life were the state's to give and take. And yet, this is ordinary, everyday policy in the United States.

The US has prisoners making, phoning, tabulating everyday. Are they slaves? Do we boycott? Germany is full of second and third-generation, stateless, ethnic Turk "guest workers", to whom Germany owes virtually no legal obligation. Are they slaves? Should we invade? Are the Palestinians, walled in as the Jews of Warsaw once were, denied citizenship or a state of their own, and paid at cut rates when they are allowed into Israel to work at all, slaves? Should we be bombing Tel Aviv?

You ask if a society has the right to deny human rights and institute slavery. Clearly the practical answer is yes; they do, every day, presuming citizens and subjects alike to be, in a very real and subtle sense, state property. It's in no way new; the Roman Republic and Empire had publically-owned slaves... it's just that these days, it must be in soft focus and not so plain and harsh to be acceptable.

The issue then becomes, at what point does the focus become sharp enough that we will presume to act against it, and then, by what means?

Lone Primate said...

But it never got to the degree of oppression that the Taliban can (and has) used.

This is an argument of quantity, not quality, and my point stands. Governance exceeded public tolerance and there was a reaction.

I was talking about resisting the Taliban itself -- the idea that, if they're really oppressive, then Afghans can rise up and overthrow them. But chancse are good the opposition won't be able to do that without aid.

This first presumes the existence of a real opposition to the Taliban. Again, no oppostion seemed to have seriously troubled them while they governed Afghanistan — and yet as the current situation demonstrates, Afghanistan is clearly a nation capable of formulating a considerable opposition when stirred to.

It also begs the question:

Prompts, not begs (sorry, pet peeve).


"Begs" here is used in the sense of (to quote Webster's Tenth Collegiate Dictionary definition 2b. of the word) "to require as necessary or appropriate".

In theory, no reason. In practice, because the groups that would oppose the Taliban are more likely to be "socialist", and the US would never support a "socialist" resistance.

Why is it required to be the United States? For example, why not one of the myriad secular Arab states? Syria, for instance? Egypt? Iraq (till recently...)? If, first of all, the Taliban should return to government in Afghanistan, and if, as a result, the people of Afghanistan come to organize a serious opposition to it, there's no reason to assume material support would be necessarily lacking. Even the US, which history shows will back any horse it considers most likely to pull its plow. Even the Taliban itself, not that long ago... and al Qaeda, for that matter.

it will not be the people of Afghanistan determining their own future. It will be the thugs with guns in Afghanistan determining the future for everyone else there.

The hurdle you just don't seem able to jump is the fact that the Taliban ARE the people of Afghanistan, the same as the Minutemen WERE the people of the US, the Viet Cong WERE the people of Vietnam, the sans-culotte WERE the people of France... And in each instance, they removed a regime unsuited to the people and formulated government more in keeping with the grass roots. You simply will not credit that the Taliban might actually represent the everyday realities of Afghan society because you don't care for the flavour of it, and hence they must be "thugs". Fine, you may think of them what you will, but at the bottom of it all the fact remains it is for Afghanistan to determine the fate of the Taliban as government, not us, and to presume that the failure of its people to rise up and immolate them implies oppression while denying the possibilty it implies acceptance is a self-serving and an unfortunately chauvinistic attitude.

L-girl said...

You ask if a society has the right to deny human rights and institute slavery. Clearly the practical answer is yes; they do, every day, presuming citizens and subjects alike to be, in a very real and subtle sense, state property.

They do deny human rights. They take the right, they give themselves the right. In many cases, the people consent because the rights infringement is considered necessary. In other cases, govts take their rights by force and power. But do they ethically, morally have the right? Our answer is no.

I see your points, LP, and they're well made. However, I also think it's important not to distort or dilute language to the point where a word can mean nearly anything we choose it to.

By slavery I meant what's conventionally thought of as slavery, what has been recognized as slavery throughout civilizations and over time. Most ancient civilizations had slavery, and although the treatment of slaves varied in different cultures, slavery itself had certain universal characteristics. Modern slavery was much the same. We can all recognize what is meant by slavery without splitting hairs.

I abhor the death penalty and enforced conscription. I view them as human rights violations. But the people who live in the US under those laws are not slaves.

The requirement of paying income tax does not make one a slave. My being required to report my income to the country of my birth - although I loathe it and may one day give up my citizenship to lose the yoke! - is not slavery. I have obligations, as do we all, but that cannot be construed as slavery.


There are oppressed people all over the world. The Palestinians are a good example. Their condition, although one of struggle and deprivation, is not one of enslavement.

Definitions that are too elastic render language meaningless, and that is dangerous. My favourite examples of this would be words such as freedom, liberty, hero, and terrorist.

The issue then becomes, at what point does the focus become sharp enough that we will presume to act against it, and then, by what means?

This is indeed the issue. The international women's rights organizations that were campaigning on behalf of Afghan women were not advocating war or the use of force. They were working with Afghan women to see what could be done cooperatively, from within.

My sympathies lie with the Palestinians, but I wouldn't advocate war with Israel. I wouldn't have advocated bombing South Africa in the 1970s or 80s. I wouldn't bomb the US to release the prisoners on death row. (Although I might fantasize about some highly selective bombing, not being a pacifist myself...)

L-girl said...

the fact remains it is for Afghanistan to determine the fate of the Taliban as government, not us, and to presume that the failure of its people to rise up and immolate them implies oppression while denying the possibilty it implies acceptance is a self-serving and an unfortunately chauvinistic attitude.

This is true. If there's a resistance movement, and you stand with its cause, you can support it. But you can't come from the outside, a foreign culture, and decide resistance is necessary and you are it.

Above, LP reminds us that peacekeeping requires the consent of all parties. That's a basic tenet of peacekeeping as I understand it. That is clearly not what's happening in Afghanistan.

When you point this out, people come back with "the Taliban are evil and must be stopped". But who says? Us? They likewise say we are evil and must be stopped. Is that ok, too? Why not? Because we're not evil? Who says? Us?

Lone Primate said...

Definitions that are too elastic render language meaningless, and that is dangerous. My favourite examples of this would be words such as freedom, liberty, hero, and terrorist.

I'm much more concerned with language being used in just the opposite way: in definitions that become too fine, too rigid, and susceptible to appropriation. All those words you mention fall into this category; they have been used as tools to send people off to kill other people.

But if you can diffuse their meanings, spread them out, make them again the generalities that they once were, you can bridge the gaps duplicitous people seek to make between one condition and another, one form and another, one value and another. It serves to inject a measure of self-doubt into the mind of someone who otherwise was assured of the justice of an unjust cause because there was comfort in the black and white solidity of the words. If we could have driven it home to the average Republican that attacking a country and causing the deaths of tens of thousands of its innocent civilians was every bit as much an act of terrorism as walking into a plaza with a bomb strapped to your chest, maybe, just maybe, they wouldn't have been so gung-ho to send off the troops in the first place. But we'll never know, because they appropriated the word "terrorist" and sent it off to war.

My real goal in doing this is to generate enough uncertainty in people that they'll stop before automatically drawing their swords (except in all but the most extreme cases, and we ought to be able to count on the UN by now to show the way, or what's the point), and consider negotiation, compromise, or non-military forms of compulsion if it comes to that (as pointed out elsewhere, it worked wonders with South Africa). I really do believe the better angels of our nature find their wings in the fuzziness of definitions.

L-girl said...

Ah, interesting, very good stuff. Yes, it's true, language is susceptible to manipulation and propaganda by both vagueness and elasticity and rigidity and narrowness of definition.

I get frustrated as words become just buzzwords without real meaning. This is endemic now, a post and a half for another day.

James said...

It also begs the question:

Prompts, not begs (sorry, pet peeve).


"Begs" here is used in the sense of (to quote Webster's Tenth Collegiate Dictionary definition 2b. of the word) "to require as necessary or appropriate".


But "begs the question" is a long established idiom with a specific meaning -- namely, the logical fallacy petitio principii, assuming one's conclusion as a premise of one's argument.

Lone Primate said...

Self-same article notes:

Modern usage
More recently, "begs the question" has been used as a synonym for "invites the question" or "raises the question", or to indicate that "the question really ought to be addressed". In this usage, "the question" is stated in the next phrase. The following is an example: "This year's budget deficit is half a trillion dollars. This begs the question: how are we ever going to balance the budget?" This usage is often sharply criticized by proponents of the traditional meaning, but it has nonetheless come into common use.


"Nice" once meant "fine"; "nameless" meant "hopeless", "loan" was formerly not used as a verb but is today, on and on and on. Whatever the phrase may have meant, it's understood to mean something different now. I'm afraid that ship has sailed, linguistically speaking. Or alloweth thou not thus by course any change or new manners in thine own tongue, prithee? Mind you, as I've indicated, I do like to keep things general, so do please feel free to stick to the former usage, misinterpreted as your intentions are bound to be as a result. ;)

Oh, incidentally, I'm also one of those people who's freed himself to go with "alright" instead of "all right"... just so we don't have issues over that one when it inevitably comes up. :)

L-girl said...

"Nice" once meant "fine"; "nameless" meant "hopeless", "loan" was formerly not used as a verb but is today, on and on and on.

Being a regular reader of The Diary of Samuel Pepys online has been a great education for me in the changing nature of language. I've gained a new perspective in how language is always changing - always - it exists in a constant state of flux.

One of the regular annotators on the site is the incomparable Language Hat. He's a linguist and a[n] historian, and has vast resources to guide us as to what a meant in Sam's time (17th Century), very often totally different than what it means today, as well as word origins, similarities, surviving vestiges of archaic usages, etc.

I like grammar, as I like correct spelling (a modern concept in itself, by the way!), but I feel the most important thing is to communicate, and to listen to each other with open minds.

redsock said...

Oh, incidentally, I'm also one of those people who's freed himself to go with "alright" instead of "all right"

Basil: Well, let me tell you something - this is exactly how Nazi Germany started. A lot of layabouts with nothing better to do than to cause trouble.