Of idealism and indifference! – A call for an open debate

Thousands of Syrian refugees crossing into Iraq on August 15, 2013. (photo credit: AP/HO)
Thousands of Syrian refugees crossing into Iraq on August 15, 2013. (photo credit: AP/HO)

We should be idealistic, yes, but not stupid, realistic, yes, but not indifferent. 

Can we stop genocide without recourse to violence, or at least the threat of it? Do psychopaths who embark on mass methodical killings leave us much of a choice when it comes to the methods that we need to deploy to stop them? How do we deal with psychopaths whose very strategy is meant to defeat the nonviolence ethos by upping the levels of violence to the maximum allowed by the instruments of deaths under their disposal, by deploying it methodically, and by targeting the very figures and voices who are leading the nonviolent movement? How do we deal with psychopaths who are so committed to drawing blood from their nonviolent opponents they regularly plant well-armed agents of violence within their ranks?

How can we be anti-war in an absolute sense, if violence is still occasionally needed because we still have psychopaths around the world who command armies and nations and are willing to deploy them against the innocents, be it in their own countries or abroad?

We don’t live in a world of absolutes. We cannot draw blind red lines. Each situation brings with it new challenges. Yes, I do prefer nonviolence and am quite aware of its advantages, but I am also aware of its limitations, and if I were blind to them before, the tragic developments in Syria soon opened my eyes. Calling for military intervention in Syria was not something that I made without being aware of the costs involved, or the irony of having one of the leading voices that have for years been calling for nonviolent resistance become one of the loudest voices calling for a U.S.-led international intervention.

But when confronted with the reality of mass murder and the specter of genocide, my personal comfort was not the thing that mattered most. What we needed to deal with the situation was very clear: we needed to stop the ongoing carnage and prevent the situation from escalating into a full-blown civil war that can destabilize the entire region and not just the country, producing millions of refugees and killing hundreds of thousands. For this, we needed to use the threat of force, and if that didn’t work, than force itself, and on a scale large enough to stop the perpetrators of the mass slaughter, and launch the political and legal processes necessary to ensure transition to a democratic system of governance. The failure to do that came as a further indication of the inadequacy, not only of the global order, but of our awareness of our mutual responsibilities and obligations to each other.

Why does it make sense for some to preach that environmental degradation and pollution anywhere can have repercussions everywhere, while calling for an intervention to stop mass slaughter is seen by some of the same people as a gross violation of established norms? Why can’t we see the repercussions of our continued indifference towards human suffering in the same light in which we see our continued indifference towards the havoc we are wreaking on our natural environment? What can’t we see ethnic hatred as a phenomenon that is no less dangerous to our wellbeing than environmental disasters, natural and manmade? Why can’t we understand that hatred is precisely what we foster when we ignore the suffering of others, or consider it to be none of our business despite our acute awareness of its existence, and its intensity? Can anyone in this shrinking world of ours claim innocence with any credibility whatsoever when he/she is capable of preventing mass murder yet choose not to act? Are there reasons convincing enough to justify indifference in this case?

Personally, I don’t believe so. But it’s a discussion that we should have, and I am willing to take part in it with an open mind, and as much dispassion as I can muster. Any takers?