The good news for some might have been that a certain Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-borm al Qaeda leader has been killed in a drone attack, for which read assassinated in a drone attack. Well, it might be good news for some, but I can’t raise even one cheer let alone three. When is this kind of assassination acceptable? Or, to put it another way, when is murder acceptable? I’m not about to engage in a pro or anti capital punishment rant, for although I am against it, I think at least the arguments put forward by supporters are, at least, intellectually respectable. But the recent killings of al Qaeda leaders, which began a few months ago with that of Osama bin Laden (whose killing was watched live in the White House, we are told), really can’t go unchallenged. And before I go on, I hope that whoever is reading this will agree that I am not some tree-hugging, wishy-washy liberal.
To put it bluntly, I would be far happier if, after the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S. had come out and said: ‘He was against us, so we killed him.’ But they are not doing that and they didn’t do that when they bumped off bin Laden. Instead, they resorted to various means in order to try to justify and legitimise what, to my eyes at least, was simply a murder. And even were I to agree that the world is better off without bin Laden, I simply refuse to accept that ‘their murders’ are evil and despicable, whereas ‘our murders’ - although we don’t call them that - are justified because we have ‘right on our side’. I can’t remember
So it comes down to this: an argument is respectable if we use it and complete nonsense if our enemies us it. And you don’t need a college degree to see what utter nonsense that position is.
As I said before: I would be far happier if Washington had simply announced that Anwar al-Awlaki, one of its enemies, had been killed because without him alive it believed its enemy would be weaker. And Washington should have left it at that. Naturally, there would have been uproar around the world, and it would have been far from pretty but it would, at least, have been honest.
The danger is, of course, that were China to use the same argument to take out someone who it no longer wanted alive, we would be outraged, most certainly, but we would not have a leg to stand on. They are reasonably entitled to ask: ‘If you do it, why can’t we?’ To that we always reply: because we live in the free West in which free and fair elections are the norm and where we have the rule of law. And to that they might reply: ‘Well, if you have the rule of law, why was Anwar al-Awlaki killed without judicial process? And if you have the rule of law, why were several hundred people detained by the U.S. without charge at Guantanamo Bay specifically because the establishment was outside the jurisdiction of the U.S. courts? And they might add that if you feel it is acceptable to detain without charge those you believe to be a threat to your state, why is it not acceptable that we detain those without charge who we feel are a threat to our state?
What makes it all the worse for us is that we are too ready to take the high moral ground. We are all too ready to convince ourselves and anyone who will listen that ‘right is on our side’ and that because ‘right is on our side’ our actions, or rather those actions which are intended to strengthen that right, are somehow sancitifed. But, of course, it’s all complete nonsense.
Kill Anwar al-Awlaki, kill Osama bin Laden, kill anyone else you want to kill but please, please, please don’t pretend it is anything else but murder.
. . .
The essence of the dilemma is that hoary old problem which manifests itself in a variety of different ways but which is, essentially, the same old problem. One might call up the ‘is/ought’ gap to try to describe it. One might refer to the problem of relativism. One could tackle that same dilemma by examining arguments for and against the existence of God or, if someone feels uncomfortable doing that, arguments for and against the possibility of the absolute in the world. But I’m not going to go into it here, even if I could. Which I can’t. Another time, squire.
. . .
Call me a cynical old bastard but the bizarre outburst of sentimental guff which is marking the passing of Apple Steve Jobs merely goes to show that we here in the West have too much time on our hands. But then I would expect nothing less from the ‘Mac community’ who see themselves as the very definition of cool, sophisticated, enlightened, informed and generally only to be wholeheartedly admired by us lesser folk. For Jobs’s family his death is sad, especially as it came at the very early age of 56 and his children are still relatively young. But I do wish the rest of the world would get a sense of proportion.