With the situation in Darfur still percolating and the news of Kosovo declaring independence and of course the US presidential campaign in full swing I have been thinking a bit about ‘human rights’ lately. For example, I have been pondering what duty, if any, a person or nation has to those who are being oppressed (or slaughtered) in another place. I have been pondering what kinds of action are permissible, even morally mandated, in the face of such oppressions and genocides.
I remembered back to my time at the International Academy on Apologetics and Human Rights which was held in Strasbourg France. In my view, connecting apologetics to human rights makes a lot of sense. Ideas have consequences. Some ideas will have horrific consequences. Others will bring liberation. Others result in inaction and the promotion of the status quo. I absolutely believe that the Christian world view provides a firm and solid basis for making determinations about the rights of human beings. What seems not as clear is what kinds of actions one should take in light of that basis. It is the missing link between spouting noble platitudes about human rights and actually obtaining or sustaining human rights.
It is not by any means a problem for the Christian community alone. For example, I am informed by liberal (and liberal atheist) friends that 500,000 children died on account of US backed UN sanctions of Iraq during the 90s. This is marked up as strike against the US. Don’t we care about the little children? It is known now what was clear even then that the UN was (and is) a corrupt pile of excrement: Saddam was siphoning off monies through the oil for food program so that he kept getting fancy palaces at the expense of his own people. Also during the 90s was the genocide in Rwanda where the international community stood by as millions died.
It seems to me that for any number of reasons, and human rights considerations high on the list, Saddam should have been taken out long ago (and he not the only one). The US only moved against him when its national interests were perceived to be in play. Would to God, says those in Darfur and Rwanda, that the US’s national interests were at stake in their regions.
In the meantime, we now have those such as Barack Hussein Obama who say that he would never have gone into Iraq. But Barack! Don’t you care about the little children? Would you have gone further to lift the sanctions knowing that the UN was impotent? Would you have advocated letting Hussein keep Kuwait? I thought liberal democrats cared about people but this kind of ‘care’ would have left hundreds of millions enslaved by a murderous despot. This kind of ‘humanitarianism’ seems to undergird much of the liberal objections to military force that I’ve heard. It seems to get at the root somehow: in the face of genocidal dictators, aside from advocating with your mouth for human rights what do you propose to do?
I remember vividly how the Bush administration used Hussein’s human rights violations as a piece of supporting evidence for their argument that Hussein needed to be taken out. Amnesty International protested having ‘human rights’ made the basis for action. I guess they’d prefer people only take military action based on oil interests. Amnesty International doesn’t care about the half a million children allegedly killed in Iraq, either. If they had their way, then the abuses they documented would still be going on. So, besides flapping their mouths in righteous indignation, and as sanctions was apparently making things worse on human rights grounds, did they have any ideas? Nope.
Of course, the article I just linked to makes it clear that what they object to is also the selective use of human rights justification. I guess my feeling is that if it takes oil interests, or national security interests, to take down a tyrant then let’s be happy that someone finally did something. But I think this attitude also betrays the critical problem:
Just what should a nation do in the face of human rights violations on a grand scale? Is there any other basis for war as ‘clean’ as human rights concerns?
I am not so naive to think that these are easy issues. Certainly, one can easily see human rights reasons as wide open to abuse. But I do take issue with the mindset that is quick to say that they care about human rights while at the same time effectively only meaning human rights in their neck of the woods, denouncing the use of military force and in some cases sanctions as well, knowing full well that their inaction perpetuates the human rights abuses they are decrying.
The missing link is encapsulated by the question: “When is it moral, indeed, morally mandated, that you take action, even violent action, to save those who are oppressed?” The missing link is simply whether or not one has a well thought out morality in the first place. If you think morality is relative or have a morality based only on what is soft and cushy and warms your heart, it is easy to see that you’ll always be in the ideal position of being able to denounce as wicked and evil everything in the world that happens… and not blame yourself, for, after all, you did denounce them. This leaves the hard work for those like myself who understand the complexities involved but still believe that eventually you do reach a point where action is required.
That is something to think about in this presidential campaign.