He’ll drop you where you stand

I can’t help wondering where, exactly, Norm is going with this one (quote reordered but not reworded).

Israel’s killing of Ahmed Yassin:

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan: “I condemn the targeted assassination of Ahmed Yassin. Such actions are not only contrary to international law but they do not help the search for a peaceful solution.”

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, described the assassination as “very, very bad news”.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said: “Israel is not entitled to go in for this kind of unlawful killing and we condemn it. It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”

Killing Bin Laden:

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hailed Osama bin Laden’s death as a key turning point in the struggle against terrorism.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said: “I would like to congratulate the U.S., pay tribute to its determination and efficiency in reducing the threat posed by terrorists and underline the close cooperation between the EU and U.S. in the fight against terrorism.”

Prime Minister David Cameron said that bin Laden’s death would “bring great relief” around the world.

And so on (the page linked also cites reactions from France, Norway, Brazil, Japan and the Vatican).

We could consider explanations for this apparent disparity that Norm and his source overlook. Most obviously, bin Laden was an effectively stateless individual who was waging (or perhaps had waged) a transnational campaign of political violence against multiple states. There was no obvious single cause around which negotiations or a peace process might have been initiated; no internationally recognised grievance on which bin Laden was recognised as a spokesman; no mass movement to demand negotations with bin Laden; and no actual or aspiring state-level actor in whose name bin Laden could have negotiated. The contrast with Ahmed Yassin is glaring. Whatever else he did, Yassin was an actor in the struggle for Palestinian statehood – a cause that most of the world recognises as worthy, and which most of the world hopes can be resolved peacefully. Some enemies, in other words, are better qualified to be shot down like dogs than others. Moreover, sometimes shooting down your enemies like dogs is just bad politics, exacerbating a situation that wiser tactics could ameliorate (“It is unacceptable, it is unjustified and it is very unlikely to achieve its objectives.”) There’s also a third explanation, which I’m afraid is probably just as significant as the other two: the world is wearily accustomed to the US going pretty much where it wants and doing pretty much what it wants, and doesn’t even bother to protest about it. However, this licence seems only to extend to one nation at a time. We could call that inconsistency, or we could just be thankful for small mercies.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, scrub out all those objections to the equivalence Norm is proposing here; let’s just say that in 2004 one country rubbed out an evil terrorist mastermind, in 2011 another country bumped off another evil terrorist mastermind, and the world’s reactions were strikingly different. What’s the implication? When we heard about the assassination of Yassin, should we have rejoiced at that news? And what’s the implication of that? Norm has always denounced the use of double standards where Israel is concerned, so presumably the lesson of Abbottabad is that it should be open season for evil terrorist masterminds wherever they may be. State see terrorist, state kill terrorist. No man, no problem. And if people say it’s unjust, or it’s not lawful, or it’s just bad politics… oh, please

Terrorism is scary stuff – the clue’s in the name – but it’s never worried me as much as counter-terrorism, and this argument of Norm’s reminds me of why that is. As it happens, I do draw a lesson from the Abbottabad execution, if that’s what it was (if it’s true that four people were killed, only one of whom had drawn a weapon, a better word might be ‘massacre’). I haven’t bothered blogging about it before now, partly because it seemed pretty obvious but mainly because Dave had said it already. But maybe it could do with saying again: state-sponsored assassination is wrong. State lawlessness is not a protection against individual lawlessness: rather, it’s far more dangerous, partly because of the vastly greater resources that the state has at its disposal and partly because a law-governed society depends on the state itself being governed by law (as Jeremy Waldron has argued, the rule of law is prior to the concept of law).

If you subscribe to a kind of extreme Hobbesian view of the state, in which the sovereign has both the power to make law and the power of life and death, so that a correctly targeted state killing must be legal – it’s his state, his rules – then you shouldn’t have any problem with the death of Sheikh Yassin, or Osama bin Laden, or for that matter Mairead Farrell, Sean Savage and Danny McCann. I didn’t think Norm held that view, though, and – more to the point – I can’t see any good reason why anyone would. So where is that argument going?



  1. Donna
    Posted 15 May 2011 at 16:13 | Permalink | Reply

    Geras is inferring anti-semitism as the motivating factor for the rest of the world as usual(yawn). The only similarity I can see between the killings of Bin Laden and Yassin is that both were murdered in front of their children.

    • Phil
      Posted 15 May 2011 at 18:55 | Permalink | Reply

      But that was my point – let him have his inference of anti-semitism and where does that leave us? He certainly isn’t suggesting that the inconsistency should have been resolved by bringing the international reaction against ObL’s assassination up to the level of the reaction to the murder of Sheikh Yassin. The implication is that state killings of terrorists is fine with Norm – any state, any terrorist.

  2. Donna
    Posted 15 May 2011 at 21:44 | Permalink | Reply

    I think you’re being too generous to Geras. It’s not “any state, any terrorist.” I don’t think he’d be too supportive of the Iranians taking out a disabled citizen with a Hellfire missile to the chest. He’s simply whining that Israel can’t get away with it in the same fashion as the US. As you say “the world is wearily accustomed to the US going pretty much where it wants and doing pretty much what it wants, and doesn’t even bother to protest about it.” Norm, however, sees this reluctant acquiescence as anti-Semitism.

    I am surprised that you’re surprised at him. He’s been an apologist for both Israeli and US state barbarism for quite a long time now. The fact is, he’s raised the issue of their extra-judicial executions not to question their legality, morality or efficacy but to insinuate anti-semitic motives to anyone who is not Norm.

  3. David Lieberman
    Posted 16 May 2011 at 22:30 | Permalink | Reply

    “The contrast with Ahmed Yassin is glaring. Whatever else he did … ”

    Hm. Remind me, please — whatever else *did* he do?

    • Phil
      Posted 16 May 2011 at 23:47 | Permalink | Reply

      Fill in the blank however you wish to. For the sake of this argument, it’s not significant.

      • David Lieberman
        Posted 17 May 2011 at 01:22 | Permalink

        Hm, again. So let’s recap: the actions of the US and Israel amount, in your words, to “shooting your enemies like dogs,” having them “rubbed out” and/or “bumped off,” conducting an “execution”, a “state-sponsored assassination,” and, quite possibly, a “‘massacre,'” while Ahmed Yassin’s “not significant” conduct in the political arena is effectively summed up with a shrug and a “whatever.” Quite right — the contrast is, as you say, “glaring.”

      • Posted 17 May 2011 at 07:55 | Permalink

        I thought that might be where you were heading. Enjoy the warm glow of thinking you’ve proved what you think you’ve proved. Or you could re-read what I wrote: For the sake of this argument (‘this argument’ being the comparison with bin Laden), whatever Yassin might have been responsible for is not significant. Whatever else he did (irrespective of how evil and inexcusable you believe his actions to have been) Yassin was an actor in the struggle for Palestinian statehood.

  4. skidmarx
    Posted 17 May 2011 at 01:20 | Permalink | Reply

    I see he’s noticed your post.

    • Cian
      Posted 17 May 2011 at 15:21 | Permalink | Reply

      By his logic this:
      Phil says that most of the world recognizes the struggle for Palestinian statehood as worthy. Most of the world here happens to include me, in so far as we are talking about the named objective. However, which struggle for Palestinian statehood? The struggle of Hamas which foresees an end to the state of Israel and the use in pursuit of it of terrorism against Israeli civilians is not only not ‘worthy’; it is the very symptom of a warlike intent, challenging the existence of Israel and betokening a hatred directed at Jews as such. That Israel might properly regard itself as at war with people so motivated, and as entitled to target their key leaders and other operatives, doesn’t strike everyone (as it seems to strike Phil) as treating them ‘like dogs’. It’s treating them like what they are, enemies intent on doing you harm.

      means that Israel’s leaders and soldiers are fair game. I wonder what his position on that captured Israeli soldier is?

      • skidmarx
        Posted 17 May 2011 at 16:30 | Permalink

        When his latest sets up Natan Sharansky as the judge of who can be “our partners in building a world safe for human rights”, he’s perhaps not beyond satire, but he’s bought his ticket out there.

  5. Posted 21 May 2011 at 19:30 | Permalink | Reply

    Still, he’s more interesting than some. I wasn’t kidding when I said AW should consider Watching him.

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