Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
RSS Feed
View Profile
« December 2007 »
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31
You are not logged in. Log in
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
Sleepless in Fulham: Rambling and gambling by David Young
Wednesday, 12 December 2007
Not all violence is equal.
Topic: Politics

There was a revealing exchange concerning Iraq in Prime Minister's Question Time today, between Vince Cable and Gordon Brown.

Cable: "When he [Brown] was in Basra this week was he told that 40 women, at least, have been executed for personal immorality ... [I]s this why 173 British troops have died? Transferring power from the fascist regime of Saddam Hussein to the terror of the fascist militia who run the streets of Basra."

My first thought was to wonder what Cable thought of World War Two. Did Britain win? That war began when Chamberlain demanded that German troops leave Poland. When it ended, Poland had transferred from the totalitarian regime of Adolf Hitler to the totalitarian regime of Joseph Stalin. Is that why thousands of British troops died? It's a shame that in 1945 Cable was too young to denounce the government of the day.

However, there is a deeper point I want to make and it concerns two different kinds of violence. To illustrate them, I shall use examples from American history.

Situation One - You are a black slave in the early 19th century. You own nothing. Your master beats you.

Situation Two - You are a gold prospector (of any race) in the late 19th century. You work in a remote region where the forces of law and order are weak. You find gold but it is stolen from you, along with everything else you have. You are also beaten. If you go back to prospecting there is a significant chance that this will happen again.

Is one worse than the other? Vince Cable might say there is no difference, as in both cases you are beaten and have nothing. But I think that there is a significant moral difference. In the first situation, the person who beats you and lets you own nothing is acting entirely within the law. In the second situation, the people who robbed and beat you are outlaws. They may escape justice, but there is always the possibility that it will catch up with them. Although both situations are appalling. I find the first situation more morally repugnant than the second.

Friday, 14 December 2007 - 1:00 PM GMT

Name: "Yaffle"

All beatings being equal, that sounds about right. But what if the beatings are very different in quantity and quality? Most people would rather be beaten once a year under the law than every day by outlaws. So presumably what Vince Cable meant is that the violence in Iraq is much worse today under the rule of religious maniacs than it ever was under Saddam Hussein – so much worse that it is not a price worth paying for democracy. Different people will draw the line in different places, but only a lunatic would maintain that no price can ever be too high.


Perhaps you or I would be willing to take a little more chaos – or ‘stuff happening’ – in exchange for a veneer of civilisation in the region, but do its inhabitants agree? Someone else made the choice for them, and they are living with the consequences. We are now finding out why certain countries are ruled by people like Saddam Hussein. I suspect the Iraqis themselves knew all along.


That said, it is odd that many people who rail against the Iraq war are well aware of the blood that was shed in the West (which dwarfs that shed in Iraq) to win the freedoms we enjoy today. No one would suggest that it wasn’t worth it here. Was it Paul Wolfowitz who damned the neocons’ critics as racists for thinking that Arabs shouldn’t enjoy the freedoms recently grasped by eastern Europeans? This is a similar sentiment – to see the people of the middle east as children who shouldn’t have to face the dangers of growing up.

Friday, 14 December 2007 - 4:09 PM GMT

Name: "David Young"

The point I was making is qualitative - that there is less reason for hope when you are beaten by lawmakers rather than lawbreakers. Would you rather have lived in the Wild West days of the US or in Russia under Stalin's terror?

I agree with the Wolfowitz point about the war's critics. If someone had said twenty years ago that black South Africans should remain under apartheid because crime would rise under one-man-one-vote (as did later happen) than many of the same people would have been outraged. What's the difference? Earlier this year India and Pakistan celebrated sixty years of independence. The birth of both nations took place amidst immense sectarian violence and a huge movement of population. Does Vince Cable think that they should still belong in the British Empire?

Friday, 14 December 2007 - 4:42 PM GMT

Name: "Yaffle"

That's spot on. There were 14,000 deaths in a ten year period referred to as a civil war vs a murder rate of 20,000+ every year since the end of apartheid, yet I doubt its just the ANC elite who wouldn't want to turn the clock back. As you say, it's hope that makes the difference.

Btw, just in case you should ever use that Neocon quote in future and the details matter, don't take my word for it that it was Wolfowitz. It might have been Kristol. Can't seem to find it on Google to confirm...

View Latest Entries