Reflections on Political Violence – Christopher Hitchens 2


The latest article in Slate last Monday by Christopher Hitchens is (as indicated by the title) a reflection on political violence. Oh so very appropriate and apt given recent events in the US, but more specifically in Pakistan where we have seen the pointless slaughter of an honourable man and a great human being, Salman Taseer (pictured here)

He starts out by mulling over some thoughts on the ANC, their struggle in South Africa, and their decision to take up arms …

…the efforts of the trade unions, the legal parliamentary opposition, the churches, the censored but still active press, and all the other constituents of “civil society” to resist or even to ameliorate the conditions imposed on the majority by a pitiless oligarchy and its iron-bound cult of racist and fundamentalist theology.

…the efforts of the ANC to make its case at the United Nations and other international forums and chronicled the heroism of its lawyers in defending both individual and communal rights before the rigged South African courts.

…to every attempt of this sort, … the response had been increased repression and the confiscation of even more land, more rights, and more liberties. Having at one point laid down the gun, the ANC now had every right to take it up again.

A decision to resort to violence was not something to be undertaken without great care—and stated in terms that were addressed to reasonable people. From his prison cell, Nelson Mandela had joined the great tradition of the French philosophes, of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, of Marx and Engels in 1848, and of Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1930s—of men and women who felt the historic obligation to make a stand and to define it.

So having now taken the position that oppression of basic human rights can justify an armed struggle when all else has failed … how does this tie in with what we see going on in Pakistan.

…look at the grinning face of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who last week destroyed a great human being. He did not explain. He boasted. As “a slave of the Prophet,” he had the natural right to murder Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, not even for committing “blasphemy” but for criticizing a law that forbade it for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And this sweeping new extension of the divine right to murder not only was not condemned by the country’s spiritual authorities; it was largely approved by them. No argument, no arraignment, no appeal—permission to kill anybody can merely be assumed by anybody, provided only that they mouth the correct incantations.

The specific key point is that Hitchens then illustrates the contrast here. The “hideousness of Islamic jihadism”, is supposed to be justified by Islamic “grievances” … but … (and this is the big BUT) … the huge glaring contrast to a real armed struggle in response to stark oppression is this …

..no such bill of [Islamic] grievances has ever been published, let alone argued and defended? Every now and then an excuse is offered, but usually after the bomb has gone off in the crowded street or the “offending” person has been eliminated. Sérgio Vieira de Mello was murdered, and the U.N. offices in Baghdad leveled along with him, because he had helped oversee the independence of East Timor. Many Australian tourists in Bali were burned alive on the same retrospective pretext. Or it could be a cartoon. Or an unveiled woman. Or the practice of the “wrong” kind of Islam—Ahmadi, for example, or Shiism. Or the practice of Hinduism. Or the publication of a novel. But the sinister, hateful thing about all these discrepant “causes” is precisely the fact that they are improvised … no effort is ever made to say precisely why the resort to violence is so immediate and its practice so random and indiscriminate.

It is true that we have Osama Bin Laden’s sermons and a few stray documents like the “charter” of Hamas. But none of these amounts to anything like a manifesto or an appeal to conscience or law or precedent. … they appear to say little more than that unique privileges—including the right to immediate self-appointment as an executioner—attach to the followers of one version of one monotheistic religion.

…our own willingness to rationalize such behavior on the part of Muslims allowed us to call professional assassins by the name of insurgent and to write that they were defending “Muslim soil.”…

…we don’t seem to say this yet in the case of Mumtaz Qadri, but he could say it of himself and, according to his faith, that’s all that he needs to do.

In essence, the fanatical oppressors justify their violence by claiming to be the victims … yet what they really have are not real grievances at all, just fanatical beliefs.

When faced with political rhetoric from fanatics who call for violence, or have already been manifestly violent … be skeptical, and label all such rhetoric and beliefs for what they really are … bullshit.

You can read the full Slate article here.


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