Sunday, June 11, 2006

Who are we missing from the blogroll?

I have been trying to think of ways in which we can coordinate our Bloggers Against Torture campaign. Obviously it is good for us to support one another, but our ultimate objective is to spread awareness, right? So I've decided to try an experiment.

I want each of you to think of a blogger, preferably one you know, that is part of an "under-represented group" on our blogroll. I then want you to leave them a comment inviting them to join the blogroll. Email me or comment on how it goes.

Some thoughts from an American Mom and a Milblogger

A Tale of Two Beans has some interesting things to say about torture and the political divide

In looking at the Cosponsoring Organizations [for Torture Awareness Month], I saw an interesting list of "liberal" organizations. I must admit that I am definitely a liberal conservative. Or is it a conservative liberal? In reality, I (like many, many Americans) belong to a party that does not exist. I am fiscally quite conservative (stop spending my tax dollars) and socially liberal (I want the US government to stay out of my (and others') private life.)

I wonder how many others feel this way? She also makes the point that she considers being anti-torture to be like the famous American apple-pie. Milblogger Mr Vetinari agrees:

I chose to serve my country because I believe there are principles and a way of life worth defending, even worth dying for. My father and my uncle served in a place where their enemies were a certain communist group who had no reservations about torture. I firmly believe they were fighting on the moral side of that conflict. If the principles we are trying to promote in this world do not include "people should not be tortured", then what ARE our principles? What are our self-evident truths?

Some more thoughts

In our current political climate, it is inevitable that the goals and motivations behind Torture Awareness Month will be misconstrued. This is detrimental to the campaign, and disheartening for those working on it. In my time here and on my own blog, I have noticed certain patterns in the arguments. I would like to share my experience with you, and I encourage you to use the thread below to do the same.

The most common criticism that I have encountered is that campaigning against torture committed by the Coalition is anti-American. The anti-torture position is seen as a convenient way to attack America, and this is often supported with the accusation that human rights abuses elsewhere are being ignored.

Allahpundit at Hot Air provides an example of this reasoning:

Can you really call it Torture Awareness Month if the only torture you're aware of is of the American variety?

Similarly from Yankee Mom

... apparently the U.S. is the Biggest, Baddest Boogeyman when it comes to torture. Now, I guess I need to put a disclaimer in here so that all those anti-American whiners who have no sense of humor or the ability to recognise sarcasm, will not send death threats to my family. I do not condone beheading someone with a dull knife...

Woman Honour Thyself provides a more forceful example:

This alleged concern for torture victims, wherein the organization gets to pick and choose which victims deserve their nuturance is nothing but a feeble attempt to hijack an alleged ideal by a Liberal and Muzlim agenda, which is yet again - to defame America and everything she stands for.

The most important point to remember is that this is a diversionary tactic, whether the person is using it purposefully or being used by it. It is a special form of ad hominem fallacy known as the circumstantial ad hominem. Even if it was true that your only motivation for being an anti-torture blogger is that you find it a convenient way to attack America, that does not change the fact of torture, nor the listeners' moral obligation to address the issue. It is a diversion from the issue at hand.

The following are my suggestions for dealing with it.

The personal attack side

Name the beast. Say outright that this is a personal attack, and irrelevant to the issue at hand. There's no surer sign that someone is losing the debate than to have to resort to an ad hominem attack. They might not admit it, but those watching will notice. Head them off at the first sign of it so that you don't waste too much time on it.

Call them on their presumption. Chances are that you have blogged on torture in countries that aren't America[1], that you are a member of an NGO (or even an employee), and that you have other human rights credentials. From a purely tactical perspective, it was unwise of them to base their argument on something that they no way of knowing anything about. A gentle reminder of this will allow you to get to more substantive issues before the whole thing degenerates.

"Why aren't you blogging against the Syrians?"

Call them on their presumption. Again, there's an assumption here that you aren't actually doing anything about human rights abuse elsewhere. See above.

Rendition to Syria. Several times I have seen this argument framed such that hypothetical country is actually one of the nations to which we rendition. It is generally enough to simply mention this. A few pointed remarks about "mixed messages" can help the process along.

The difference between an authoritarian regime and a democracy. I have found it useful to frame an argument as follows. Even if every single person in a nation is aware that their govt tortures people, it makes little difference if that nation is an authoritarian regime. In such cases, the problem is the govt, not the people. Being that the people are the govt's usual victims, they are usually pretty "aware" of torture anyway. Our best bet is to support NGOs to pressure the govts (see "Call them on their presumption" above). In contrast, Coalition countries like America are democracies, and their victims are generally distant from the citizens' everyday concerns. If enough Coalition citizens were aware of torture, and staunchly anti-torture, our politicians would never allow it to happen. The underlying problem here is not the system of govt, but the people.

The duty of the citizen. Following on from the previous point, a democracy is ultimately governed by its own citizens. It is good to fight against human rights abuse in other countries, but we are first and foremost responsible for what our own govt does. If we cannot even keep our own govts accountable, how can we ever hope to improve the govts of others?

Finally, let me be the first to admit that I've totally blown my cool before while debating this topic. A certain "rws" probably thinks that I'm mentally unstable thanks to an exchange we had a few months ago (I'm too embarrassed to link to it). It's an easy issue to get fired up about, so go easy on yourselves, and remember to step away when it gets too much.

Good luck.

[1] Here's a handy list of blogroll members who have done so: Burma Underground which is all on Burma (Myanmar), Make Some Noise! on Latin America, The Arabist with many posts on Egypt, The Nether-World on Russia, In Flight on Europe.


Blogger zazou said...

Thanks for noticing! Also cross-posted to Chris Brown while inlcuding information about Breyten Breytenbach in the same post.

11:29 AM  
Blogger elendil said...

No problems, and thanks for letting me know. Chris's post was pretty incredible, wasn't it?

2:24 PM  
Blogger El Mas Chingón said...

Hot Air noticed us? Good. It shows we're getting to them if they acknowledge us. Keep it up, everyone!

1:43 AM  
Blogger El Mas Chingón said...

On another note...

I viewed those three dissenters's comments and the first words that came to my mind is "cause and effect". Have any of those people thought that maybe OUR actions caused the beheadings, roadside bombs, and the mass chaos in Iraq in the first place?

Before we arrived, these same Iraqi people were depicted as repressed by our detractors. What happened during the past three years to change their minds? Things that make you go hmmm...

1:57 AM  
Blogger elendil said...

robbie, Hot Air's response is pretty weak. WRT how Coalition efforts influenced the human rights situation in Iraq, I tend to agree with you, but it's a difficult thing to demonstrate.

1:46 PM  
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12:27 AM  

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