Monday, January 07, 2008

Humanism and the Occupation of Iraq

The January/February issue of The Humanist magazine features an article by Jende Huang entitled “Fighting for Iraq: A Case for Liberation.” Huang’s article presents what amounts to a vulgar defense based upon spuriously applied humanist and Enlightenment values[1] of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. This defense is a blight, both morally and intellectually, upon an otherwise consistently eloquent and insightful publication.

Huang argues that “the justification for such an endeavor can be drawn from Enlightenment values as well as common human decency,” the endeavor being “the opportunity to free the Iraqi people from decades of oppression;” oppression which manifested itself through “forced deportations, secret arrests without cause or justifications, torture, political suppression, and murder.”[2] Yet Huang fails to recognize that the correct way to liberate a people oppressed so is not by dismissing international norms and laws[3] and it is not through an unjust, illegal and immoral military invasion and occupation which completely devastates a country and its people, but rather, in the case of Iraq, by supporting movements within Iraq consisting of Iraqis liberating themselves; such as the 1991 Shiite uprising which had the potential to overthrow Saddam, but which the United States did not support, thus ensuring its failure.

Furthermore, in Huang’s view, it appears that the will of the Iraqi people is either irrelevant or negligible, which is bizarre considering his defense of the invasion and occupation is allegedly predicated upon the liberation of the Iraqi people and the desire to develop a viable democracy. The will of the Iraqi people is clear. They want a withdrawal of the occupying forces, which they consistently regard in polling as producing more violence than it prevents; which is understandable for sure, the U.S. military occupation has further wreaked havoc on an already devastated country and people who had suffered through not only the brutal and savage Saddam regime, but also the murderous sanctions regime, initiated by the U.S. endorsed and implemented by the U.N.

Huang does mention the extensive polling of Iraqi public opinion by citing the minority in a single poll who expressed “that the U.S. should remain until security is restored.” Looking at the May 2004 poll sponsored by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority, one finds that “roughly 80 percent of Iraqis had ‘no confidence’ in US-led forces to improve security and that most ‘would feel safer if Coalition forces left immediately.’” This sentiment has remained strong and consistent throughout the extensive polling of the Iraqi people. As Kevin Young pointed out in a Counterpunch article on the subject, “[w]ith similar consistency, Iraqis have voiced strong opposition to the presence of occupation forces. In August 2005, 82 percent were ‘strongly opposed’ to the occupation; in Junuary 2006, 87 percent favored a timeline for withdrawal; a year later, in September 2006, 71 percent wanted a full withdrawal by mid-2007.” The “March 2007 poll commissioned by US, British, and German news corporations…found that 78 percent of Iraqis ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ opposed the occupation.”

The will of the Iraqi people is as clear as it could ever be. Were Huang to be at all serious about the liberation of the Iraqi people and were he at all concerned for the elementary tenets of democracy, he might concern himself with the overwhelming will of the Iraqi people.

Huang’s absurd claim that “we” have the “obligation to fight alongside the Iraqi people” is made nonsense by the sobering fact that the Iraqi people fighting are fighting against the occupation and thus the United States military machine. The “obligation to fight alongside the Iraqi people” is made impossible when the Iraqi people are fighting against the occupation of their country by U.S.-led Coalitional forces.

Huang is correct to point out that “the march toward some from of democratic governance” will not “flow” from “the barrel of a gun,” which makes nonsense of his general thesis - a defense of the invasion and occupation as forces of liberation which will allegedly initiate the development of democracy – and supports the accurately applied humanist position, articulated in the pages of Free Inquiry, that the invasion and occupation of Iraq was an unjust, illegal and immoral war, that, says Paul Kurtz, converted “the presidency into a bully pulpit for God, which simultaneously masks underlying imperialist economic ambitions while it suggests divine sanction for American policy.”

The humanist and Enlightenment values Huang speaks of, let alone “common human decency,” rather strongly opposes the contemptuous dismissal of international norms and laws and the violent invasion and occupation of other countries for strategic political and economic reasons. The way to justly liberate a people and develop democracy is not with “the barrel of a gun,” but rather by supporting the people and movements working towards liberation and democracy through political and economic support and by rallying the international community around the people's movement.

[1] Values which elsewhere were applied virtually unanimously against the invasion of Iraq, such as in, for one example, Free Inquiry, the magazine published by the Council for Secular Humanism.

[2] Huang would have us all forget that the Bush administration and its allies have trampled on habeas corpus, the foundation upon which the judicial system is built, kidnapped suspected terrorists, sending them to Abu Ghraib and black site dungeons around the world in order to be tortured.

It is this government, sanctioned in our name, conducting secret kidnappings, revoking basic civil and human rights and torturing those who have been kidnapped without charge or trial that Huang would have “liberate,” in a moral crusade, the people of Iraq who have been subject to for so long just the same sort of treatment only on a much more sinister scale.

[3] “International lawyers and anti-war campaigners reacted with astonishment..after the influential Pentagon hawk Richard Perle conceded that the invasion of Iraq had been illegal. In a startling break with the official White House and Downing Street lines, Mr Perle told an audience in London: ‘I think in this case international law stood in the way of doing the right thing.’”


Renegade Eye said...

I wonder what Jende Huang says about the Provincial Coalition's privatization proposals? Is that part of humanist tradition? Denationalizing the oil industry?

Does he have anything to say about the Turkish incursions into Northern Iraq?

I doubt it.

melloncollie said...

Great blog post, JDHURF!!

It's important that the magazine presents different views, I suppose, to show that humanists don't all share one brain and are capable of multiple viewpoints. But this article was poorly conceived and executed. Huang simply does not make a good case.

Like you said, Huang doesn't even consider the will of the Iraq people. And there is no question that Hussein's regime was brutal, but an equally brutal insurgence and war were not the answer. Years of flawed U.S. policy towards the region were, incredibly, made worse under Bush.

Very insightful rebuttal to a sub-par article, JDHURF!!

JDHURF said...

renegade eye:

Exactly, there is a reason why Huang considered as irrelevant or negligible the will of the Iraqi people, why he didn't mention the verbose index of war crimes in Iraq, why he didn't mention the privatization takeover of Iraq by U.S. based multinational corporations and why he didn't mention the Turkish violence in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq.


It's important for a magazine to present different views, but a humanist magazine is supposed to present humanist views. Huang misrepresented and falsified fundamental humanist views with his vulgar defense of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Humanists differ on many things, but a fundamental tenet of humanism is the acceptance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, which are opposed to the invasion and continued occupation of Iraq.

Thank you both for stopping by and commenting.

Fred said...

As a former editor of the Humanist magazine, I thank you for your kind comment describing it as a "consistently eloquent and insightful publication." And I appreciate Melloncollie's recognition of the importance of showing "that humanists don't all share one brain and are capable of multiple viewpoints." Thus, while I disagree most vigorously with Jende Huang's position on the Iraq war, a position that he and I have discussed off and on at some length, one of the nice things about keeping company with humanists is that we can vigorously disagree while remaining friends.

I also appreciate your pointing out that a clear humanist position against the war was "articulated in the pages of Free Inquiry." I just want to add for the record that such sentiments were also articulated in the pages of the Humanist, not only in the article that immediately preceeded Jende Huang's piece in the same issue, but in numerous articles critical of the Iraq war that appeared in earlier issues--even going back to before hostilities commenced. This war and its fallout are things humanists care deeply about.

-- Fred Edwords

JDHURF said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JDHURF said...

Fred Edwords,

I am honored that you both read and responded to my blog post, thank you. I regularly purchase and read The Humanist at bookstores and have been meaning to officially subscribe for sometime; it’s a great publication.
I realize that views against the Iraq war, as articulated in Free Inquiry, are also to be found within The Humanist and in fact argued this point on another forum.[1] I should have stressed this point within my original post.
In fact, I was very impressed with the latest issue of The Humanist. Considering the anti-Islam hysteria which has as of lately swept many secular movements – hysterical reactions to Islam which fail to make fundamental distinctions and goes on to castigate all Muslims regardless of the way in which they follow and practice Islam – I was impressed and very pleased with the “A Sensible Approach to Islam” sidebar as well as the sober article on Ayan Hirsi Ali. I very much commend the AHA and The Humanist for these statements. I was so impressed with the AHA’s “A Sensible Approach to Islam” I advertised for it at – where the anti-Islam hysteria I mentioned is in full effect – and unfortunately have as yet to garner a response: forum

It is of course important that people realize Humanists diverge on a variety of issues, however, as any reading of any Humanist Manifesto will attest, one of the basic principles of Humanism is an acceptance, defense and furtherance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law. The Humanist Manifesto II points out that “We [humanists] would safeguard, extend, and implement the principles of human freedom evolved from the…Bill of Rights…and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In fact, the HMII was rather explicit when it stated that “This world community must renounce the resort to violence and force as a method of solving international disputes. We believe in the peaceful adjudication of differences by international courts and by the development of the arts of negotiation and compromise. War is obsolete. So is the use of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons. It is a planetary imperative to reduce the level of military expenditures and turn these savings to peaceful and people-oriented uses.”[2]
The outstanding ethics as found within the The Humanist Manifesto II and Humanist Manifesto 2000: A Call For A New Planetary Humanism are diametrically opposed to the official rhetoric and implementation of the National Security Strategy which belied the invasion and subsequent continued occupation of Iraq. The NSS states that “Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States,” expressing the explicit intention of defending U.S. hegemony. “One well-known international affairs specialist, John Ikenberry, describes the declaration as a ‘grand strategy [that] begins with a fundamental commitment to maintaining a unipolar world in which the United States has no peer competitor,’ a condition that is to be ‘permanent [so] that no state or coalition could ever challenge [The US] as global leader, protector, and enforcer.’ The declared ‘approach renders international norms and self-defense – enshrined by Article 51 of the UN Chater – almost meaningless.’ More generally, the doctrine dismisses international law and institutions as of ‘little value.’”[3]

I am, again, honored that you read and responded to my post and I thank you very much for it. I quite simply couldn’t agree with you any more when you state that “[t]his war and its fallout are things humanists care deeply about.”

[1] At PCF, in response to Chemist’s claims that “[t]he entire humanist philosophy of the Iraq war is a shameful lie when you consider that at least 500,00 Iraqi’s have died as a result; perhaps even a million…” I pointed out that “Huang does not accurately represent the Humanist values which were overwhelmingly applied against the war everywhere else, such as in Free Inquiry and elsewhere within The Humanist.”

Political Crossfire forum

[2] “Humanist Manifesto II, 1973,” appearing in the Appendix to Corliss Lamont’s The Philosophy of Humanism eighth edition, pp. 322-4, first published in the September/October 1973 issue of The Humanist

[3] Noam Chomsky, “Imperial Grand Strategy,” Hegemony or Survival, p. 11