"Humanitarian intervention" is no gift
9/4/2013, 1:53 p.m.
Why has it been so easy for the State to obfuscate its interests and to create a bipartisan coalition united in its support for the essentials of U.S. foreign policies, even while there may be disagreements on some of the tactical issues? This can be partially explained by the innovative discourses produced by Western propagandists during the last two decades, the most innovative being the concept of “humanitarian intervention” and its dubious corollary the “right to protect.”
Humanitarian intervention and the right to protect evoke the unacknowledged white supremacist assumption that the “international community” – read as the governments of the capitalist/colonialist West – has a duty and a right to arrest, bomb, invade, prosecute, sanction, murder and violate international law anywhere on the planet to “save” people based on its own determinations and values.
“The normalization of white supremacist domination and its prerogatives are so completely inculcated in U.S. and Western consciousness that alternative ways of viewing the world are beyond cognitive comprehension.”
That is precisely why the question of what entitles the U.S. to inflict punishments on the Syrian government is not even raised as part of a public discussion. That question and its answer are obvious to the victims of Western colonial and imperialist brutality: The U.S. and its European allies have that right because they have always had the right over the last 500 years to universalize and impose their assumptions, world views and values.
The normalization of white supremacist domination and its prerogatives are so completely inculcated in U.S. and Western consciousness that not only is the question as to what right the U.S. and the West have to attack Syria outside the framework of consideration, but alternative ways of viewing the world are beyond cognitive comprehension. This is the cultural and ideological foundation of “American exceptionalism and the intellectual framework and assumptions that informed Western-based human rights organizations and their theoreticians in the construction of the notion of humanitarian intervention.
De-contextualized from the reality of globalized Euro-American domination, the idea that there is a collective responsibility on the part of states to protect people from gross and systemic human rights violations associated with war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and ethnic cleansing could be viewed as a progressive development for international relations and global morality – even if that protection if offered selectively. But in the hands of an arrogant minority that still dominates the international system and sees it’s civilizational project as representing the apex of human development, the right to protect has become a convenient cover for rationalizing and justifying continued Euro-American global hegemony through the use of armed interventions to refashion local realities in line with Western geopolitical interests.
“A new, people-centered human rights movement must be developed that rejects the fiction of non-political human rights.”
Power unchecked is power abused, and in the post-Cold-War world of U.S. military dominance, neither international law, morality nor international public opinion have proven to be sufficient checks on the rapacious designs of the U.S. Empire. It is only the construction of an alternative progressive/radical social bloc comprising broad sectors of the population that can stem the tide of momentum created by the merging of neoliberalism and militarism over the last decade. The imposition of militarism and the policies of austerity can be countered with the ideological “de-colonization” of human rights and the development of popular structures of “dual power.”
A new, people-centered human rights movement must be developed that rejects the fiction of non-political human rights and is not afraid to name white supremacist, capitalist/colonialist patriarchies as the interconnected enemies of global human dignity. A human rights movement that is anti-war, anti-imperialist, committed to systemic change and grounded in ethical standards that emanate from the experiences, knowledge and perspectives of peoples and not just governments.
This is the pressing task and responsibility of human rights activists facing the global contradictions of the 21st century. If the human rights idea is not liberated from the narrow instrumentalism of the liberal apologists for empire and Western domination, it will have no value for the oppressed of the world and would have to be relegated to the trash heap of history along with the other relics of the “modernization” project.
Ajamu Baraka is a long-time human rights activist, writer and veteran of the Black Liberation, anti-war, anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity Movements in the United States. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C.