Thursday, October 18, 2007

You can't Pick and Chose Human Rights

In this week's Tribune

Heating up in Absurdistan

Last week the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee voted to condemn the Turkish genocide of the Armenians in 1915, sparking a powder train of diplomatic consequences.

It is sometimes argued that since Armenians in Istanbul, were untouched it could not have been genocide. That is as dubiously relevant as survival rates of German Jews compared with Polish Jewish, or the relative immunity of Bosniaks in Belgrade as their compatriots were slaughtered back home.

However rationality flies out of the window on these massacres over eight decades ago. Irrefutably, the Ottoman government conducted massacres and ethnic cleansings of Armenians on a scale that certainly counts as genocide compared with other more recent killings so termed, from East Timor to Darfur.

Nonetheless, European legal moves to penalize people who question that there was an Armenian genocide, or indeed the Holocaust, are an abuse of freedom of expression and dangerous precedent., almost as dangerous as the Turkish practice of arresting writers who confirm that it happened.

Abhorrent though some of Leninist left iare when they become apologists for mass murder by Milosevic in Bosnia and Kosovo, I would never call for the arrest of Fidel Castro or Tariq Ali and his likeminded comrades for ignoring the continual ooze of charnel pits being exhumed across the Balkans.

History should never be left to Leninists or legislators, let alone the police. Indeed, almost as puzzling as the irrational left canonization of Milosevic, the murderous thug, election-fixer, black-marketeer and peculator of public property is the present Turkish defence or denial of the deeds of the Ottoman sultanate.

Ataturk’s revolution was, after all, against the legacy of the Sultans. Indeed, the pre-war Ottoman state was overtly multi-ethnic and, in one of those historical ironies, the most active persecutors of the Armenians were actually Kurds, whose very existence is now denied by Turkish nationalists, who are being barely restrained by the US from crossing into Iraqi Kurdistan to whack Turkish Kurd insurgents based there.

The full House of Representatives is unlikely to adopt the resolution, because both Bush and the Israel Lobby want to support Turkey, but that did not stop Ankara from recalling its Ambassador and threatening to withdraw its logistical cooperation with the Coalition forces in Iraq. That would not be bad thing in itself, but it would be rash to assume that that was the motive behind the resolution.

In fact, the Turkish government’s reaction rather calls into question the Turkish government’s understanding of democracy and freedom of speech in other countries, with disturbing implications for its own domestic application of democracy.

But then, US democracy all too often resembles government of the lobbies, for the lobbies, by the lobbies. The Armenian lobby is powerful in Washington, and carries in its train human rights activists, not least those who take the concept of “never again,” seriously.

Although the Greek Lobby is, predictably, weighing in behind the Armenians, the Turkish Lobby has a more redoubtable champion in the Israel Lobby, whose diehard section has a “never before or again” concept: that victimhood in genocide is not only a uniquely Jewish, but also a uniquely Israeli, property. Such people, for example, argued furiously in the early days of the US Holocaust Museum against recognizing the Roma genocide as equivalent to “their own.”

Israel’s only ally in the region is Turkey, and one of the things that Israel offers in return its lobbying power in Washington. As far back as 1990 AIPAC alienated Senator Bob Dole “lending” Turkey a dozen senators to withdraw the votes they had pledged for his resolution to commemorate the 75 Anniversary of the genocide.

The affair also highlights the current argument about the power of the Israel lobby and the dangers of assuming that it is the Jewish Lobby. Most American Jews are understandably deeply concerned about human rights and genocidal killings. Those, who, for example, recently had Archbishop Desmond Tutu disinvited from a Montana University because the hero of the anti-Apartheid struggle is deemed anti-Israel and therefore anti-Semitic, are operating on different standards - “another country, right or wrong.”

If Israel needs the strategic alliance with Turkey (and more precisely with the Turkish military) then for the Lobby, principles human rights, genocide, American self interest, can all go out the window as far as they are concerned.

So where does all this lead? Even though the Ottoman State killed millions of Armenians, the modern Turkish state should indeed apologise, not because it was responsible, but because it has foolishly tried to defend the indefensible for so many years.

But on a broader scale, it reinforces the essential point that would-be defenders of human rights should condemn the deed, and not try to cherry pick the perpetrators. We should condemn mass murder, or indeed small and medium sized murder, no matter what cause the perpetrators invoked in committing their crimes.

But sadly, we will continue to see condemnations of our chosen enemy’s violations, and defence, or at best silence about “our side.” Pro-Israelis will be as blind to Palestinian suffering as Republicans were to Central American massacres. “Anti-imperialists” will defend Mugabe or Castro, while fervently condemning the PATRIOT Act. Human rights should be a principle in themselves, not an expedient weapon with which to beat our enemies.

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