Thursday, June 25, 2009

Iran: Laissez faire is not an option

There is a view in circulation that the "West" has done much harm in its intervention in the affairs of other nations, and therefore that we in the West should let non-Western governments to do precisely what they please.

This is a common view, and one that comes with a great deal of passion behind it. However, the position deserves a little analysis.

The first part of the proposition is true to a large extent. Not all of our interventions have been malign, (the Sierra Leone intervention was broadly successful) and not all of our malign interventions have been 100% bad in their effects (the Iraq invasion did at least get rid of Saddam Hussein).

But even if the first part of the proposition is true, the second part does not necessarily follow.

Take an analogy. A patient has a serious illness. Treatments tried so far have been unsuccessful and the side effects have been deleterious. It does not follow that the patient should just be left to die, with no further treatment should be attempted. It does follow that in future, treatments should be more carefully considered, and a different approach to treatment would be preferable.

In the case of Iran, it looks as if the West has learned that its interventions are counter-productive. Obama has rightly avoided backing the demonstrators, because to have done so would have been to hand ammunition to the Iranian government, who would have been able to demonise them as USA spies.

On the other hand, the world cannot just sit back and watch while the Basiji, Khameni's militia, use clubs, axes, and guns to beat, hack, and kill unarmed civilians in the streets of Teheran and other cities.

Why not? Because some of us have seen it. What the eye sees, the heart grieves about. In the past, we have been dependent on the media who chose what we should or should not see. Now to some extent, the new technology has bypassed the media (media=middleman) and the information is available irrespective of what our masters want us to see.

Videos from mobile phones have been uploaded to YouTube. Tweets have given the location of the videos. People have been able to see what the word "brutality" means in flesh and blood. The videos provoke emotion. Emotion means e-mote - that which motivates.

We, the people who see with our own eyes the brutality of tyrrany, we are motivated to help our brothers and sisters in Iran. So we sign petitions. We change our icon to green. er...we can demonstrate outside the Iranian embassies. No point in writing to our MPs in this case, because the UK Govt can do nothing (see above).

There is one other thing that we can do. We can press the United Nations to act.

Take another analogy. Imagine a school playground where a lot of bullying is going on. The biggest bully has been doing a lot of bullying, but is now getting too physically tired from his bullying to do any more bullying. The kids notice that another bully is bullying a very small kid, first stealing from him, and then beating him up when the very small kid complains. What to do? Leave it to run its natural course? The small kid may be maimed or even die, and bullying will continue. Call on the bigger bully? He is too tired, and is beginning to realise that bullying is not the answer.

The answer is for the whole playground to get together and lay down some rules regarding bullying. And to enforce the rules by acting together in concert, not by beating bullies up, but by consistently stopping their treats and priviledges until they stop bullying.

This is what the United Nations is for. Yes, it's not popular, nor is it 100% effective or perfect.
Yes, the UN idea need to be taken further, both in terms of its processes and in terms of its remit. The Green Parties of the world are leading its framework reform, calling for the UN to move from a reactive to a pro-active stance with the Global Index of Human Rights.

As it is, the UN is a flawed organisation, but is is better than a policy of laissez faire, whether of the Right or of the Left. Because that is what this idea of "we should not interfere" actually amounts to.

No comments: