Tuesday, June 23, 2009

When Human Rights fail...

In her speech before the Freedom Forum in Oslo,
Elena Bonner, wife of the late Andrei Sakharov, asks the attending human rights activists this question:

And another
question that has been a thorn for me for a long time. It's a question for my human rights colleagues. Why doesn't the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit trouble you in the same way as does the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?

You fought for and won the opportunity for the International Committee of the Red Cross, journalists and lawyers to visit Guantanamo. You know prison conditions, the prisoners' everyday routine, their food. You have met with prisoners subjected to torture. The result of your efforts has been a ban on torture and a law to close this prison. President Obama signed it in the first days of his coming to the White House. And although he, just like president Bush before him, does not know what to do with the Guantanamo prisoners, there is hope that the new administration will think up something.

But during the two years Schalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and fully falls under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The conventions say clearly that hostage-taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross must be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners, and there is much else written in the Geneva Conventions about Schalit's rights. The fact that representatives of the Quartet conduct negotiations with the people who are holding Schalit in an unknown location, in unknown conditions, vividly demonstrates their scorn of international rights documents and their total legal nihilism. Do human rights activists also fail to recall the fundamental international rights documents? [...]

Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Schalit is an Israeli soldier, Schalit is a Jew. So again, it is conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism. Again, it is fascism.

Indeed. How else to explain the discrepancy between the great outrage some Canadians feel for the fate of Omar Khadr, (the Canadian al-Qaeda child-soldier at Guantanamo, who was captured when he was fifteen years old while engaged in fighting American forces in Afghanistan and the total lack of interest, the deafening silence, about Gilad Schalit's fate?

The moral bankruptcy of such voices defies belief. These are supposed to be thoughtful, well-read people who think they are able to distinguish between right and wrong.

There is something malicious about that indifference, the sort of malice I thought had disappeared from Europe once the Holocaust became known, a malice allied to, or fuelled by, a sense of sanctimonious outrage. I think Bonner is correct that the only explanation can be antisemitism, in its post - modern incarnation.

The issue is not who takes the hostages, it's about those who are selectively active , who choose to ignore the righteous victim and go out of their way to protect the "human rights" of not so righteous victims. It's about that kind of rupture in the basic understanding of what the good and moral is.

This seems like an opportune moment to quote Martin Amis:

... when you come up against this question, you can feel the intelligence and balance leaving the hall with a shriek, and people getting into this endocrinal state about Israel. I just don’t understand it. The Jews have a much, much worse history than the Palestinians, and in living memory. But there’s just no impulse of sympathy for that . . . I know we’re supposed to be grown up about it and not fling around accusations of anti-Semitism, but I don’t see any other explanation. It’s a secularised anti-Semitism


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