Some perspective, via Penelopeinparis on Twitter.
Last week, the blogosphere and Twitterverse couldn’t stop debating the new MSF UK ad titled ‘The Boy.’ While exploring the ads of MSF UK through the years on YouTube, I stumbled across more ads by British humanitarian and human rights NGOs. It didn’t take me long to realize how much more provocative –and creative– these were than ads produced by similar or even sister organizations in the United States. Take the following Amnesty UK ads, neither of which I can imagine ever running on television in the United States, as but two examples.
Amnesty UK anti-torture ad.
Amnesty UK anti-extremism, pro-human rights ad.
I have recently been thinking of the 2006 Economist editorial in which the publication took a shockingly bold stance against torture, and with a twist. Instead of arguing against torture based on torture’s ineffectiveness as an intelligence-gathering tool –the line of argument adopted by many torture opponents in the American media– the Economist assumed torture to be very effective, and argued against it anyway. Maintaining a society in which people are free from state repression comes at a price, it stated, and in our era that price may well be thousands of innocent lives lost to terrorism.
When liberals put the case for civil liberties, they sometimes claim that obnoxious measures do not help the fight against terrorism anyway. The Economist is liberal but disagrees. We accept that letting secret policemen spy on citizens, detain them without trial and use torture to extract information makes it easier to foil terrorist plots.
To eschew such tools is to fight terrorism with one hand tied behind your back. But that –- with one hand tied behind their back –- is precisely how democracies ought to fight terrorism.
Human rights are part of what it means to be civilized. Locking up suspected terrorists –- and why not potential murderers, rapists and paedophiles, too? –- before they commit crimes would probably make society safer. Dozens of plots may have been foiled and thousands of lives saved as a result of some of the unsavoury practices now being employed in the name of fighting terrorism. Dropping such practices in order to preserve freedom may cost many lives. So be it.
This is the liberal meaning of “freedom isn’t free.”
So be it.
The Refugee Recertification Network is up and running on Ning.
Safrang on the Afghanistan mission at a critical juncture.
The debate and the buzz is likely to continue and to build to a feverish pitch as the US administration considers its options in Afghanistan. With Iraq largely off many radars, the loud noise, mud-slinging, and endless debate that we saw occupy TV screens, opinion pages and most political conversations between 2003 and 2008 is now focused on Afghanistan. The real side of all of this debate, however, plays out in Afghanistan and not in the American op-ed wars of the left, the right and the middle. Any policy preferences bear life and death consequences for the people of Afghanistan.