Monday, November 9, 2015

The Doctor's Speech

Saturday’s episode of BBC America’s iconic show Doctor Who featured a heartfelt anti-war speech delivered by the great Peter Capaldi as the titular character. One way or another, the speech seem to encapsulate how most anti-war activists think and feel, with the exception of few ideological stooges who manipulate this ethos to serve their particularistic agendas.

“… So let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you’ve killed all the bad guys, and when it’s all perfect, and just and fair, and when you have finally got it, exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The trouble makers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

“Well maybe you will win. But nobody wins for long. The wheel just keeps turning. So, come on. Break the cycle…

“… Because it’s always the same. When you fire that first shot no matter how right you feel, you have no ideas who’s going to die! You don’t know whose children are going to scream and burn. How many hearts will be broken!

“How many lives shattered! How much blood will spill until everybody does what they were always going to have to do from the very beginning... Sit down and talk!

Now, the big question: can this speech stop people like Bashar Al-Assad, Vladimir Putin, Ali Khamenei or Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi? The obvious answer is no. Because these people know exactly what to do with “trouble makers,” and can hardly give a damn about who will die as a result of the first shot: they had already dehumanized him/her in their minds, and long before they had reasons to shoot him. The speech does not take people like that into consideration. But, then, the speech was not addressed to these people. 

Indeed, the primary audience of the speech is a westernized audience living in a flourishing democracy. The West is where the speech is meant to have its impact, and preventing military actions by western powers is what the speech seeks to achieve, irrespective of the consequences at this stage, which are bound to involve empowering people like Assad, Putin, Khamenei and Baghdadi. The anti-war advocates, that is, those of them who are not already bought and paid for, or are too blinded by their ideological belonging to a certain ideological camps to care about something like the truth or ethics, might lull themselves into believing that more power will give such figures more things to lose and, therefore, a reason to pause and think before they embark on further militaristic adventures. The inherent folly in this thinking should be visible to all, but obviously it is not visible to those adopting it.

So let’s make things clear: allowing people like the troublesome foursome under consideration to get more power by getting away with murder, literally, and on a mass-scale to boot, will only serve to reinforce their commitment to these ways, especially when we consider the mindsets and ideologies involved here. Ignoring the role that ideology, greed, machismo, paranoia and a battered sense of identity, collective and individual, that is often at play here is dangerous, because these elements are the ones that shape the initial conditions of our ongoing experiment with folly, leading actors to adopt decisions that may seem irrational and unexpected from the anti-war side, but are extremely logical and rational from the point of view of their adopters. When the underlying worldview and basic assumptions are different the thought processes involved and the decisions made will also be different.

Moreover, we should never forget that those who care little for the basic rights and expectations of their own peoples will have a different take on that all too important loss-and-gain calculus than that used by the West’s born and bred anti-war activists. The victims of these people should also factor in our calculations. These victims are not going to appreciate Western inaction and indifference, especially when it comes in part as a result of self-righteous grassroots actions that defend their oppressors and justify their actions, while ignoring the suffering of the people involved. If there is a recipe for popular hatred, this is definitely one of its main ingredients.

True, western motivations for waging any war are complicated and seldom benign, but bind opposition is never the answer. Working to ensure commitment to the principles enshrined in UN Charter, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Responsibility to Protect represents a far better alternative. 

And let’s remind ourselves again here that promoting democracy is one of the main goals enshrined in the UN Charter. Indeed, promoting democracy and respect for human rights is a UN norm. True, western powers can abuse that issue, but, the greater hypocrisy involves having certain states insist on being members while refusing to work towards achieving these goals, proffering excuses that are in essence meant to justify continued oligarchical rule and to mask oppression and discrimination.   


* When we are dealing with governments where officials at the highest levels of the decision-making process are willing to sanction systematic doping of athletes so they can win that should tell us something about their particular worldview and battered sense of identity, and the extent to which they are willing to go just in order to create an image of power and success.   

* President Barack Obama’s engagement policies that have so far only served to empower entrenched dictatorial elites in countries far and wide, including Iran and Cuba should be a lesson to us all.