Monday, July 24, 2006

less than human

those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities. (voltaire)

even in an age of laser-guided precision instuments of mayhem, warfare still remains an untidy business. civilians still get slaughtered, exposing the slaughterers to bad press and, more inconvenient, the risk of legal sanction. just how can an honest warmonger do what he does best — mass murder — without all the headaches?

never fear, celebrity lawyer-pundit alan dershowitz is here! and he has just the solution you need when you can't — or won't — let pesky civilians hamstring your efforts to bomb your opponent into the stone age:

just redefine the term "civilian" — no purchase necessary!

... we need a new vocabulary to reflect the realities of modern warfare. a new phrase should be introduced into the reporting and analysis of current events in the middle east: "the continuum of civilianality." though cumbersome, this concept aptly captures the reality and nuance of warfare today and provides a more fair way to describe those who are killed, wounded and punished.

... the israeli army has given well-publicized notice to civilians to leave those areas of southern lebanon that have been turned into war zones. those who voluntarily remain behind have become complicit. some — those who cannot leave on their own — should be counted among the innocent victims.

... every civilian death is a tragedy, but some are more tragic than others.


it is epiphanies like these that honestly make me wonder if it is actually embarassing to be as brilliant as alan. i mean, this is so simple! no need to retool weapons or rethink strategies. (or — god forbid — question the legitimacy of the attacks!) just relabel the dead!

of course, a nonetheless elegant solution, even one as brilliant in its simplicity as this, can sometimes be a little too simple. as juan cole explains, does relabeling really go far enough?

alan "torture is ok" dershowitz is annoyed that the israelis have been accused of killing innocent civilians. he is now arguing that there are degrees of "civilianity." he wonders how many innocent civilians killed by israel in lebanon would still be innocent if we could make finer distinctions.

(he should read the lebanese newspapers and he would get the answer. one third of those killed by the israelis are children. i'd guess they are all civilian all the time. and then there are the families, like the canadian women, children and men blown up at aitaroun. i suppose they are really civilians. etc.)

but i don't know why dershowitz stops there. let me reformulate his argument for him. shouldn't we recognize degrees of humanness? after all, isn't that the real problem? that the enemy is considered a full human being in the law of war? that horrible supreme court judgment that hamdan had to be given a trial of some sort was based on the misunderstanding that he is a human being.

israeli officials have already showed us how arabs can be reclassified away from a full "human" category that they clearly, in the view of the kadima government, do not deserve.

for instance, israeli ambassador to the united nations dan gillerman angrily denounced kofi annan for neglecting this key fact. the guardian reports,' mr gillerman said "something very important was missing" from mr annan's speech: any mention of terrorism. hizbullah were "ruthless indiscriminate animals", he told reporters.'

so you see, one reason that you can just bomb the hell out of the lebanese in general is that they aren't human beings at all. they are "animals." you might quibble that gillerman is only referring to members of the hizbullah party as animals, not all lebanese. but most shiite lebanese, some 45 percent of the population, support hizbullah. and the lebanese government, made up of christians, sunnis and druze, let hizbullah into the lebanese government and gave it cabinet posts. so probably those who tolerate hizbullah are at most half-human. this has yet to be worked out. it might be possible to declare them .66 animal. or maybe they are just all animals. they speak arabic, after all, right mr. gillerman?

there is a problem with stopping here, however. it is not enough to reclassify some human beings as animals. after all, you have to treat animals humanely. you can even be fined for mistreating an animal, though probably you would not go to jail.

the staff of us secretary of state condi rice has made a suggestion for another, more convenient level, that of snake. thus, a senior white house official referred to the massive israeli bombing campaign and destruction of lebanon's civilization and killing of hundreds and wounding of over a thousand as "defanging" hezbollah. i am pretty sure that language is meant to suggest that the shiites of lebanon, although apparently human beings, are actually snakes. i suppose it is possible that another sort of reptile is is intended, but i suspect that "snake" is the intended classification.

but some snakes are protected species. we need a lower category. it is clear that some human beings are neither human nor animal. hamas and hizbullah members, for instance, are actually not even full organisms, just diseases.

israeli deputy consul general for san francisco, omer caspi, said of the lebanese and palestinian publics concerning hamas and hizbullah members, "we say to them please remove this cancer off your body and soul before it is too late."

caspi did not specify whether members of hamas are leukemia and those of hizbullah melanoma, or the reverse.

the good thing about finding out that some apparent human beings don't have to be treated as well as whales (which have almost been wiped out) is that it allows us to put behind all wimpy hesitancy just to do what needs to be done.

i mean, a cancer. everyone knows what you have to do with a cancer. it requires chemotherapy. it needs to be just exterminated, before it kills the snakes, animals and humans.

so we have the human beings, like israeli prime minister ehud "bomb'em back to the stone age" olmert and torture defender, attorney alan dershowitz.

then we have the animals, like the "persons" who vote for hizbullah and hamas.

then we have the level of human-appearing snakes, who need to be "defanged," which apparently involves killing their wives and children with air strikes.

then we have the cancers, who need to be "wiped out" immediately.

i understand that president bush is appointing alan dershowitz to be head of the "human-non-human metrics" commission that will decide which people are full human beings, and which fall into other categories, such as "animal," "snake," and "cancer."

it is rumored that that dershowitz intends to create a special category, of "cockroach," for the human-appearing creatures who dare to criticize him.

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