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The Politics of Humanism

There was a time when some people thought that that the world was flat, and a ship sailing off across the horizon would reach the edge of the sea, and fall off and disappear. It was perhaps a seductive idea that might amuse us now; it is important to also remember that it was also a political idea, linked to the control of space and movement, at a particular time, by particular ruling classes. Fascinatingly, getting ‘beyond’ things is an idea that continues to have its proponents; the idea of a ‘beyond’ of ‘politics’ explicitly or implicitly often governs what authoritative institutions tell us. In the dominant world of description authored by the ‘international community,’ and broadcast to us by CNN and BBC or even Aljazeera, with sight modifications here and there, certain kinds of conflicts are often placed in such an ‘beyond,’ an abyss into which, some parts of the world have fallen.

Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister of France, seems to be of this view. In an recent op-ed article in the International Herald Tribune (28/01/2009), he lists what he takes to be a “depressing litany of conflicts,” -- Somalia, Congo, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Darfur, Gaza. Each, he says “with its funeral procession of massacred innocents,” each where the “parties commit grave breaches of international humanitarian law.” His central point is the such violations “must be made the subject of depoliticized discussions,” (my emphasis), and the legitimizing argument he offers is that, “the international community, - and in particular France and the European Union, for which human rights are a core value, the very foundation of their sense of identity - cannot stand silently by in the face of such asituation.”

There are several remarkable assumptions here. First there is a hierarchical distinction, common, but not always so well underlined, between the ‘core values’ of ‘Europe,’ and of course France, and communities where the “depressing litany of conflicts,” takes place, where is it certainly implied such values may not exist. This hierarchical separation is then what governs the call for the ‘depoliticizing’ of discussion about violations of international humanitarian norms. The politics of what ever went on, say in Rwanda, is to be separated off, from a ‘depolitized’ international discussion elsewhere, that are governed by of course by core European values, from which it is implied, the humanitarian law itself is derived.

A second look at Rwanda will expose the hollowness of these claims; the enorminty of the killings there some 16 years ago now is not in question, but certainly international responsibility for the crimes are. Steven Kinzer, a senior journalist who used to write for the New York Times -- the newspaper of the liberal establishment in the US, which also owns the IHT, incidentally -- has in more recent years tried address in depth such matters of ‘international’ interventions and responsibility. It will perhaps come as a shock to some readers, that there are credible arguments, made by reasonable people, that France was deeply implicated in massacres in that country, where so many died in 1994.

As Kinzer analyses it, France’s interests were to retain Rwanda in the Franophone realm in Africa, the extent of which, and its influence of within is central to its claim to importance in the ‘international community.’ This realm is of course a neo-colonial one, that emerges out of French colonial conquests in the continent. The former rebel group, led by Paul Kigama who is now president is rather more Anglophone, and France did its best to oppose them, supporting the former racist government. “At the height of the genocidal rampage in early 1994,” Kinzer writes in the Los Angles Times (14/11/08), “France sent planeloads of weaponry to arm the murderous regime. Once the rebel army gained control, France (with United Nations approval) established a protected zone in eastern Rwanda for government leaders and the killers who worked for them.” And there is more. “France then arranged for them to move across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo (then known as Zaire), along with their helicopters, armored personnel carriers and other tools of war.”

A commission of inquiry, appointed by the sovereign government of Rwanda has concluded that France supported the genocide, but of course this has been “dismissed” as “unacceptable” by the French. In a bold tactical move, a senior Rwandan official has raised the stakes in this matter, challenging its very heart, the idea that ‘core values’ of Europe are above and beyond, the killing fields of the ‘third world.’ In early November last year Rose Kabuye, head of the President’s protocol in Rwanda was arrested on a French warrent, an arrest she courted, deliberately. On her view and her governments, the indicments under which she is charged falsely accuses her of complicity in the genocide, as a way of covering up France’s role. By deliberately choosing to stand trail in France, Kabuye hopes to expose French crimes, which the commision has investigated, as she mounts her defense. The Rwandan Minister of Information Louise Mushikiwabo put it this way: “This is really the moment of truth with France. We have been disappointed many times by international law, but we do hope that justice is not only for the wealthy and mighty. Harvard Professor Paul Farmer commenting on Kabuye’s arrest more recently in the New Times, a Rwandan newspaper writes: “it now seems likely that the result will be a trial uncovering the French involvement in the lead-up and execution of the mass violence that took up to a million lives in just a few months.” (13/02/09).

And that’s as far from Koutchner’s world, as we should we should be.


This SouthPaw column was print published in Spectrum (1:3), march 2009.

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  • Response
    Formally, no. No nation aside from Vatican City perceives the pope as having legitimate force, and the Pope has no privilege to meddle in the inward governmental issues of any nation. On the off chance that he straightforwardly attempted to do as such, in all probability it would be savagely restricted. ...
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    These inquiries are not exclusively of scholarly intrigue. The current political atmosphere, supercharged by the Tea Party, the Occupy development, a forthcoming Presidential decision, the monetary circumstance, and insecurity over the world created by well known uprisings and mass discontent, requests a reaction.

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