Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Libyan Colonel, Armed Force, and Making Sense

Whether the English-language news you read spells his name Qadhafi, Qaddafi, or Gaddafi: Things don't look good for the Libyan colonel.

Still, Qadhafi1 has his supporters.

Qadhafi's Cheering Squad?

The last I heard, Libya was in line to get a special commendation for it's sterling record on human rights: from the United Nations Human Rights Council. (February 28, 2011)
And China apparently doesn't approve of those folks who want Qadhafi out. There's a piece in a party paper there, denouncing the Mideast protest movements. They're against the will of the people, it seems:
"A Chinese Communist Party-run newspaper on Saturday attacked anti-government protest movements in the Middle East and dismissed the possibility of something similar happening in China.

"Such movements have brought nothing but chaos and misery to their countries' citizens and are engineered by a small number of people using the Internet to organize illegal meetings, the Beijing Daily, published by the city's party committee, said in a front-page editorial.

" 'The vast majority of the people are strongly dissatisfied (with the protests), so the performance by the minority becomes a self-delusional ruckus,' the newspaper said...."
(Associated Press, via
Maybe the folks who wrote that got their information from the Libyan Colonel. According to him, folks in Libya just simply love him. (February 28, 2011)

Free to Agree - Or Not

I can't snap my suspenders in self-satisfied pride, assured that such narrow-minded thinking never happens in the good old United States of America.

For one thing, I don't wear suspenders.

For another, I was growing up in a period when red white and blue-blooded Americans denounced 'those traitors' who didn't agree with them. They were all for freedom: and said so, rather loudly. For quite a number, that apparently boiled down to thinking that everybody else should be free to agree with them.

About a half-century has gone by, and another lot is in control. But I think it's a case of "tomato, tomahto." I've ranted about this before:
I get the impression that it's very hard for folks to understand that another person can disagree, without being 'the enemy.'

Conventional Non-Conformity and Me

A gag, maybe 40 years back, had the leader at a college rally telling the students, "all together now, say 'I am an individual.' "

That was a period in America's history when many folks around my age were refusing to conform, and showing their individuality. By letting their hair grow, and wearing T-shirts and jeans.

Being part of the 'peace movement' was a big deal, too.

I've never done 'conventional' all that well. I went through high school wearing white socks and using a pocket protector. About the 'peace movement?' Here's is a replica of a sign I made at the time:

I was even in a 'peace march.' Once. For my own reasons: by that time it was clear to me that nobody in Washington really wanted to win the Vietnam war, or that the country was run by nincompoops. Maybe both. And that's almost another topic.

What's the point of this reminiscence?

I did all of that in America: where, to the consternation of ideologues on several sides, citizens have been in the habit of speaking their minds. And getting away with it.

Not all countries work that way. Libya is, I think, one of them. So, again in my opinion, the others where old-school autocrats either are learning, or should have learned, that it's not the 20th century any more.

I suspect - strongly - that eventually the folks in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, and the other places, would have gotten fed up and chucked the old guard out. I also think that today's information technology and the social structures that are evolving around it sped the process up.

The Libyan Colonel, Armed Resistance, and Philosophy

I don't think the Libyan colonel has been a good leader: whether his name gets spelled Qadhafi, Qaddafi, Gaddafi, or Kadafi in the Latin alphabet. From the looks of it, even some of his own enforcers have decided that enough's enough - and either left the country or joined the folks who want the colonel out.

So, is it right for the Libyan people to have a shot at swapping out the colonel by force?

Remember: I think folks living in Libya, who aren't one of the colonel's cronies, have legitimate grievances with the status quo.

For that matter, is it right to use armed force to change a government?

The answer, as far as I'm concerned, is "it depends."

I'll start with an example of how not to use force.

'Rush Limbaugh Shot Gabrielle Giffords?!'

I've discussed what happened in Tucson before. (January 18, 2011, for starters)

"Hysteria" is an over-used term, I think, in journalism. On the other hand, I think it's a pretty good way to describe the establishment's reaction to the mass shooting in Tucson that wounded Gabrielle Giffords, and killed too many folks.

If you believe what you read in the papers and hear on television, the best minds in America (just ask them) were appalled that Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh had conspired to kill Gabrielle Giffords. I'm exaggerating - but not by much.

Whatever Jared Lee Loughner's motive was, the result was the creation of a sort of martyr for the folks who apparently are convinced that Ron Paul supporters and other 'dangerous' folks are the greatest threat they've ever faced. (March 23, 2009) In a way they're right - this isn't the '60s any more, and I think the cultural tide is turning. In the west anyway. And that's almost another topic, again.

The 1776 American Revolution

Particularly seen with 20-20 hindsight, the 1776 American Revolution is - arguably - an example of how military force can be used responsibly. The colonial rebels succeeded, and eventually cobbled together a working government. The second American revolution, the one that started in 1861, is - yet another topic.

Pacifists, Warmongers,and 'It Depends'

I've run into folks, now and again, who seem to feel that there's no problem, no matter how complex or delicate, that can't be solved with explosives.

There are others who sincerely, and after due consideration, believe that armed force is never justified. Ever. They're not necessarily cowards, in my opinion. It's easier, arguably, to go with the flow and sign up in time of war; than to refuse military service. Also, depending on where the pacifist is, a whole lot safer.

My opinion is that pacifists will thrive - as long as there are non-pacifists to protect them.

As an eligible voter in a "constitution-based federal republic" with a "strong democratic tradition,"2 I think I need to have a reasoned opinion on a number of issues: if I'm going to vote responsibly. I've discussed emotions and reason before. (December 23, 2008)

Military Force is the Answer: Sometimes

It may sound like a no-brainer: but it's my opinion that military force isn't always the right way to respond to a threat.

So I'm a dirty pacifistic? No. Sometimes force is justified.

So I'm a militaristic warmonger? No. Sometimes force isn't justified.

For me it's a matter of how serious the threat is, and whether applying armed force will decrease the threat - or make it worse. That's not my idea, by the way. It's an ultra-condensed description of the "just war" doctrine: which I take quite seriously.

Jesus isn't an American

There may still be folks living in America who, at some level of their minds, assume that 'Jesus in an American.' I'm not one of them. I'm also not - emphatically not - one of the sort of folks who follow Fred "God Hates America" Phelps. (October 31, 2007)

I'm a practicing Catholic.

Still with me?

The rest of this post is about how being a Catholic who is in solidarity with the Holy See and an America citizen views being a responsible citizen. If you'd rather not read about that sort of thing, this is a good place to stop and get a cup of coffee. Or something.

Still here? Okay. Here goes.

As a practicing Catholic, I don't have much of a choice: I have to be a good citizen. It's in the rules. (A Catholic Citizen in America (March 2, 2011, February 28, 2011, October 4, 2010, April 29, 2010, September 24, 2008)) (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1915, 2199, 2238, 2255, for starters) There's even guidelines for when it's okay to start armed resistance to a government. (Catechism, 2243)

Which gets me back to what's happening in Libya. The folks there probably aren't, for the most part, concerned about Catholic teachings. 97% of Libyans are Sunni Muslims ("Libya," CIA World Factbook (last updated March 1, 2011))

So, why should I care? It's the old 'no man is an island' thing, and this post is overly-long as it is.

Anyway, if I lived in Libya - which I'm profoundly glad is not the case - I'd have to look at the 'resist or not' question with this in mind:
"The strict conditions for legitimate defense by military force require rigorous consideration. The gravity of such a decision makes it subject to rigorous conditions of moral legitimacy. At one and the same time:
  • "the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain;
  • "all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;
  • "there must be serious prospects of success;
  • "the use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil to be eliminated. The power of modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.
"These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the 'just war' doctrine.

"The evaluation of these conditions for moral legitimacy belongs to the prudential judgment of those who have responsibility for the common good."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church ,2309)
Someone who's used to 'sound bite theology,' philosophies built around short, memorable slogans, might see 2309 as "vague." I see it as a practical, principled, statement - with 2,000-plus years' accumulated knowledge of the human condition behind it. (A Catholic Citizen in America (February 28, 2011))

Freedom and the Catholic Church

I've run into people who assume - with some reason - that Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, and Tony Alamo are typical religious leaders. Christian ones, anyway. The more colorful - and occasionally criminal - ones are more likely to make the news. In my opinion.

Then there are the 'good Christians' who seem convinced that everybody should be free - to do things their way. The 'rock and roll is Satanic' flavors of Christianity contributed to my conversion to Catholicism - and that's yet again another topic.

As a practicing Catholic, I have to be in favor of tolerance and freedom of religion. Again, it's in the rules. Blind obedience to authority, no matter what, is not part of Catholic teaching - although odds are that you've run into a Catholic who thinks so. (Catechism, 2106, 2242, and that's just the tip of an iceberg)

Aside from being 'in the rules,' supporting tolerance and religious freedom here in America is simple good sense for me. As a practicing Catholic, I'm a member of a minority. And that's - what else? - yet again one more topic.In the news:

1 I've mentioned the Libyan colonel's name, and the various ways it's spelled, before. February 21, 2011) It's a tricky process, converting names from one language to another - particularly when the languages don't share the same system of writing. (January 25, 2009)

2 "United States," World Factbook, CIA (last updated March 1, 2011))

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.