Non-intervention is still intervention

13 Mar

Thought for the day

Ellie Hutchinson

 Today’s Observer features an article in which Libyan rebels warn of massacre and call for immediate European and American support. A few weeks ago, it seemed as though revolution was sweeping the region. We watched as commentators debated what would happen in the aftermath of these uprisings. Now, we just watch.

Outmatched in terms of arms and resources the Libyan rebellion may soon be quashed. Watching 10 o’clock live on Thursday, I was interested to see Tansy Hoskins of the Stop the War Coalition arguing against military intervention but for financial intervention. The are a couple of reasons why I’m now revoking my stop the war membership (their extremely vocal support of Julian Assange being one) and watching this debate I was a bit confused by their position.

From Stop the War’s perspective, our interventions as a western nation have caused more mayhem and hatred in the Middle East then had we not. I agree with this; the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions were abhorrent, performed in such a way that we absolutely enhanced anti-western feeling and ultimately put ourselves, and the citizens of these countries, at risk. However, she also seemed to be saying that intervention is appropriate but that the squatter’s intervention was how we should be doing it. I wasn’t clear on what was being argued for, do intervene a bit but don’t intervene under any circumstance?

My issue here is that we can approach international relations as one where life is  nasty, brutal and short or we can approach the world believing that we are better than this, and that we respond in kind to a brutish life because we have to. We can approach our dealings with other countries as though there is no right or wrong, only conceptions of truth. Or we can see that we are all part of this world, and sometimes there is a right, and there is a wrong. But who decides what is right? And when?

Rather than advocating a sort of moral imperialism, this approach relies on nuance, and it’s something that at the start of New Labour MPs like Robin Cook and Clare Short understood well. We have a duty to support those who are right. At the heart of this is the idea and act of solidarity. Solidarity means that what happens to people across the world, who we have never met, is important. Their truth is our truth, and is it based on mutual respect, learning and support. It is without doubt a moral position, and assumes that there are some universal truths.

I believe that there are universal truths, as does the UN, as we see in human rights acts and bodies, signed by most countries across the world. By not intervening in some way in Libya, we are denying other people’s right to live their lives freely and safely. Intervention doesn’t necessarily mean military intervention on the ground, it can mean supplying those who we have solidarity with the resources and means to defend themselves. As we did for many years with Gaddafi. It can mean support at the EU level, the no fly zone or as the French have, recognise the rebels as the legitimate form of government.

If we don’t we are still intervening. When we don’t do something, we are implicitly saying that we agree. This works across all social justice fields- when we don’t speak out, and actively do something, we are supporting the default position. Here, we are risking the lives of people who have fought so hard to free themselves in Libya. We didn’t intervene but watched as Rwandans were slaughtered, and we watch every day in Tibet. When we watch and do nothing it is a moral judgment, we are saying that your life isn’t important to me and your struggle is not mine. As a lefty feminist, I believe in solidarity. We need to stop watching, and recognize that not doing anything is always doing something.


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