Tuesday, October 23, 2007


The prospect of a Turkish attack on northern Iraq reveals a hollow global consensus on 'humanitarian intervention' and a European identity crisis, argues Slavoj Zizek - now in residence teaching international relations at Birbeck College. I greatly enjoy Zizek's provocations on radical religion (like The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity (Cambridge / MIT, 2003). Whatever he writes about he is never less than argumentatively interesting and restlessly engaging. Even (perhaps especially) when bits of it annoy you. This piece needed some editing ('pacifying' becomes pacifism, for instance) and the last paragraph definitely needs unpacking. What is the new Europe that must break from the old, and who defines it? Nevertheless, the piece poses some useful questions and issues, not least here:

The problem with militaristic humanism resides not in "militaristic" but in "humanism". Under this doctrine, military intervention is dressed up as humanitarian salvation, justified according to depoliticised, universal human rights, so that anyone who opposes it is not only taking the enemy's side in an armed conflict but betraying the international community of civilised nations. This is why, in the new global order, we no longer have wars in the old sense of regulated conflict between sovereign states in which certain rules apply (the treatment of prisoners, the prohibition of certain weapons, etc). We instead confront violations of the rules of universal human rights; they do not count as wars proper, and call for the "humanitarian [pacifying]" intervention of the western powers - especially in the case of direct attacks on the US or other representatives of the new global order. One can hardly imagine a neutral humanitarian organisation such as the Red Cross mediating between the warring parties, organising the exchange of prisoners, and so on. For one side in the conflict already assumes the role of the Red Cross - it does not perceive itself as one of the warring sides but as a mediating agent of peace and global order. The key question is, thus: who is this "we" on behalf of whom Kouchner, Blair et al are speaking? Who is included in it and who is excluded?

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