Tuesday, August 12, 2014

More comments at the Boston Review. see previous

On Human Shields The subheading on the front page reads, "If Hamas uses civilian shields, is the IDF responsible for their deaths?"  The author, Seth Lazar is described as a "Research Fellow in the Philosophy Department at Australian National University."

His webpage at ANU
Seth Lazar’s research is in ethics and political philosophy, with a focus on the ethics of war and killing. His work includes articles on war and self-defence [sic] in Ethics and Philosophy and Public Affairs, as well as papers on associative duties, corrective justice, rights, and citizenship. 
Both my comments, with Lazar's response
"Israel alleges that Hamas and its allies are using civilians as human shields, by storing military supplies close to civilian dwellings, building tunnels beneath mosques and homes, and firing at Israel from positions close to civilian buildings.
Based on this claim..."
Once again an actual war is used as an excuse to discuss the idea of war; it's Weberian specialization taken to its logical conclusion. And since you're dealing in hypotheticals there's no reason to look at the record. In discussions of philosophy, the actual policies of both Israel and Hamas become irrelevant. Yet in your position as a critical advisor to the Israelis (you're not writing for either Hamas or the Palestinians) it's implied, with all the pseudo-objectivity of the academic passive voice, that there's no need for the Palestinians to have advocates of their own. And then you slip in sentences like this: "The innocent civilians who have been used as human shields by Hamas must not be used again by the IDF as a means to deter the use of such tactics in the future." Blank statements bracketed only elswhere by ifs.I asked a marine once if he saw himself as as a soldier first or as a citizen. He said, "Semper Fi!".  Citizens if not philosophers should be aware of the followoing.
With all due respect, Amos, we’re reverting to this talking point that Hamas is using human shields. Again, there is absolutely no evidence for this. It’s Israel’s word against the United Nations, against Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Physicians for Human Rights Israel, Breaking the Silence Israel, as well as the National Lawyers Guild.
I posted the above, along with several other links, including discussions of human shields, in a comment on this same site last week. [also here] It's too soon to have to repeat them. Read them. The rest below are new.
CBS June 2013
A United Nations committee focused on youth rights accused Israel Thursday of failing to stop the mistreatment of Palestinian children in military and police custody.
The group's report accuses Israeli forces of using Palestinian children as human shields, and alleges that detained children in some cases face torture, solitary confinement and threats of sexual assault.
Assembled by the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, the 21-page document comes three months after a UNICEF paper criticized the "systematic and institutionalized" mistreatment of Palestinian children detained by the Israeli military.
July 26th 2014
Ayman Abu Toaimah, 32, a resident of Khuza’a recalls, “As Israeli invading troops advanced to the village they besieged it and used residents as human shields. When the Israeli army arrested people and then released some of them, they were told they are free to go back to the village, but as they were fleeing they came under fire and some of them shot dead. These people were used as human shields.”
Abu Saleem, 56, a resident of Khuza’a echoed Abu Toaimah, “Israelis claim that Hamas is using us as human shields– how? This is a lie, we do not see fighters in the streets. It’s them, the Israelis who used us as human shields in Khuza’a andShuja’iyeh. They turned our houses into military posts, terrified residents in the houses. They attacked innocent civilians with their bombs, and missiles, they attacked chicken farms, they burned our crops, they have no mercy.”
Max Blumenthal Augist 6 2014
Within one of Tel Aviv’s most densely populated neighborhoods sits Ha’Kirya, the army’s headquarters, a gigantic complex of monolithic buildings that house the offices where attacks on Gaza are planned. The uniformed officers and soldiers who work inside take lunch in the cafes and shop in the malls surrounding their offices, embedding themselves among the civilian population. A military base is nestled in the middle of the campus of Haifa University while Hebrew and Tel Aviv Universities offer military officers free tuition, encouraging their enrollment and allowing them to carry weapons on campus. It is hard to find a henhouse, flophouse, or fieldhouse anywhere in Israel without some kind of military presence.
I'll add one more BBC 2006, on another definition of "human shield"
Along with the girls had come old men, neighbours and militants.All of them were ready to defy the Israeli air force. They were ready to put themselves in the line of fire.
But they knew too that a similar human shield tactic had worked a few days earlier.
The Israelis had backed off knowing that to strike would cause large numbers of civilian casualties which would, of course, have played very badly in the court of international opinion.
For years Palestinians have been completely at the mercy of the Israeli air force.But they clearly believe that now they have found a weakness.
And again, as I did last week: Helena Cobban, explaining to HRW why it's absurd to refer to the actions described by the BBC above as war crimes.
Seth, the point of abstracting from the empirical claim is to focus on the moral argument that is being based on it. If you can show that the moral arguments that follow from the claim fail, then you have a lever of persuasion against people who disagree over the factual claim. This doesn't mean that the facts don't matter—that would be an absurd view—it just means that there are different things that you can do with 1000 words, and this is one of them. So I don't disagree with the sources that you cite—I'm just pursuing a different line of response. You're questioning the empirical premise; I'm questioning the normative premises, but the result is the same: we both aim to show the argument is unsound. I think that it's actually more fruitful sometimes to focus on the normative premises, because they seem more tractable than the factual ones and less subject to hysterical disputation. But both approaches are necessary.
I phrased the sentence you quote (from the penultimate para) badly. It is logically consistent with there being no civilians who have been used as human shields, but that's not clear enough. It would have been better to write: 'If any innocent civilians have been used as human shields by Hamas, they must not be used again by the IDF as a means to deter the use of such tactics in the future.' Nothing in the article is intended to take any stand on whether the factual claim is true (I reiterate this in the last paragraph, so I thought it should be pretty clear).
I literally don't understand what you mean by saying that I've implied that the Palestinians don't need an advocate of their own. Can you say more? As to who I'm writing this for: I'm writing in response to some arguments made by defenders of Operation Protective Edge (including, most recently, the Israeli PM), for anyone who's interested. 
SE [A bit sloppy]
The question is "Why".
This is a debate about current events. It's the equivalent of an argument before a bar, of either sort, and you cede ground in the moment in order to regain it, hypothetically, at a higher more abstract level of moral, philosophical, and (let's face it) academic seriousness. But only an incompetent trial lawyer would choose your mode of argument at the expense of mine: the point is to win. There's no need for abstraction at this point. And yet you choose it. 
Boilerplate Marx: "The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways; the point is to change it."  Philosophers as academics debate the accepted meanings of words; the point is to change them. Gandhi and Martin Luther King did not argue among accepted meanings. Neither did John Brown, and neither do Hamas. 
Disinterested reason judges things as they seem to be, not as they should be; the result is moral passivity in the name of science. But the argument for adversarialism, engaged reason, is that all sides are best served by advocacy. The argument for the existence of prosecutors and defense attorneys is the same as the argument for trade unions. But philosophers idealize the role of judges and idealize their role as judges, and as bosses, as the powerful. And once again, here's the result. 
The change in the position of Palestinians vis-a-vis Israel and the west has had nothing to do with the arguments of experts and everything to do with the fact that Palestinians now live in the west, and people have heard their stories as the stories of neighbors. All the crap about the Enlightenment meant nothing by comparison, because it didn't apply to them, and now it does. "They" became "Us", as the Jews have been "Us", at least since 1945 (and no I don't believe that either; no Jew does). 
I'm not going to run down a list in my life of the failures of academic politics. It's too long. The most serious, most honorable thing about Chomsky is that his politics at their best are not the politics of specialization but of citizenship. His arguments all concern mundanities: "This happened, then this happened, then this." Beyond that his political philosophy is useless, precisely because it devolves to cheap rationalism. " 'They' are powerful and corrupt."  Who and what "we" are is left to fantasy, in its way a fantasy you share.
Again and again: Philosophy is necessary as a supplement to practice; philosophers prefer to see their ideas, and themselves, as setting the conditions for practice from somewhere beyond it. To philosophers, ideas are primary; practice is rote: there can be no such thing as a good violinist.  It all devolves to Platonism, and they'll find a way to justify their own preferences as "truth". Diderot chose Greuze; Deleuze chose Francis Bacon, Zizek chooses Udi Aloni. If art is the product of social life and philosophers prefer art that illustrates their ideas, what sort of society would they prefer? 

The answer to Weberian specialization is educated amateurism, but technocrats despise amateurism as much as they despise democracy. "Well-above average for a journalist" As if a philosopher were above average by definition. The evidence shows otherwise.

Focusing just on the question of methods: I disagree that the only practical approach to this dicussion is to focus on the empirical question. One reason why it's important to consider the moral principles without at the same time considering the facts is that doing so allows people who disagree radically about the facts (and much else) to have a reasonable and civilised discussion about the moral principles. I think you have a much more combative view of the role of intellectual discussion than I do. The adversarial system that you describe looks quite unappealing to me, and doesn't look like a model for a thriving democracy. Sometimes adversarial institutions have their place, but especially when passions are as high as they are in this particular area, I think a much more deliberative model is appropriate. As to whether the adversarial model will be more effective at fighting injustice: who knows. But since it makes a point of alienating the 'adversary', I'd be willing to bet that it won't help much. In philosophical argument and public debate, as in the pursuit of justice generally, non-violence is normally the way forward.
One reason why it's important to consider the moral principles without at the same time considering the facts is that doing so allows people who disagree radically about the facts (and much else) to have a reasonable and civilised discussion about the moral principles.
Neither of us would have a polite discussion of moral principles with a Holocaust denier, and more often then not even at their best, with the best minds, such discussion ends up as fiddling. But Mozart doesn't piss me off, and that's a major point. On another comment at BR (I'm haunting this place these days) I compared Rawls to Tolkien as popular writers of fantasy. Raymond Geuss says the best comparison to Rawls is Ayn Rand. He gives Rawls less credit than I do, and I hate Tolkien.
The adversarial model is the model for democracy. The deliberative model is the model for debate within an elite, and I prefer my elite to have some sense of irony. John Mortimer was a lawyer not a philosopher.
Doing these cases,” he wrote, “I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended."
By your logic as I said we wouldn't need unions; there would have been no need for a black led civil rights "movement", movements being adversarial, or for women to become "feminists" which is an adversarial label. Only outside pressure brings major change to a system. Read King's Letter from Birmingham Jail, specifically the references to "white moderates". 
At the moment at least we have a truce and it seems like Israel has acceded at least to some of Hamas'  very reasonable demands. We'll see how long it lasts. Israel has the bad habit of breaking truces, and that's going to be harder to do now that people in more parts of the world have begun to pay attention.

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