Thursday, June 04, 2009

Hamas Respond to Obama's Speech

Unsurprisingly, they're not buying it.
Meshal refused to make concessions on any of the points Obama mentioned--renouncing the use of violence (although he did say that Hamas was willing to discuss a formal ceasefire), recognizing the state of Israel or the prior commitments made by the Palestinian Authority to a peace process. I asked him about this portion of the speech:
It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it is surrendered.

"Palestinian actions are reactions. What Palestinians do is to resist the occupation," he said. "It is self-defense. Why did the Americans support the Mujaheddin against the Soviets in Afghanistan? Why did the British support the French agains the Nazis? Why did you have a revolution against the British? Self-defense."

I made the obvious point about the difference between self-defense and targeting civilians. "But civilians die in wars," one of Meshal's aides pitched in. "You call it collateral damage."

You know, I'd like to say that Hamas is the only entity I've met that doesn't understand the distinction between deliberately targeting civilians and collateral damage, but they're not.


matt c said...

You know, I'd like to say that Hamas is the only entity I've met that doesn't understand the distinction between deliberately targeting civilians and collateral damage, but they're not.

Zing! I don't think it's problematic to refuse the distinction in the other direction - saying that the most morally salient similarities between collateral damage and deliberately targeting civilians make both unacceptable. What is truly bizarre about Meshal's argument is not that it establishes a parallel between the two practice - they get you dead civilians - but that this somehow makes either practice something we should be okay with. That said, I do think it is fair to ask: on what grounds is collateral damage morally acceptable but not targeting civilians? I think few people have a well-articulated answer.

The way I see it, the most morally salient characteristics of both collateral damage and civilian targeting are that they: (1) anticipate civilians deaths as the outcome of an action with a larger goal and (2) pursue the action anyway. For the person who embraces the distinction, there needs to be a case made why the fact that there is a significantly more plausible case for the necessity of the civilian's death to the desired outcome should exonerate the actor.

That's a hard case to make, because it basically forces one to defend that the action causing the civilian's death is so necessary to the end in question that it cannot be done without, and further, that the end itself is so necessary that asking the actor to abandon or significantly modify it would be asking them to commit an even greater moral wrong than pursuing it. But it's the case that needs to be made. When people tell me that I'm ignoring Israel's right to defend itself by condemning attacks that kill civilians, I think we're on two different planets because the question that I find morally important is not "does Israel have the right to do this" but "does Israel need to be doing this?" That can be a muddy debate, since Israel's military solutions do not seem to do a whole world of good for it or anyone else, but at the same time there are almost no other alternative channels in place to react to Hamas. The question is incredibly easy to answer with regards to Hamas' actions. Their political agenda could be pursued by a host of other avenues, and rocket attacks into civilian areas clearly do nothing good for that cause.

In any event, I think the necessity question is a much more important question than the typical framing, which has to do with intentionality. Does Hamas or Israel "intend" to kill a civilian or do they "intend" to do something X in a way that requires that they kill a civilian? The problem with this tact is it tilts to heavily in the direction of making some morally acceptable extent of collateral damage into a blank check for carnage by "well-meaning" actors. For example, the recent NYT story that the US did not follow its usual protocol to decrease civilian casualties in Afghanistan raids. That should be condemned for all the same reasons that we would want to invoke if the US had just deliberately killed those people - that the US decided its own ends justified slaughtering whoever it needed to, regardless of the necessity of those actions. But if we look at it in terms of intentionality, the question is whether or not US pilots meant to conduct a massacre (like a Hamas, in the majority of cases) or meant to pursue a reasonable policy end (like an Israel, in the majority of cases). Which is how an intentionalist account of collateral damage ends up being a really shitty means of exonerating bad actors from their bad actions. The necessetarian account is truly demanding, but anytime a terrorist cell, military unit, or government is nodding its head and signing orders as the bodies pile up, they should damn well have a good story for us.

David Schraub said...

What do you think about the criminal law derived division between intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, and negligently? (It's almost like I'm actually studying!)

Intentionally: My goal was to kill civilians (even if that goal was in pursuit of a larger goal).

Knowingly: I knew what I did would kill civilians, but it wasn't the goal -- I would have been perfectly happy if the specific action I took killed nobody at all.

Recklessly: I had no idea whether my action would kill folks or not, and didn't bother to find out, but was aware (or should have been aware) that it would, in fact, have a high likelihood of killing civilians.

Negligently: I didn't know that my actions would kill civilians, but the risk that it would was higher than legally acceptable.

Deliberately targeting civilians is the crux of intentionality. "Collateral damage", by contrast, would, depending on the circumstance, fall between "no liability" and "knowingly" or "recklessly".

Joe said...


The utilitarian crimlaw answer is that intent matters insofar as someone who deliberately kills another is more likely to kill again, so that calls for greatr preventative measures.

PG said...

In a hyper-utilitarian view, if we accept collateral damage, then it doesn't give terrorists/ militants as much incentive to try to hide behind civilians; they know that we will kill civilians as collateral damage if doing so is necessary to reach the terrorists. In contrast, if killing civilians is the whole goal, there's no incentive to maintain status as a civilian; you're going to be targeted for death just as much as someone who is armed, so why not get some arms and start fighting yourself?

Jenny said...

I kinda think Hamas has a point here. Besides, Bush also called for the freezing of Israeli settlements, why should Obama be believed?

Joe said...

Curiously, David, if we look at things from an anti-subordination standpoint, what does it matter to a dead civilian if he's a target or merely an "acceptable loss"?

David Schraub said...

Hamas has called for slaughtering every Jew in the world -- why shouldn't they be believed. More importantly, since their "point" here is "we have the right to kill civilians for as long as we want, with no repercussions", the "point" you think they have is their right to have me killed off. And you, I guess, but what you do with your life is your own business, and at this point I'd just chalk it up to Darwin. But I'd appreciate if you weren't so cavalier with mine.

Joe: It's hard to say. Part of me thinks that a dead person is equally pissed off regardless of why they're dead. Another part of me thinks that we would react with more outrage if we were murdered than if we, say, died in a totally accidental car crash, which indicates that we do distinguish at some level between levels of intent even when we are the victim.

Jenny said...

Well, I'm sorry,but I believe that what Hamas is doing is self-defense. Israel goes after Palestinian civilians just because they hate their government then Hamas has a right to protect their people. Sure, Obama did address Palestinans greivances,but it wasn't just humiliation, it's genocide.

David Schraub said...

Well I'm sorry, but someone who has persistently shown herself to always thinking avowedly genocidal Jew-killers to have a "point" is no longer welcome to post here. Please do us both a favor and take your reactionary, anti-Semitic, and pro-genocide views to the neo-Nazi forums where they belong.

Jenny said...

I wasn't anti-semetic, I was just pointing out that if Israel's going to attack Palestinian civillians, then Hamas is going to respond in kind in order to protect their people.

David Schraub said...

You were being (and I suspect you are, at least unconsciously -- and the fact that you don't even concede the possibility tells me all I need to know about the respect you have for Jews and their opinions and experiences) anti-Semitic, as I define the term. And as I've said, you are no longer welcome on this forum. I don't have the technical knowhow to actually ban an IP, so against my better judgment I will trust you to respect my wishes and refrain from posting here any longer.