Self-Determination, Multi-Culturalism, and the International Criminal Court

November 30, 2009

Custom is a powerful thing, substituting as it does fresh thinking with ideas so long-worn by constant use that they appear all but obvious. That the Sun circles the Earth was obvious for many centuries – yet, it turned out to be utterly wrong. We are equally used to the progressives’ claims that they have clear and rational minds. But I think this, too, is just a myth.

Consider, for instance, the recent NPR’s story of International Criminal Court’s investigation into ethnically-motivated mass murders committed during the latest exercise in democracy in Kenya. For all its gruesomeness, it seems hardly a news item that should stand out for being illogical or irrational; yet, when I heard it, it struck me as such.

For don’t we have here, hidden in plain sight, a conflict between two different progressive notions? Isn’t there, in the actions of the court, a clear-cut imposition of Western cultural values on the African mindset? Aren’t we in a post-colonial stage of the world, the stage of non-interference, of self-determination, of multi-culturalism? Aren’t Kenyan events a cultural thing, to be treated with appropriate sensitivity, and isn’t the intrusion of a European court into Kenyan affairs a gross example of cultural insensitivity?

How do the actions of International Criminal Court, acting at the behest of the progressives, square with the supposedly post-colonial mindset of non-intrusion into self-determining, post-colonial societies that should be the hallmark of the progressives’ thinking?

It was, after all, 19th -century colonialism that imposed the west-European mores and legal procedures into the world of – using Rudyard Kipling’s phrase – “half-devil and half-child” (or the “noble savage,” if Kipling strikes as rather too harsh.) Having conquered, plundered, and “civilized,” by introducing Western legal norms, Africa and a good portion of Asia, the colonial powers recognized the inhumanity of their colonial ways after WW2, and, in a repentant, multi-cultural mood, withdrew, leaving their formerly captive nations to the fate of national freedom and “self-determination.”

What was to happen was predictable – and, for that matter, predicted. The very great and unjustly forgotten English poet and universal genius John Ogilby who, among his many other achievements, created the genre of modern fable (to which his imitator, Jean de la Fontaine, gave great popularity), added the following moral to his version of the Aesop’s fable of the “Young Man and His Cat,” way back in 1651: “No punishment, no penalty, nor hire / Can repulse Nature led by strong desire / So barbarous people civilized with care / The least occasion turns to what they were.”

Which is precisely what happened as shackles of colonialism fell. But the good people of Europe clearly did not expect the fruit of their colonial “civilizing” to go to waste, and their forcibly “civilized” captives to revert to their old ways – ways much enhanced by the use of modern, West-invented weaponry. Instead, with a surprising lack of multi-cultural understanding, not to mention lack of consistency, the Westerners created an “international criminal court” that, disregarding all differences in “cultures,” and in clear violation of the principle of multi-culturalism and self-determination, claims universal jurisdiction. Instead of dispassionately dismissing gruesome events in Rwanda, Congo, Darfur or, recently, Kenya, with an “ah, this is their culture,” the good people of Europe and the US display astounding cultural insensitivity in trying to drag the culprits to the Hague. While seemingly leaving the colonial mentality behind, Europeans just cannot help thinking in the old, universalistic, colonialist terms.

These good, progressive people are consistent only in being inconsistent. For instance, they refuse to apply their anti-aggression, anti-violence, anti-colonial feelings to the Arab-Israeli conflict. All “Arab lands” outside of the western part of Arabian peninsula were gained by the Arabs through conquest – including Palestine that was a Jewish state for a millennia and a half, until Roman emperor Hadrian dispersed the Jews following the Bar-Kochba revolt. And yet, instead of greeting the emergence of modern Israel in its ancient homeland as the prime example of justice, as exhibit A of legitimate owners of the land reclaiming it from later, imperialist conquerors, as the triumph of national liberation triumphing against imperialism, the good people twist their good consciences into a pretzel, accusing Israel of imperialism, and seeing descendants of Arab imperialists as innocent victims needing protection!

This is not to say that murderous criminals should stay unpunished – but is rather an appeal for consistency and clarity of thinking. If good and progressive people of Europe and US think that Western values of the worth of an individual, of personal liberty, and of impartial justice should be universal – than why talk of multi-culturalism?

If, on the other hand, all is relative – than they should stop their hand-wringing.

And dismantle the International Criminal Court in the Hague

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