Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Thursday, March 30, 2006

Ignatieff's Supposed Support for Torture

Warren Kinsella's recent indictment of Michael Ignatieff, stemming from a new article of his on the "torture issue," further lowers the quality of the debate. More importantly, his assertions are without merit.

He absolutely takes Ignatieff's arguments out of context. Kinsella seems to think he dismisses this accusation right away by admitting such criticism is inevitable. I will go on regardless, as sarcastically acknowledging an error you are about to commit in a preamble doesn't exactly absolve you of it. Neither does attacking any other viewpoint as being baseless for only possibly coming from one of Ignatieff's "Kool-aid drinkers" (not exactly the nicest metaphor). This is pretty obviously the same sort of with us or against us politicking that we have witnessed from the Republicans and that we are supposed to stand against. Its meaningless, and so should be treated as such.

Kinsella further defends himself against quoting "out of context" by pointing out that he is using Ignatieff's own words. Well, yes, they are Ignatieff's words. And they are misleadingly presented...hence being out of context. His last argument is similarly faulty. Quoting misleadingly is not justified by the fact that most readers are not Harvard students. It does not take an obedient student (as is suggested) to grasp a fairly simple argument. And even if it did, if one is going to object they had better be sure of what they are objecting to. He says "...all that it takes is a few sentences...." If the few sentences cause you to object to something that isn't being said, then you are objecting to nothing. Hardly a useful practice. And suggesting the regular-Canuck can't be bothered to read through a 10,000 word essay or listen to an hour lecture, while a weak assertion on its own (you'd better take the time to listen if you're going to take the time to be infuriated), is utterly senseless if you consider the exact article that Kinsella so misappropriates is neither of those things, and can be read in about 15 minutes.

First off, Kinsella quotes "I am willing to get my hands dirty," and leaves it at that. No mention is made that Ignatieff is referring to academic Jean Elshtain's theory of "dirty hands," which is explained in the essay. And this theory is not referring to the willingness to torture that Kinsella implies, it is tied to a notion of not remaining seculded from conflict, etc. (very very badly reduced-we're talking Ignatieff not Elshtain here), taking as its basis a man who fought the Nazi occupation, thereby committing violent acts. I am not saying Elshtian is right or wrong but that this is relevant. This is an issue that could be debated, but unfortunately the issues seem to have been completely lost. The article made it clear that Ignatieff was not meaning that comment the way it has been construed. Nor do I have any great previous knowledge of the subject save a small amount of research. Would I expect everyone to do the same (however easy)? No, but I would expect before you renounce someone's character or "what passes for a soul" you would do at least that. However, this is somewhat moot because Ignatieff then clearly says he differs from this position. On this subject it is also quoted that "necessity may require the commission of bad acts," but then Ignatieff adds this does not absolve them of their morally weak foundation, and says BUT

"I still have a problem. Unlike [Elshtain] I have practical difficulty enumerating a list of coercive techniques that I would be willing to have a democratic society inflict in my name." He also says clearly:

"As long as the US-or any state, for that matter-has the power to detain at pleasure and in secret, abuse of detainees is inevitable...It should be mandatory that every single detainee held by the US, wether a citizen or not, be publicly known."

This is directly at odds with the Bush government's practices, but we don’t hear much from these outraged folk about Ignatieff's critiques of Bush.

"So I end up supporting an absolute and unconditional ban on torture and those forms of coercive interrogation that involve stress and duress...I also believe that the training of interrogators...must rigorously exclude stress and duress methods."

Kinsella posts pro and con emails he has received. With one of the con (against the posting) quotes being quoted disjointedly and eaten up by personal praise for Kinsella, the other side is supposedly fairly represented by a person who seems to imply a different point than Ignatieff altogether. Ignatieff does not tilt the scale towards public security over individual rights to the degree that this "con" representative implies. This of course would be the case had Ignatieff concluded the opposite of what he actually did. Instead, he argues that his position may weaken public security, but "that is a price I'm willing to pay."

The problem for Kinsella, is that Ignatieff speaks at length about the flaws in his own position. Indeed I can not quote the whole essay, and I am trying to counterbalance what has been put out there but Ignatieff goes on to point the inherent difficulties he sees in his position. This echoes the line Kinsella seems to have taken even more recently, (quoted from an agreeing blogger on his site, but which he has since echoed to a tee himself) that even he can't pretend to say Ignatieff is endorsing torture but that he makes a clear case for it only to say at the end "'but of course I'm not in favour of it,' and never give any of his reasons for his position." Discussing a point of view in detail is not inherently a justification of it, rather being able to do so is the essence of reaching a worthwhile counter-position. For some, its important to know what they are countering. So what can the significance of this argument be? If we admit he is saying he is against it, can Kinsella seriously be suggesting Ignatieff's is practicing a ploy to make us support torture, but not take the blame for it? I don't think he would say that. So in the end are we left with nothing more than a problem of style? A question of "so what"? Well, how serious a contention is that? Hardly enough to suggest Ignatieff deserves to be "finished." Obviously Kinsella, and he refers to this very briefly, has other reasons for not supporting Ignatieff. I say let them be discussed by their own merit.

Lastly, Ignatieff does give explicit arguments in defense of his position, such as that he is against legalization of torture in some cases as it will descend into a reliance on such methods, or acceptance. He states,

"The best I can do is to relate the ban on torture to the political identity of the democracies we are trying to defend-by claiming that democracies limit the powers that governments can justly exercise over the human beings under their power, and that these limits include an absolute ban on subjecting individuals to forms of pain that strip them of their dignity, identity, and even sanity."



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, you protest too much. Kinsella is right, Ignatieff has raised serious concerns with both his torture comments and those of Israel. To use the words Israel and Aparthied in the same sentance shows how deeply troubled Ignatieff's views on Israel are.

5:50 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

This is very creepy, and predicatable. I had envisioned someone literally saying "Doth protesth too much" because its a long blog, because its believe it or not issues are sometimes complicated. Anyway thanks for getting that out of the way. Next I need the blind faith attack.
YOu should see our previous post on Ignatieff and you'll see that he's also screamed at for being too pro-Israel. In the Lesser Evil he is clearly pro-Israel. Mayb eI'll post on this to give you a hand. But thanks for introducing the other issue that nullifies the sense and ensures black and white tunnel vision over concentrated thought.

Kinsella doesn't raise a single point of worth I've made that clear. Show me it. You can't. About torture, I didn't post about the other things. If I did you'd say I was protesting even more.

6:07 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

If you are concerned with Ignatieff's anti-Israel mentality, then you simply have no idea who you are talking about. I'm sorry, I mean no disrespect. This is intended for Kinsella more. Nor is this a partisan defense: I have seen Ignatieff speak, I have seen him respond to a question and explicitly lay out his feelings on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he was almost shouted down for the "pro-Israel" nature of his response. This is not me weighing in on which stance is more appropriate - just informing you very simply that if that's how you conceive Ignatieff, you simply don't know enough about him to comment. This is not a disrespectful rebuttal - just responding to you in the way that you would respond to someone that told you that Carolyn Parrish was too pro-American (or something - you get the idea).

9:57 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

Steve - good post. What has bothered me the most is a disingenuous combination of arguments that has been presented. Kinsella et al package Ignatieff as proTorture Lite (if I must use that ridiculous terminology). They are very quickly countered by anyone with half a non-partisan mind, because it is plain to an 8 year old that Iggy is anything but. The response is inevitably this garbage about Canadians lacking the IQ to tackle a New York Times article in its entirety, and thus he is unelectable. These are completely separate arguments - if the first is made, then the person is... well, an imbecile. If the second is made, it can only be done so fairly by explicitly stating "I know Ignatieff DOES NOT support torture, but..." Of course, this is not the case. Instead, these people - for what motivation, I don't understand - grossly misrepresent Ignatieff and then explain that these grossly unfair misrepresentations render him unelectable. This party needs to give its head a shake and start using reason. That doesn't mean supporting Ignatieff. It means growing up. It's troubling to me that the most outspoken critics of the previous party wedge-drivers are the first to use untruths and misapplied logic to drive new wedges.

10:05 PM  
Blogger The Liberal Times said...

If you read Ignatieff work you will realize that his writing style is an investigative one. That's why it appears he is supporting something but in actually he is not.

10:17 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

Aman, yes I'm very aware of this. Good point. I've read a lot of Ignatieff and I think its unacceptable for people to simply not finish the argument they're observing. This is why I've reduced the supposed debate to a question of style-this investigative style.

12:06 AM  
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