Steelcitygrit [in exile]

Ruminating on all things Canadian and political.


Wednesday, March 01, 2006

not quite their own words - Ignatieff and Terror

Some of the steepest criticism faced by Michael Ignatieff thus far has been in regards to his monograph The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. A particular Toronto Star editorial represented the book as a justification for torture in this war on terrorism. Canadians have reacted strongly. This is fair enough. Given recent revelations, many - myself included - feel that now is the time for the international community to be particularly vigilant on issues of torutre.

While the reactions of Canadians are understandable and forgiveable, I have a harder time forgiving Toronto Star columnist Haroon Siddiqui. Whether he wrote with a particular agenda or simply didn't make it all the way through the book is unclear to me. Needless to say, he presented a gross misrepresentation of the work. The piece still lingers in the minds of many. As such, it is necessary to rebutt.

I could quote specific paragraphs, but ultimately I'd be playing the same game that Siddiqui played. Instead, it may be worthwhile to post this book review. It's a simple and balanced encapsulation of Iggy's argument - released at the time of the book's publishing, devoid of political context. It appeared in Foreign Affairs (perhaps the world's foremost academic journal of international relations).

The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Michael Ignatieff.
Reviewed by G. John Ikenberry, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004

This thoughtful essay by a leading public intellectual asks one of the great questions of our time: How can Western societies remain faithful to liberal values of openness and freedom when defeating terrorism often requires secrecy and coercion? Ignatieff responds by offering a set of principles by which liberal democracies can navigate between the competing moral imperatives of protecting individual rights and protecting the community. In his ethical rendering, neither security nor liberalism holds a trump card; governments may indeed need to violate rights in a terrorist emergency, but it should be done with a "conservative bias" -- with due process, adversarial proceedings, and other legal safeguards. Ignatieff also acknowledges that societies can make prudent tradeoffs only if they can accurately assess the magnitude of the threat -- a historically difficult task when the threat is a shadowy terrorist network. Surveying the long history of terrorist violence in democratic societies, Ignatieff concludes that liberal states consistently overreact and too readily curtail freedoms. He ends by eloquently arguing that a liberal democracy can survive the age of terror only if it takes seriously the political context within which terrorism thrives -- that is, by engaging, persuading, and championing social justice.


Blogger Steve said...

Torture-lite? Even these critics cannot prove their accusations of Ignatieff's support for torture so they have to come up with such nonesense. In "The Lesser Evil" it is clear Ignatieff does not support torture. In Britain it was written that his however well-intentioned argument opened the door for torture-supporters. This guilt by association is w/o merit. It is they who open the door themselves. It also seems to imply even if he is right he should not say so. That surely cannot be a good outcome.

8:25 PM  
Blogger SteelCityGrit said...

Yes - I neglected the guilt by association bit. Thanks for picking up the slack. There is no consistent logic there at all. And that aside - it is a completely absurd assertion that the neocons have waited for liberal-left academics to give them an opportunity to torture... totally bizzare

11:49 AM  

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