Michael Ignatieff, director of the Carr Center for Human Rights
Policy at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, spoke
to three hundred students, faculty members, and guests in a packed
Hooker Auditorium Wednesday, October 17. Ignatieff addressed what
it means to fight terrorism; why war is a necessary and justified
reaction to the events of September 11; why the United States
must uphold moral codes in a war against an enemy that recognizes
no such obligations; and how to drain the "reservoirs of
hatred" that lead to terrorist acts. Ignatieff's talk, titled
"Human Rights and Terror," was sponsored by the Harriet
L. and Paul M. Weissman Center for Leadership.
"I grew up in a very sheltered environment," said Heather
Croshaw '04, who learned of the talk in her world politics class.
"With all the turmoil going on, I'm trying to learn all I
can--not just the hard facts you can get from CNN but the background
on why this is all happening. This talk was very good because
Ignatieff wasn't 'in your face' and was open to all views."
Croshaw took home not only information and opinions to consider,
but a signed copy of Ignatieff's book The Warrior's Honor: Ethnic
War and the Modern Conscience, which includes accounts of the
author's travels to Afghanistan. His other books include Virtual
War: Kosovo and Beyond, The Needs of Strangers: An Essay on the
Philosophy of Human Needs, and Isaiah Berlin: A Life.
began his lecture with an appeal to Croshaw and all undergraduate
students not to leave September 11 and its surrounding issues
to experts. "We've just been through on September 11 an event
which makes nonsense of expertise," he said. "All of
the issues that are crystallized by September 11 are too important
to be left to experts . . . This is one of these seismic events
which will define your identity as young people. You will now
be able to say to your children, 'I know where I was standing
when these events happened.' It's that kind of event, and it's
the kind of event that means that you have a burden of reflection.
You can't let the experts take this conversation over. You, for
the first time in your life, have to face up to the burden of
being citizens. And one of the burdens of citizenship is that
you should listen to people like me, but you have to make up your
regarded as one of the leading experts on human rights issues
and the causes of human conflict in the world, Ignatieff argued
that September 11 was a crime without an author and with a set
of demands outside the political frame. "This is an act of
violence that is not in the service of discernible political goals,
so a political response to this act is very difficult to formulate,"
he argued. It was an event of "apocalyptic nihilism,"
he said, describing the attacks as redemptive acts against a sinful
world, intending to terrify, and based on utter indifference to
human cost. The attacker was not an individual, state party, or
religion, and it is the lack of a determinant enemy that is the
crux of our fear, Ignatieff said. "In our attempt to personify
the enemy, we've identified an individual as the spider at the
center of the web," he said, "an enemy we can reach
and touch, when the reality is more disturbing."
the face of this crime, Ignatieff argued that war is justified
because the United States has exhausted other alternatives. He
cited the national and international justice systems used to handle
three previous terror attacks: the 1986 bombing in Berlin, the
1992 World Trade Center bombing in New York, and the 1998 embassy
bombings in East Africa. "The deterrent effect was zero,"
said Ignatieff of the judicial process in all three cases. He
called war a justified "last resort" consistent with
Article 51 of the United Nations charter and UN council opinion.
must follow rules, a humanitarian concept that seems nonsensical
to many, Ignatieff continued. Even in a war against "enemies
of all mankind"--those who by their actions forfeit moral
obligations--the United States must maintain the moral duties or
principles of just engagement that traditionally keep war within
bounds, such as caring for prisoners of war and choosing military
targets, not civilian ones. Those moral principles will be difficult
to follow in a war of nontraditional warfare (Seal, Green Beret,
and other special unit antiterror operations), Ignatieff said,
and more difficult still in the face of an enemy that breaks moral
reciprocity. But even when those obligations are not complied
with on the other side, he said, "we still owe an obligation
to ourselves and our moral identity."
argued for an additional obligation as well: a commitment to rebuilding
as a moral obligation. "If you hit the place, you've got
to rebuild it," he said. "That is to say, the legitimacy
of force in this case, in my judgment, is conditional on our willingness
to stay the course to rebuild a country that has been devastated
by civil war, by a tyrannical regime, and now by military attack.
. . . That's a point that has not been made in public policy and
it needs to be emphasized in the public debate by citizens like
in the long term, Ignatieff called the United States to commit
itself to draining the reservoirs of hatred on which the terror
networks depend: "There are certain kinds of hatred that
we can do absolutely nothing about. There is a committed band
of operatives in the al-Qaida network who cannot be deliberated
with, cannot be shamed, cannot be convinced, whose hatred takes
the form of a convinced, deeply considered apocalyptic nihilism
about which nothing can be done other than military measures and
judicial pursuit. But that doesn't mean we can do nothing about
the wider network, the wider wellsprings of rage, hatred, and
disillusion on which these terror networks depend. Because the
chief political conceit of these networks is that they represent
the excluded, the voiceless, the condemned, the shamed of the
Muslim world. And there is an enormous amount of shame, suffering,
and injustice in the Islamic world, and anybody who pretends otherwise
is a fool."
that the Muslim world's suffering and consequent hatred has an
important political connection to the policies of the United States
government is painful for American citizens, "who like to
be liked," Ignatieff said. While it is important to wean
the Muslim world from the belief that all crime, misery, and humiliation
is caused by America, he said, it is necessary for the United
States to face the increasing cost of certain political policies,
such as policies of support for Israel. Ignatieff, a strong supporter
of Israel's right to exist, argued that although we must not take
seriously the extreme political demand of removing five million
people from the land, we must ask such questions as, "What
state of Israel can/should the United States support?" Without
this kind of honest reflection and attention to policy, Ignatieff
argued, we will not see peace in the Middle East or civil order
in developing nations.
audience questions focused on time lines and strategies for rebuilding
Afghanistan after the war and after the collapse of the Taliban.
One of the most difficult questions related to how a Western culture
that is hated for its practices and policies might be accepted
as a rebuilder of a Muslim country it has devastated. "The
Western world has fed Afghanistan for ten years, and the Red Cross
is the only source of prosthetic limbs for thousands of mine victims,"
Ignatieff responded. "The West has kept Afghanistan alive,
and this gives us some credibility. I can only hope that they'll
questions related to policies of the United States in Saudi Arabia,
Iraq, and elsewhere. "What policy solutions for the Middle
East do you recommend as alternatives to the Iraqi sanctions that
have harmed Iraq's people rather than its leadership?" asked
one student. Here, Ignatieff returned to an earlier point--that
the United States must not separate national interests from human
rights issues. Rather than ignoring human rights violations and
making deals with violators, he said, the United States must consistently
face human rights violations and see that countries where human
rights collapse will eventually become national security risks
for the United States.
was this point that hit home with student Molly Gower '04. "I
really, really liked the talk," she said. "Although
I question his assumption that there are certain forms of oppression
that can only be met with physical force, I really liked his point
that human rights oppression is an indicator of future risk. He
gave me a lot to process, and I'm sure I'll have a lot more questions
and thoughts tomorrow."
feeling seemed to be shared by many in the crowd, who stayed beyond
the nearly two-hour event to discuss Ignatieff's points with one
another. Among them was Asha Strazzero-Wild '04, staff assistant
at the Weissman Center. A self-described "daughter of flower
children" who grew up in a liberal, pacifist household, Strazzero-Wild
called the presentation "amazing and very persuasive. Ignatieff
provided a lot of information that's not readily out there,"
she said. "I don't agree with all of it, and I question what
gives us the right to define what's just violence, who are terrorists
versus freedom fighters. But he didn't put down anyone's ideas,
and he gave me a lot to think about."