The Scarlet & Black

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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Breaking bread bursts the bubble

Grinnellians have a maddening dedication to their ideal of a free world in which food, resources and power are fairly shared. We affirm almost daily our dedication to eradicate hunger, stop genocides, destroy infectious diseases and bring war criminals to justice. The solutions seem to almost unvaryingly be perceived as simple: good plans whose lack of success is only explained by lack of political will or poor implementation.

Justice for Muammar Gaddafi is no exception. The erstwhile Libyan dictator has expressed his determination to not lay down his power without a fight. In addition to a “war of bees,” where guerillas assault, sting and run away into the desert, the former leader vows a drawn-out, ultimately destructive struggle. “Let there be a long fight and let Libya be engulfed in flames” (The Telegraph, “Libya: September 1 as it happened”, 16:54).

“How much more in denial can you get?” exclaimed a good friend of mine the other day at breakfast. Our conversation was prompted by a wonderfully free copy of the New York Times sitting on the windowsill near our trays of eggs-to-order, toast and smoothies. The front-page image leapt out at us: a man lying intubated on a hospital bed. The headline read, “Inside a Libyan Hospital, Proof of a Revolt’s Cost” (New York Times, Fri., Aug. 24, 2011).

In my friend’s view, Gaddafi must be neutralized in order to allow the development of a stable system of peaceful democratic governance. There are two ways of doing this: peaceful and violent. Although the peaceful method is preferable—since killing people does have the tendency to further polarize partisanship—violence is also acceptable. Message: if Gaddafi refuses to surrender, he not only can but should be killed “with a bullet in the head”, or more accurately, a smart bomb dropped from a remote-controlled aerial vehicle.

Implicit in my friend’s argument is that justice applies as a rational principle, bringing order to international society. Our world should be organized based on the principles of equality and solidarity, putting greater emphasis on the recognition and promotion of human rights. The impact of self-interest is mollified by the presence of regulating institutions. The rule of law is needed to penalize infractions of communally held values—therefore, there must be a court with ultimate authority at the international level to settle disputes at the international level.

So, having been beaten, the former leader should accept that ‘the people have spoken’, accept his loss and find a willing African state in which to take up exile residence (Burkina Faso offered asylum on Aug. 24, 2011): all of this as a dutiful member of the international order. More extraordinary methods are permitted if he is non-compliant, such as the relatively peaceful process of capture and trial by international or joint Libyan-international court (ending with a sentence of either death or life in prison). More violent options also exist as a further alternative. Justice, in short, is tit-for-tat.

The danger of this worldview is that the principles I have outlined are so comfortable. Behavior is perpetrated with full knowledge and acceptance of the consequences. Hence our belief that, when a guideline is broken, the individual should accept responsibility for his or her actions.

We leave ourselves no room in this model to explain why there have been no previous outcries that Muammar Gaddafi’s ouster, forceful capture and death are necessary and legitimate. We block ourselves from truly understanding why Western governments have enacted only half-hearted attempts at sanctions and other methods of incentivizing a change in Gaddafi’s behavior, rather than simply trying him in court, the apparently more obvious solution.

The uncomfortable truth is that justice in this case is far more concerned less with a rational punishment of a crime than an action on behalf of international stability. Now that the rebels have driven Gaddafi into hiding and thrown the political and economic environment into disarray, concerned foreigners have begun to rush forward with their prescriptions for what to do. We propose to use justice to delegitimize Gaddafi, giving power to the next government. And we hope that because we helped them defeat their enemy, they will reciprocate with us in their future affairs.

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