TORTURE: ASIAN AND GLOBAL PERSPECTIVES | OCT -DEC 2012
VOLUME 01 NUMBER 04
by NILANTHA LANGAMUWA
Nothing can justify torture under any circumstances. But torture is still an endemic issue for mankind, confirming that many countries are not keen to criminalize torture. Many state and non-state actors provide justifications in this regard, while thousands of people continue to become victims of this inhuman practice, which has its origin in the jungle age and system. Time is compelling us to engage, to recognize, and eliminate torture through the current political track rather than conducting a distant analysis of the past.
The “ruling politics” in most of countries has forced people to keep away from thinking about personal liberty, while their scarified present lives are taken as the way to be a disciplined amenable citizen. In other words, the present political game is carried out through popular political topics rather than digging deeper to find the facts and root causes of real crises. It is just aimed at minimizing the space for the origin of authentic dissent. Fear has become a norm of society, while “conspiracy theory” is a tool for holding onto power and to spread fear among the people. In this situation basic rights are veiled by not only autocrats but democratically elected leaders. The bitter truth is that concepts such as ‘democracy’ don’t work just because the people of a country have universal suffrage. Today elections are often nothing but fraudulent agreements between many parties who are cynically manipulating and are being manipulated by power.
Noam Chomsky, the MIT Professor of linguistics, exclusively expressed his ideas on this in Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, while presenting a rational critique on the National Defence Authorization of 2012 of the US: “Obama’s policies have been approximately the same as Bush’s,” Chomsky observed. He further analysed, “the practices hadn’t been significantly different. The one part that received public attention is what you mentioned, the part that permits the indefinite detention of American citizens, but why permit the indefinite detention of anybody? It’s a gross violation of fundamental human rights and civil law, going all the way back to the Magna Carta in the 13thcentury, so it’s a very severe attack on elementary civil rights, both under Bush and under Obama. It’s bipartisan!”
At the same time, many other countries throughout the world have increased their attacks on elementary civil rights while demonstrating that freedom is non-existent, beyond political power. Popular politics has opened a tangible path for autocrats to destroy the social system to permit selfruling order which always ignores the rule of law.
Our real loss over the last three decades is that the political elites have vandalized the structure of the institutions that were the pillars of the state. As a result, the judiciary, the police, and the legislature have become paralyzed institutions, occupied by political henchmen, while ordinary people lose their faith in the morality of the state. The unchanging norm is to subvert the real
issues through party-based politics and corporate companies. What is left is only the superficial and unimportant positions that are fought over as if they actually matter. In this situation extremism is destined.
The attack on Malala Yousufzai, a 15 year old Pakistani girl, resulted in outcries against the Taliban (extremism) and a fresh threat against Hina Khan, who was raising her voice publicly against Taliban atrocities. These do not surprise us. It’s another known example which the Media has highlighted while thousands of similar cases are yet to be revealed. These kinds of tragedies are a part of daily life in most of the archipelagic countries in the world. But the problem is that there is very little effort to understand the gravity of the crisis which is the same when gunmen attacked and killed several people in the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, US, the Taliban attacked female activists who were fighting for education, armed gunmen attacked unarmed civilians in the Chittagong hill tracks in Bangladesh, and an armed gang hacked civilians to death in Sri Lanka. These events are delivering a message for the need to understand the depth of our social destruction and how much we wound others rather than facilitate healing a wounded subject.
The problem is that we pushed forward with minimal attempts to change the system, while many powerful nations have a policy of installing puppet governments in less powerful countries, whom they can cynically manipulate to suit their own personal agenda. These theories are not going to work for sustainable solutions, but rather give us nightmares. The present situation in Libya is a good example demonstrating this scenario, and the crisis across the Middle East is adding new pages to history. It has given way to tremendous opportunity to justify what some leaders, who consider themselves to be above the law, are implementing in the name of governance.
As Norman Solomon described in an interview with the magazine Torture: Asian and Global Perspectives, real causes of the problem always seem to be hidden while the Media in the US is largely policy driven by the State Department. What we have to realize is that our parameters of valuing human beings have divided into two forms when there are victims in action: worthy and unworthy. Norman Solomon further pointed “… In the US media, some victims are worthy. In which case for combination of ideological and nationalistic, and sometimes racial or ethnic reasons, their suffering is tremendously important and gets enormous empathetic media coverage. And, then there are other people who are victims. And, they don’t count at all. They are unworthy, for a lot of the reverse reasons.” Here, what we naturally recall is the saying of Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 1, “man without honour is worse than death”.
In his explanation, Epicurus tried to answer many essential questions where he argued about elementary causes against torture, though he doesn’t use the term torture. “It is impossible to live a pleasant life without living wisely and well and justly (agreeing ‘neither to harm nor be harmed’), and it is impossible to live wisely and well and justly without living a pleasant life, he argued. “Wisely,” at least for Epicurus, would be avoidance of pain, danger, disease, etc.; “well” would be proper diet and exercise; “justly,” in the Golden Rule’s sense of not harming others because you do not want to be harmed. This is a basic rational argument provided by Epicurus, to improve dignity and solidarity among human beings.
However what most people are deliberately ignoring nowadays is the illegitimacy of the various justifications that are offered when cruel things occur. Torture has become an endemic issue and perpetrators are using new techniques to avoid blame and establish a rationale for the justification of their actions. That’s why understanding this subject poses greater difficulty. In his lengthy book, Torture and Democracy, Derris Rejali provided readers an opportunity to expand their imagination of this cruel practice.
As George Scott in his brilliant account on torture pointed out, ‘justification on the ground of its efficiency which was so often attempted in relation to torture as a means of securing confessions of guilt from those charged with heresy and sorcery, is actually conditioned by the need for finding a victim upon which to wrack the vengeance of society, and, vicariously, the vengeance of God.‘ 2 This is somehow still used by most of the state and non-state actors prevailing in power by legal or illegal means to justify their autocratic rules using ordinary
citizen as their medium.
Addressing this issue and making people understand why torture is wrong is one of most difficult challenges. We have a long way to go. “The cause of the abolition of torture being a much more difficult affair than the average person realizes, involving matters which are outside the scope of ordinary vision and which have implications that are seldom fully recognized.” 3
It is absurd to think that we can change the attitudes of people just by forcing them to believe concepts evolved by another society. Perhaps most concepts and laws are embedded in historical circumstances that created the current unique context. However, solutions evolved in one society can provide useful guidelines to face difficult situations created by veiled tyrants who come to power by misleading the people to break down the basic structures upholding freedom. Practicing torture is one end of the spectrum of strategies such tyrants use as part of their basic political agenda. In response the people may have to empower another leader.
It is time to understand the importance of achieving a torture free society, and how a society that is free from torture sustains the foundations of freedom and personal liberty. The rudimentary notion in the prevention of torture is to neither cause harm to any nor allow any to be harmed.
1 Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547 –1616) was a
Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright.
2 The history of torture throughout the ages, by
George Ryley Scott
3 Ibid ( Page 06)