Friday, July 1, 2011

Lebanon Update: Whose Justice?

Yesterday the Special Tribunal for Lebanon delivered indictments to Lebanon's State Prosecutor Saeed Mirza that included the names of four Lebanese nationals who are members of Hizbullah. Throughout most of the day traffic in Beirut was unusually light as people waited for the news to be received by the relevant politicians and parties. According to The Daily Star, many on the streets of Beirut were either apathetic about the news or openly critical of the overly politicized international effort. Indeed the majority of the public appear to be against the tribunal. However some supporters of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri gathered outside his shrine in Martyr's Square to celebrate the latest development in their quest for justice. They, along with the political leaders from the March 14 alliance, firmly insist that the Lebanese government ought to cooperate with the Western-led international court.

And yet one only has to contemplate the name of the tribunal to understand its obvious contradictions. Something that is special is not exactly commensurable with justice, is it? Indeed justice ought to require equality and fairness, not something special that is particular, extraordinary or distinct. Assassinations happen all over the world and very few are ever approached in the unique manner of Rafiq Hariri. There is also something perverse about a special international court's attempt to seek justice above and beyond Lebanon's borders for a crime committed on Lebanese soil. Of course I am no legal expert, but the unusualness of the proceedings strike me as extrajudicial.

Then again, I learned very early in life that justice in our daily lives is not the abstract ideal that we imagine it to be but a messy political process that is often grossly unfair. When I was a teenager in upstate New York, one of my close friends was killed by a drunk driver who happened to be the local district attorney's son. At the time drink driving was considered a serious crime. However the young man responsible for killing my friend was not put in prison, even when he violated his probation and was caught drinking again. This was my introduction to the paradoxical practice of special justice.

In yet another case of special justice that is close to my heart, but not at all unusual in post 9/11 America, an Iraqi-American oncologist living in central New York was arrested because his charity was sending aid to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Iraq, including money to build mosques as well as parcels of food and medical supplies, all of which allegedly violated the US and UK sponsored United Nations (UN) sanctions. These are the same sanctions that are thought to have caused the death of at least one million Iraqis, mostly women and children. Although the FBI had been surveilling the oncologist since at least 1997, the charity openly carried out its operations until 85 agents went to the oncologist’s home to arrest him in 2003, only weeks before the launch of the US-led invasion of Iraq. The same morning he was arrested around 150 Muslim contributors to the charity living in Central New York were subjected to aggressive questioning by various government agencies. Even though no charges of terrorism were ever brought against the oncologist, former Attorney General John Ashcroft and former New York governor George Pataki both publicly stated that his case was connected to terrorism. As a result he was branded as a terrorist by many—including the local newspaper as well as the Department of Justice—and he was awarded a sentence worthy of a terrorist by the judge and jury.

So when anybody demands that they want justice, my immediate response is whose justice? We live in a world where Iranians are being sanctioned because they are vaguely suspected of assisting in a crackdown against Syrian protesters, while Saudi Arabians openly raze mosques in Bahrain without censure. Gazans do not have access to materials to build their homes and cure their sick, while American companies profit from selling weapons to oppressors that terrorize populations, often through the guise of government aid. Western and Israeli intelligence agencies regularly assassinate religious leaders, military officers and even scientists for attempting to empower their people to resist against foreign aggression, and yet United States presidents launch illegal wars of choice without any punishment. Indeed even those who order and practice illegal torture are left unscathed.

It is understandable that people all over the world demand justice. But it is myopic to think that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon has any claim to universal ideals of justice and fairness. Justice is always practiced by a select few on behalf of a select few. The assassination of Rafiq Hariri happened here in Lebanon. Why not let the Lebanese themselves decide what kind of justice they want to recognize?

No comments:

Post a Comment