A Moral Obligation to Interfere

Brussels_immediate_3598858bIt was a Facebook post that first alerted me that something was amiss in the state of Belgium this morning. My friend had posted that she was ‘safe’, a feature Facebook now offers during a crisis event, so that friends and family know that an individual is okay.

Quelle horreur.

As a Catholic, I believe in a heaven and hell, and take consolation in the fact that those suicide bombers from this morning’s Brussel bombings have just woken up and realized that they aren’t in paradise, and that those aren’t virgins coming to welcome them. There is shock and mourning aplenty right now, and I won’t add to it as our world has shuddered in unison at yet another act of terrorism.

What struck me this morning, however, was a comment made by someone, that this incident was what They (meaning I think the West) gets for meddling in things they shouldn’t.

The comment made me ponder all day, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it is in fact our moral obligation in the West to meddle in the business of other countries.

Firstly, Belgium is a bit participant in coalition activities targeting the Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. I say ‘bit’ with no disrespect meant to Belgium, but their contribution to the coalition was small, and I understand that they withdrew mid-2015. Today’s attacks in Brussels have the obvious link to the capture of Salah Abdeslam, one of the surviving Paris attackers, in Brussels, in March 18. (for an interesting and thought-provoking analysis of today’s attacks, please see this Guardian article)

Without meaning to sound trite, the attacks smack of the reaction of petulant teenagers, in the sense that one of their own was apprehended and now they had to retaliate to stick up for him. The whole thing reminded me of a group of boys who key a teacher’s car because one of their friends was put in detention, but on a much more serious level. The coordination seems like half a plan that was in the works but the planning and preparation process hadn’t been seen through entirely, with intent more important than effect. I’m sure more will come out in the days to come to clarify how the attacks were executed, regardless. Neither the analogy nor the proposal that the plan was not fully executed does not take away from over 30 dead or over 250 injured.

I’ll caveat that no amount of security will ever be able to thwart these kinds of attacks, and we should not become so paranoid as to rabbit hole into sentiments such as proposals to ban all Muslims from entering a country. These kinds of thoughts are for the paranoid and the irrational; surely we are sensible and rationale beings and should act appropriately, not react inappropriately.

No country deserves to be terrorized thus, and if it is because of some perceived ill that these malcontents decide to revenge themselves upon the West, it is all the more so our moral obligation to quash the roots of extremism to the best of our abilities. We are privileged in the West. Those of us born in Western countries won a birth lottery for a relatively easier life; those of use who immigrated to the West did so because we wanted to live in safer and more stable countries where opportunities are available. We are, by and far, educated with a high school education at a minimum, and many of us are lucky to have post-secondary education of some sort. There is social disparity, and there are socio-economic extremes within our respective countries, but, painting with a broad generalization, most of us have it ‘pretty good’.

With that privilege of democracy, and all the benefits that come with that system of government, comes the ability to help those who do not have that privilege, and/or who aspire towards it within their own countries. This ability is our responsibility. If there are countries that are so despotic or tyrannical and their populations so oppressed, where possible, we should be helping them in some form. I would equate this type of intervention akin to how we have a moral obligation to aid a child by contacting the appropriate authorities if we know the child is being abused. There are many people who do not make that call to the police or to family services, just as there are many people who observe a crime being committed and do nothing about it, not even placing a phone call while witnessing a public rape.

This bystander apathy (it’s someone else’s problem), I would argue, applies to that attitude of ‘we shouldn’t meddle in another country). President Obama tried to avoid meddling in Syria, and one could argue (and indeed many have) that this lack of clear policy on the Syrian civil war has in fact exacerbated the issue of Islamic fundamentalism. The president was following the will of the people who voted him into office: there was no appetite for another scenario like the Iraq invasion after September 11. But, as opposed to Iraq, where there was a flimsy reason to invade that country, there was excellent cause for concern in Syria.

AP_501781042631.0I believe that fundamentalism has always existed, and will always exist. We may point fingers on why it rises here or there, but fundamentalism will always find minds in which to take hold, and some sort of flimsy pseudo-rationale will be made to justify actions made by its believers. We see this in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism etc…If we did nothing at all and let the Middle East develop along with no intervention whatsoever, we’d be feeling the effects of that apathy regardless, whether in refugees, economic impacts, and the inevitable spilling over of wars across borders.

We have to care what happens in other parts of the world. Where we can, we have to try to rail against tyranny. I know it’s not a perfect world, nor a perfect perspective. We support the Saudis, which are arguably as a few notches shy of being as despotic as the Islamic State. But where we can, we should, and must, try to help democracy take root, whether that be through economic sanctions or through military intervention.

So no, Brussels did not deserve to be bombed, nor did Istanbul, nor Paris, nor Madrid, nor London, nor Damascus, nor Baghdad, nor Kabul….you get the point. And we should keep meddling, otherwise we’re just as bad as a group of people watching someone get raped and not doing anything about it.

Corporate Policing of the Public Body

Obama and Apple February 24, 2016A thought has been fomenting about my mind the past few weeks since the FBI had a court order to force Apple to create a backdoor to the encryption on San Bernardino terror attacker, Syed Rizwan Farook’s iPhone. Between Apple CEO, Tim Cook’s open letter to Apple customers, presenting the view why Apple should not break its own encryption software, and the contrary perspective from the likes of Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes, detailing why Apple has no business refusing the request.

Both perspectives resonated with me.

I laud Apple’s stance at upholding the right of individual’s to keep the content of their phones private. Mind you, lord only  knows that is one of the few things kept private anymore; data, by and large, is freely shared with nary a thought to the potential consequences of what might happen to that data. Whether it is companies like FitBit collecting biometrics, or Facebook creating a very intimate and personal snapshot (and more) of each of its users, personal, sensitive information flows more fluidly than the annual Nile flood. The internet of things aside, it is still the prerogative of each individual of how much, or how little, information about themselves is shared publicly or with corporations.

Similarly, the ability to lock one’s phone (or computing device) is, and should always remain, the choice of the individual. That privacy is very important to many people (just as many people don’t care…anecdotally, most people I know choose not to lock their phones).

I recall a case a few years ago here in BC, whereby the police had tried to force an alleged suspect to unlock the suspect’s phone, believing there to be incriminating evidence on the phone. I don’t recall the specifics of the case anymore, but the long and short of it was that the judge ruled that if the phone was locked, the police could not request anyone to unlock that phone without a warrant, as that was the same premise as entering a home to search it without a warrant (pun not intended). Conversely, had the phone been unlocked, then there was no reasonable expectation of privacy and the phone could have been searched by police lawfully. I bear this in mind, and, being more of the privacy-mindset, lock my phone all the time as a matter of habit, as such.

Apple policeYet, there is the very real expectation that all corporations should participate in self-policing for the public good. We demand that the internet giants – Facebook, Twitter, Reddit etc… – police their pages and delete accounts where terrorism, racism, bullying, and any like criminal behaviours, take place.

Twitter announced the closure of over 125,000 terrorist-related accounts last month; Facebook has ramped up its anti-terrorism activities by actively combing for terrorism-related profiles and deleting them. This sort of activity comes on the heels of pleas from the likes of British Prime Minister, David Cameron, requesting that the Twitters and Facebooks of the world “to accept they have a social responsibility to help fight terrorism by allowing Britain’s intelligence agencies access to the data and content of online communications between terror suspects.” (from the Guardian)facebook police

I see this as essentially giving these internet and hardware companies mixed messaging that we need to protect consumer privacy yet demand that these companies police that privacy on everyone’s behalf. The problem with both is that not a single one of these companies is regulated and they are only held to whatever the moral and ethical compass that their CEO brings to the organization. We have faith that the Tim Cooks and Mark Zuckerbergs of the world will always do right by their clients (and remember, we are only their clients….nothing more, nothing less).

There is something inherently problematic with giving that much social, nay, governmental, responsibility to private, for-profit, companies. I don’t know that there is necessarily a better model of corporate governance for things such as social media and smart phones at the moment, but we should be very careful of relying on any organization that is responsible only to itself and its shareholders.