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.

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