Stuff White People Like n.135 Humanitarian Intervention
First published on Jadaliyya on 11 April 2012
I usually get along with white people. For starters, I grew up in a white country. Some of my best friends are white. In my long history of befriending them, I have learnt one thing: if you want to retain white friends, you must adhere to a number of sacred rules: the stuff white people like. For those who are not familiar with it, there is a helpful website aptly titled by the same name. Although they‘ve managed to exhaust the concept with their 134 entries spanning issues as diverse as TED talks, Ultimate Frisbee or Asian Fusion Food, the site remains lacking in one glaring way, to wit, it failed to include humanitarian intervention. The following attempts to remedy to this bleak state of affairs.
When approaching prospective white friends, tips for solving the third-world crisis du jour can be very efficient icebreakers. However widespread a white conversational hobby, humanitarian intervention is also a thorny issue fraught with intricate codes matching the complexity of croquet or bridge. During the ensuing conversation, avoid openly belittling the value or intentions of humanitarian intervention, or of its less militarized cousin, humanitarian aid. They are, by nature, noble and typically exclude financial or geostrategic incentives. If these surface at a later point in time, they do not delegitimize the whole enterprise. They simply suggest it could have been done better. Stating otherwise will certainly ensure that your white acquaintances will talk of you as a heartless conspiracy theorist behind your back, or worse, and this will depend on how outrageous they find you, in your presence.
Unbeknownst to yourself, your choice of regions for humanitarian intervention will reveal a great deal about the depth of your character. For instance, a focus on blasting Palestinians suggests a rather traditional, impulsive, frontier-Orientalist personality whereas opting for Syria says you’re a more sensitive Kosovo intervention-type, who dreads a repeat Srebrenica. In contrast, caring for child soldiers in Africa tells the prospective white friend that you’re not only extremely devoted to the well-being of the wretched of the earth, but also that you tend to be knowledgeable about regions that regularly drop from the radar of cutting-edge mainstream infotainment.
In all this confusion, beginners will typically commit the faux pas of supporting all humanitarian interventions. It is of the utmost importance to maintain a semblance of taste in these matters. So while some interventions can be justified, based on geographical terrain—for instance, flatter is more open to intervention, like in Libya—or ethnic uniformity—too much diversity might lead to armed civil strife, like in Iraq—others will strike your friends as completely out of line. For instance, oil-rich countries with regimes that hold white interest close to heart, such as the UAE or Saudi, are a clear no-go, and so are neighborly aspiring white settler colonies, like Israel, that regularly confuse democracy for a weapon of mass destruction.
With the “Arab spring” on the menu, the height of sophistication this season is to introduce the notion of ‘types of intervention’. Although it might require serious research on specialized blogs and a subscription to the Economist, explaining in great detail the type you believe most appropriate for the context under scrutiny reveals a subtle personality attuned to the minute nuances of killing non-white people abroad. Should the strikes be preemptive, or should we wait until a certain number of oppressed innocents have died before putting our foot down?
Once you’ve decided upon this matter, you must further pick between interventions that aim at drawing defensive curtains around specific zones of strategic white interest, surgical strikes that destroy the enemy fire capacity which a white government sold them the previous week, and physical military intervention which might ensure your current president won’t get another term in office. Alternatively, if you wear your heart on your sleeve, you may incense the unorthodox virtues of economic sanctions, guaranteeing local native children will starve in dignity, fully sheltered from international media attention.
Now that you’ve successfully added your new white friends on Facebook, you begin to think you can stop talking about how much it means to you to kill other people in far away places that you know little about—through “saving” them. Wrong. Since lobbying one’s representative lost its edge, it is almost as important to discuss intervention in cyberspace as it is at dinners. Digital media activism has replaced letters and phone calls as a paramount weapon in the arsenal available against global injustice. This mostly involves watching activist videos on YouTube to raise your friends’ and representatives’ awareness but liking links on Facebook usually matters almost equally in the cyber-guerilla warfare against oblivion.
For those who feel a bit constrained by the range of options, digital activism now finally allows you to put your money where your mouth is. After the adopt-a-starving-orphan and/or endangered-pet moments, white e-revolutionaries have seen their prospects for global justice expand significantly with the Adopt a Revolution movement. Bastard offspring of H. Clinton’s commitment to a human right to communication and of the “Adopt a Monk” movement, the website allows the concerned world citizen to provide a friend or kin—for Christmas or a birthday, for instance—the joyous gift of ‘adopting’ a Syrian revolutionary activist, i.e. covering all his phone expenses for a period of time. Unfortunately, at the moment, adopting Hamas ‘freedom fighters’ remains an unavailable option, except for Guantanamo Bay employees.
Stuff White People Don’t Like So Much
No decent rough guide to white etiquette surrounding ‘humanitarian intervention’ would be complete without mentioning the central absolute rule whose violation would seriously jeopardize all white friendships: never ask a white friend why ‘humanitarian intervention’ is a specifically white hobby. This taboo question might lead down one or four abrupt dead-ends, namely, white privilege, white man’s burden, white supremacy, and your friend losing his white temper.
This becomes evident if you’re fond of thought experiments. Try asking a white friend whether it would have been wise to recommend a preemptive UN targeted attack on US military production facilities in the spring of 2003, to prevent, for instance, a million Iraqis dying in the name of freedom fries. You may find your friend, choking on the difference between Bush and Saddam or Qaddhafi: Bush might have been a little trigger-friendly but he didn’t stoop so low as to kill his own people—sure sign of a non-white management style. In white corporate democracies, governments are service-providers, which generally exclude euthanasia. A government killing its own peaceful protesters would be a bit like Wal-Mart employees opening RPG-fire at the information desk or down the pastry aisle; absurdly bad PR. In liberal-speak, white privilege entails a government gifted with managerial common sense.
About twelve years ago, the Global South realized that whites faced this extra hurdle of white privilege preventing them from a lucid grasp of their own predicament. For this reason, they issued a Declaration signed by 133 countries, approximately two thirds of the globe and 100% of the non-white world, gently explaining that killing your own people and fighting over the leadership of your country is generally understood as sovereign politics, and that interfering with it wasn’t particularly legal. White leaders and policy makers immediately dismissed the reminder. French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, for example, launched his ‘putative referendum’ campaign. Humanitarian intervention was justified if whites could imagine Iraqis saying yes to carpet-bombing their own country in a hypothetical referendum—basing the idea on the necrophiliac’s motto: Qui ne dit mot consent [Silence gives consent]. It thus became clear that it wasn’t so much that whites felt a ‘right to humanitarian intervention’—a form of privilege assuredly—as much as they were self-invested with a ‘duty to protect’ the poor and oppressed of the world.
This dismissal takes us back to the good old colonial days, when the ‘duty to protect’, the white man’s burden, was very regularly invoked to support military interventions. What we fail to understand though is why. Why is white man’s burden so white? It is common Northern lore that white folks are genetically predisposed to greater empathy. They just care more. The time is not far-off when a white scientist is bound to discover whites have some gene that allow them to empathize more intensely with the suffering of people that regularly show up on the front page of the New York Times. Contra this genetic argument, it is best to treat the phenomenon as historically grounded and culturally-specific. The ‘duty to protect’ incumbent on the white-skinned derives from the same justification as the ‘civilizing mission’ so dear to the colonial project: Whites can govern best.
This form of contemporary white supremacy takes a slight twist of the imagination to fully grasp but remains within analytical reach: White governors don’t kill their own; democracies, i.e. white polities, don’t wage wars against each other. The impeccable syllogism according to which whites imagine their supremacy and their burden is that they have a duty to protect life because they do it best. From conservations to protectorates, zebras to Zambians, ecological disasters to oil wells, the humanitarian refrain is the same.
1) There is an equal right to life for all humans
2) White governments maintain life better
3) All government should be white.
At the end of the day, humanitarian intervention stipulates that there is a human right to life, and that no one is better placed than whites to take care of such a precious commodity. Whites keep life alive longer. The argument is unstoppable for once we accept that whites are plain better at life management, and that the legal sovereignty of nation-states can be overridden to save lives, there is no moral reason to resist a return to colonial administration of native affairs. After all, statistics demonstrate without a doubt that white governments take care of their citizens’ lives better—hence a responsibility to take care of the rest of the globe. The taboo surrounding the issue—the reason you can’t ask a white friend why humanitarian intervention is a white hobby—results from this oft muddled fact: just wars and humanitarian interventions tap into the deep and pleasurable roots of white supremacist sentiments.
Conclusion: What Can You Do?
So you want to save the world and make white friends, but you know that YouTube videos and family bake-sales to arm the Ugandan government against the LRA won’t be enough. You are God-fearing and warmongering, yet you suspect your government is more interested in doling out your tax monies to investment bankers than weapon factories. You want to participate in promoting global justice but you’re not perfectly white. And most importantly you’re getting deadly bored of being as passionate about invading a random country in the Orient as you are over watching your favorite football team win yet another decisive game. We have the perfect solution for you: be a real champ, go get yourself a machinegun and a ride to Syria. You might put your life on the line for ideals you’re not yet sure you fully subscribe to. On the bright side, you’ll be the stuff white people like, limbless and free.