Today, at the beginning of 2013, the world is confronted by a bewildering array of protracted and new armed conflicts: Syria, Gaza, the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan, Sudan, Myanmar, Mali, Chad, the Central African Republic, and Libya are just a few of the many parts of the world wracked by violent conflict. And, although some of the rhetoric about the burden of civilian suffering compared to military casualties in these so-called “new wars” may have been overblown (not least because civilians have always paid a heavy cost in war), there is little doubting that non-combatants remain firmly in the firing line. The injustices of war are legion and extend to killing, torture, mutilation, sexual and gender based violence and abuse, forced displacement, and much else. For all that the world’s governments proclaim their commitment to the protection of civilians of armed conflict, and for all the writings on the moral and legal constraints introduced over the past three millennia or so, war always produces more than its fair share of injustice.
Posts Tagged ‘justice’
The International Criminal Court (ICC) celebrated its ten-year anniversary last summer. During its first decade of life, both the shadow and the actuality of international justice in the form of investigation, trial, and judgment have become a central feature of many conflicts, ongoing and concluded. Nearly a decade before the ICC opened its doors, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission attracted enormous global attention, and the moral sanction against racial violence at its core resonated across the globe. And yet, the concept of reconciliation that defined the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has not occupied the same coveted (if also contested) international space that international justice—through trials—does today. If anything, advocates of justice and trials have subsumed reconciliation and truth seeking into a package of justice that has trials at its core. In his new book, Just and Unjust Peace, Daniel Philpott forces us to rethink this ordering.
One of Philpott’s goals in Just and Unjust Peace is to challenge both sorts of reactions to the role of religion in debates on ethics and justice: the polite, but perhaps patronizing, stance of detachment, as well as the presumption that religion is essentially incompatible with democratic freedoms. He proposes bridging the two as a way to broaden and better ground an ethical debate on the central question that animates the book: What does justice consist of “in the wake of its massive despoliation?” (3). This is the question that has been at the center of ongoing debates on transitional and international justice, but Philpott goes about addressing it in a wholly original way. Instead of grounding the inquiry in a preliminary engagement with prevailing international legal standards, he begins by articulating a general theoretical approach to justice and reconciliation, and then uses it to examine contemporary institutions and practices.
Recent history is full of episodes of egregious, widespread and often systematic wrongdoing: genocide, torture, and mass killing. Cambodia, South Africa, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sierra Leone, and Guatemala are a few of the places where violence has occurred. Histories of violence and injustice leave marks of damage, despair, and pain. The central question Daniel Philpott considers in his book Just and Unjust Peace: An Ethic of Political Reconciliation is: “What does justice consist of in the wake of its massive despoliation?” The answer, Philpott argues, is political reconciliation.
The meaning of political reconciliation for Philpott centers on what he calls the “restoration of right relationship.” When a society emerges out of war or dictatorship, it is full of wounded relationships: among citizens, among communities, and between the state and its citizens and communities. These wounds are created by political injustices, the particular sort of injustices that transitional justice, at its best, seeks to address. Philpott argues that an effective conception of political reconciliation must address such injustices, and he roots his conception in a mix of religious and legal doctrines and traditions: human rights, restorative justice, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He offers a conception of transitional justice that goes well beyond the liberal peace.
Daniel Philpott’s book, Just and Unjust Peace, can be regarded as a milestone for policymakers and academics looking for ways that go beyond the liberal peace frameworks. As a “student” of international relations and religion, I see the book as a tremendous contribution to the conversations surrounding conflict transformation and peacebuilding. In this short essay, I am not evaluating the myriad possibilities the book offers in multiple fields. Rather, I would like to convey two important implications of Philpott’s approach for those of us sitting at the intersection of religion and international affairs.
The child, as the psychoanalytic theorist Adam Phillips points out, “remains our most convincing essentialism.” By this he means that at a time when racial, gender, and even sexual identities are increasingly understood to be constructed, permeable, and ever shifting, the category of childhood—with its razor-sharp counterpoint of adulthood—remains steadfast and enduring. Legal definitions, of course, reinforce this clear demarcation, with eighteen being the moment one crosses the presumed divide from childhood into adulthood. That some adults remain perpetual children—regressed, childlike, or developmentally arrested—long after they cross the temporal barrier between childhood and adulthood is as indisputable as is our widely accepted awareness that continuums of development make childhood and adulthood highly variable, evolving, and overlapping identity positions for us all. A fifteen-year-old looks, acts (we hope), and understands very differently than a six-year-old, despite the fact that both are understood to be children.
Many of these documents are appalling in the way that bureaucratic recitals of torture are appalling, in the way that ledgers of desecration are appalling. As I read them, I never want to ignore the mangled lives that they attempt so laboriously to contain—to conceal—within the boxes of church law or clinical psychology or (less frequently) moral theology.
I find mangled lives among those we now call the abused, but also among the abusers. I don’t say that lightly, abstractly. There are, in the identified abusers, some men who seem so far beyond our ordinary talk about ethics that they are “monsters” according to one old sense of the word. But there are other men—perfectly familiar, much sadder—who now get swept up into the same category of abuser.
One of the major achievements of the past quarter century has been the growing awareness of the prevalence and damaging psychological consequences of the sexual abuse of children. State child protection authorities substantiated 63,527 cases that involved childhood sexual abuse in 2010, the last year for which figures are available. A survey by the Centers for Disease Control of more than 17,000 adult Kaiser-network members, generally well educated and middle class, found that 16 percent of men and 25 percent of women said they had experienced childhood sexual abuse. And yet, it is remarkable how recently the sexual abuse of children was not taken seriously. Not until 1974, when Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, were states required to establish reporting requirements in suspected cases.
Physicians, psychologists, and criminal codes (i.e., Texas state law) largely agree on what constitutes the sexual abuse of children by an adult. It includes, but is not limited to, the sexual touching of any part of the body, clothed or unclothed; penetrative sex, including penetration of the mouth; encouraging a child to engage in sexual activity, including masturbation; intentionally engaging in sexual activity in front of a child; showing children pornography, or using children to create pornography; and encouraging a child to engage in prostitution.
What I want to tackle, immediately, is the fraught relationship between effect and affect in this subject for those of us who seek to interpret it. It is difficult to write or think about sex abuse without being affected by its circulating effects, without feeling that the very practices of academic analysis do something suffocating to its experience. To think about sex abuse in an academic context could suggest that we might wish to think away its awfulness; to write about sex abuse could suggest that we seek to argue away its visceral trauma.