Sunday, December 30, 2007

Violence, ideas and ignorance

Does anyone deserve to get killed because of their beliefs or ideas? They're opinion? I read a post by Joseph Khoury on his Arabdemocracy blog - which I don't agree with in it's entirety, yet respect for it's professionalism - and one of his lines about the death of Bhutto got me thinking.

Don't wars start from words? Aren't words the product of ideas? Ideas which are always intended for some perceived good? Has anyone come up with an ideology believing and working for it because they thought it was evil? I think not. All have thought they were solving a problem, sometimes creating problems in the process. When the ideas were perfect, such as with the prophets, it is the people who made the problems where there were none. This, it seems, is what we're destined for, bound in our flimsy prisons of flesh and limited ability to grasp what is the good for ourselves at any one time. Some ideas have been better than others, yet had been killed in their infancy. Others are promoted through the arrogance of super powers and are made into a consensus view, backed up by money, elitist education and an ignorant, individualist "many". Others, cushioned by the moral maze of relativism, are fuelled by a simplistic ignorance that leads people into an exercise of intellectual navel gazing, never venturing beyond the narrow confines they have created for themselves.

How then, can one stop an idea, backed up by the belief from the person that it is "the good", without killing them I ask you? All this before it infects more people? Do you deserve to be killed for your ideas? I don't know about deserve, but if they're powerful enough you should expect trouble. So the question ultimately becomes, are your ideas worth dying for? Happy New Year to everyone.

[Am I expected to put an obligatory disclaimer denouncing all violence in this bit?]


Abu Kareem said...

Well Wassim, I think you set your self up for having to put a disclaimer.

Your post certainly seems to suggest that, indeed, there may be justification for killing somebody for their ideas. I hope what you are saying is a reflection of how things often are not how they ought to be.

Wassim said...

Walaw Abu Kareem?
It's definitely a reflection on how things are. This is just me rambling on. You haven't told me what you think though.. I'd be interested to see how you feel about this post.

Wassim said...

Just had a thought Abu Kareem. Don't you think that the entire concept of "how things ought to be" is itself a part of the realm of ideas which I've been talking about? In fact, isn't that what the conflict is all about?

Lirun said...

sadly thats exactly what happens.. the very idea that someone is your enemy is merely an idea for that matter.. you cannot have a war without some degree of ideation..

but the more important part is what an idea justifies.. and i think its a scale.. sometimes one that you would live for and others one that you may decide to die for..

its an age old question..

in my world you could apply it to the palestinian suicide bombers in israel.. and equally you could apply it to the settlers and the israeli army..

is an idea worth death? given the fact that populations arent going anywhere.. all of our grand solutions are classically ideas.. not physical changes..

you could also ask whether euthanising is reasonable and whether the death penalty is ever warranted..

its a huge topic - but in all ways it challenges the link between death and ideas..

interesting thought.. thanks for the stimulation..


Abu Kareem said...


I have read enough of your posts to know that, in many of your short posts, you like to throw out statements to stimulate thought about a particular idea, not necessarily to make a statement about where you stand. That's good but it sometimes makes it hard to figure out exactly where you stand. Maybe that's a reflexion or your interest in philosophy where unanswerable questions are posed, and hotly debated but never resolved.

As a physician, I am more concrete in my thinking. I want to know what the best course of action is and take it. It is often not based based on fact but on best judgement.

So, "how things ought to be"? Well, ideas should be freely debated to let the one with the most appeal (not necessarily most merit) win. Should one be killed for his idea? No, except that people who preach ideas that directly incite violence should be brought to justice. Now, you will say that "directly incite violence" means different things to different people. For despots that means, anybody who objects to their rule. Not only despots but also democracies can manipulate the threshold to entrap "undesirables". But reasonable persons will know what "directly incite violence" means.

As far as lirun's comment, I think that killing and dying for an idea are two very different very concepts.

Lirun said...

abu kareem

fair point.. so purely academically.. how do u class suicide bombers.. as someone who dies for a cause or someone who kills for a cause?

and my second question is: what if your decision to die for the cause isnt physical.. but rather spiritual.. what if your cause eliminates the essence of your soul? does it matter?

Abu Kareem said...


You had to ask didn't you? So...purely is my answer to your first question. What I mean by someone dying for his cause is someone willing to stick by an idea/cause even if their life was threatened; typically, a morally laudable act. Willfully killing yourself -suicide- is not the same. So a suicide bomber kills for a cause.

As far as "non physical" death for a cause, I am not quite sure what you mean but I will take a stab (no pun intended) at it. I think what you mean is that if a cause so consumes you that you lose your soul because of it. That is, for the purpose of that cause, you can justify anything and lose your humanity in the process. I think this type of spiritual death, as you called it, is actually much more destructive especially if it occurs to the leaders of a particular cause.

Lirun said...

not an easy topic in any event..

every side to a major conflict always suffers some sort of death.. whether physical.. spiritual.. economic.. etc..

i think prioritising is tough.. and i think the line in between suicide and death is blurred when groups are forced to reckon with decisions that will eliminate their identity in one way or another whether or not physical..

maybe i am going to far with my philosophical banter.. but i think this is a classic dilemma and there are always worth noting in life..

in any event i believe that livig for a cause is the most preferrable of the alternatives..

nadia n said...

i need to find a more comfortable armchair to respond to this properly.

"How then, can one stop an idea, backed up by the belief from the person that it is "the good", without killing them I ask you? All this before it infects more people? "

Dude really? Do you think anyone has the right to stop people from merely believing things they don't like, forget whether or not they actually can effectively nip them by violence (cause they can't, it just pushes the people you disagree with and hardens their resolve and someone new takes their place.) People have their own twisted logic and ideas and reasons why they're drawn them ideas, those need to be attacked, and if you can't effectively counter those ideologically, you probably aren't in much of a position to decide how wrong they are in the first place.

if we're talking about mere ideas and not following them through. more martyrs doesn't really do anything to diffuse this shit, sayin.

i didn't read the article.

Wassim said...

Abu Kareem,
But reasonable persons will know what "directly incite violence" means.

Have you ever met a person who did not think they were reasonable? :)

Also, "directly inciting violence" is actually clearer than most people make out - granted, as you say, it can be appropriated by all manner of parties.

Thanks for stopping by. I'm not sure I'm on your wavelength at all as ideas can indeed move populations too. I think the state you inhabit is a product of just such an idea, carried out at the enormous expense of another. Still, it's interesting that you try to divorce the idea of living for an idea with dying for an idea. Surely if an idea is "worth living for" as you put it, then ensuring that others can live for this, at ones own expense if threatened, means the two terms are one and the same. Are they not? I think the best way I can illustrate this for you might be in something more familiar to you. You are aware of what happened in Masada and how even though all had died there, they are widely considered to have defeated the Romans. In the realm of ideas, physical bodies and their comfort and safety can be sacrificed, not - as you imagine - be the ends themselves.

Also, surely if you talk of such things then you know that the soul cannot be destroyed, but the ideals it submits to and lives by ensure what state it is in once it discards it's simple shell. Some ideas turn the soul into a feeble and defeated entity, others raise it. The path to both - I think -is clear for some and the decision to give what's needed for a victory becomes as easy as cracking an egg to make an omelette.

Thanks for your comments. I wrote this post mainly to brainstorm about what point debating ideology has to stop. I think there is a line beyond which the talking ceases and politics is continued "by other means" to paraphrase from von Clausewitz. When that happens, then the value of those ideas is tested in the people who choose to embody them. That's the main point of my post, rather than saying you can "whack" someone just because you can't win them over or disagree with them.

I'm not trying to find a solution, only to understand the mechanism.

Lirun said...

you're totally right.. not the same wavelength..

probably one of those conversations that are better had face to face..

but i will say that i dont know many that think the maccabis won.. on the contrary - the temple was destroyed - the fortresses whether massada or arbel or others ruined and ultimately many of us killed and exiled..

however ur point is relevant because spiritually they persevered.. however they didnt live for their cause but rather died for it..

whereas the jews of spain lived for it.. not saying that hiding your identity is not a sacrifice..

lets meet at the demilitarised zone between israel and syria and finish this conversation over some tea with nana heheh