Randall Williams

The divided world

In other words, rather than simply assuming that the inhuman slaughter of persons on a mass scale must be or is necessarily "against the law," what if we suppose that international law is, at best, neutral or completely ineffectual on such matters and, at worst, fully complicit and legitimating?

This is not just a hypothetical exercise, as China Mieville has recently demonstrated, but rather is consistent with the actual historical record of international law and imperialist violence from their origins on into the twenty-first century. If we leave aside for a moment our erstwhile longings for a harmonious future fur humankind, what this suggests is that part of what has occluded our ability to reckon with the past is the superordinate investment we have made with the promise of a juridical future. In this sense, it is not just a more exhaustive reckoning with the past and present of imperialist violence that is needed but, more specifically, a non-juridical reckoning. For this, our starting point should be neither the law nor any desire for a "progressive" appropriation of the law, but the mounting dead for whom the law was either a useless means of defense or an accomplice to their murder. p.xxxii, the divided world

p. 11 "Like the South African court that was not interested in Mandela's historical account but only in whether he was guilty of an offense of the legal code, Amnesty's investment in steering clear of "politicized judgments" reifies the antihistoricism of the Law in the name of an absolute (ahistorical) principle: nonviolence."

p. 14 "The very necessity of violence that Fanon insists upon, and that Mandela records in the context of the struggle against apartheid, emerges from the historical reality that there was simply no space of compromise in the colonies, no space of common feeling, no space, prepolitical or otherwise, that could serve as the basis for negotiation, and most certainly, no "depoliticized human ground on which to stand.""

p. 15 "The advance of Amnesty's mission, however, was delimited by the transposition of the question of the political onto a decidedly antihistorical, moral plane. That is to say, like decolonization, human rights NGOs have an antagonistic relation to the state; however, adherence to the principle of nonviolence undercuts any force this position may have insofar as it shares the formal properties that underpin the supremacy of Law.

Amnesty has had to revisit this question on numerous occasions over its history, introducing the supplementary concept of "illegal" laws and a "last resort" clause to inflect its nonviolence principle, however, the fundamental antirevolutionary thrust established at this juncture has never been undone. A revolutionary politics would require taking sides, allowing for the possibility of the use of violence, etc., but an international rights politic was to become something distinct from the politics of decolonization. As a result, the discourse of human rights had little or no purchase on the realities of colonial rule and the national independence struggles to overthrow colonial states everywhere. An explicit human rights framework was thus understandably absent from the discourses of anticolonial liberation.

p. 19 The prisoner of conscience evidenced just such a strategy of purification while leaving unexamined and immune the excluded, contaminating structures of colonial racism and oppression. And the disqualification of Nelson Mandela served as a testament to the comparatively superficial concern to connect the consciousness of the new universality to the popular strength of revolutionary struggles of decolonization. Ironically, then, the attempts to delink human rights discourse from its Cold War contaminations wound up reinscribing it within the very institutions of the state apparatus against which it had sought an international resolution. With the sacrosanct principle of nonviolence thus upheld through the disqualification of Mandela as a prisoner of conscience, Amnesty departed the scene from which it was no longer possible to say "I don't believe in violence as a general axiom."

p. 22 Chikane: "I was obliged to admit that I was only able to continue preaching non-violence because others were prepared to use violence to create this space for me."

34: The devalued dead entered the discourse of international human rights in a belated and tangential fashion, as a narrative supplement to the murder of the cosmopolitan middle/upper class gay subjects. In the discourse of international gay and lesbian rights, it was the sum of the hitherto ignored lives that were appropriated and transformed, overnight, into narrative commodities to be exchanged in media markets as spectacles that evidence the necessity of the global mission. The epistemic violence reproduced here cannot be undone by the beneficence of an imperial mission under any name, but that it takes place under the rubrics of rights and freedom should alert us to the histories of violence which subtend the narrative triumph of democracy.

54: What George carefully expunges from the text of the moral-therapeutic narrative are the contradictory traces that reveal that "the we who should have done something" are already involved in the production and reproduction of postcolonial violence.

63: It is a rather ironic fact of history that in times of extreme catastrophe -- genocide, famine, natural disasters, etc. -- calls abound from various quarters in the West for Western powers to intervene, to help in the name of humanity. And what was once discussed as a question of "the right of intervention" has increasingly become, at least since 1948 and especially in the post-Cold War period, figured as our duty to intervene. And yet any sober account of this period, and not only this period, must reckon with the salient fact that the long history of Western intervention throughout the world, intervention of an unprecedented scope and scale, has resulted in the destruction of hundreds of millions of lives by slaughter, hunger, disease, and poverty.

65: If we attend to the full historical record of US interventions, it becomes clear that the role of the United States with respect to genocide includes all of the following forms of activity:
1. precipitating, participating, and helping carry out genocide
2. acting in such ways as to escalate genocide
3. blocking attempts to mitigate genocide
4. doing nothing
5. facilitating attempts to mitigate genocide

The impoverished reduction of our political imaginary to that of saving subject, however well-meaning and good intentioned, will never allow us to develop the "new ideological means" necessary to challenge our imperialist ethos. For that I think we need to take seriously what the overwhelming majority of the South knows: Western humanitarian intervention is guided by a brute calculus of power, and no amount of mosquito nets or aid workers will ever cover over this fact.

p. 73: Being suspicious of presumptive declarations of a new day and keeping the struggle alive is what animates the critical project to question the representational borders erected between past and present.

p. 93: We all, in various ways, desire an end to violence, but the problem of violence is not undone by giving ourselves over to the ironclad Law of the nonviolent (if even it were possible) and indeed such a relinquishing may do more to contribute to the persistence of tyranny than to its elimination.

98: The given culture of the colonized world is wholly and inextricably constituted in and through colonial violence: an ontological condition in which every social relation---economic, cultural, physical, and imaginary---is organized by violence.

104: Taken together these two military operations [first Gulf War and bombing of Kosovo], with their complex rearticulation of the relations between imperialist violence, international law, and the global human, mark a significant concatenation of powers at work toward a long future of cosmopolitan wars to come.

114: The fact that liberal commentators are frequently taken aback by positions adopted by the large human rights organizations evidences the degree to which human rights is shrouded in an ahistorical set of assumptions that suppose human rights to have some kind of ideal (platonic) form not subject to the contingencies and vicissitudes of power, interests, and politics. Consequently liberal advocates for human rights continually find their jaws dropping whenever the discourse of human rights is demonstrably shown to be in-history.

115: In this counterhegemonic project we need a more radical reckoning with what internationalist traditions from the International Workingmen's Association to the World Social Forum, and from Du Bois and Fanon to Alexander and Mieville, have long recognized: imperialist interests and international justice can never be reconciled.