In These New Times

A new paradigm for a post-imperial world

Myths of “humanitarian” imperialism

Posted by seumasach on June 30, 2008

By Stephen Gowans(What’s Left)

Myths of ‘humanitarian’ imperialism
Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2008

By Stephen Gowans
June 29, 2008

Timothy Garton Ash, a columnist for the British newspaper The Guardian, has called on “people outside Zimbabwe” to “help the majority inside Zimbabwe have its democratic will recognized” by doing seven things, the first of which is to press their governments for stronger sanctions on Zimbabwe. Ash’s column is titled, “We don’t need guns to help the people pitch Mugabe from his perch.”

Ash’s argument, a call for “liberal” or “humanitarian” imperialism, is based on a false premise. It is also morally repugnant.

False premise: The idea that a majority in Zimbabwe is awaiting the help of Westerners is at odds with reality. If you check, you’ll discover that the governing Zanu-PF party won the popular vote in the March 29 elections, but owing to Zimbabwe’s first past the post system, won fewer seats than the MDC did. It would be more accurate to say that somewhat less than 50 percent of Zimbabweans would welcome the MDC coming to power, and fewer than that, I suspect, would welcome further misery from a stepped up Western intervention.

Morally repugnant: Ash’s argument amounts to this: Imperialism is fine, just so long as it isn’t pursued by military means. Lay aside his eagerness to outrage the sovereignty of Zimbabwe, but not, say, Ethiopia, whose brutal Meles’ regime steals elections, locks up the opposition, and has invaded and occupied Somalia, on behalf of London and Washington. People ought to ask themselves why they’ve heard so much about Zimbabwe, but not Ethiopia.

Non-military interventions can be just as harmful, if not more so, than military ones. The international sanctions regime imposed on Iraq led to the excess deaths of more than a million people, deaths caused by Western countries whose governments lied their only concern was freeing Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, and then freed numberless Iraqis from life (and, if Washington and London get their way, from the benefits of their oil wealth.) Sanctions were denounced as sanctions of mass destruction, as devastating as campaigns of carpet bombing. No one should delude themselves into thinking that non-military interventions are free from grim humanitarian consequences.

Ash’s appeal for intervention, then, is based on three myths: (1) that a majority of Zimbabweans are opposed to the Mugabe government and would welcome Western intervention; (2) imperialism without guns is better than imperialism with guns; (3) Western intervention in Zimbabwe (which has already happened on a massive scale through funding of the opposition by Western governments and corporate foundations, and though financial isolation of the country) is motivated by humanitarian, not, imperialist goals (otherwise, why no indignant calls for intervention in Ethiopia – or in Egypt, where the president has hung on to power for as long as Mugabe has, but acts to promote British and US foreign policy goals?)

While it’s bad enough that the heirs of British colonialism press for neo-colonial interventions, it’s even worse when they wrap up their arguments in a tissue of myths.

3 Responses to “Myths of “humanitarian” imperialism”

  1. woundmore said

    Radical Tibetan separatists masterminding violent incidents

    The Dalai Lama is now urgently to contact the central government again. However, this urgency doesn’t mean that the Dalai clique wants some “substantial progress” in the relationship, because they know clearly their requirements, such as sending international organizations to Tibet, and taking care of injured Tibetans, are totally excuses and propaganda.

    The central government’s attitude has been consistent: China will not accept the proposal of investigation by foreign agencies, because Tibet issue is China’s internal affair.

    Besides, the fact of the May 14 incident is clear — riot made by desperadoes and violent monks-so there is no need to seek further investigations by international organizations.

    Dalai’s second requirement, treating injured Tibetans, is also ridiculous, as those who got injured were all police officers, soldiers and innocent citizens, who were rushed to hospitals after the riot.

    In contrast, most of the rioters fled the scene when police arrived. Though some of them were caught or surrendered, none of them were physically hurt.

    Even the Dalai clique could not give specific names of the so-called injured rioters. The Dalai clique, positioned on the side of rioters, is not even qualified to talk about treating the wounded because it’s them who caused death and injuries.

    What kind of “substantial progress” they are demanding? Is it “protection of Tibetan culture” or “protection of Tibetan religion”? Actually their claim is ridiculous.

    Tibet has been part of China since the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century. So it is beyond all doubt that Tibetan culture is weaved in the texture of Chinese culture. It is Chinese government’s duty to protect Tibetan culture, which can be testified by the money and gold that the central government have substantially invested on maintenance of Tibetan temples.

    “Tibet Independence” is the premise of Dalai Lama’s alleged “sabotage of Tibetan culture.” As for “sabotage of Tibetan religion,” it is equally absurd. Chinese government will not intervene in religious issues if monks hadn’t taken part in riots. It is Chinese government’s duty to put down commotion if riots take to street.

    “Dalai Lama’s return” constitutes in the alleged “substantial progress”. But if Dalai Lama clique insists on separation, Chinese people will not allow the separatists to come back to Chinese soil.

    Dalai Lama clique actually knows clearly about the situation. They want to make noises in the international communities. They also rely on “Tibetan Youth Congress” to make body bombings.

    There are no difference between Dalai Lama clique and Tibetan Youth Congress(TYC) since Dalai Lama and the TYC leader Samdhong belong to the same group.

    We believe that Dalai Lama clique are masterminding another violent riots.

  2. Robert said

    Already Tesco is going to stop trading in Zimbabawe which will affect workers, their families, and small farmers which sell to the supermarkets.
    I am no supporter of supermarket giants, but their withdrawal from Zimbabwe at such a crucial moment will cause suffering.
    This Zimbabwe saga has united the media, commentators, reporters, liberals, NGOs and religious types like Tutu into supporting a neo-colonial agenda led by the US and UK.
    The US and UK want rid of Mugabe because he doesn’t play the Whiteman’s game. But they have managed to successfully unite a wide range of opinion to support this agenda. That is frightening, and shows they are developing better propaganda tools having obvious learned from Iraq.
    The piece about Tibet by Woundmore is significant. Similar propaganda was used by the media to demonize China.

  3. inthesenewtimes said

    Thanks Robert, we completely agree. The more Anglo-american hegemony comes into question, the more desperately they look for a unifying issue. They can no longer do this over the “war on terror” but seemongly can over Zimbabwe: it’s as if it was always understood that Africa is still ours. I also think this represents a shift towards the Soros agenda, if you like: confirmation of this is how comprehensively they have brought the left and the far-left on board, with the notable exception of the likes of Stephen Gowans. The problem the imperialists have now is that too many countries know their game and it’s good to see the Zimbabwean leadership looking so unfazed. They can face down the West whose unity is only a thin veneer maintained by the most desperate lying.

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