Sunday, July 29, 2007

Absolute National Sovereignty to the Taliban?

Taliban's Destruction of the Bamyan Buddhas
All power to the Taliban?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Over at Malcolm Pollack's WakaWakaWaka, an individual going by the name "Gak Seolli" has posted a comment about the Korean hostage crisis in Afghanistan that includes the following remark:
The Taliban, no matter how morally repugnant we may find them, doesn't [sic: don't] have to answer to anyone in regards to what they do on their own land. They've guaranteed no safety for foreigners, offered no invitation to missionaries. They've quite plainly done the opposite....
When questioned on this point, Gak Seolli elaborated that concerning the Taliban, he had merely:
...inquired into the rights anyone had to enter their territory and what rights outsiders would have to demand that the Taliban allow certain behaviors or visitors on their lands. Did the Taliban not make it pretty clear that outsiders and non co-religionists should stay out of their land? The US/Korean governments got the message, By what right do we declare that their declaration is invalid?
These two brief statements don't provide much for me to go on, but the basic position seems to be what one might call "absolute national sovereignty," for the Taliban need not "answer to anyone in regards to what they do on their own land."

There seem to me to be two problems with this position, one empiricial and the other theoretical:
Concerning the former, empirical problem: Are the Taliban actually the political authority in Afghanistan? If they are not -- and they don't seem to have political power at the moment -- then is Afghanistan "their own land" in the relevant political sense? If the Taliban are to speak in terms of absolute national sovereignty, then they ought at least to hold political power before doing so. Political power, however, is currently held by the government of President Hamid Karzai under a constitution ratified by the loya jirga in 2003. This official government has demanded that the Taliban free the Korean hostages. If absolute national sovereignty is accepted, then how can the Taliban oppose its own government?

Concerning the latter, theoretical problem: Is absolute national sovereignty a reasonable political position? Does a governing authority really not have to answer to anyone with regard to what it does on its own land? That seems counterintuitive to me, for it implicitly leaves one without the right to criticize the internal affairs of any foreign country for any policy whatsoever. Does one truly not have this right? If a country is committing genocide within its own borders, can one really not legitimately criticize this? My moral intuition suggest that we should not only criticize such an internal policy, we should also attempt to stop it. If this intuition is correct, then absolute national sovereignty is an unreasonable political position to hold.
My intent here is not to set up a straw man for attack, and I don't know that I've correctly understood Gak Seolli's position, but absolute national sovereignty would seem to be the logical implication of the view that the Taliban need not "answer to anyone in regards to what they do on their own land."

Variants of absolute national sovereignty have had eminent theoreticians, such as Thomas Hobbes or Carl Schmitt, but most political thinkers decline to adopt such a political philosophy.

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At 12:12 PM, Blogger Malcolm Pollack said...

Excellent, Jeffery. I have argued against the notion of absolute sovereignty for some time now, and it is gratifying to see you call it into question here. Particularly since the Western invasion of Iraq, it has become almost a fetish in some circles, and I think it is a deeply flawed idea.

At 2:21 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Malcolm. I think that we're in agreement here. I had thought about commenting at your place or letting you know by linking in a comment there, but I figured that you'd find my post anyway.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The only place that absolute sovereignty "might" be legitimate is within the confines of one's own home.(William Pitt)"... the King of England shall not enter here..."

But in a nation state this sort of notion is absolutely ridiculous on its face. Indeed the mere suggestion that such a creed, a credo, a manifesto could be anything but (well dumb comes easiest)is in any sense unworkable except insofar as an individual in concerned. Even within the very limited confines of an individual, the eternal internal dialogue takes place. And even the strictest adherent to any such notion must be seen as psychologically unfit to operate without "supervision." This being the kindest terminology this one can come up with.

Absolute sovereignty is at its core defined in most psychiatric dictionaries as schizophrenia: anyone advocating such a notion for governance of others should be looked upon kindly, taken by the hand, and led quietly into seclusion.

Even in the Pitt example, this is only valid for the/an individual: not for governance, supervision,even advice giving for a wider populace.


At 2:57 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

And even for the individual, such sovereignty ends at the tip of the other person's nose.

As a rule of thumb, of course...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It should be noted that the Taliban did hold political authority for many years. If my memory serves me correctly, they came into power in '98 after years of chaos in Afghanistan. The reigning government was considered corrupt and had little popular support. There was persistent resistant against the Taliban, but it was very factional, which is why the Taliban were able to push through in '98 after years without success.

Very much a Fanon-ish thing, I think. Once you start a revolution it's hard to ever stop. Algerian's contemporary history is the only analog I can look to for similarities (ie I'm talking out of my ass).

The Algerian revolution against the French was predominantly supported by religious fighters. However the government was fairly secular overall. In the long run, they had numerous clashes with religious-political factions. The Muslim Brotherhood managed to get themselves voted into significant parts of the government, but the ruling party unconstitutionally pushed them out. I think they had trouble with the Berbers too.

Well, inclusion is the only answer. Until you can convince the teenagers that although they might think the Taliban look cool, it's REALLY cool to volunteer at the local voting precinct. Or something.

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I believe that the Taliban came to power a little bit earlier, around 1995 or 1996. I recall reading of their movement across Afghanistan toward the end of my stay in Germany, I think, which was in late summer 1995.

As I recall, the Taliban at that time was a largely Pashtun group that was funded by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and that used that wealth bestowed to buy loyalty and thereby pacify Afghanistan. At the time, they seemed to be bringing peace, stability, and security, but I soon saw what they were, largely a movement of Pashtun nationalism that used Islam to further Pashtun power.

Their big mistake, however, was playing host to Al Qaeda. That was to prove their undoing.

I'm not sure about the Fanon thing. Was Afghanistan ever colonized? But I'm no expert on Fanon's thought.

Anyway, Anonymous, thanks for the comment. Your 'voice' sounds familiar, but I can't place you. It's always useful to at least adopt a regular pseudonym.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think the Soviet invasion could be considered a colonial movement. Well, I guess Neo-colonialism would be more accurate (that covered the Cold War era, right?) That was the point where Afghan really militarized, and I think the 9/11 Commission Staff Report had a section noting that the refugees into Pakistan were the ones who were the foundation of the Taliban.

Admittedly, the resistance was so significant that it was very different from the repression of Fanon's Algeria. I think you could apply his idea that once you demonstrate that armed resistance is an option, it will always be considered an option and lead to a continuing cycle of revolution and resistance. Which is really a bad idea in the long run, as we can see in Afghanistan.

If I recall correctly, the Algerian government was able to bring the Muslim Brotherhood into their government eventually, convincing body of the movement to reject the hardcore (Salafi?) segment.

The Taliban was definitely used (perhaps even abused?) by Pakistan. But from what I've heard much of the Taliban's leadership has been broken (how much of THAT is propoganda I wouldn't begin to know). If the remaining units are basically autonomous and formed of essentially typical guys who made a poor career choice maybe they're just operating by inertia.

Well, I definitely bow out and let the experts take over here.

My point is, the Taliban WAS the avenue towards political participation a decade ago, regardless of what they are now. I imagine some of them as normal guys on the wrong track with a lot of momentum.

Re: timeline, I could be wrong. Around '97-'98 I followed the newpaper reports with a lot of interest, but my memory is fallible.

Re: my handle, if I start using maintaining a face I'll have the urge to comment often, which would be a drag for everyone. ^_^ Also, if I'm anonymous, people may remember the good comments and ignore the really idiotic ones. At least so I'm hoping.

At 1:59 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, I see your point now, about Fanon, I mean. Good point.

On being 'anonymous' -- well I do allow it, of course, so I can't complain. And now that you've commented twice, I'll perhaps be able to recognize your literary voice. The downside is that some folks might mistake you for other anonymous voices and react based on mistaken assumptions.

Anyway, thanks for your comments, which definitely add to the quality of what I've blogged.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 1:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh, I'm just an immature young scholar trying to apply the very beginnings of an analytical mind. I'm sure my voice and style is exactly like the hundreds of undergrads you teach. ~_^

At 3:56 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, would that that were true. Both I and my students would be more satisfied -- I with their learning, they with their grades...

Jeffery Hodges

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