Saturday, 10 March 2012

Why I think the Kony 2012 campaign is ace - and why I'm not a pacifist


If you've got a spare half an hour - and aren't one of the 50 million-odd people who have already done so in the past week - I urge you to watch this video.

If nothing else, you'll have something to talk about if you're going on a date tonight.

But, seriously, it's attracted a lot of comment from both sides of the argument.

Of course, it's impossible not to be disgusted with the terrible crimes against humanity it documents (it tells a simplified version of the story of the Lord's Resistance Army, a weird rebel faction that has been abducting children by the tens of thousands, turning them into child soldiers or sex slaves, in central Africa for over the past three decades or so).

But the video - and the campaign that has produced it, Invisible Children, has come in for criticism, for oversimplifying a complex issue, for encouraging US military intervention in Africa, and for playing a bit fast and loose with the facts.

These charges are all quite serious, and important: US military intervention is rarely (ever?) the answer to human rights abuses and there is a real danger that, by helping the Ugandan military, the US is helping legitimise another African dictator, Yoweri Museveni, a notable homophobe and election-rigger.

But as far as I'm concerned, it's always impossible to judge the rights and wrongs of foreign military engagements and rebellions from afar - look at Libya: women's rights are going backwards thanks to the NATO intervention that led to the collapse of the brutal Gadaffi regime. Hardly the plan.

I genuinely don't know whether the arrest of Joseph Kony would make much difference, or whether lending legitimacy to yet another central African dictator will make things much worse, and in what time frame.

I don't believe any journalism can be value-free, or even that there can be a non-theory-laden objective observation in the first place, so I'm not too bothered about the charges that the video is a bit inaccurate in places: in short, what story isn't, really?

But there's one thing I AM sure of, and that is many on the left are scared of the very idea of military intervention to stand up for human rights abroad - and I think that minimum standards of decency and the idea that, for example, it's always wrong to deny children the right to life, require an international community that is prepared to use force to uphold them when needs be.

The problem has all too often been the way such intervention is carried out: only by countries with a vested interest, and only in situations where a successful outcome can be measured in economic, not humanitarian, terms.

So if this campaign does persuade Governments, in the US or anywhere else, to intervene in situations where they have no particular national interest in order to protect universally-affirmed human rights, tat'll be a good thing, to my mind.

And if it persuades the rest of us to expand our moral horizon and care more about the plight of others around the world - and not just keep selfishly banging on about protecting our national interest (about which, personally, I care not a jot) that'll be a good thing too.

So I think, despite the valid criticism, the Kony 2012 campaign is ace - and that's why I'm not a pacifist.

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