NYT and Their Bizarre Argument for Tyrannicide

May 13, 2013   ·   2 Comments

Source: NYTX


Above: Roman philosopher Seneca (4 BC – AD 65).

By Michael M'Gehee:

One page SR3 of Monday’s The New York Times is a peculiar opinion piece by Feisal G. Mohamed, a professor at the University of Illinois, with the title “In Syria and Beyond, the Tyrant as Target.”

It starts out with a quote from “Hercules Furens,” a play by the Roman philosopher, Seneca:

There can be slain
No sacrifice to God more acceptable
Than an unjust and wicked King

It is an opinion piece arguing for assassinations of leaders, particularly those the Western establishment finds to be “tyrants.”

Mohamed wastes no time displaying irony when he writes, “The brutal civil war in Syria — and in particular the numerous crimes against humanity committed by President Bashar al-Assad — have many people in the United States and elsewhere asking a familiar question: Are we morally obliged to intervene when a political leader is slaughtering civilians within his own territory?”

But there is an “alternative” to consider as well: “killing the tyrant.” To which Mohamed asks: “Why shouldn’t this be preferable to war?”

Mohamed reaches into the classics to entertain his thoughts. From Seneca to Plato to Aristotle to Cicero to Kant to Milton.

Of course the obvious irony all but escapes Mohamed. The most he can offer in recognition that the Syrian “opposition forces"—whom are backed by the US and its allies, have also committed “numerous crimes against humanity,” and that the “brutal civil war in Syria” has gone on for more than two years now because of this foreign direction and involvement—has blood on their hands is to write that, “when we hear news of extreme violence committed (or, in recent reports, claims of the use of chemical weapons) not just by government forces but by opposition forces, too, we must be led to wonder if the latter aim to replace Assad’s tyranny with one of their own making.”

That is it. We should "wonder" what they would do once in power. From there Mohamed returns to insinuations that Assad should be the victim of “tyrannicide.”

The return volley to Mohamed is: What are the moral obligations when it is our political leadership that is slaughtering civilians within some other country's territory? What of the tyranny of backing foreign terrorists to destabilize and overthrow a government, a process which involves the killing of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians? Is The New York Times inadvertently advocating the assassination of President Obama, and the allied leaders of Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, etc?

Of course not, that would be criminal and foolish.

Even though Mohamed defines a tyrant as “a leader who rules by force, who has an incontrovertible record of directly ordering large-scale murder, and who is actively using a position of authority to engage in the slaughter of innocents.”

From direct wars in places like Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq; and through proxy forces in places like Nicaragua, Kosovo, and Syria; and even aerial bombardments of countries like Pakistan, Yemen, and Libya, the United States government, the nuclear-armed state with a "kill list" and nearly one thousand foreign military bases around the world, has shown to be the largest tyrant in the world.

That this escapes Mohamed and the “paper of record” is indicative of the efficacy of the propaganda system. By the nature of imperialism, which always sees itself as benevolent or above and beyond such judicial consideration, our deeds don't register. That is why the laundry list of criminals who have gone through the International Criminal Court system have never been anyone on Washington's side. And of course this is also why it is dangerous to entertain these criminal thoughts at all. Unless we are willing to allow ourselves to be subjected to the same extra-judicial measures, then we should cease any considerations of applying it to others.

Mohamed also writes that, “Cases in which tyrannicide seems an especially appropriate remedy will be those where the tyrant is a chief source of destructive commands in the polity.”

You can rest assured the members of the United National General Assembly and the organization's Security Council jaws have dropped to the floor with that statement.

The history of abuse of veto powers by Washington at the United Nations Security Council, or ignoring the votes of the General Assembly, is long. On issues ranging from the Cuban embargo to nuclear disarmament to the Israel-Palestine conflict and beyond, Washington has proven time and time again to be “a chief source of destructive commands in the polity” of the council.

Mohamed begins his closing paragraph with writing how “Domestic and international law do not look kindly upon the assassination of a ruler,” and explains this as being due to “law and policy are created by political leaders, who rarely warm to ideas that might place them in the line of fire.”

But it is Mohamed’s last sentence on tyranicide which carries the most weight, but so long as we recognize that Bashar al-Assad is a victim of Washington’s imperial plans in the Middle East: “That sense of compromise [between “military intervention” and “humanitarian values”] is more pronounced still in light of the tradition urging us to take aim at the tyrant rather than his victims.”

It is as if Mohamed sees international affairs as a hierarchy of geopolitical power, but the top rung of the ladder are the leaders of the states opposed by Washington, and that the rung above them, which includes Washington, is invisible, and the "tradition" of justice cannot reach. The apologetic cookie crumbles to crumbs when light is shone on that top rung, and how it has been conveniently excluded in the murderous consideration. Were the leaders of Washington considered in Mohamed's argument the opinion piece would never had been published.

And speaking of philosophy and the classics, Mohamed’s limited perception is not without further irony: Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” It is in this classic story from Plato’s The Republic where we are presented with an explanation of the efficacy of propaganda: We are prisoners in a cave, chained to a wall, and what we see before us are the shadows of images flashed on to that wall by a fire behind us. Sometimes a prisoner breaks away and looks up and is blinded by the truth of the light. The light is painful. It is disorienting. It takes a moment for our eyes to adjust. But once they do we see that what we thought was the truth was nothing but shadows provided to us by those that enslaved us, and fed the fire. We may try to reach out to the other prisoners, but until they free their own minds they will likely go on believing in the shadows. And for them, those shadows might be presenting them with the argument to kill the leaders of Washington's enemies.


Readers Comments (2)

  1. Mr Mohammed would do well to consider the principle of reciprocity in international law, also known as ‘what is good for the goose is good for the gander.’

    I can seldom recall a decent op-ed piece in the NYT, James Carroll time to time, but then his stuff has been sometimes missing from the web at NYT (allowed in the ‘global’ print edition for whatever reason) .. four years ago Maureen Dowd ran a comedy piece ‘Cheney grabs a 3rd term’, about as close as the neo-liberal times allows for…

  2. eib says:

    But there is an “alternative” to consider as well: “killing the tyrant.” To which Mohamed asks: “Why shouldn’t this be preferable to war?”
    In his forays into the Western classics, Mr. Mohammed has forgotten that in a classical historical context, such a course of action is inextricably linked with war.
    I seem to recall that the assassination of the “tyrant” Caesar brought about a damaging Roman civil war.
    Preferable to war?
    In a country and among an elite that is fighting an existential threat, to assassinate the tyrant is the worst thing one could do. All it shows is that tyranny can move from the one to the majority in a fraction of a second! And tyranny of the majority is what this writer is asking for by implication.


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