After Abu Ghraib

How one arrives at the truth is perhaps of little consequence as long as the truth is arrived at in a logical and valid manner. Whereas modern discourse prefers appearance and form over content and truth, phenomenological discourse and methods prioritize content and truth over appearance and form. As Max Weber argued:

“Methodology can never be more than a self-reflection on the means that have proved useful in [scientific] practice; and one does not need to be made explicitly aware of those means in order to produce useful work, just as one does not need to have knowledge of anatomy in order to walk ‘correctly.’”

In turn, truths about current-day international realities are essentially caught and concealed amidst the crosshairs of contradiction between mainstream ‘relativisms’ on one hand, and mainstream ‘universalisms’ on the other hand. Shadi Mokhtari, an international lawyer who was also a professor of mine at American University’s School of International Service (SIS), argued in a book titled “After Abu Ghraib: Exploring Human Rights in America and the Middle East” that America’s universalistic claims of human rights are juxtaposed with violations and relativistic notions of how and where human rights should be applied, for a number of reasons. Mokhtari argued that “American human rights relativisms display intertwined political and cultural dimensions.” Mokhtari added:

“Militarism, glorification of violence as the inevitable blunt instrument of those fighting the good fight, and constructions of masculinity and sexuality combine with neoconservative ideology and political power struggles to produce the post-September 11th era’s array of human rights violations.”

Thus, the American approach to human rights and international law reflects the approach of dictatorships and so forth, in the sense that the approach is entirely contingent and relativistic as opposed to being consistent and truthful. Mokhtari added:

“Ultimately, the outcome is that in their human rights dispositions American and Middle Eastern governments come to share many habits of human rights relativism and contingency. The United States invokes the sufficiency of “American values” and its constitutional tradition of rights to place the United States’ actions above international human rights law.”

In turn, the contingent and relativistic approach towards human rights and international law over the course of the last couple of decades is now disturbing Washington at its very core. Aside from the political and social upheavals we are witnessing as of late, the reverberation or recoil of the contingent and relativistic approach towards human rights and international law manifests in a number of other ways. As Adam Smith said:

“The great source of both the misery and disorders of human life, seems to arise from over-rating the difference between one permanent situation and another. Avarice over-rates the difference between poverty and riches: ambition, that between a private and a public station: vain-glory, that between obscurity and extensive reputation. The person under the influence of any of those extravagant passions, is not only miserable in his actual situation, but is often disposed to disturb the peace of society, in order to arrive at that which he so foolishly admires. The slightest observation, however, might satisfy him, that, in all the ordinary situations of human life, a well-disposed mind may be equally calm, equally cheerful, and equally contented. Some of those situations may, no doubt, deserve to be preferred to others: but none of them can deserve to be pursued with that passionate ardour which drives us to violate the rules either of prudence or of justice; or to corrupt the future tranquillity of our minds, either by shame from the remembrance of our own folly, or by remorse from the horror of our own injustice.”

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