Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Syria Getting You Down? Write Lady Gaga!

In a remote area not served by ambulances, a neighbor's child has fallen off a shed roof and suffered serious injury.    Some of us say, drive the child to the hospital.   Some say, it's none of our business.   Some say, how awful!   let's mail a letter to Lady Gaga and see if she'll help.   Others look for the kid's little brother to tell him not to climb trees.  Others say it is a very tricky issue and the alternatives should be carefully weighed.

There aren't four points of view here.  There are two.   There are those who favor saving the kid, and those who favor leaving him to his fate.   The second group is composed of brutes who are clear about their choice, and creeps who deliberately obfuscate because don't want to look too brutish.   I say deliberately because they seem to know what they're about.   They couldn't really be so dumb as to believe in their ploys, could they?

So here there are real and fake alternatives.   How about Syria?
One real alternative is arming the FSA with modern anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, and lots of ammunition.   This will almost assure their victory.  Since there is a war going on, we may also be sure that the FSA will commit war crimes and human rights violations - just like, for instance, the Allies in World War II.

 Another real alternative is not arming the FSA.    In this case, perhaps Assad would win, and certainly the struggle will go on much longer.   Régime forces will continue to operate for months or even years.   The certainties here are that the régime will commit war crimes and human rights violations many orders of magnitude more vicious and more extensive than anything perpetrated by the FSA.   If Assad wins, repression incorporating these crimes will go on indefinitely.

There are no other real alternatives.   The FSA will never conduct itself with Ikea-level innocuousness.   The Syrian régime will never, in the heat of war, attain a level of basic humanity that it never reached in peacetime.   Neither side will ever compromise because because both sides face an enemy absolutely determined to destroy them.   And because this is a world of adults, not children, 'we' will never find allies in Syria 'we' can trust,  nor will the orgy of violence become an orgy of nonviolence.   Finally, the hand-wringing West will not suddenly be overcome with lust for empire and conquer Syria with a crusading army.  These ideas, like negotiating with Assad, can arise only within a determined effort to deny reality.

Write Lady Gaga

To deny these are the alternatives is not to advocate doing nothing; it is to make that choice.  The deniers belong to the "write Lady Gaga" crowd.   To advocate negotiations, to 'work' on calling the FSA to account for its crimes, to bemoan 'militarization' of the conflict, to insist on the virtues of nonviolence, to pretend to be serious about the UN or the Arab  League or Morsi's good wishes - all these are little more than flights into fantasy.   At most they are cosmetic 'initiatives that will yield at most cosmetic results - for example, FSA 'leaders' in Turkey promising to abide by the Geneva Conventions.   These so-called results serve only to make inactivity more comfortable.

Find the kid's brother

As for those who focus on humanitarian aid - not the aid workers themselves, but the nations who make this the centrepiece of their policy - they are like the find-the-kid's-brother bunch.   Sending humanitarian aid is not a decision about the conflict in Syria; it is a decision to do something about one of its consequences.   It takes us away from the conflict itself, even from Syria itself.   It's the magician's trick, misdirection.  We are implored to spare a thought for the refugees - "the children", usually - so that we don't notice how many children don't even get to be refugees.   Instead they die, some under torture.  Our attention has been led away from the very cause of the refugee problem.   That cause, the desperate struggle itself, is left to go on and on.

It's very tricky

Of course you could, like the 'very tricky issue' people, always muddy the waters by attaching scary uncertainties to the real alternatives. What if the FSA goes all Al Qaeda on us?  What if their victory is followed by a sectarian bloodbath?  The bad faith of these speculations becomes apparent when you realize that the uncertainties are always attached to doing something, i.e., arming the FSA,   The scary uncertainties attached to doing nothing aren't mentioned.   Gee, how about those chemical weapons?   What if Assad survives and develops nukes?  deploys chemical weapons against Israel?   foments a return to civil war in Lebanon?  unleashes Kurdish separatists against Turkey?  enables Iran to funnel all sorts of deadly new technology to Hezbollah?  I dunno, steals our wimmen??

This scare-mongering is very popular among commentators and decision-makers who favor inaction.  All the 'experts' who urge caution, or write those conclusion-less 'analyses', adopt the same pernicious tactic.   First they cherry-pick possible bad outcomes whose actual probabilities are either completely unknown or studiously ignored.  Then they present their slanted collections of nightmares as weighty reasons to do nothing, that is, 'to proceed with caution'.  If they stuck with the certainties,  the real pros and cons of the real choices would be clear.   But that's exactly what the commentators want to avoid.   They want to let Assad continue wreaking sadistic catastrophe while covering their asses with 'analyses'.

The 'analyses' gain credibility from the completely unwarranted tacit assumption that, should some of these possible bad consequences occur, nothing can be done about them.

The Al Qaeda bogeyman is a good example of this.  Suppose Al Qaeda did become important after Assad's fall.   How exactly would that work?  Al Qaeda would  be operating in a country - unlike Afghanistan or Pakistan or Mali or Yemen - completely surrounded by governments and societies that hate it.   Most of these governments - Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Israel - are militarily strong and have strong relations with powerful states like the US.   In Syria, Al Qaeda would be detested by all the minorities and - given the decades-long resilience of organizations like the Muslim Brothers - most of the majority.    So how is this supposed to become some terror tsunami?   How would this be even remotely as bad as Assad's continuing rule?   It is again telling that these questions are never asked.  Telling too is the another sleazy imbalance:  no one professes helplessness should Assad precipitate some problem with his neighbors.

From callousness to cowardice

In short it's like the injured kid story.   Don't be fooled by the earnest pursuit of irrelevant or impossible alternatives.  Don't be impressed by the pretentious experts and 'policy wonks'.   There is no honor here, no rationality, no decency, only callousness and cowardice.   Dressing it up as something else just makes it even more contemptible.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mariya is missing

Mariya is missing.

This is part of her first blog post, on 9 September 2011.  Her last was on 11 February 2012.  After that, she could be found daily on twitter.  Her last tweet (as "Peace4Syria") was on 11 August of this same year.

Who? What? Why? How? Where?


OK… My name is Mariya and for now let’s say my last name is Suriya!
I’m a 33 year-old interior designer [my job now is Syria] who’s living a stable and enjoyable life… thank God.
I’m currently in Syria, and more specifically in Latakia.
I have decided to blog about Syria and subsequently about the Arab Spring.


That was all fine, but let me tell you the real stuff about me and why I’m doing this:
I’m human first and foremost… and a Syrian in between and amongst other things!
I have a mind, a heart, and a consciousness and I believe that I hold my destiny with my own hands.
I motioned the fact that I’m living a stable and balanced life in order to stress that I have no selfish motives in supporting the uprising in my county… In fact chances are things might go bad for me personally in terms of making a living, but it will be great for all Syrian eventually… So I hope! Moreover, when all this is over I won’t be participating in politics in any way because I hate it, and I’ll just go back to my quiet life.
Since I’m now in Syria I’ll be giving you the inside story… My story, or the way I see things, putting in mind how proud I am of my people rising up the way they are. I’ll be using my mind and heart and the filter of consciousness to remain as subjective as one can be. You may, however, feel the need to check other stories and make up your own judgment.


Why blog for Syria? The answer to that is rather simple:

·         I love my country, and every country… I love people, all people… need I go on!
·         I’m addicted to freedom… I did achieve it to a large degree in my personal life, and now I wish it for everyone, and will support it everywhere.
·         Human rights, which became more like human dreams in our countries.
·         My life is never the same ever since fellow citizens like Tal, Hamza, and thousands others are either dead, detained, and/or tortured.
·         I can… you can… and more importantly, we all can if we unite!
·         The universe consists of atoms…! And every atom counts. I’m an atom who won’t just stand and watch, but will vibrate in a certain way that would serve that universe and the other atoms.

Mariya's post exhibits some of what informed her twitter activity - a certain thoughtful faith in humanity and in the future.  But during those months she also showed some steel.   Day after day she reported from Latakia on atrocities, demonstrations, but also, with icy calm and determined precision, on troop movements:

#Latakia #Syria
Two mortar cannons were seen admitted into the Talaa Camp in al-Raml around 3:00 in the morning. 6th of October School’s barrier was closed and people were allowed inside al-Raml but not outside. Tight inspection was detected on all Raml barriers last night.

When I wrote to her that it "must be difficult 2 report such horrors accurately & dispassionately. Maybe dangerous too", she replied:  "it is actually difficult but somehow one grows used to it... necessary human nature I believe".

We know that many have been unable to 'grow used to it'.    Some have become hysterical - who can blame them? - and some have carried on, but with  all-too-visible scars.

Mariya, through her thoroughly impersonal reports, showed herself to be an extraordinary person.   The Syrian revolution has brought out the best in many people, and some, like Austin Tice, have fallen silent, their fate unknown.    Mariya too has fallen silent.  It would not have been difficult for intelligence services to identify her from her self-description.  Please hope for her reappearance and look for opportunities to support her in any way possible.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Hate speech and hating speech

It goes round and round.  Islam gets insulted and something or someone Western gets attacked.

Insert another attempt to be even-handed [here] and another 'this is not Islam' [here].  I have no interest in excusing Islam, if only because I'm no expert on Islam.   But I'd like to suggest one apparently unnoticed Western contribution to this sorry dynamic.  It has to do with misunderstandings about free speech.

Free speech is a peculiarly Western value, which is probably why the West has advanced capacities to reject it.   To understand what it is, is to understand why the world, including the West, hates it.
First, free speech is not a democratic value.  It is an antidemocratic value, memorably promoted by John Stuart Mill to protect unpopular minority opinions against the majority - that is, against the will of the people.   America's élite founders, steeped in the ideals of the French Enlightenment, embedded the right to free speech in the US Constitution.   Much as I hate to praise anything American, I have to say that this ideal has been, more or less, preserved in the US, and it is probably the most genuine element of the largely phony ideal of American freedom.   To those who don't get it:  in the US, hate speech is legal.   Insults to religion or the government or the army or the majesty of the nation or anything else are legal.   The limits of free speech are set, reasonably, according to the effects of the speech, not according to its content.   Words which might be innocuous in one context might be forbidden in another - for instance, if they incite to riot. or tend to provoke armed rebellion, or certain lesser crimes.   Whether the content of the speech is insulting, or hateful, has no bearing on the matter.

So how is it that the West, largely under American influence, is complicit in the cycle of insult and retaliation that seems only to intensify with time?  It has to do with hate speech laws.

There are no such laws in the US, but Americans really hate free speech.  Because most unpopular speech is protected by law, it is pilloried by other means.  Americans, incapable of solving their social problems, have gone after something that seemed more manageable - language.   Companies, schools, universities, all have policies against hate speech.   This is just an extension of 'political correctness', which holds that (1) what you call members of a race, sex, or disability group determines your moral character , (2) if enough people avoid these wrong expressions, they will have a better character, acquire the right attitudes, treat one another well, and then (3) social problems will disappear.  Or something like that.

Other Western countries, which never really understood free speech in the first place, don't need to use social pressure to restrict it.  They have passed numerous hate speech laws.   This works better, of course:  you really do have to watch what you say.

Hate speech laws are expansionary.    While I might 'commit' hate speech by saying I hate you, maybe I won't be so explicit.   Maybe I'll just insult you, or mock you, or say something not nice about something obviously dear to you.    Any of this will do in prosecutions for hate speech.    This has made the laws a tool and an inspiration, not only for fanatics, but for moderates who, well, don't like to be offended, or even who don't like others to be offended.

Muslims of all sorts read the news.    They know about these laws.   Even nominal Muslims, virtual secularists, approve of them - after all, aren't we all against hate?    This means that fanatics can count on a good deal of very moderate Islamist support.  As a web search will show, it is not only the fanatics who have been using these laws to attack real or perceived insults to Islam since well before the Danish cartoons affair.

The West shares responsibility for the current tragicomedy because it no longer believes in protecting speech it dislikes. In the US, this becomes apparent when judges dare to protect unpopular opinions - witness, for example, the majority's outrage at anyone questioning orthodoxies about pedophilia.    Indeed the West never feels so moral as when it yearns to withhold this protection or when, outside the US, it actually does so.   So Islamists of all persuasions can reasonably ask:  "if the West deplores protecting speech it dislikes, why shouldn't we do the same?  After all, we're not held back by some  creaky American constitution that annoys even the Americans!   Why shouldn't laws regarding speech follow the democratic will of the people, rather than the will of  a few 18th and 19th Century liberals?  Why should we value free speech more than the Europeans,  who don't seem to value it at all?"

They have a point.  You can reproach Islamists as much as you like,  but acknowledge that, where free speech is concerned, they Share Our Values, that is, they hate it.    Genuinely espousing ideals of free speech probably won't improve matters.    But if matters have any chance of improving, that's a necessary first step.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Syria: Whatever happened to "I don't know?"

In a well-received Foreign Policy article, Hassan Hassan pours cold water on the prospects of the FSA.   Sectarianism is growing; the non-Sunni who were on the fence are "slipping into the regime camp".   (Hassan knows this because a Syrian commentator in Washington said so.)  In addition,
The rebels have also engaged in some atrocious sectarian violence, such as the killing of five Alawite officers in a police station outside Damascus, while sparing the rest -- which three days later led the regime's militias to slaughter at least 20 of the town's residents on Aug. 1.
We also hear that
If they continue to "bring problems" to neighborhoods, as many Syrians have started to complain, then time will be on Assad's side and his regime will maintain the upper hand.
Syrian activists seem very respectful of this and similar pieces, with demoralizing effect.   That's why I must say, this is punditry for the sake of punditry.  It seems to be the work of someone whose desire to analyse has trumped his standards of analysis.

Take the claim about atrocities.   No doubt the rebels have committed atrocities, as do all sides in all wars.   Perhaps they have even engaged in 'atrocious sectarian violence'.   But Hassan offers no evidence that the killing of five Alawite officers is an instance of any such thing.
In the first place, Hassan says nothing about what these officers might have done.  He does not even mention that, while most Alawites have nothing to do with the régime's atrocities, a large proportion of those who commit the régime's atrocities are Alawites.  It would be outrageous to suppose that, because the officers were Alawites, they alone had blood on their hands.   But we also can't simply assume their innocence.   So Hassan has no evidence that the killings were motivated by sectarianism.

In the second place, by what standards would this killing be deemed atrocious?   The same ones that govern mutilating living children with knives, or raping them in front of their parents?    We can be high-minded about all killing if we like, but that would not justify shining the spotlight on the killing of some policemen in the service of a vicious régime.

Third, in what sense did this 'lead' régime militias to slaughter at least 20 of the town's residents?   The militias haven't needed provocation to slaughter residents of any town not thought firmly pro-Assad.   Peaceful demonstrations or suspicion of disloyalty have been quite enough reason for the shabiha.   So the reaction is no evidence that an atrocity was committed, or that even that such killings would make the shabiha notably more murderous than usual.

What then of the claim about 'problems' in the neighborhoods?   What basis does this offer for the inference that 'time will be on Assad's side'?   That would be warranted only if there was a tide of disaffection so substantial and powerful as to undermine rebel operations.

Hassan's case for this hardly rises above the level of gossip.   No doubt *some* people lay the neighborhood's 'problems' at the feet of the FSA.   No doubt *other* people lay them at the feet of the régime.   No doubt some people blame both sides equally, and some change their minds from day to day, and some support the FSA even though they blame them for 'problems', and some of those who complain were pro-régime to start with.   No one has any idea about tides of sentiment in Syria today, or even whether there *are* tides.   There simply isn't solid evidence on which to found such claims.  So even if his inference is correct, Hassan has no reason to suppose that time is on Assad's side.    And the inference might be incorrect, because maybe civilian sentiment simply wouldn't, in the end, make a decisive difference.   We don't know this either, one way or the other.

In short, there is no reason why this depressing analysis should be received with respect.    Whatever happened to "I don't know"?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Human Rights and Human Realities

Here's William Hague, telling the FSA they had a responsibility to respect human rights:

    "There have been reports of atrocities on the opposition side in Syria, which we condemn just as we condemn atrocities, the many atrocities carried out by the regime."

    "A British official said that one of the main messages Wilks had taken to FSA representatives in Istanbul was to urge them to focus on their human rights obligations. "It is important to send the message to the political arm of the FSA to say you have got responsibilities. We are saying: be careful, you are being watched very carefully."

Hague's impertinent preaching is a good starting point for looking who needs to do what about which of those rights -it is typical of the unreflective sanctimony that almost always infuses human rights talk.   An analysis of these rights leads to something less sanctimonious.

Human rights, both legal and moral, are real, but encounter severe limitations when they make the acquaintance of reality.   They are sometimes thought mandated or protected or  validated by international law.  They are also seen as moral imperatives.  These are at most half-truths.

Human rights as international laws

Something like international law is often invoked by the promoters of  human rights.  No surprises here:  laws are thought to have authority,  and authority commands respect in the sense of obedience.   But this sort of advocacy encounters an enemy, common sense.

The issue here is not whether human rights ought in some sense to be respected, but, specifically, whether the mere fact that they are mandated by international law supports this claim.   It does not, for several reasons.

For a start, international law doesn't have anything like the authority of national law.  National laws have authority because - and to the extent that - there is a well-functioning mechanism for their enforcement.    The enforcement mechanism is a government.   International laws benefit from no such mechanism.   There is no world government.

The UN may aspire to be such an institution but it seems that, the more it aspires, the more it brings itself into contempt.   Since its members are national governments, many themselves of dubious legitimacy, it cannot be considered representative of its purported citizens or subjects, the world's population.    Since it is controlled by the five permanent members of the Security Council, it cannot be considered representative even of the world's nations.   Since it is often laughably ineffective, it cannot even have the authority imparted by force.   It can't possibly lend significant authority to international law.

Since there is no world government, the various international courts and tribunals suffer from similar defects.    These tribunals are themselves upheld by agreements and conventions that certainly have not been endorsed by the world's population.   No authoritative body - such as a world government - has validated their procedures.   They are clearly dependent on the more powerful nations of the world, who also lack the legal and moral authority to validate such dependence.   So these institutions are no more capable of validating human rights than the UN.

This is not to say that the UN, or the international tribunals, are a bad idea.   It would be great if we had a legitimate world government and/or authoritative tribunals to protect the world's population.   Perhaps these imperfect institutions are a valuable step towards the real thing.  But this in itself can't lend authority to their proceedings.   A bunch of half-crazed vigilantes might also, in a post-apocalyptic world, be a valuable step towards restoring national law, but that wouldn't make their deliberations legitimate.

Even if international law were just as legitimate as national law, this wouldn't lend any moral authority to human rights.  Laws, whoever makes them and however legitimated, can be wise or idiotic, just or unjust, good or evil.   They can themselves contravene moral rights and they can have morally disastrous consequences.   Suppose that  some  international body was constituted by free and fair elections the world over.   Suppose too that, on the advice of respected jurists, it passed a law requiring the execution of redheads.  That law would have no noticeable moral authority.   Moreover we would certainly feel that moral authority trumped any other sort of authority the law might possess.   So the mere fact that international law mandated human rights could never of itself support the claim that those rights must be respected.

Human rights and international conventions

Since human rights can't really be validated by international law, they can be mandated only by various international conventions.  Like international tribunals and the UN, these conventions may be - probably are - a valuable first step towards the real thing, in this case genuine respect for some valid code of human rights.   But again, the mere fact that human rights are endorsed by these conventions can't support the claim that such rights must be respected.

International conventions have even less legitimacy than international law, for similar reasons.  The world leaders who endorse such conventions include, as we know, crooks, dictators, war criminals, and idiots.   What legitimacy could derive from the mere fact that they've agreed to something?

Even if the conventions were legitimate, they could not apply to such groups as the FSA.   Conventions and agreements apply only to their signatories.   The FSA was not a signatory, nor does it represent any country that signed.   So appeal to these conventions is misplaced.  In fact it's not clear that the FSA is any sort of entity that could be held responsible for anything.   As Julien Barnes-Dacey (http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/aug/10/britain-aid-syrian-opposition-groups) put it,  "There is no such thing as the FSA in any organisational form, just different groups on the ground that identity themselves as the FSA."    So there is no entity of the sort to which the conventions apply.

Again, maybe these conventions are a good start.   And maybe woman's kidnapping quickly produces a good marriage:  good starts don't necessarily confer legitimacy.    They are only beginning of a process that may or may not produce a legitimate outcome.

If human rights can't gain much standing from international laws and conventions, how do they fare as moral rules?

Rights have limits

The whole notion of human rights has been discredited by a deadly combination of two bad ideas - rights-inflation, where you get a right to everything nice, and the failure to acknowledge that even the most important human rights are not absolute.

Rights-inflation has conferred the status of a human right on virtually anything we might suppose all human beings out to have - education, for instance.    The problem here is not the idea that all humans should have access to education.  It's how this is to interact with other moral imperatives, like 'all humans should have enough to eat'.   When human rights are conceived as absolute, this can produce nothing but silly pieties: "oh, what a terrible dilemma, we need to educate our young people, yet others need food!"

So human rights need to be limited.   It's easiest to see this as rights having limited extent, rather than that they are stomped on by other rights.    My right to education does not extend to cases where it can be honoured only by violating the right of others to eat.

Once it's accepted that human rights must be limited, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the limitations have to do with the overall consequences of the choices that must be made.    Suppose, for instance, a right conflicts 'with itself'.   Here's a case where the nauseating righteousness of human rights discourse needs to go away.    What if it takes torture to make a secret police agent reveal the location of an interrogation centre where dozens of people, including small children, are horribly tortured to death, daily?   Anyone who refuses to accept that there really can be such a dilemma, and that a choice really has to be made, simply prefers his own illusions of purity over actual morality.   After all, if in this actual situation you 'refuse to chose', it means you have chosen to let the centre continue its operations.    And to pretend that such situations can't arise is nothing more than unfounded dogmatism about the real world.   The fact that people often violate human rights on the basis of false beliefs -  'this guy is a dangerous terrorist and hundreds of lives hinge on the information we can force out of him' - does nothing whatever to exclude the very real possibility that hard choices exist.   So, contrary to the preachy version of human rights, we really do have to limit them based on consequences, sometimes in very ugly ways.

Taking consequences into account isn't some descent to a lower form of ethics; it's just required to make ethics coherent.  Consequences include one thing even to the most saintly proponent of human rights must consider - violations of human rights.   What if, to respect my right to life, you must allow thousands of violations of others' right to life?  To insist on the observance of human rights regardless of consequences is to invite absurdity.

Once we uses consequences to determine when a right applies, why not just look at the act and say, according to its consequences, that it's right or wrong?   We could do this.   Speaking of rights is shorthand for something like:   "In our experience, the consequences of doing this  (e.g. killing someone) are almost-never/rarely/generally unacceptable, or (e.g. education) desirable."  "In our experience" is needed because the world could change radically and what is almost never acceptable/unacceptable becomes less or even more unacceptable.   The scope of a right depends on constantly changing facts about the world.

This doesn't mean that speaking of rights is unimportant.   It may be very necessary to give people the idea that certain types of actions are normally immoral, or that certain people morally ought to have certain things.  Maybe people behave better then.   But to preach rights is at least to oversimplify, possibly to deceive in a good cause.

Politics and human rights

Human rights are both more and less than alleged.   More, because they are no 'fraud' or 'sham' perpetrated by intervention-crazy neocons.   Less, because they are subject to limitations whose extent can only be determined by the consequences of particular decisions.   The political implications of this situation are extensive.

On the one hand, the poo-pooing of human rights by smarty-pants left-wing commentators is a foolish, even contemptible mistake.  It represents a complete abandonment of moral common sense.  The commentators apparently believe some things are right or wrong; why else do they condemn intervention?   But in their world, the worst sort of torture, conducted by régimes whose service to humanity is nil, gets a microsecond long cover-your-ass reference to 'atrocities', lost in long, snarky perorations on Western 'hypocrisy'.    One can only marvel at a sensibility which obsesses over a character defect in the face of assaults on the tissue and organs of living children.

Tellingly the foundation of this perverse outlook involves a patently dimwitted calculation of consequences.   The idea is that the West, which like every previous hegemony has committed various crimes at various times and places, is certain to commit more crimes even when it has no reason to do so.   No oil riches, no strategic necessities, no dreams of conquest need loom on the horizon; the bad character of world leaders is quite enough.   In a pinch, dark predictions about future sectarian slaughter are trotted out, claims which in other contexts these same commentators would ridicule as imperialist bunk.  This is weighed against a true certainty, horrible crimes actually committed in the world's eye.   If this is an honest assessment of consequences, it speaks volumes about the depths of self-deception that infuse much contemporary left-wing ideology.

On the other hand, the sanctification of human rights has produced a completely unbalanced reaction to the crimes 'of the FSA' - scare-quotes because there is no centralized authority to whom these crimes can reasonably be attributed.   This is partly a matter of harping on international conventions whose minimal authority extends to states, not resistance movements.   Yes, it is a good idea to promote such well-intentioned expressions of wishful thinking as the Geneva Convention, but to do so in these inappropriate contexts will simply bring the Convention into disrepute.   Some parts of the Convention, in effect exhortations against torture, would be better served simply by condemning torture.   Other parts, having to do with the treatment of prisoners, make sense only for nations which can fight wars in the old style.   Certainly the FSA should take prisoners wherever possible, but it is mere insolence to preach as if this luxury is always available to small groups of fighters in the most desperate circumstances.      Would these same preachers have been so quick to pass judgement on the Jewish resistance fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto?  Or this this just the sort of thing you declaim against those bloodthirsty Arabs?   The preachers should bear in mind that the Syrian resistance arose and fights precisely to minimize human rights violations, which the régime perpetrates on the most massive scale.    The idea that the fighters should risk their lives and the success of the resistance to take prisoners even in the most desperate circumstances isn't high-minded moral sensibility.    It is immoral prissiness that would never have passed muster in the days of the Second World War.

To put it in strictly moral terms:  the Syrian people were faced with a choice to revolt or not to revolt.  What they ought to have chosen depended on what they could expect to happen.  When they chose revolt, if they had reasonable foresight, they knew that any such activity would inevitably involve, not simply human rights violations, but completely unjustified ones.   But they could also reasonably expect that a revolt would minimize human rights violations overall, because it would overthrow a régime for whom human rights were not even on the horizon.   (Yes, it was possible that what replaced the régime would be as bad, but those in revolt had no reason to assign a high probability to such an outcome.)   So even in terms of human rights, the decision to revolt, despite the fact that it would involve unjustified human  rights violations, was morally obligatory:  on reasonable expectations, it would have by far the best consequences.   (Another caveat:  yes, there would be terrible loss of life, but the same would be true if the Assad régime stayed in power.)   This is worth remembering when people moralize about the failings of the FSA.