Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Human Cost of Turning a Blind Eye to Lebanon

This morning, I found a website called
about the violence between Israel and Lebanon. The website contains some very graphic and disturbing pictures of civilian casualties of Israeli bombing.

Also disturbing, but on a very different level, are the now famous pictures of Israeli girls writing or drawing on heavy artillery shells. The website suggests that these Israeli girls are writing messages to the future Lebanese victims of Israeli shelling. This claim may well be pure propaganda. Nevertheless, I find it deeply sad that parents permitted their children to write or draw anything on an artillery shell. Such an act teaches children to make light of instruments of death and destruction. I agree with the ancient Chinese sage Lao Tzu, who wrote that
Weapons are the tools of violence; all decent men detest them. Weapons are the tools of fear; a decent man will avoid them except in the direst necessity and, if compelled, will use them only with the utmost restraint. Peace is his highest value. If the peace has been shattered, how can he be content? His enemies are not demons, but human beings like himself. He doesn't wish them personal harm. Nor does he rejoice in victory. How could he rejoice in victory and delight in the slaughter of men? He enters a battle gravely, with sorrow and with great compassion, as if he were attending a funeral. (Tao Te Ching, Chapter 31)
In addition to presenting pictures of some of the consequences of this war, the website links to a petition to save the Lebanese civilians and points out that these civilians include Christians, Muslims, Druzes, and Jews. As of the time of this writing, the petition has received almost 200,000 signatures since July 15, 2006, including my own. The petition says that
Up until now more than 500 Lebanese civilians have been killed and thousands missing under the rubbles, thousands wounded, bridges and infrastructure destroyed, refugees are leaving Beirut in droves and worst of all the enforced siege might lead to a human catastrophe in the next few days. There must be an end to this cycle of violence and continuous violation of international laws and basic ethical behavior.
If you believe that the factual basis of the petition is correct and share its concerns, I encourage you to act right now and add your signature to the petition as well. Better yet, after you sign the petition, tell others about it, too! (An easy way to do that is to click on the envelope icon at the bottom of this post, which will let you email this post to a friend.)

How NOT to Run a Blog

Out of concern for the recent escalation of violence between Israel and Lebanon, I turned to Google this morning to consult informed opinions on whether the Hezbollah are "freedom fighters" or "terrorists." I found a lively discussion of this issue on a blog called The Language Guy. The moderator of the blog and most of those who left comments felt that the Hezbollah are terrorists, but one dissenting voice, Hugh, felt that they are freedom fighters. I am still undecided on this volatile issue, but I do have strong feelings about how to best foster honest debate in the blogosphere. I will let the primary sources speak for themselves.

Here is The Language Guy's decision on how to handle Hugh, the lone dissenter:

Hugh's comments on this blog will be deleted from now on. I refuse to take abuse from a teenager on my on blog. Criticism is fine. Hugh acts like a teenager and will be treated like one.

Here is my reply to The Language Guy on his blog:
Dear Language Guy,

I greatly respect your academic training as a linguist and your desire to apply your expertise for humanistic purposes; however, your impeccable credentials as a linguist do not make you infallible in the political arena. If you are going to run a public forum, you had better expect people to disagree with you and to criticize you on occasion, as I must now regrettably do. I'm not going to flame you, but I'm not going to pull any punches, either. I assume that you know how to graciously accept constructive criticism from a concerned colleague.

I have read every comment in reply to your original post, and I find nothing "abusive" in anything Hugh has written. To characterize simple disagreement as "abuse" makes you seem too thin-skinned to participate in public political discourse. Resorting to wholesale censorship by banning Hugh's dissenting voice from your blog was a bad decision, and I strongly urge you to reconsider it. Do you want real discussion on this blog or do you just want everyone to agree with you all the time? Is this a public forum or a vanity press? These are certainly pointed questions, but if you can answer them honestly, you will have a truly great blog.

You have criticized Hugh for allegedly committing the logical fallacy of appealing to authority in citing Chomsky, but you have made an unwarranted assumption. We academics cite the works of others all the time (in formal papers by including a literature survey with a supporting bibliography), and nobody confuses this with fallacious reasoning. As you well know, it would be wrong for Hugh to pass off Chomsky's arguments as his own; Hugh did the right thing by acknowledging his source. Hugh certainly has every right to cite the works of others if he feels those works have something relevant and meritorious to contribute.

Hugh never said that Chomsky was an unimpeachable authority—that was your assumption about his intention! One could argue that you have committed the straw man fallacy by attacking an argument that Hugh never actually made. One could also argue that you have committed the ad hominem fallacy by categorically dismissing every statement attributed to Chomsky merely because Chomsky said it. Just because Chomsky said it doesn't mean it is without merit. If you have disagreed with Chomsky in the past, it does not automatically invalidate his current arguments. On these singular points, I find your reasoning to be specious, but I am quick to add that these mistakes do not mean you are incapable of formulating a cogent argument.

You clearly have a lot of worthwhile things to say, but when you are dismissive and censor those who disagree with you, you risk losing both your audience and your credibility. If you want me, and others like me, to continue reading your blog, I respectfully suggest that you stop telling others how they may or may not make their case and simply let the discussion unfold in a natural way.

Wishing you success,

Dr. Taoist

The Way of Peace
No doubt, it is much more easily said than done, but I sincerely hope to uphold the same high standards on my blog which I have recommended to The Language Guy for his blog. Let me now remind both myself and my readers of the guidelines I set down for this blog in my inaugural post:
I welcome civilized discourse from all interested parties, including those who offer points of view which differ from my own. "Civilized discourse" means that no matter how passionately you feel about your point of view, you will not use profanity, resort to abusive language, or engage in personal attacks. Such behavior will not be tolerated here. Your comments must show sincere respect towards the other participants of this blog.
On a personal note, I will soon be moving back to the United States after eleven wonderful years living, studying, and working in Canada. Although my blog has been almost completely dormant during the past year—a time of significant transition for me—I expect to revive my blog after returning to my home country. I invite you to stay tuned for more news, commentary, analysis, and opinions—yours as well as my own!