26 Oct 2006

Vigilantism in Iraq

Frederick Turner, at TCS Daily, takes the optimistic view that much of the killing going on in Iraq these days is the product of informal justice, of necessary and prophylactic vigilantism.

It is something with which we have become quite familiar in Latin America: vigilanteism on a massive scale—murder squads and desaparacidos—the force of civil society itself in extremis.

When there is a significant fraction of the population that will not join in political compromise, whether because of ideological idealism, addiction to supernatural power, or the passion for revenge, civil society is faced with a diabolical paradox.

It wishes to form legal and political institutions that are transparent, correctable by debate, and under the control of the people (with protections for minorities), where people can make good money in the marketplace and raise families in peace. But the reality is that even after all possible compromises have been offered to the refuseniks, civil society is faced with a small but absolutely hostile minority that will be content with nothing but total victory.

What can civil society do? The only solution is the disappearance of that implacable moiety. Civil society cannot use the instruments of government to stamp out its mortal enemy—for that would be to invalidate and destroy the very principles and legitimacy of that government, and set in place a precedent by which normal political squabbles could in future be settled by genocide or the Gulag…

There are, from the point of view of Iraq’s nascent civil society, some thousands of people who, in the Texas phrase, need killing. Who is going to do it?

In the absence of government intervention, the answer is: ordinary people. Basically the killers are posses of self-organized vigilantes, who know their local area, who know who the bombers are, and who the bombers’ relatives are. The posses are expert in distinguishing those people who might be fair political enemies from those who will go on striking, like a snake, even when cut in two…

Death squads are distinctly better than suicide bombers.

Hat tip to John Brewer.

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