When we fight with monsters, must not become yourself a monster. When you long fixed your gaze into the abyss, the abyss also sets his eyes in you”, wrote Nietzsche in 1886. It is the challenge of any struggle against an opponent a prioripire that itself, i.e. who uses methods or means that under normal circumstances condemn us morally.
This is the challenge facing the Syrian rebels, for the time being with relatively little success as evidenced by the Syrian Observatory of rights (OSDH) through two days apart from the videos showing abuses by both sides. The first, turned and put on line on 1 November, shows a group of a dozen soldiers of the regular army, captured, lying on the ground, beaten, kicked and then summarily executed machine-gun fire by the rebels. In response to the broadcast, activists send two OSDH other more old videos to remind the abuses which are also responsible for the soldiers of the regular army: seen run rebels and mutilating their bodies, including cutting ears.
This is neither the first nor the only occurrence of crimes committed by the rebels. It has been months that human rights organizations highlight that war crimes are committed on both sides. As was already the case in Libya.
Crimes on both sides
“These crimes do justify in any way the crimes of the other party”, said as soon as the SOHR. In law, veterans are actually obliged to respect the rules of international humanitarian law regardless of the behaviour of their opponents. In practice, however, this obligation is facing two intuitions that it would be fair to derogate from it due to a principle of reciprocity, which would entitle them to violate these rules against an enemy that violates them itself (application of the so-called theory of the fallacy argument in of you quoque, “you too”), either an asymmetry that would leave the choice to the oppressed lower use means “unconventional” to have a chance against a stronger oppressor (argument commonly used by the terrorists).
It is easy in theory to respond to these two objections. Veterans know that their behaviour should not depend on that of their opponents, and that the crimes they are not a good reason to make in turn. They know also, in a more pragmatic way, that this escalation night their troops and their image since it increases the level of violence on part and on the other.
But all of these arguments assume the rationality of the actors, which is often suspended in the heat of the moment. Where the deeper insights emerge and necessary – doesn’t matter that they are questionable since there is no time to discuss them. Nor envy, when they are reinforced by an impulse for revenge. No one is immune from a barbaric behavior, not even the best troops trained, those of the Western countries which bathe for centuries in a culture of human rights.
This is what showed the massacre in Haditha in November 2005, when US marines murdered 24 Iraqi civilians at random, to men, women, children 3 to 15 years old, and an old man blind 76-year-old in revenge for an attack on a military convoy near a village.
The lesser evil
This recurring observation, that a war is always dirty and that crimes are committed on both sides, should not even make us sink into a cynical relativism that always equalize the two parties. Because the crimes committed by the Libyan and Syrian insurgents are not comparable to those committed by Gaddafi and Assad, their magnitude or their raison d’etre, since they are motivated by the legitimate right of a people to self-determination, not by the desire of a dictator to remain in power. These differences do not excuse inappropriate so far: we must condemn with the same firmness. But they explain that one has nevertheless support the insurgents.
The structure of the human evaluation, to explain Nietzsche, is always differential: Choosing A is always choosing A rather than B, in a certain context. “It is never the struggle between good and evil, also said Aron, it’s better against the detestable. It is always so, especially in foreign policy. “This realistic ethics is the lesser evil. Today in Syria, and despite their crimes, the insurgents are the lesser of two evils.
Arming the rebels
Therefore, support them, and even do it more decisively, delivering heavy weapons to hasten the end of what is becoming a war of attrition. After long procrastinated, the France finally goes in this direction, but it remains bound by the European embargo that will be difficult to raise because it would require obtaining the unanimous approval of all 27 Member States. Yet, we can consider this embargo, put in place in May 2011 to prevent the Syrian authorities to use these weapons against its population, has the perverse effect of harming the population since it prevents the people to defend themselves against weapons that the regime is to deliver by the Russia.
Recognize that the new coalition of Syrian opposition is “the sole representative of the Syrian people” and quickly deliver weapons – illegally if necessary – is the only way to precipitate the end of this war, which in twenty months, already has close to 40,000 victims. The issue is, as, more it will take, more rebellion fighting against a monster can become an itself.