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3 June 2009

Where are human rights…?

Conference lectured at the Symposium "Arxipelago of Exceptions. Sovereignties of Extraterritoriality" CCCB November 2005

«Where are human rights when more than 200 Muslims are rotting for months in your prisons in a 4x5 meter room, without any of them finding a place even to sit down? Where are human rights when every day prisoners are tortured at the hands of drunken pagans? Where are human rights when Muslims are killed as a result of the torture of your executioners, and their bodies are thrown out in the open?»
This is not a statement from a human rights group, although it might sound like one (with the exception of the business about the «drunken pagans»). It is a communiqué from the military wing of Jaish Ansar al-Sunnah (the Army of the Protectors of the Sunna [faith]) in Iraq, distributed in early October 2005 on a number of Arabiclanguage Islamist Internet forums, as well as others, including the French-language bulletin board Al Mourabitoune, where I first found it.1
Ansar al-Sunnah is one of the Sunni jihadist militant groups fighting a bloody guerilla war against not just the US and ‘coalition’ military and para-military forces but also against those said to be in league with the them – primarily the Shia and Kurdish militias which make up much of the National Guard and Iraqi Army, government officials at all levels, would-be employees of the government, and frequently just civilians of the wrong sect or neighborhood or timing.2
The full communiqué, dated the first day of Ramadan, claimed responsibility for and celebrated the assassination of Nafi’a Nafeh ‘Aziz – identified there as not only an apostate [renegate] and a collaborator with the US but also «a member of the Pagan Union of Kurdistan, member of the Ninevah Governate Council, and President of the Human Rights Committee in Ninevah.»3 She was killed, they said, by the «brothers» of the Al Furquan Brigades, along with her bodyguard, in an ambush in Mosul.
As evidence, her US military identification cards were posted in various Internet forums along with the communiqué from which I am quoting. On the French website where I read it, the photograph was removed from each of the three cards.
Nafi’a ‘Aziz was a 49-year-old female Kurdish local government official, and a women’s and human rights activist. Her death was not widely reported in the Western press.4 But some days later, the Public Affairs staff of the Multinational Force Northwest marked her killing with an article in their This Week in Iraq bulletin. It was titled «Respected council member loses life, legacy lives on.»

«Nafi’a ‘Aziz, one of the most active members of the Ninevah Provincial Council was killed in a drive-by shooting, along with her son, in Mosul on Monday. Aziz chaired the Human Rights Committee and also participated in the Health Committee. She was an advocate for human rights, ensuring humane treatment. She visited many detention facilities and was the first council member to visit the division jail in Mosul. Considered one of the most vocal council members, Aziz participated in radio call-in shows and televised events, and spoke often during weekly council meetings.»5

«Where are human rights ...?» The brothers of the Al Furqan Brigades knew whom they were killing, needless to say. And it was in reaction to Nafi’a ‘Aziz’s status precisely as a women’s and human rights militant, with a special interest in detention, that this sardonic set of questions about the location of human rights – or rather, this implicit protest against their absence – is posed.
Setting aside its context, the statement is a powerful, even typical, protest against human rights violations, and particularly against a pattern of prisoner abuse which has been widely documented and denounced by partisan and independent observers worldwide. Unlike many jihadist battlefront statements from Iraq, which feature, along with dreary celebrations of slaughter, a rhetoric of exaggerated enemy losscounting that makes coalition statements seem reasonable, this one seeks to justify the killing in terms that go beyond simply the sectarian or political affiliation of the victim and to exploit the gap between the discourse of democratization and the practice of the occupation. Rather than relying only on the absolute authority of the Prophet and the certainty of religious conviction (and those authorities are invoked elsewhere in the communiqué), this statement also seeks to present the action in other, more secular, terms.
In that sense, the communiqué belongs to the kind of strategy apparently advocated by al-Qaeda’s senior thinker Ayman al-Zawahiri, who writes – in his now celebrated intercepted letter of summer 2005 – on the political character of the jihadist struggle, which is to say, on the necessity not just of sowing terror but of persuading, of negotiating with public opinion:

«The strongest weapon which the mujahedeen enjoy – after the help and granting of success by God – is popular support from the Muslim masses in Iraq, and the surrounding Muslim countries.
[Hence the need to] spare the people from the effect of questions about the usefulness of our actions in the hearts and minds of the general opinion that is essentially sympathetic to us. [...] I say to you: that we are in a battle, and that more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. And that we are in a media battle in a race for the hearts and minds of our Umma. And that however far our capabilities reach, they will never be equal to one thousandth of the capabilities of the kingdom of Satan that is waging war on us.»6
This may seem trivially obvious: isn’t terrorism always in a co-dependent relationship with the media, doesn’t it thrive on the oxygen of publicity, doesn’t it – unlike, precisely, a simple military confrontation between two conventional forces – essentially pass by way of public opinion, of hearts and minds, of persuasion?
It would take too long and this is not the place, but I would suggest only this. The answers are yes (terrorism needs and attracts the media), but these clichés are nevertheless not so obvious in this case. Zawahiri needed to write this. The fact that he did indicates one of the most interesting and fundamental tensions of contemporary jihadism. On the one hand, it is characterized by a rhetoric and a practice of absolute demands, a walled-up insularity, even a monolinguism, of unequivocal doctrinal conviction. It is one that requires no counter-signature, no approval, no negotiation and even no outside – other than the enemy. The slogan of this would be the famous phrase of Sheik Abdullah Yusuf Azzam, who created the Bait-ul-Ansar (Mujahideen Services Bureau, which later morphed into al-Qaeda) in Peshawar: «Jihad and the rifle alone: no negotiations, no conferences and no dialogues.»7
On the other hand, there are press releases, communiqués, statements, spokesmen, websites, the Jihad Information Battalion, the Global Islamic Media Front, and all the rest – in short, there is a struggle for public opinion. This implies the relative demands characteristic of a political contest, the need to take the other into account, to listen and pay attention, to compromise or at least appear to, to trade and to share, to anticipate and compensate for the fact that the line between «us» and «them» is not clearly given in advance. Zawahiri is worried about losing support among the Muslim masses, and so he insists on «the need to direct the political action equally with the military action.» Military action generates publicity, but not all publicity is good publicity.
The battle for public support requires, he says, not «neglecting the realities on the ground.» Among those realities are not just territory and ground but something more amorphous, a state of mind: what «the Muslim populace [...] will [...] find palatable.» Politics passes by way of opinion, mass opinion, and that is formed in the media, especially the visual media. Zawahiri was worried, among other things, about the PR effect of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s videotaped, and widely distributed, beheadings of its hostages. He writes directly and critically about these «scenes of slaughter»: «Among the things which the feelings of the Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable – also – are the scenes of slaughtering the hostages.» He imagines an answer:
«And your response, while true, might be: Why shouldn’t we sow terror in the hearts of the Crusaders and their helpers?» And he advises, from a distance: «We can kill the captives by bullet. That would achieve that which is sought after without exposing ourselves to the questions and answering to doubts. We don’t need this.»
We are on the edge of an enormously complex question here, about the relation between politics and violence, about the wisdom of Clausewitz’s dictum that «war is politics continued by other means» and of the common-sense notion that, on the contrary, war marks the breakdown of politics, its failure.8
Politics hovers between the principles of ethics and the irreversibility of violence, between two kinds of absolutes. It should not be reduced to either one. But it always is. We are – politics is – forever losing sight of these boundaries, turning to – into – fundamentalism and war, without any possibility of mastering those limits once and for all.
And sometimes, absolutism turns (in)to politics. Sometimes – perhaps this is the case with Ansar al-Sunnah and al-Zawahiri – political action is a mere instrument in the service of absolute control. There are risks, though. The language of politics is just that, a language, and not merely a tool. However necessary it may seem, it puts something at stake – and the game is not a fully predictable or reliable one.
The status of «human rights» in the announcement of ‘Aziz’s assassination provides a case in point. Why did her killers feel the need to take this rhetorical path? They did not, it should be noted, provide a videotape of her death – they did not capture her, nor did they hold her hostage, nor did they execute her before a camera (by sword or by gun) as they have done with so many others. They simply ambushed her car, keeping only her identification cards as evidence of the operation, and then wrapped them in a communiqué for public distribution.

«Where are human rights when more than Zoo Muslims are rotting for months in your prisons in a 4x5 meter room, without any of them finding a place even to sit down? Where are human rights when every day prisoners are tortured at the hands of drunken pagans? Where are human rights when Muslims are killed as a result of the torture of your executioners, and their bodies are thrown out in the open?»

It’s a communiqué about, more than anything else, human rights. But what does it say when it asks «where are human rights... ?»
They ought to be someplace, and they are not. They are said to characterize the very space and time of human existence, and yet there is no sign of them. They are missing, evidently. People – or more precisely, Muslims – are there, in terrible places, and rights are lacking. Perhaps the question is: do Muslims have human rights?
But that is a tricky question. Are her assailants invoking «the rights of man»? In deploring their absence, are they appealing to them, calling for their realization, seeking to find them? Is the answer, yes, we ought to have human rights, just like everyone else, but they are being denied to us – and by precisely those who propose to export them to the entire world? In exposing this hypocrisy, the communiqué would be making a profound claim for rights, the most powerful possible claim, from the position of utter deprivation. Through us, the prisoners, stripped of everything, imprisoned and tortured and executed, without a place (even a place to sit down), demand what ought to be theirs already. Utterly exposed – and, I have learned from Samera Esmeir, the Arabic «al-’ra’» means, more precisely, outdoors or in the open where there is no shelter, nothing to cover you, no protection, a space of total abandonment – they seek protection. Treated like disposable material, they protest against this radical exclusion and claim for everyone – starting with themselves, here – these rights.
There is no necessary reason to suspect that these sentences in the statement say anything other than this. Many eloquent versions of this appeal have been written, using just the same strategy.
Or is the cascade of rhetorical questions designed, on the contrary, to illustrate the bankruptcy of the discourse? The questions, read this way, would be another way of saying: there are no human rights, or even, there are no humans. The vocabulary of human rights would be exposed as hollow, fraudulent, false, misleading, chimeric. Obviously, in conditions like these, human rights are a lie, and a dangerous one at that – and those who pretend to advocate or defend them are not only in league with the Americans but illegitimately hiding their particular interests in universal clothing.
Absent they are. But is the absence of these rights temporary or permanent, accidental or essential? Is this powerful statement a cry for rights, or an exposé of their essential lie?
It is rather extraordinary that the same sentences could suggest two such diametrically-opposed interpretations. I am not sure what the correct answer is here. My instinct is that this ambiguity (between invocation and dismissal) is in fact the most interesting political gesture of the statement. It may even be intentional.
Without simply belonging to it, the statement certainly points to a critical feature of contemporary human rights discourse.
Consider the divided status of many speech acts enunciated today in terms of rights. On the one hand, the speaker demonstrates or expresses or makes manifest a singularity, an identity or a status or a behavior, often a wounded one. We suffer, we are a target, there is something unique about us which exposes us to violence or harm or wrong. Utterances of this sort come from the victims of genocidal attacks, from the targets of persecution on racial or gender or national grounds, from those who happen to live in the wrong city at the wrong time, from people infected with HIV or exposed to toxic chemicals or displaced and ruined by a flood or an earthquake, (or from those who speak on their behalf). It frequently has a plaintive structure, but not necessarily: sometimes it is the valiant assertion of a marginalized existence, the entry into visibility of something otherwise hidden. «We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it.» In either case, my singularity makes a place from which I speak.
On the other hand, rarely do the speakers in question speak simply in the name of that local, isolated, suffering or that experience. Rather, phrases structured like that of Bernard Kouchner – «man was not made to suffer» – follow immediately or even precede the expression of an experience. More often than not, we make a claim to redress or to visibility, not merely on the basis of ourselves, but on the grounds of our membership in something larger, the largest something of all, in terms of something that all are entitled to – because we are human, because we speak, because we are part of humanity, just like everybody else to whom we are speaking.
Human rights discourse is thus, structurally, the opposite of special pleading – it is general pleading, it is a plea on behalf of everyone, passing through someone in particular. I have a claim to make on others only insofar as it is not simply mine, only if my condition – not my suffering but the possibility of my suffering – can be extended to all humanity.
This is a structural feature: it would be senseless to speak of a right that belonged only to me. A property, yes, but not a right. And yet the claim to a right, to something by definition shared with others, extendable to an unlimited (in principle) set of subjects, is never abstract – it always comes from a particular place, experience, existence (whether primary or secondary), to respond to a particular wound. One does not enunciate rights-claims abstractly. This is the paradox of rights-talk: the claim is senseless if not universalizable, but it is only made effective if rooted concretely.
Today we more or less take this for granted, but how does it happen? The answer is not obvious. How does universalization become plausible, audible, practical?
Jacques Ranciére offers an answer to this in La Mésentente and elsewhere by retelling the story of the secession of the Roman plebeians on Aventine Hill (from Livy). Here is the most essential form of his question: «How do you recognize that the per-son who is mouthing a voice in front of you is discussing matters of justice rather than expressing private pain?»9

«The patricians at Aventine do not understand what the plebeians say; they do not understand the noises that come out of the plebeians’ mouths, so that, in order to be audibly understood and visibly recognized as legitimate speaking subjects, the plebeians must not only argue their position but must also construct the scene of argumentation in such a manner that the patricians might recognize it as a world in common.»10

To be clear: the burden on those who would be heard is a double one – not simply to speak, exchange, communicate, but first of all to be understood as speaking at all. The event is that of entrance into a political space which by definition excludes them. Moaning, lowing, crying – expressing one’s private suffering – makes no claims on others, remains outside of discourse, humanity, the political sphere. To become a matter of justice, of sharing and division, of politics, it is first of all necessary to transform the boundaries and definition of the political or public space, which is to say, to change the definition of who speaks and what counts as speaking within it. Thus Ranciére continues:

«The principle of political interlocution is thus disagreement [or misunderstanding, mésentente]; that is, it is the discordant understanding of both the objects of reference and the speaking subjects. In order to enter into political exchange, it becomes necessary to invent the scene upon which spoken words may be audible, in which objects may be visible, and individuals themselves may be recognized.»11

This is Ranciére’s fundamental insight: that we cannot take the possibility of communication for granted, let alone the common human status that would seem to underpin it, but that it nevertheless does happen ... and that the creation of its possibility is the political act par excelence.
How is this «common» scene constructed?
«They do not set up a fortified camp in the manner of the Scythian slaves. They do what would have been unthinkable for the latter: they establish another order, another partition of the sensible, by constituting themselves not as warriors equal to other warriors but as speaking beings sharing the same properties as those who deny them these. They thereby execute a series of speech acts that mimic those of the patricians.»12
I have tried elsewhere to understand this inaugural act of repetition, quotation, mimicry, and the conditions which enable the transformation of the conditions of understanding.13 Here is the essential: sometimes a speech act, dependent on its context to be understood, can change that context or those conditions themselves ... by changing the definition of who counts as a speaker and what counts as speaking. The language changes when the plebeians, copying, speak it.
Ranciére calls this the «capacity for polemical particularization of their universality» [Dis 125] and associates it with ... human rights (not, he underlines, humanitarianism). It is not necessarily peaceful: as Slavoj Zizek has insisted, concerning Ranciére, «universality is a fighting position», not merely the struggle of particular v. particular, identity v. identity, and finally the multicultural compromise. For Zizek, «democracy began when we said: “We, the ones who are excluded, we are the all, we are the people, we stand for universality”.»14
Is this what the leading human rights organizations – and thinkers – of our day mean when they calmly proclaim the universality of human rights? When Kofi Annan celebrated the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, saying: «Human rights are foreign to no culture and intrinsic to all nations. They belong not to a chosen few, but to all people. It is this universality that endows human rights with the power to cross any border and defy any force»,15 was he agreeing, or disagreeing, with Ranciére and Zizek?
What sort of activity is «human rights activism»? Although the discourse of human rights got its modern start with the revolutions that overthrew the French monarchy and British rule in the American colonies, today the assault on the state in the interest of seizing power is far from the norm for political action undertaken in the name of human rights.
Rather, the ethos is much closer to that expressed by Michel Foucault in the short text he read at a press conference in Geneva in June 1981 inaugurating the Comité International contre la piraterie, an initiative for non-governmental intervention in the defense of Vietnamese boat people being attacked in the Gulf of Thailand by pirates. It was later published under the title «Face aux gouvernements, les droits de l’homme», and it sketched the conceptual outline of a properly non-governmental politics.16
Proposing, together with NGOs like Médecins du Monde and Terre des Hommes, to launch a ship to protect those drifting refugees, he asked the obvious question about the status of the initiative: «Who has commissioned us?», to which he answered: «No one.» He went on to explain the «three principles» guiding the action, which he took as typical of this new political genre:

  1. There exists an international citizenry, which has its rights, has its duties, and promises to rise up against every abuse of power, no matter who the author or the victims. After all, we are all governed and, to that extent, in solidarity.
  2. [...] It is a duty of this international citizenry always to make an issue of people’s misfortune, to keep it in the eyes and ears of governments – it is not true that they are not responsible. People’s misfortune must never be a silent remainder of politics. It founds an absolute right to rise up and to address those who hold power.
  3. [...] Amnesty International, Terre des Hommes and Médecins du Monde are initiatives which have created this new right: that of private individuals actually to intervene in the order of international politics and strategies. The will of individuals has to inscribe itself in a reality over which governments have wanted to reserve a monopoly for themselves – a monopoly which we have to uproot little by little every day.
«We are all governed» – and without seeking to become governors, we intervene, address those who govern, hold them accountable, act where they refuse. The poli-tics of human rights are in this sense largely a «politics of the governed» – not a project that aims to govern, precisely not.17 «If governments make human rights the very backbone and framework of their political actions, that is a good thing», he said the next year, in an interview about Poland. «But human rights, are above all the thing which brings us into conflict with governments. They are the limits we place on all possible governments.»18
There is little danger, I suppose, that this opposition or difference will ever fuly collapse. There will always be rights being violated, by governments and would-be governors, among others, and rights claims to make in response.19 But things are certainly getting complicated; or rather, the structural complications of human rights discourse, which depends and even thrives on the basically enigmatic or indeterminate character of its two key terms (if we knew, once and for all, who counts as human and what their rights are, there would be a lot less confusion, and a lot less work to do), are now asserting themselves with considerable force.
Who doesn’t support human rights today? In the aftermath of the Cold War, as David Rieff and Alex de Waal, among others, have pointed out, the major European and American human rights organizations have found themselves suddenly and surprisingly close to the very state powers they had for so long been campaigning against.20 «Kosovo» became a metaphor for this new situation, and «Iraq» its terrible hyperbole. «Human rights» can easily become another form of political administration, of governmentality, and sometimes even an excuse for worse.21

The Army of Ansar al-Sunnah understands this, at some level. At another level (their text – despite its brevity – has more layers and levels and folds than I can begin to explore here), they somehow also confess that there is something else attractive, like it or not, for them in the discourse. Ranciére says, «they do not set up a fortified camp» – they do not constitute themselves as «warriors equal to other warriors, but as speaking beings.» The killers of Nafi’a ‘Aziz took the armed path, with grotesque results. And they did something else...
Perhaps the American military would be the more typical case of the «concrete universality» paradigm Zizek finds in Ranciére (and indeed, he was talking about NATO in Kosovo, supportively – Iraq is another matter altogether). The unusual communiqué with which I began pushes this question to its difficult extreme: what happens when those who set up a fortified camp, who constitute themselves as warriors equal to other warriors – and who aim to defeat them unconditionally, without mercy – also speak the language of human rights? Not only speak, but question: «where are the rights of man?» I do not have an answer, to either question (and I’m not sure anyone does), but I think that lingering with the questions will be worth our while.

1. Here is the body of the statement, omitting only the Koranic citations and religious praise which typically open and close these announcements, as rendered in English by a translator experienced with these documents: «First, we bring glad tidings to our brothers in the Al Furqan Brigades in the Holy month of Ramadan, which has witnessed the victories of Muslims throughout history.
Your brothers among them yesterday sprung a well planned ambush on the apostate Nafi’a Nafeh ‘Aziz, a member of the Kurdish Pagan Union, and a council member in the Ninevah governorate, and president of the Human Rights Committee in Ninevah, and who worked inside the American bases in Mosul. The mujahideen blocked her car in the City of Mosul and attacked it, spraying it with gunfire, leading to her immediate killing and the death of the bodyguard driving the car.
Where are the human rights when they hide you in their prisons and where for months more than 200 Muslims are held in a room with no place to even sit down? Where are the humans rights when they torture and kill the Muslims, who are tortured by executioners, and their bodies thrown outdoors.» [...]
Military Wing
The Ansar al Sunnah Army
Tuesday 1 Ramadan 1426
4 October 2005
This translation is by Laura Mansfield, available at: <>. I first found the announcement in French at Al-Mourabitoune’s News International forum: <>. One of the original postings in Arabic was at the al-Firdaws forum: <>. I first encountered this case at the Infovlad Clearinghouse: <>.

2. Rubin, Michael, «Ansar al-Sunna: Iraq’s New Terrorist Threat», In: Middle East Inteligence Bulletin, 1 May 2004 <>.

3. The communiqué writer indulges here in a little play on words: she was a member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, but they write «pagan» [wathani], not «patriotic» [watani]. This is the place to acknowledge the invaluable help Samera Esmeir gave me by translating this text into English, and hence helping me think about what it says and what it does.
Her death is incident k1997 at <>, citing reports from AP and Reuters, 3 October 2005. See Reuters, «Security incidents in Iraq, Oct. 3», 3 October 2005, 09:19:23 GMT; Barakat, Mohammed, «U.S. Helicopters Fire on West Iraq Town», Associated Press, Qaim, Iraq, 3 October 2005; and Agence France Presse, «Au moins 12 insurgés tués dans l’opération américaine dans l’ouest de l’Irak», Bagdad, 3 October 2005, Monday 9:35 AM GMT: «Une membre du conseil de la province de Ninive, Nafia Nafaa Abdel Aziz, a été tuée avec son fils á Mossoul par des hommes armés, selon une source de police.»

4. Her death was also noted on Baghdad’s Al-Sharqiyah TV that evening, and by the two most important Arabic-language satellite television stations, Al-Jazeera in Qatar and Al-Arabiya in Dubai, the following day. Jazeera’s report apparently included footage of Aziz and her son shot dead inside their car. It also registered in the blogosphere, inspiring one military wife, «Angoraknitter», to start a blog called «Dear Home Front». Her husband appears to be a senior US officer stationed in Mosul. The first post is at:
<>: «She was the chairman of the Human Rights committee and she worked very hard to improve the conditions of the jails and ensure that the families of detainees were informed about their whereabouts and stuff like that.» Two weeks after her death, Louise Roug profiled Aziz in «A Dynamic Advocate Is Now a Statistic», In: Los Angeles Times, 19 October 2005: «To many, the 49-year-old Aziz symbolized hope for progress in this northern city. Self-assured in the company of generals and comfortable around prisoners, she worked to improve conditions for those being held by Iraqi police and the U.S. military.»

5. Multinational Force Northwest Public Affairs, «Respected council member loses life, legacy lives on», In: This Week in Iraq, vol. 1, no. 8, 5 October 2005, p.7.

6. Letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, News Release no. 2-05, 11 October 2005 <>.

7. Fighel, Colonel (Res.) Jonathan, «Sheikh Abdullah Azzam: Bin Laden’s spiritual mentor», In: Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 27 September 2001.

8. Annan, Kofi A., Foreword, In: Danieli, Yael, Stamatopoulou, Elsa and Dias, Clarence J. (eds.), The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Fifty Years and Beyond, New York: Baywood Publishing for the United Nations, Amityville, 1999 v.

9. Ranciére, Jacques, «The Politics of Aesthetics», In: Lecture, summer 2004 <http://theater.kein. org/node/99>.

10. Ranciére, Jacques and Panagia, Davide, «Dissenting Words: A conversation», In: Diacritics, vol. 30, no. 2, summer 2000, p 116.

11. Ranciére, Jacques, Disagreement, trans. Julie Rose, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999, p. 24.

12. Annan, Kofi A., op. cit. [emphasis added].

13. «Drift: Politics and the Simulation of Real Life», In: Grey Room, vol. 21, Fall 2005, p. 94-111.

14. Zizek, Slavoj, «Human Rights and its Discontents», In: Lecture, Bard College, 16 November 1999 <>.

15. Annan, Kofi A., op. cit.

16. «Face aux gouvernements, les droits de l’homme», In: Dits et Ecrits, vol. IV, Gallimard, Paris 1994, p. 707-708. Long ago I wrote about this text in Fables of Responsibility, Stanford University Press, Stanford 1997, p. 155-161, and it still surprises me.

17. See especially the second section of Feher, Michel, «Les divisions de la gauche mouvementée», In: Vacarme, no. 20, July 2002; the third chapter of Chatterjee, Partha, The Politics of the Governed, New York: Columbia UP, 2004, is also valuable in this regard.

18. «L’expérience morale et sociale des Polonais ne peut plus etre effacée», In: Dits et Ecrits, vol. IV, p. 349.

19. The speech delivered by James Orbinski, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize for Médecins Sans Frontiéres, Oslo, December 10, 1999, remains one of the most powerful statements of this ethic: «Humanitarianism occurs where the political has failed or is in crisis. We act not to assume political responsibility, but firstly to relieve the inhuman suffering of failure. [...] There are limits to humanitarianism. No doctor can stop a genocide. No humanitarian can stop ethnic cleansing, just as no humanitarian can make war. And no humanitarian can make peace. These are political responsibilities, not humanitarian imperatives. Let me say this very clearly: the humanitarian act is the most apolitical of all acts, but if its actions and its morality are taken seriously, it has the most profound of political implications» <http:// laureates /1999/msf-lecture.html>.

20. de Waal, Alex, «Human Rights Organisations And The Political Imagination: How The West And Africa Have Diverged», In: Justice Africa, October 2002
< DeWaal_Human RightsOrgandthePolitical Imagination.pdf>, and Rieff, David, «The Precarious Triumph of Human Rights», In: New York Times Magazine, 8 August 1999, pp. 36-41. Rieff makes a fuller case throughout A Bed for the Night, Simon & Schuster, New York 2002, and again very succinctly in the introduction to the paperback edition of At the Point of a Gun: Democratic Dreams and Armed Intervention, Simon & Schuster, New York 2005.

21. David Chandler, notably, has underlined this again and again, for better and for worse; see «Global civil society and global governmentality: resistance, reform or resignation?», in Baker Gideon, and Chandler, David, eds., Global Civil Society: Contested Futures, London: Routledge, 2005, p. 171-186. I learned a great deal about the potential for «human rights» to act as a form of governmentality, in the Foucauldian sense, at a workshop on «Government and Humanity» organized by Miriam Ticktin and Ilana Feldman at New York University in April 2005; Samera Esmeir was particularly insistent and helpful on this point.

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