In Human Terms


By Samir Sanbar

An ongoing discussion about what will define "victory"in a prolonged confrontation with the brutal forces of terror confirms the need to update our terminology. "War" may not be precise enough, and would give the shadowy perpetrators an adversarial standing under international conventions. Besides, staunch allies like President Chirac, Chancellor Schroder and Prime Minister Blair prefer a different word. Egyptian president Mubarek, who has survived two attempts on his life, supports an international conference. "Operation Infinite Justice" was deemed inappropriate and replaced with "Operation Enduring Freedom." The term "crusade" was jettisoned due to its historically religious overtones. A traditional label may not be descriptive enough and may not accurately reflect the courageous response of all Americans who were shocked, but not terrified, and responded with determined resolve. "Jihad" does not apply, as it literally means "struggle on the side of God," and Islam, like other religions, forbids murder.

New eras inevitably spawn their own expressions. When the People's Republic of China "regained" its seat at the United Nations, the government of Beijing (then Peking) decided not to change the interpreters who had worked with Taiwan. They were logistically useful and politically helpful-and spoke the same language. It was soon discovered, however, that having lived for so long in New York, they needed a refresher course in emerging Chinese political vocabulary.

As its name implies, the United States of America reflects the united determination of its citizens, who came from varied cultures and multiple backgrounds. It is enriched by their diversity, not weakened by their differences. The US's alert response was to preserve that targeted unity. Human ties to America as cultural relatives and national kin represent an additional reason for the world to respond with swift solidarity. Reports that victims from 62 countries perished in the World Trade Center alone reflect the fact that every one of the 189 members of the United Nations could find a soul mate in America. The speed with which the Security Council and the Secretary General acted confirmed that the United States' unilateral purpose has become a multilateral cause.

Clearly, the UN is the most enduring universal body for political action. Yet it may be worthwhile to consolidate international support and project its resolve within a precise moral framework, based on the Charter. A conceptual approach would highlight the twin objectives of peace and security, together with economic and social development. The Declaration of Human Rights, made in 1947 after the turmoil and outrage of a world war, needs no revision, only fresh affirmation, however brief. At the time, the US chaired the drafting committee and Lebanon was its Rapporteur. It may be time to invite all members of the United Nations to jointly declare a renewed commitment to the value of life and human dignity.