I’m using today’s post to talk about three people: Anwar al-Awlaki, Steve Jobs, and Tawakkol Karman.
First, this week it was announced that the President had authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen (born in New Mexico) and an al-Qaeda fighter and inspiration for Islamists around the world. He was commonly known as the bin Laden of the Internet. To be brief, I wanted to comment on the legality and the morality of his killing.
In theory, and what I truly believe, it was wrong. As an American citizen, Awlaki unambiguously is protected by our Constitution. The 5th Amendment provides that no person (read citizen) shall be deprived of life without due process of law. Awlaki’s killing by an unmanned drone strike without judicial review or a trial or hearing of any kind clearly, unambiguously, is contrary to this provision of the Constitution. The President had Awlaki placed onto the list of people for targeting killings due to his horrendous acts across the world, but it is (almost) unprecedented to make an American a target for the American government’s targeted killing. International law provides for the killing of individuals who pose an imminent danger to a country, but international law does not trump the protections of our Constitution to our citizens. Our Constitution does provide a perfect solution to this, though: treason. Awlaki would clearly qualify as treasonous, but it requires a trial and witnesses and due process, the cornerstones of American justice. The end result would be the same, though: he would be put to death. I guess I’m just not comfortable with my government unilaterally, without judicial review or act of Congress- just the President and the NSC choosing to so do- killing a fellow citizen, no matter how odious his actions were. This is a very slippery slope, indeed.
In practice, though, his killing can be justified, quite simply actually, I believe. Although he retained his citizenship, Awlaki was an enemy soldier killed in the normal course of this fundamentally new type of war. If an American citizen had joined enemy forces during WWII, for example, and had been killed in the normal course of battle, there would be no objection. That simply would have happened. Although extra-judicial targeted assassinations are fundamentally different than conventional warfare techniques, these new strategies of modern war have become so fundamental as to enter the category of justifiable and legitimate war activities. I believe the same argument can be made here. In any event, this is a wonderful topic to think about and debate.
Second, Steve Jobs died this week, but he had an incredible life. Many people have quoted his commencement address at Stanford as one of his best and final expressions of personal worldview, but I think more can be gleamed elsewhere. “Only those who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who do” – Apple’s Think Different campaign. Jobs took a company from the brink of bankruptcy to being the most valuable company in the world and transformed the way we live our lives. His tools empowered people everywhere to connect with each other and change the world. Not a bad legacy. Plus- he was given up for adoption at birth, the son of a Syrian graduate student, dropped out of college, and was fired from multiple jobs. Just imagine the big what if- what if the U.S. had not allowed Jobs’ father to immigrate to the U.S. from Syria? We wouldn’t have Apple, the Mac, the iPhone, iPod, iPad, or any of the other innovations Jobs is responsible for- things as elemental as the fonts available on your computer and simply making the computer a personal electronic device for the masses, not simply something for tech nerds. Jobs also brought us Pixar, responsible for so many of the great animated movies we have enjoyed, and he has enriched our lives in uncountable ways. I absolutely loved his parting words to the Stanford class, which I’ll repeat here as wonderful advice for a rich and fulfilling life: Stay hungry; stay foolish. What a life, Steve Jobs. Thanks for everything.
Finally, Tawakkol Karman is one of three winners of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, along with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee. I’ll admit I did not know much about her before the Prize, although I had heard her name. With her Prize, she has become a standard-bearer for the Arab Spring and for the role of women across the Middle East. She is a liberal Islamist who represents the hope in the West that Islamic movements will play a positive role in rebuilding Arab societies (and shows how secularists and Islamists have joined forces in favor of democracy; her party in Yemen includes the Muslim Brotherhood there). She stands as an example of the complexity of Islamic political movements, which are often misperceived in the West as monolithic and menacing, and are likely to play a powerful role in any governments that emerge from the Arab Spring, and as an example of the failure of the idea of the clash of civilizations and of how Islamists can be advocates for shared values and be accepted on the international stage.
It had become widely speculated that some of the bloggers and activists in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya could get the prize (such as Wael Ghonim). Some even proposed that social media companies like Facebook and Twitter should win as powerful tools of mass communication during many of the Arab Spring uprisings. As important as those tools were in the revolutions we have seen, ultimately the movements are about people, not technology. Karman’s Nobel Prize creates an opportunity for the world to refocus on the urgent need to push for a meaningful political transition in Yemen and could potentially actually bring about peace.
I’ll close with Karman’s own words, what she said in response to winning the award: “This is a message that the era of Arab dictatorships is over. This is a message to this regime and all the despotic regimes that no voice can drown out the voice of freedom and dignity. This is a victory for the Arab spring in Tunis, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen. Our peaceful revolution will continue until we topple Saleh and establish a civilian state.”