Tuesday, April 14, 2015

"Right to exist"

The United States does not recognize Abkhazia's right to exist. It doesn't recognize Northern Cyprus' right to exist either. During their brief periods of effective self rule, the U.S. refused to recognize the rights of Biafra or Azawad to exist. It is the same with an independent Karakalpakistan, South Ossetia, Novorossiya, the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Transnistria, and countless others--the U.S. refuses to recognize those countries' right to exist. And it is not just obscure places. The U.S. also does not technically recognize Palestine's or Taiwan's right to exist, at least not right now.

Of course when people speak or write about the U.S.'s relationship to those places, they don't use the phrase "right to exist." Instead, they just say the U.S. does not "recognize" the state, or does not "extend diplomatic relations" with it. In fact, that's how the phenomenon of one political entity not recognizing the existence of another political entity is always phrased anywhere throughout the world, except when the country not recognized is Israel.

The "does not recognize Israel's right to exist" phrasing drives me crazy because it is pure propaganda. As a practical matter, it really just means "does not recognize Israel," just as the U.S. does not recognize Abkhazia and dozens of other places that claim or aspire to have an independent country throughout the world. The "right to exist" makes what is essentially a bureaucratic and political decision seem like a dark sinister thing. The U.S. might not recognize Abkhazia, but that does not suggest that America means the Abkhaz people any harm. If we rephrase it as "does not recognize Abkhazia's right to exist" it turns what is essentially a bureaucratic classification issue into an implicit threat of violence.

The phrase "right to exist" is a crass attempt to make something that is quite common into something extraordinary and scary. It constantly surprises me to see how often people casually and uncritically use the "right to exist" language when talking about Israel. What prompted this particular rant this morning is the description of the Rubio amendment in this article. "Right to exist" isn't even in quotes, as if it is an actual thing and not a political spin.