Rex Murphy on a "Proportional" Response

July 29, 2006

Rex_murphy_1There’s much discussion in the media these days about whether Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s deadly aggression is "proportional." The implication is that anything other than a "proportional" response to the attacks from Lebanese soil is somehow wrong. 

Since we couldn’t recall any previous international conflicts in which the concept of "proportionality" was front-and-centre, we wondered how and why it crept into the current conflict. CBC host and Globe and Mail columnist Rex Murphy answered some of those questions today in his column "A doctrine of cruelty and folly" (available here or here). Murphy writes:

"Proportionality, as the word is currently understood, appears to me, anyway, to be a kind of code. The state of Israel is allowed now and then to respond to those who are unlawfully attacking it or abducting its soldiers, but it must on no account do so in a manner that might actually end the attacks and permanently stop the abductions. It must fight terrorists according to rules that do not, by definition, apply to terrorists.

To accept this understanding of proportionality is to accept that Israel is in a perpetual war of attrition, that it is always obliged to contain what force it has so that it is always balanced, even to ideal equivalence, with the force enjoyed by the rogues and terrorists who attack it.

I cannot think of any other state in the world that is asked and, by the truly high-minded, expected to live in a perpetual dynamic of attack and response — with the initiative always understood to be with its enemies.

Such is proportionality. It is a doctrine of cruelty and folly, but, more significant, it is a doctrine designed for the only state in the world that has to seriously worry about the fact of its own existence."


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