Principles, like beauty are subject to the eyes and interpretation of its undresser. And obviously, we partake with varied expressions on our faces. So, when somebody recently responded to my request with, “I cannot do that as a matter of principle”, I was taken aback. Was this person implying that I had no principles, moralizing principles or telling me that we fall in different camps, regarding my request?
I am very sure that each one of us takes different approaches in our life engagements. There are certain things we welcome wholly, while cringing at others. But do we do so “as a matter of principle” or are we moralizing our actions while immoralizing the actions of those who do not believe in what we do? If you asked me to drive after I have had a drink and I choose to abstain from driving, am I doing this “as a matter of principle” or because it is morally right? Or I am protecting my life and the life of the would-be passenger? Is a doctor, who has sworn the professional code to save life terminates a life to save another, is s/he acting without principle? How about a lawyer defending high profile capital offense, whose professional oath is to pursue truth and justice through the courts of law?
What is that “holy grail principles”, anyway? You see, I started graduate school in Boston in the fall 2003, following the US government attack on Iraq. I had left my home in Atlanta, Georgia, where we paraded the streets with placards saying, “No war on Iraq!”, “Make Love Not War!”, “War is not the answer!”, against those with “Support our Troops”, “Protect our Borders”. Georgia also happens to lie within the Bible belt and (neo)conservative region of the American South.
On the contrary, my graduate school is located within that elite belt of colleges and universities in Boston, with all pomp of hosting the “intellectual liberal” population of students and professors. It is at these campuses that you will find the “anti-war lot” including the Quakers, the Mennonites, the Hippies, the humanists and the humanitarians. So, I sort of found my lot amidst these, as we talked about how wrong Bush’s post 9/11 foreign policy of pre-emptive attack had become and was more likely to bring danger than security to America!
Yet, I found out quickly that my class also had those who believed in “we’ll smoke them out”, including those who had just dropped bombs on Iraq, as service men and women in the US military. Quickly, I found out that there was a larger group among us who believed in “The Role of Force (in International Politics)” and in fact, an oversubscribed graduate class dedicated to the topic. Enrolment for the class included the “usual suspects” –those who had dropped bombs on Iraq, as well as others whom in my thinking, “cared for humanity” and were also enrolled in my Humanitarian Assistance class! But who said they did not care for humanity? Did I have a monopoly on humanitarianism?
Since then, I have learned that different people adopt different strategies in their search for understanding and knowledge, and to participate in making this world a better place. My grad school of “liberals” was in many ways also a neo-con school, whose prestigious security studies program, won it many contracts from the US Department of Defense. I quickly learned to peek at “what those ‘crazy’ security studies people were doing”, by participating in some of their activities. I became a regular participant in the Security Studies Lunch Hour Seminars, not only for the opportunity to eat “real food” –a three course meal with proper table setting of a flower vase, cutlery, napkins and glass! Oh! How I loved the Security Studies Lunches! You know, “real food” is extraterrestrial in the life of a US grad student.
While I kept my mouth close to my plate, I also kept my ears wide open and listen to career diplomats, security studies scholars, US military officers, defense contractors and soldiers serving in several of US military engagements. I gained entrance into “the mind of war markers or planners”, as well as the tools to confront them in negotiating humanitarian access during war.
As controversial as that might sound, I find myself, six years post-graduation utilizing those skills I gained interacting (not confronting) security studies majors in my graduate school, but to forge a livelihood for civilians caught up in over a decade of protracted conflict in Somalia. With an open mind, I am now sitting at the same table with my formerly sworn “archenemies” –the military- to mobilize support for Somali civilians under the care of the Uganda Contingent to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). I have allowed myself to learn that AMISOM is not only bombing the shit out of Somalia, but also lending their humanitarian hand, sharing their health facilities in Mogadishu to treat the sick, malnourished and wounded Somalis. My mission is to use every opportunity of on-the ground knowledge, access, and easy transportation of donations we collect to save lives in Somalia. And I am doing this, “as a matter of principle”:)