The Spectacle Blog

The Uselessness of Symbolic Senate Resolutions

By on 6.6.14 | 3:38PM

Golf clap. The Senate unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday condemning the further imprisonment and intended execution of Meriam Ibrahim in Sudan.

Ibrahim is the Christian woman accused of apostasy and adultery by Shariah courts because neither her faith nor her marriage are recognized as legitimate by Sudanese clerics. But we can all breath a collective sigh of relief. Even if Ibrahim is imprisoned with her two infant children—one born in captivity who she is nursing there like second-century martyr Perpetua—the Senate thinks this is a pretty bad thing.

Celebrations of this as an act of beautiful bipartisanship are naïve. While I appreciate the reminder that America’s senators are not totally removed from the rest of humanity, and apparently have some shred left of decency, I can’t help but wonder what, besides a collective pat on their own backs, they hoped to accomplish.

The photo-ops are finished now. This piece of international injustice has been sufficiently exploited for political purposes, and thus can be discarded.

Ibrahim’s husband, Daniel Wani, is an American citizen. She is not, but her children could be, if certain requirements are met, making this a very complicated diplomatic situation. The American consulate in Khartoum has been communicating with Wani throughout the trial, so the system is apparently doing its job. We don't know whether the State Department ought to be doing more or less at this point; politics have obscured real information.

But regardless of the diplomatic subtleties, the Senate’s promulgation of an empty piece of paper expressing its disapproval of blatant injustice is an attempt to capitalize on universal sentiment and private pain. It’s loathsome but hardly unpredictable, a lazy gesture at justice.

These non-legislative resolutions stand in for real activity. The expectation that antiseptic legal phrasing will put pressure on radical Islamists is patently laughable. It's not exactly comforting if your cause depends on politicians’ hot air coalescing into effective action.

This Senate sophistry is like the 2012 social media campaign to “stop” warlord Joseph Kony, where computer clicks were equivocated with taking action in the face of human degradation.

Of course, the Senate passed a resolution condemning Kony and his militia. This despite the fact that U.S. support was already being lent to Uganda’s hunt for him. Observing popular opinion, the Senate couldn’t resist the opportunity to jump in and join the chorus—I’m sure Harry has a sublime falsetto.

So here they are, again decrying obvious injustice, seeking to share its spotlight and hear some applause—statesmen, every one of them.

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