Thursday, 27 March 2008

Tibet: what's left?

From strange bedfellows to estranged 'redfellows', left politics often seems a complex of uneasy alliances and less-than-comradely disputes.

Take the current uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet.

This week saw two starkly opposed readings from the Morning Star and Socialist Worker newspapers over China's engagement in the region. The Communist Party's Star outlet castigated the Free Tibet lobby and sundry supporters for failing to see the West's manipulation of the uprising. Against this, the Socialist Worker Party organ described Tibet's "biggest uprising for almost 20 years [as] the product of decades of national oppression", with China "sealing off the province from the media and instituting...a brutal crackdown."

With customary flair, Mark Steel was also on hand with this sharp-witted dissection of the CP line:
"So yesterday, with a touching hint of nostalgia, the Communist Party paper the Morning Star told us anyone who supported the Dalai Lama was "A fool or a rogue," and the fact that there have been riots in several cities "is evidence they were put up to it by someone", and suggests "someone who had fundamentalist power over these people." So Tibetans are defying a powerful army because they've been brainwashed by a 72-year-old with glasses who presumably chants his orders up a mountain, and as they echo round the valleys his followers stare into the distance and say robotically "Orders – from – master – must – get – crushed – by –tank."

The marvellous modern twist, however, is that now Western leaders and Rupert Murdoch want to be friends with the Communist leaders of China as well. What a feel-good story it is, communists and capitalists finally settling their differences, and realising they have so much in common, such as the desire to shoot teenagers protesting for freedom – and all in the name of freedom."
This is not, in any way, to impugn the Morning Star, a generally fine and challenging paper, carrying much that the liberal media would never touch. Yet, as with Steel, my own feelings of solidarity are with the physically, economically and culturally brutalised Tibetans. Left political alliances, to my mind, should always involve siding with the immediately oppressed. As in denouncing Israel's colonial occupation and inhuman treatment of the Palestinians.

And, yes, isn't it typical that while shouting about Beijing's human right abuses, Western political elites, as with the Murdoch empire, are cosying-up to China for a stake in its economic boom?

While also decrying the West's shrill posturings towards China, this more mediated Indian Communist view talks of possible dialogue and wider concerns for the Tibetan people:

"The Tibetan movement, in the course of time, has come to focus mainly on issues of autonomy rather than that of secession. The protesters may raise shouts of “Free Tibet”, but this slogan does not seem to find wide acceptance in the Tibetan mainstream today. Even the Dalai Lama, the internationally recognised icon of Tibet, has reiterated in the wake of the current turmoil that genuine autonomy is what the Tibetan people want.

In such circumstances China would do well to address the aspirations for autonomy through political dialogue rather than by repression and martial law. The spectacle of protesting Buddhist monks being brutalised by armed forces can hardly evade comparisons with similar scenes in military-ruled Burma and the tragic stigma of Tiananmen.

One hopes that China will take proper lessons from the Soviet experience, where bruised national sentiments played no small part in the great shipwreck. Democratic and peace-loving people of the world are deeply concerned over the situation in Tibet, and expect China to handle the agitations and the ethnic tensions with greater sensitivity and maturity. China’s stance on economic questions has been one of pragmatic flexibility: in the case of Hong Kong, China has shown its willingness to experiment with a policy of “one country, two systems”, where the Central People’s Government is responsible for the territory’s defence and foreign affairs, while the Government of Hong Kong is responsible for its own legal system, police force, monetary system, customs policy, immigration policy and so on. Can’t we, then, expect greater accommodation on China’s part of Tibetan aspirations for autonomy?

While resolutely resisting every attempt to fan an anti-communist and anti-China frenzy over Tibet, we do hold that state repression can only be counterproductive, providing grist to the imperialist mill and allowing greater room for US interference in the region. A lasting solution can be reached only through political dialogue in a democratic atmosphere."
Another Euro-leftist view speaks more acutely of the economic colonialism that's taken place, expressing a clear "solidarity with the people of Tibet":

"They testify to the despair of a population, of their feeling of oppression and dispossession. Indeed, Beijing continues in this “autonomous area’’ a systematic policy of colonisation by settlement: the development of infrastructure (such as the creation of a fast-rail link) is used for this purpose. Thus, the Han ethnic group (the dominant Chinese ethnic group) have become a majority in Tibet; it is they who, moreover, profit most from ”development” in Tibet. This is the source of the revolt of the Tibetans, threatened by forced acculturation and assimilation. It also explains violence expressed by some "rioters’’ against Han passers-by and shopkeepers."
Still, some 'leftist' elements continue their crude dismissal of the Dalai Lama as a 'CIA stooge'. His enforced exile in Dharamsala since 1959, so this version goes, has seen the Dalai Lama on the Agency's 'payroll', serving to establish a US-backed independent Tibet as a regional bulwark to China.

But while Washington's ambitious hand can, as elsewhere, be seen here, actual evidence of the Dalai Lama's 'collaboration' with the US remains flimsy, with most of these claims rooted in supposition and cheap association. In this vein, the 'crude left' view seems fixated on Tibet's past feudal order, as though Chinese occupation has brought Tibet political, economic and cultural liberation from monastic obscurantism.

What this account fails to recognise is the evolving desire of the Tibetan people for a new and just polity, not a return to feudal authority. The Dalai Lama has also explicitly stated that Tibet should become autonomous, rather than independent, with full guarantees of cultural protection.

Indeed, these hopes for a rapprochement with Beijing can be traced, in part, to the Dalai Lama's own socialistic inclinations, as in these personal reflections on the possibilities of a more 'compassionate Marxism':

"The 13th Dalai Lama had left a testament that I read. Also, some of the monks who were helping my studies had been in monasteries with Mongolians. They had talked about the destruction that had taken place since the communists came to Mongolia. We did not know anything about Marxist ideology. But we all feared destruction and thought of communists with terror. It was only when I went to China in 1954-55 that I actually studied Marxist ideology and learned the history of the Chinese revolution. Once I understood Marxism, my attitude changed completely. I was so attracted to Marxism, I even expressed my wish to become a Communist Party member.

Tibet at that time was very, very backward. The ruling class did not seem to care, and there was much inequality. Marxism talked about an equal and just distribution of wealth. I was very much in favor of this. Then there was the concept of self creation. Marxism talked about self-reliance, without depending on a creator or a God. That was very attractive. I had tried to do some things for my people, but I did not have enough time. I still think that if a genuine communist movement had come to Tibet, there would have been much benefit to the people. Instead, the Chinese communists brought Tibet a so-called "liberation." These people were not implementing true Marxist policy. If they had been, national boundaries would not be important to them. They would have worried about helping humanity. Instead, the Chinese communists carried out aggression and suppression in Tibet. Whenever there was opposition, it was simply crushed.

That is why I still have hope. The Chinese people, too, have a rich culture and a long history. For thousands of years the Tibetans and the Chinese have lived side by side. Sometimes there were very happy moments. Sometimes there were very difficult moments. But one day, they will see that my middle approach will bring us all genuine stability and unity. I am sure that a day when good things, full of friendship, mutual respect and helping each other, will come."
Secessionist claims invariably harbour reactionary elements and their elite sponsors, NATO's 'championing' of' independence for Kosovo being the current case-in-point. Yet, strategic concerns inform other state's positions on such matters.

Thus, Cuba and Venezuela have declared their open support for China here - to the unease of some pro-Tibet leftists who also back Castro and Chavez. Yet, Cuban and Venezuelan backing for Beijing is not, necessarily, to disregard the oppressed Tibetans. Rather, it's a pragmatic alliance and counter-reaction to US propaganda against China, the Western-led Olympic boycott calls and Washington's hypocrisy in denouncing China's human rights record.

So, should we still support Cuba and Venezuela in light of such declarations? Yes, of course. And for two fundamental reasons. Firstly, both these countries are trying to advance an alternative model of society based on human need rather than private greed. Secondly, despite their respective upheavals, neither of these states are killing and repressing their own people in the process.

The irony here is that China, in alarming contrast, has now embraced much the same free-market nostrums as the West and is persecuting its citizens daily in pursuit of capitalist 'development'. Again, it's part of the big paradoxical political picture.

Yet, we don't have to join in the West's China-bashing sport to back the oppressed of Tibet. Why endorse anti-Chinese rhetoric on human rights propagated by Western governments whose own hands are awash with the blood of illegal wars? In short, we can express our own moral and political concern for the abused people of Tibet and China without recourse to Washington's 'freedom-speak'.

In similar regard, it's helpful to remember that the Dalai Lama is speaking with a moral, rather than overtly political, voice on China's policy of "cultural genocide" in Tibet. As Derek Lane, a contributor at the Media Lens site, neatly put it in response to one 'leftist' claim that the Dalai Lama is calling all the political shots:

"If many ordinary Tibetans are protesting against the occupation of Tibet by China, should we lump all Tibetans in with your notions of the motive of the Dalai Lama, or should we perhaps accept that these people might have legitimate grievances against the state of China? Your position seems to be a very black and white one, as though, having grasped a particular ideology, it 'must' be applied, at any cost, to the whole world. A little more grey never hurt anyone, as long as the bottom line is compassion for those personally oppressed."
Perhaps in keeping with the Dalai Lama's own promotion of a non-violent "middle way" to resolving conflict, some others on the 'crude left' might care to reflect a little more on their own black and white view of the China-Tibet division and how to bring about a fair and peaceful end to the repression.

Indeed, the Dalai Lama's sincere and compassionate appeal to the Chinese people on the issue should serve as a template for the potential resolution of all conflicts, political and otherwise.


Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Malaysia's progress

Following the stunning resurgence of the opposition alignment at the recent Malaysian general election comes the now more sobering business of how it prepares for the next decisive challenge: unseating the BN and taking the country in a, hopefully, more progressive direction.

The words "sobering business" call to mind the post-revelry 'Monday morning' problems any proto-progressive government has in keeping the barons of industry and finance reassured while trying to launch a model of socio-economic 'development' that puts people, rather than market-makers, first.

The standard 'answer' to this dilemma is usually some variation on the liberal market; a social democratic view of markets as the driving force for inward investment, increased growth, international competitiveness and 'derived social benefits'. It may even come with rejectionist caveats on extreme neoliberalism.

But, does this really constitute a decisive alternative? Even with a relative re-emphasis on the role of SMIs and domestic, rather than international, capital, does this takes us, in any qualitative sense, beyond the 'business as usual' format?

Anwar Ibrahim deserves credit - much credit - for his decisive part in pulling this coalition together. A not inconsiderable feat when we take account of past opposition enmities and, of course, the BN network's ready ability to encourage and exploit them.

There is, of course, Anwar's culpable UMNO/BN past. Yet, though part of a government which deployed the ISA and other instruments of state oppression, we must accept the possibility of one's political development, even enlightenment, particularly if that comes with some measure of humble acknowledgement and atonement. A key test here has been whether Anwar has sought re-entry to the UMNO fold. That hasn't happened. Nor does it now seem likely, even if he is courting elements of the BN to 'change sides'.

Chandra Muzaffar's pre-election attack on Anwar said more about his own misplaced politics and failure to unite behind the people than about Anwar's apparent unsuitability for office. A 'veteran' such as Chandra would certainly have understood the ways in which his denunciation of Anwar days before the polls would have been read - and, again, gleefully exploited by the BN and its media cohorts.

Yet, this all rather obfuscates the more structural issues at stake here. Beyond the personality politics, the more challenging question is whether Malaysia can pursue a model of development, even on a transitional basis, not slavishly based on market-driven policies.

In this regard, Anwar has:

"pledged to defend and promote [a] free-market economy, foreign investment and continue the development process. But he emphasised that progress and wealth will now benefit the poor of all races, not the rich and ruling elite. "We are confident that under our leadership and working closely with our partners (in the opposition) we will begin to implement policies to ensure a stronger and more vibrant economy in Malaysia," he said. "We will ensure that investor confidence remains strong during the transition period and also to identify areas of concern that our new governments (state governments) will address in enhancing and improving their operations and performance in Malaysia," he said."
Prudent words. But, does this 'balance', in practice, weigh towards market interests or people interests? Again, we hear the stock - or, perhaps, stock market - answer: it benefits both. It's a seemingly solid argument for financial and economic stability - a gathering concern given the prospect of a US banking crisis and global financial meltdown - coupled with the promise of sound investment, new jobs and economic rewards for all.

Yet, haven't we been here before? If Malaysia, as elsewhere, feels the knock-on effects of the global credit crunch and looming recession, which agencies will be calling the 'remedial' shots? Most likely, the Wall Street/IMF elite. As usual. Which begs the question: how differently would a non-BN administration handle such a crisis? Indeed, what kind of alternative model to the 'Washington consensus' might any new government pursue in an effort to offset that dependency?

Anwar's own US-sided associations and past leanings towards the 'consensus' are well documented. Again, this, in itself, does not invalidate Anwar as a key figure in the politics of reform. But it does signal the need for a radical set of policy debates within the broad opposition as to how this 'balance' can be made to serve people rather than capitalists. And, more critically, how to challenge those dominant agencies of capitalism which set the terms of economic and social policy. This is an issue which reaches well beyond Anwar and the politics of leadership. It's a central question for the whole movement over whether, and how, it seeks a more imaginative agenda.

It's a question, for example, in Penang where people have demonstrated their rejection of free-market development projects like the Penang Global City Centre (PGCC).

It's a question in Perak, one of the new non-BN ruled states, as in how PAS and its parliamentary partners can work together - hopefully eschewing racial politics - in forging domestic policies which are people friendly rather than market friendly.

In short, it's a question of cultivating a real, serious alternative to prevailing market hegemony.

With five states now under opposition control, there's never been a more opportune time to develop such strategies at the localised level. Meaningful change doesn't happen overnight. It has to be worked through, in practical, demonstrative ways and seen to be effective by those who stand to benefit: the people. Communal politics, socially-led policies and participatory democracy initiated at the devolved level can all serve to build a new progressive politics at the national level. A bottom-up model motivated by social need rather than the top-down 'imperatives' demanded by political and market elites.

Lessons from the barrios?

Malaysia may not be about to embark on a Venezuelan-style model of Bolivarian, community-driven reform. Yet, why should Malaysians be held hostage to the same old dictat of 'market delivery'? Why shouldn't they desire and pursue qualitative freedoms that don't depend on market efficiencies and ruthless competitiveness?

Human rights don't only come at the ballot box. Health, social security, cultural fulfilment - these are also human rights. Rights that our friendly marketeers would have us believe can only be achieved through privatisation, deregulation and other 'market freedoms', the encroaching privatisation of the Malaysian health system being an alarming case in point.

In contrast, consider how, despite half a century of US sanctions, Cuba has built a health service envied around the world. Unlike the frightened millions of uninsured Americans - as brilliantly depicted in Michael Moore's Sicko - Cubans don't want for any kind of health care. Cubans don't go hungry. Cuban children don't go destitute in the street, unlike kids in other parts of Latin America's market-driven region.

During a recent UK-wide Cuban tour talk, I had the pleasure of asking the Cuban Transport Ministry advisor (and formerly Che Guevara's deputy) Orlando Borrego for his thoughts on Cuba's and Venezuela's joint efforts in building economic and social alternatives for the region. In response, Borrego stated that he wished he had three hours to talk on this subject alone, so impassioned and excited was he about these initiatives. But, with limited time, he amplified how each country was co-operating to build a real social economy across Latin America. An economy based on the creation of doctors, educational, environmental and other human infrastructure as opposed to market-led 'development'.

For many others at the meeting, and those who look beyond the loaded media version of what's happening in that region, it gives a tremendous sense of hope that people can organise and deliver just social provisions without recourse to market dependency.

Malaysia may not be in a politically comparable situation to Venezuela or Cuba. Yet, how Malaysians challenge and resist the dominant ideas and demands of capital is every bit as crucial.

It's worth bearing in mind that Hugo Chavez is nothing without the people who put him where he is. They continue to support him because he's enacting devolved policies driven by their - and his - social and political concerns. Those people don't just want a few more crumbs of the market-dispensed cake. They want meaningful change in how the social cake is made and divided, which requires co-operative control of the 'bakery' itself.

Malaysia's opposition will, no doubt, be exercised in this next critical pre-election phase by other types of division: sectarian, racial and party political.

Yet, hopefully, Anwar and the other leaders within this, seemingly, bright new opposition will stay alert to the concerns of the people they, apparently, speak for. Otherwise, it's 'business as usual' for most Malaysians.


Friday, 7 March 2008

Compassion and the non-lives of Palestinians

Unsurprisingly, the killing at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem has been vocally condemned by Western politicians and given special prominence across the media. A sad and brutal attack it may be. But, why the privileged attention? Was there ever any doubt that Israeli and Western lives matter more than Palestinians, Iraqis, Afghans and any (as Said terms it) 'other'?

True to form, the BBC presented it as a decisive moment in shaping "Israel's response" to Gaza, as though already long-suffering Palestinians should now prepare to be punished for this particular deed:

"But depending upon whose fingerprints are on the operation, the wider consequences could be considerable...Whoever ordered this gun attack, the emotions raised by this incident will inevitably influence Israel's response to continuing rocket fire from the Gaza Strip."

Israel sends F-16s to carry out 'targeted assassinations' of its enemies in Gaza and the West Bank. That is, Hamas and anyone else who seek to resist Israel's illegal occupation and ruthless killing. Israeli forces massacre women and children as part of the process, but it's treated by the elite political class as a consequence of the 'ongoing conflict'; an abstraction that allows for 'legitimate state responses' in which people get translated into 'collateral damage'.

The loss of civilian life is noted in much the same way by a supposedly 'objective' and 'impartial' media. It may even report some of the 'unfortunate' effects; the lost legs of the children, the traumatic scenes of blood and screaming mothers. But never as a 'breaking news' story, never accompanied by the names and life accounts of those whose existence has been snuffed-out in terrifying air attacks. Lives can be shattered in an instant, homes blown to pieces. But they're regarded, essentially, as part of a body count, targeted infrastructure, additional statistics.

Reporters pride themselves in reporting the numbers. Doing the 'job of reporting'. Tallying-up the casualties. Noting a line of Palestinian or international condemnation, here or there. But never seriously considering the human pain, loss and suffering. Never giving it that immediacy or urgency. And never squarely and consistently setting it within the contextual reality of a people under continued siege.

And so, the viewing public accord it the same kind of sparse and bewildered attention: what a shocking attack on the seminary; things are bad again in Gaza, they might even say, maybe shaking their heads. Wonder what's behind all this conflict, they'll think. Too complex to understand. Maybe Israel is 'acting badly'. But, they'll likely reason, the papers and the BBC don't talk of 'outlandish' things like 'genocide' or 'ethnic cleansing'. They talk of 'incursions' to take out 'militants'. Which sounds more reasonable, more balanced, more...BBC. So, maybe Israel's actions are kind of, well, 'justified'. It's a 'dispute', after all. And Israel's got a legitimate government and an army to defend its people - just like us here in the civilised West. Unlike the chaotic Palestinians with their warring factions and sneaky rockets, set off by all those menacing, shouting men we keep seeing on the telly whenever they refer to Palestine. And, Mark Urban says that Israel is just trying to figure out how best to defend Sderot against the incessant Qassams. And he's the diplomatic and military expert. From the BBC, right? This is Newsnight, after all. Who are we to question the integrity of Newsnight and the BBC?

In stark contrast, a Palestinian targets a seminary regarded as the ideological hub of Zionist settlers, a mainstay of the Israeli occupation, and he is branded a wicked terrorist. The photos of his victims are prominently displayed. Their loss is mourned. Their lives mattered. Their bodies count in a different way.

Gordon Brown, David Miliband, Hillary Clinton and multipe other Western elites rush to condemn the attack as a particular extremist act. Only the state, by their logic, can sanction killing. With proper shiny, expensive armaments built in the West and supplied to friends like Israel. Only governments of the kind we like can authorise force and carry out executions of those it deems a threat. Sometimes they might get 'reprimanded' for going a bit too far. As in Gaza. But, hey, we're all part of the caring-sharing club of like-minded nations trying to maintain freedom and democracy.

Some, of course, remain beyond the pale. Libya, for example, is demonised for requesting a Security Council resolution recognising the wanton killings that have also taken place in Gaza. Asking for "balanced action", simple moral equivalence to the Jerusalem attack, Tripoli is roundly condemned, led, predictably, by the US. A case of more dusky-faced 'others' 'condoning terrorism'.

And so the safe proclamations that pass for compassion filter on down, encouraging us to condemn the 'crazed gunmen' who are trying to 'wreck' the peace process.

Not, of course, the IDF, Israeli politicians and jet-setting US diplomats who really are doing their utmost to prevent a just peace. A deception, again, seemingly at odds with the diplomacy-speak faithfully repeated by the media. Tony Blair, a peace envoy, serving to undermine peace? How could that be? What absurdity in thinking that Ehud Olmert really wants Gaza kept as a destabilised mega prison. Surely he and Barak are doing all they can to help the West Bank - so long as Israel gets to maintain its settlements, private roads and internal security.

Well, accepted, some might say, maybe these people do have a more mendacious agenda. Bush, Rice, Olmert and Abbas were all involved in trying to enact a covert coup to overthrow the elected Hamas government. Yes, they are cynical politicians. Point taken. But, hold on, what about those Israelis who roundly condemn all the killing. Surely, all they want is a just peace? Surely they feel compassion for the Palestinians?

Well, regretfully, no.

The essence of true compassion is to speak clearly in defence of the oppressed.

True compassion isn't just saying we regret the loss of lives on both sides. We can, and should, feel that sense of regret. But that, in itself, isn't enough. It's not real proactive compassion. It's liberal compassion. Safe compassion.

Meaningful compassion, in contrast, comes when, alongside the regret, we have the care and courage to say that the attack at the yeshiva stemmed specifically from the structural oppression of the Palestinian people in an illegal and wicked occupation. And to insist that until that fundamental injustice is addressed, there can be no end to such suffering. Otherwise, we take easy, self-regarding refuge, cocooned in a state of moral denial. We also, in the process, help maintain a state that's in crisis denial about its own oppressive actions and inability to feel compassion for its victims.

Are we surprised that a people beaten into submission resort to this kind of action? As Ilan Pappe warns: "the third intifada is on its way" and Israel is ready for "a further elaboration of the mega prison system". Feel regret for the multiple loss of life that's happened and the untold suffering still to come. But understand the key causal roots of that suffering. Otherwise, we languish in a form of ersatz compassion, helping no one to transcend the misery.


Saturday, 1 March 2008

Anger, hate and violence

The end of another tortuous week in Gaza that's seen over ninety Palestinians murdered by Israeli forces, sixty one on this day alone. Who knows what further violent brutality these next days will bring for the people of that wretched strip of land.

They've murdered the infants. Again. Indiscriminately. Without fear of the consequences. Without conscience. Without the slightest care.

How do we come to terms with this mindset? Some seek reasons. Some appeal to reason. Some just despair.

And what place compassion amid this mindless taking of human life? As one reflective contributor at the Media Lens site asks:

"How on earth can someone stay compassionate and peaceful when you hear of such hideous cruelty as this? It's easy- normalise it; read the news story (just once, though), then check the football results, tell yourself the world 'out there' ain't peaceful and never was, don't meddle with empathy, wean yourself back onto personal worries by checking your bank statement, put the milk back in the fridge, go to bed, sleep."

What's the purpose of hate, anger and violence? It seems, at first sight, an academic question, given the perennial existence of all three. And yet, it's a question which those espousing a progressive politics often struggle with in seeking to rationalise the case for resistance against injustice and oppression.

In his latest Cogitation piece, Non-violence and the cherishing mind, Media Lens Editor David Edwards argues that violence, or the end results of violent action, usually achieves nothing, or very little, of humanitarian use.

David's essay prompted some illuminating questions and responses, most notably around the problems of what oppressed and occupied people are supposed to do to liberate themselves.

As JimL puts it: "From a Buddhist perspective what would you suggest Palestinians, Burmese or Cubans do?"

In other words, is violent resistance a legitimate option in such cases? It's a fair question, acknowledged and answered, thus:

"While it’s quite right to pit the toughest possible examples against arguments for compassion and non-violence, I think we need to be careful not to lose focus of the situations facing most people most of the time. The argument is that training our minds for greater compassion, generosity, less anger and greed, is hugely beneficial to us and everyone else around us. That’s very important, well worth exploring."

That's not to claim that we can always avoid the reality of violent responses. But it does suggest a more conscientious effort to seek alternatives at every possible turn:

"The philosophy of non-violence argues that violence tends to result in intensifying spirals of violence and hatred at enormous cost. There should of course be resistance, but to the extent that this can be non-violent and rooted in compassion rather than anger, then the suffering is likely to be less. Wherever possible, we should look for options with least violence. "

It's a persuasive argument. In addition, I'd suggest that Palestine, Burma and Cuba offer three useful examples of how violent resistance to oppression has been of limited use.

In the first case, yes, there has been a certain amount of understandable armed resistance from the Palestinians. But as the Israeli state knows, the threat and impact of this has been of a largely superfluous and token nature. As with South Africa's apartheid regime, Israel is far more worried about peaceful resistance and the international support which flows from it. This is precisely why Israel continues to goad the Palestinians into violent actions. The recent report by UN Special Rapporteur John Dugard cites Israel as the principal cause of the conflict. It's an unequivocal indictment of Israeli violence. And it suggests, ipso facto, that the Palestinians have much more to gain in terms of international support from a non-violent strategy.

In Burma, the broad opposition, including the country's esteemed community of monks, has been involved in an almost completely peaceful campaign of dissent and resistance, a process which, though covering many decades, is still making steady ground. The junta's recent announcement of a proposed new constitution and elections may be a stalling tactic, but it's also in response to gathering political pressure, inside and outside the country. Crucially, the internal resistance, and support for it, has been given vital legitimacy by the non-violent nature of its actions.

In Cuba, a corrupt US-backed mafiosa government was removed in 1959 with relatively little force required, allowing the Cuban revolution to develop as an essentially peaceful process. Indeed, it's remarkable that even fifty years of spiteful US embargoes hasn't caused Cuba to implode into political crisis and conflict. Again it's another illustration of how social progress is more likely to be achieved in the long run through peaceful resistance. The CIA and its proxies have initiated hundreds of plots to kill Castro. Yet, the recently-retired Fidel and the revolution are alive and well, still buoyed by a great deal of sympathy around the world. The US, in stark contrast, has little such sympathy, as it maintains its violent persecutions around the globe, including, of course, on the occupied Cuban territory of Guantanamo Bay.

But, if we are to eschew violence as a 'solution', how do we effect (rather than affect) a compassionate alternative?

JimL further asserts that compassion:

"should be EARNED. If you offer it, and it is not received, you have a right to withdraw it. In this way, you are trying to teach the other person the merits of compassion."

David takes an alternative view:

"If being compassionate is beneficial to yourself, why would it need to be earned? You’re helping yourself tremendously by being more compassionate, generous, patient, less angry. In fact angry people are doing you a real service by providing you with a chance to test and strengthen your patience...I think if you are generous, patient, compassionate as a matter of choice - because you want to be, not because you’re weak and helpless, or because you have some hidden selfish agenda - I think it’s incredibly beneficial."

However, compassion shouldn't be confused with placid acceptance of another's anger, hate or violence:

"That’s not compassion, it’s crazy - it’s an appearance, a facsimile, of compassion. It‘s false, an act, so you’re failing anyway."

True compassion, rather, involves the active effort to end or minimise the suffering of others, not just an ability or desire to empathise with the victimised.

One might add here that compassion "earned" signifies something of the market place. Rather than "earned", compassion is something better to be learned.

Violence and its many facets

But, of course, anger, hate and violence are not just features of genocidal and war-type scenarios. They permeate every facet of our daily lives, from neighbourhood disputes to road-rage, from school ground bullying to attacks on asylum seekers.

Moreover, hate, anger and violence appear in rather wider forms than just between immediate protagonists. Here's a useful illustration.

In February 2008, Glasgow man Stephen Armstrong was sentenced to three years and eight months in jail for running his car into a man with whom he was having a dispute. Mr Armstrong had, allegedly, been reacting to problems with several youths near his home. Following a series of confrontations, Mr Armstrong was threatened and his car struck with a weapon. In response, he drove his car into the man, causing him to be hospitalised with a broken collar bone, broken leg and a punctured lung.

Mr Armstrong's sentence prompted an outpouring of anger among his family, neighbours and friends, much of it encouraged by a fevered tabloid media campaign in which Mr Armstrong was praised as a decent family man standing up to the "thugs".

On the face of it, those supporting Mr Armstrong would seem to be acting in a compassionate spirit. Yet, let's consider the wider manifestations of anger, hate and violence here.

1. The violence of the man threatening Mr Armstrong.

2. Mr Armstrong's anger-fuelled violence against his victim, leaving him almost dead.

3. The violence of the Daily Mail, Daily Record and other organs of hateful recrimination which see the angry castigation of "neds" and "yobs" as an appropriate response. The paradox is that those who supposedly support Mr Armstrong here are not acting out of compassionate interest, but from an anger-stoked desire for retribution. Thus, the violence inflicted by Mr Armstrong on his victim is implicitly condoned as a legitimate act.

4. The responses of Mr Armstrong's supporters, fuelled by the tabloid media, many of whom think it acceptable to impose physical violence against the "yobs".

5. The violence of the politicians who wash their hands of the problem, indulging in populist rhetoric rather than concede that the system - and their political part in it - has failed everyone involved here.

Who gains from this sorry scenario? Precisely nobody.

Central to all these facets of anger, hate and violence lies a fundamental inability to feel and effect the kind of compassion noted. Anger begets anger, hate begets hate and violence begets violence.

Same negativities

And this leads us to the reasonable conclusion that the anger, hate and violence being visited on Gaza and that which we see around us in daily life is derived from the same negative impulses.

One of the remarkable features of life in Cuba is the relative absence of such problems. It's by no means free from social ills. But, as a society, it's miles head of what's happening in much of the 'advanced' West in terms of how we regard people, particularly children.

Much of that stems from the kind of ethical prioritisation of human beings before war, profit and greed. It's notable, in this regard, that, unlike the US, UK and Israel, Cuba is not engaged in the militarisation of its society or colonial hostilities.

I was struck recently by the report of how Cuban doctors had helped restore the eyesight of the man who executed Che Guevara. In the week that the mass media have been playing-up Cuba's 'democratic deficits', maybe there's some lessons to be gleaned from how that besieged country has managed to maintain its revolutionary ideals without resorting to hateful actions -caring more about exporting doctors to the impoverished region than violent responses to Washington. And, unlike Israel's violent behaviour, it stands taller in the eyes of the world for doing so.