Saturday, 26 April 2008

People in an unhappy state

Are there parallel lessons on peace and happiness to be drawn from political and personal life?

Here's one that comes usefully to mind: you can't build your own happiness on another's unhappiness.

Market life conditions us into believing that we will feel better in ourselves if our competing peers, neighbours, even friends are in some way less well-off, unfulfilled and, basically, unhappier than us.

We may proclaim altruistic emotions to the contrary. But consider how happy, for example, any 'professional salaried' person would feel about the idea of pay and status parity with someone 'lower down' the 'economic ladder.' Or, how we often seek more punitive retributions for prisoners and lawbreakers. Or, why we can feel 'happy elation' when a rival football team loses. Don't we derive a range of quiet satisfactions, often darkly pleasurable ones, from other people's relative unhappiness, subordination, even suffering?

Someone recently told me how unhappy they were on learning that their long-lost ex-partner had formed a 'happy' relationship with someone else. It wasn't a bitter response, just a feeling of despondency at their own presumed 'failures', 'inadequacies' and, thus, sense of 'unhappiness' relative to their ex. Their 'decreased happiness', in effect, had been seemingly influenced by the thought of the other's 'increased happiness'.

Of course, the hurt and sadness of broken and hostile relationships can stay with and affect people for a lifetime. In all kinds of social and political situations. Emotional healing may require patient forms of mediation. Some may prefer the 'comfort' of the bitterness. But the person seeking a truly happier life will, more rationally, opt for the view that calm and benevolent thoughts towards a 'conflicting other' will benefit all parties in the long run, particularly themselves. In short, one's own emotional well-being can be greatly enhanced by genuine compassion for others, even adversarial others.

This undermines the view that power over another can ever constitute a basis for balanced, sustainable peace and harmony. The realisation of such may, of course, be a long-term and tortuous goal. But even the attempted cultivation of that mind-balance takes us a considerable way to experiencing more positive, happier feelings within.

In other words, it's within one's own head and heart that such things need to be resolved. Not through the projection of negative feelings or actions against others.

Hatred, vengeance, acquisitiveness, jealousy and other personally-indulgent traits can give us a rush of temporary 'satisfaction', a feeling of power and control over others, but it can never truly deliver inner contentment. And it will always contain the latent prospect of more animosity and troubled feelings to come.

The 'unhappy state'?

Can a country and its collective people, by a similar logic, ever be a peaceful, content or 'happy' entity while it dominates another? The answer, again, would seem to be no.

The state 'itself' is, of course, an unhappy construct by regular definition, premised on selective interest and the 'exclusive' recourse to violence. Yet, the 'unhappiness of the state' as a set of offices is only made possible by the people who occupy and politicise those agencies. The wicked policies which people enact in the name of their state is often inversely related to their own personal unhappiness and lack of compassion for others.

Thus, when we look at Israel's sixty years of ethnic cleansing, apartheid and calculated murder of the Palestinians, do we see a state, a system, a body politic, a people, content, balanced and 'happy' in itself? Or do we see the same familiar evasions of social 'contentment', ersatz 'security' and delusional 'happiness' based on power over another?

It's hard to think of a state or state system that hasn't, ultimately, come to an unhappy crisis point over its occupations and persecutions: the US in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, Britain in Ireland, Indonesia in East Timor, China in Tibet, the US/UK in Iraq, Israel in Palestine. History shows that oppressive states and empires may 'enjoy' the economic and geopolitical 'fruits' of their terror. But, in the longer run, the satisfaction of power and control is still transient and illusory, fostering suffering, genocide and respondent violence in the process. The 'unhappy state' lives on a diet of false and insatiable gratification, the Zionist state of Israel being a prime example. And the unhappiest states of all are the ones mired in psychopathic dismissal of another's persecution and unhappiness.

The personification of that unhappiness is evident in the leaders of such states. How happy a man, deep-down, is Tony Blair? Or George W Bush? Or Ehud Olmert? We see the public persona, the 'at one with myself' 'self-reassurance', the 'religious and moral conviction' of their acts. But behind this veil is the disturbed reality of the unhappy psychopath.

Happiness in resistance?

Is there greater emotional and moral 'happiness' to be derived from resistance to such oppression. Yes, but, again, it helps if those resisting can recognise the mental and emotional malaise of their oppressor. This is not just about showing compassion towards one's oppressor - difficult as that is as a human exercise. It's about recognising how a certain kind of resistance actually disempowers the oppressor while empowering all with a more constructive, mutual and happier view of how to resolve conflict.

But, as Mustafa Barghouthi asks: "what sort of resistance"? His answer shows that while specified forms of armed resistance can be seen as "legitimate", the more rewarding, inclusive and, ultimately, 'happier' form lies in non-violence:
"Armed resistance to occupation is legitimate and legal under international law, under the strict condition that it does not target civilians. But as someone who truly believes in the sanctity of human life, and as a doctor who always puts human life first, I have an inherent belief that non-violence is a fundamental philosophical choice.

Besides this, in a more practical way, I think that armed resistance is a narrow and elitist approach, involving only a select few and leaving the rest of the people out. And it is based on the assumption that armed force is the only force that exists in the world."
Barghouthi also makes this salient point about the selective presentation of Palestinian resistance by the media - usually labelled 'militant' and 'extremist' activity, rather than 'resistance' - and the multiple other ways in which resistance can be effectively expressed:
"This choice may seem utopian after sixty years of conflict and so much violence and bloodshed. But this is only an appearance, because the media only reports on acts of violence, creating the misleading impression that violence prevails. This is exacerbated by the dominant Israeli narrative which consistently portrays Palestinians as aggressors and not as a people under occupation struggling for freedom, justice and independence.

In truth, Palestinians are masters of non-violence. They have been resisting the all-pervasive violence of a forty-one year old military occupation every day since it began. Forty-one years of resilience, of silent and stubborn efforts to live a normal life, to work, to raise children, to love and to exist, simply to exist, despite the hundreds of checkpoints, the incursions, the arrests, the killings, the house demolitions, the land dispossession, the discriminatory laws, the arbitrary and unjust actions of the Israeli military.

In such a situation building a school, choosing to become a doctor, cultivating your ancestral olive grove are all acts of resistance."
In seeking justice and peace for the Palestinians, it's helpful, if difficult in these dark times, to see that any 'happy resolution' of their suffering will more likely come about through non-violent resistance. As the peaceful mass protests in Gaza and recent 'breakout' through Rafah show, it is, quite simply, the most powerful and attention-building form. Moreover, as Israel's dismissal of Hamas's genuine truce shows, this kind of resistance is the most alarming for the oppressor, for it completely undercuts their own false claims of peaceful intent, revealing themselves to the world as wolves in sheep's clothing.

People like Barghouthi see very acutely how that kind of hateful and unrelenting oppression is best challenged. It's the Gandhian method. It's the Buddhist way. It's the most rational means of exposing injustice and mobilising public opinion. And it's the form that will not only bring about, albeit in time, a just resolution, but a happier political and social mindset that everyone can benefit from.

This may seem like a utopian worldview. Conflict and ill-feeling are inevitable facts of life, many will say. This is true, of course, but only in the sense that we also possess all the necessary capacities for dealing with disharmony and strife. It's within ourselves and our collective consciousness. Unhappiness and suffering are constants. But there's also the countervailing constant that we have the power, will and means to overcome unhappiness and construct resolutions from the most seemingly despairing of situations, both in our internal and external lives.

In each regard, competitive self-interest is a dead end. Warmongering and profit-driven elites retain a vested interest in having us believe otherwise. But that, again, only serves to reveal their own underlying insecurities, delusions and unhappiness. Just as in personal life. Part of our quest for happier minds and polities lies in persuading unhappy people and states that nothing useful or long-lasting, emotionally or politically, is ever built on hatred, fear and power over others.

In peacetime.


Friday, 18 April 2008

Israel is a serial killer

Two children lie dead in a Gaza lane, their bodies bloodied and mutilated, their battered bicycles, alongside, also now still and lifeless. The boys were 'caught-up' in the IDF's deliberate attack on local Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana, yet another victim of Israel's ruthless purge on inconvenient media. Nine journalists have been killed and 170 wounded by Israeli forces since September 2000.

The dead kids were among five children killed by the IDF in assaults on Gaza, which have seen 29 lives lost over these past few days alone. Over 800 Palestinian children have been killed since the start of the second intifada in 2000, some 22 per cent of the total tragedies.

For Israel and its complicit allies, they are just statistics, numbers on lists, nameless human beings with no valid identity or worth for their cold assassins perched safely in their armoured vehicles and political offices.

What kind of killing and killers are we dealing with here? The 'accidental' loss of infants by 'careless' soldiers? The 'necessary' removal of juvenile 'subversives' by Israel's 'defensive' forces?

Or another possibility: the child victims of a serial murdering state which takes deep psychological gratification in expressing power over its victims?

This is just the latest confirmation that Israel is waging a campaign of concerted terror on Gaza. And it fits squarely with the view that Gaza itself is being used as a mass concentration camp and laboratory within which to test and hone the multiple instruments of Israeli repression.

That terror also includes the calculated murder of children. And I use the word "calculated" here in its immediate sense. The primary target in this instance may have been a sincere man intent on reporting Israel's killing of children and other mass brutalities. But the boys lying at this scene of carnage also serves, like the slaying of the cameraman, as a chilling message from the serial killer state: I can take lives at my discretion, and I want you to know and feel that fear.

The psychopathic state knows, of course, that it may face a certain degree of 'diplomatic condemnation' over such actions. However, this is Palestine, where life is deemed not only cheap but usually not worth reporting by most of the Western media. And even when it is, the familiar "Israel says" line on the targeting of "militants" is always to the fore as a ready excuse.

Israel also, according to such reports, often "regrets" such deaths - which, translated from official-speak, means it regrets having been caught in the act of premeditated murder.

But even this paltry mitigation conceals a more disturbing calculus of serial murder. The 'reason' for eliminating journalists and cameramen doing their job of exposing Israeli war crimes is abundantly clear. But why target children? There appears to be a more deep-rooted perversion afoot here.

The psychology of occupation is premised on the daily reality of the occupied facing potential death and trauma at the hands of power. And the worst possibility of that terror is the prospect of one's children being killed or wounded. In the eyes of power, killing children becomes the most potent means of inflicting fear and punishment. Officials can deal with the public reaction, such as it is courtesy of an indifferent media. But the principal purpose of maintaining terror is served.

Here at 'home', kids are murdered, often horrifically, by individual killers. We express our obvious horror. Our little ones go missing and media-driven campaigns are initiated to help recover them. We see our children's vulnerabilities to harm from disturbed adults as the darkest of all nightmares.

Yet, men in uniforms extinguish the lives of Palestinian infants with brutal 'precision' weapons and we lower our heads in silence. Perhaps with a nod of disapproval or sadness, but not with the sense of outrage reserved for 'our' children.

In a sane world, Olmert and his fellow killers would, alongside Bush, Blair and their cohorts, be detained for psychiatric investigation, their ruthless and morally oblivious mindset treated as akin to the psychopathic serial killer.

Yet, the suggestion of such is treated as risible in 'our' society. 'Our' politicians and soldiers can't be viewed as such.

But why the polite distinction? The clue, of course, is in the 'our' pronoun, indicating the conscious and subconscious ways in which 'we' come to value the lives and well-being of those close to 'us', whether in familial, social or cultural settings.

Just as we are indoctrinated by the idea of respectable politicians and the legitimacy of their actions, however deadly, so are we imbued with the ideology of respectable militarism: 'proud regiments' and 'our boys' 'getting the job done' 'over there'.

Military life corrupts, particularly the minds of the already impressionable, violent and bigoted. The bit about 'hearts and minds', 'civil protection' and 'peace enforcement' may be sincerely evident in the beliefs and testimonies of soldiers. But this can't disguise the culture of barbarity they live with and help foster.

This mantle of respectable militarism is, in turn, mediated and promoted through the wider cultural prism. Amid the glowing praise for the world-touring Black Watch stage production, the Sunday Herald's theatre critic Mark Brown had the integrity to make this central and timely point:

"The production also lacks political courage. The overwhelming tenor of the piece (not least in the emails which a senior Black Watch officer sends home to his wife) is one of criticism of the politicians who ordered the Iraq War, but something dangerously close to glorification where the imperial history of the Black Watch regiment is concerned.

The famous "uniforms" scene (in which a soldier takes us on a tour of Black Watch deployments past) sanitises the dirty business of colonialism. If the play's international engagements had included Nairobi and Ramallah (where people remember the brutal events in which the Black Watch were involved), I suspect it would have received a less fulsome welcome than was the case in New York and Sydney."
Which, with that reminder of Britain's own dark deeds in Palestine, returns us to the real purpose of Israel's current terror and serial execution of children.

Would the media confer the same kind of respectable status on a serial killer after the slaying of yet another set of victims? What makes such state-military actions exempt from being viewed as serial murder? Why are the executive planners of such slaughter not only absolved, but slavishly consulted on why their actions were deemed 'necessary'?

"Might is right" was the evil rationale of the Nazis, a dogma which the 'civilised' West have supposedly rejected in their promotion of 'humanitarian' and 'ethical' foreign policies. Yet, on close inspection, theirs is really just a dressed-up version of the same supportive 'logic'.

That sense of Western might permits and encourages Israel in its god-like omnipotence over weak and vulnerable Palestinians. And it secretes in Israel's psychopathic mindset a calculated understanding of how to effect its state terror to full advantage.

None of this is remotely up for discussion in BBC and other liberal analysis of the conflict. The very idea of castigating 'our' politicians and military in this way is unthinkable. Meanwhile, the serial killers of Palestinian children remain safely at large.


Thursday, 10 April 2008

Remembering Deir Yassin

9 April 2008 marked the terrible events of Deir Yassin, sixty years after 254 of the village's Palestinian men, women and children were massacred by Zionist forces.

You didn't hear anything about it on the BBC. You didn't see any recognition of it by the US, EU and other 'civilised' Western governments. And you certainly won't find any message of regret over it from a state which has sought to bury the truth of this and multiple other atrocities with all those murdered Palestinians.

For Israel, its allies and their media stenographers, Deir Yassin doesn't merit special commemoration. But it's a name, a village, a place, a painful memory still firmly fixed in Palestinian consciousness.

Drawing on Ilan Pappe's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine and other key sources, a fine article from Ronnie Kasrils reminds us that Deir Yassin was part of the Zionists' calculated campaign of pogroms, which is why every person of conscience should be protesting over Israel's 60th 'birthday':

"The atrocity at Deir Yassin is reflective of what happened elsewhere. Israeli historian Ilan Pappe has meticulously recorded 31 massacres, from December 1947 to January 1949. They attest to a systematic reign of terror, conducted to induce the flight of Palestinians from the land of their birth. As a result, nearly all Palestinian towns were rapidly depopulated and 418 villages were systematically destroyed.

Israel will soon mark the 60th anniversary of its establishment. In so doing, Israelis and the Zionist supporters would do well to acknowledge the reasons why, for Palestinians and freedom-loving people throughout the world, there will be no cause to celebrate. Indeed, it will be a period of mourning and protest action; a time to recall the countless victims that lie in Israel's wake, as epitomized by the suffering inflicted on the inhabitants of Deir Yassin, the original site of which is ironically located just a stone's throw away from where the present day Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, was built."
Meanwhile, a who's who of war criminals, corporate tyrants and celebrity apologists will be flown in to mark Zionism's big birthday bash next month:

"Shimon Peres, Israel President Shimon Peres is bringing in top personalities from around the world to celebrate Israel's 60th birthday. United States President George W. Bush, Barbra Streisand, Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev and Rupert Murdoch are among those expected to attend a May conference focusing on Jewish and Israeli contributions to humanity....The list of confirmed guests also includes Henry Kissinger, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, former Czech President Vaclev Havel, Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, Google founder Sergey Brinn, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerman, Ratan Tata, chairman of India's Tata group, U.S. billionaire Sheldon Adelson, and Abdurrahman Wahid, former president of Indonesia, a country with no diplomatic relations with Israel." (Associated Press, 9 April 2008.)
While Bush, Blair and Kissinger pose with Olmert for the hall of infamy, statisticians can, at least, use the gruesome spectacle to number-crunch the millions who have perished through their collective war crimes.

Meanwhile, an American Jew with a more studious and moral understanding of Israel's historic 'contributions' has been decisively omitted from the great guest list. Professor Richard Falk of Princeton University recently compared Israel's efforts to murder, subjugate and contain the Palestinians as reminiscent of the Nazis' treatment of the Jews. Falk is about to take office as a special UN investigator on Palestinian rights, replacing John Dugard, another prominent critic of Israel's occupation. The response from Tel Aviv has been predictable:

"The Foreign Ministry said Tuesday that it will not allow the United Nations official appointed to investigate Israeli-Palestinian human rights to enter the country, after he stood by comments comparing Israelis to Nazis. Richard Falk is scheduled to take up his post with the UN Human Rights Council in May, but the Foreign Ministry said it will deny Falk a visa to enter Israel, Gaza and the West Bank". The Foreign Ministry spokesperson called Falk's comments "unacceptable and, in fact, a little strange." "To compare Israel to the Nazis is not just a total falsehood, it's also a personal insult to everybody," he said, adding that the choice of Falk is indicative of the Human Rights Council's negative attitude toward Israel."(AP, 9 April 2008.)
One might more reasonably suggest that Israel's own descent into Nazi-type barbarism is the real historic insult to the six million murdered Jews. The other uncomfortable fact here for Israel is that Falk says this not only as an esteemed academic but as a Jew himself, adding massive empirical and emotional weight to the claim.

Other persona non grata feeling Tel Aviv's ire include ex-US president Jimmy Carter. Author of a book comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa, Carter has now committed yet another 'gone native' sin by announcing his intention to meet the Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal in Syria. The possibility that Carter might be engaging constructively with a key player in the conflict cannot, of course, be countenanced by Olmert and his birthday select.

The bash goes on here in Britain, too, hosted by a range of notables and apologists, from the Queen to local civic leaders. Next month in East Renfrewshire, near Glasgow, the local council will commemorate 'the founding' with a celebratory gathering while flying an Israeli flag from its chambers.

Uncomfortably for the Lord Provost, Alex Mackie, and his fellow organisers, people of conscience will also gather outside their shameful assembly to commemorate the Nakba, serving to remind those inside of the ethnic cleansing, apartheid and murderous occupation that's still going on.

Deir Yassin should, like Sharpeville in South Africa, be etched in not just Palestinian consciousness. It's anonymity is a 'testament' to the Israeli propaganda machine's long-standing efforts to suppress the shameful truth of its ethnic cleansing. The dignitaries leading the birthday plaudits wouldn't like the occasion to be 'marred' by inconvenient reminders of these dark events. But, for Deir Yassin and all the other massacres of Palestinians, past and present, this is a party that deserves to be spoiled.


Sunday, 6 April 2008

The BBC demonises Hamas, part....

The BBC's 'pp Boaden unit' would appear to be 'expanding'. Not just in staff ratio to cope with the multiple complaints of establishment bias, but in its apparent recruitment of more 'creative' 'pps' to fine-tune and defend the bias.

Further to my exchange with the BBC on their labelling of Hamas as "militants" comes this reply to another Media Lens contributor:

"Hamas and the recognition of Israel
Posted by Sonmiani on April 1, 2008

The following is a copy of Helen Boaden's reply to an e-mail I sent her following up John Hilley's correspondence with her concerning the BBC's repeated misrepresentation of Hamas not being prepared to recognise the State of Israel:

Dear Sonmiani,

The quotes attributed to Khaled Meshaal, may indeed be a straw in the wind, but they are strikingly similar to comments by previous leaders which have not led to any change in the organization's stance and they do not, per se, seem to indicate formal recognition of Israel.

For example, on 17 June 2003, Abdul Aziz alRantissi gave an interview to the English language Israeli newspaper Haaretz in which he suggested that a 'long term truce' could be possible without recognition of Israel: "'No one can guarantee that Hamas will be able to bring about tha land's liberation within 100 or 200 years. Without dramatic changes in the region, it will be impossible. We can't tell our people to continue in an unequal struggle But we also can't tell them to give in.'

This led Rantissi to a view that has hitherto been associated with those defined as the movement's "moderates" - if Israel would withdraw from all the land it captured in 1967, dismantle all the settlements and enable an independent Palestinian state, 'there will be an end to the struggle, in the form of a long-term truce.'"

But the signals from Hamas are not, and have never been, unambiguous. For example, in December 2002, Sheik Yassin predicted Israel's destruction by the year 2025 (see BBC News Online, 6 June 2003).

Since forming the government, Hamas has been under intense international pressure to recognise the state of Israel. The international community, led by the Quartet (the US, UN, EU and Russia) issued the Hamas government with three obligations - to renounce violence, recognise Israel and recognise all past agreements with Israel. Hamas certainly appeared to accept the vision of a Palestinian state based on the territories occupied since 1967 in a 'National Conciliation Document' agreed in June 2006. But it has not fulfilled the other demands made upon it, nor indeed renounced its charter which, for example, declares that the "liberation (of Palestine) is an individual duty, binding on every Muslim wherever he may be."

Yours sincerely
pp Helen Boaden Director,
BBC News

Sonmiani comments:
"Clearly she has missed the vital point about the timing of recognition, which Hamas has made clear must be dependent upon negotiations, and she has made no mention of the UN's recognition of the right of an occupied people to resist their occupiers, or, consistent with all BBC reporting on this subject, of Israel's far greater use of violence. Furthermore, her claim that Hamas' stated position (that it is prepared to recognise Israel subject to conditions) is ambiguous is not the point. The BBC consistently fails to report the position - indeed misrepresents it as being opposite to that stated, irrespective of any ambiguity."
Indeed. These replies seem determined to demonise Hamas as an unambiguous enemy of peace. There's a similar blanket refusal to countenance the idea that Hamas might be reluctant to 'recognise' - in Israel's and the West's demanding use of the term - a state engaged in the ethnic cleansing and continuing oppression of the Palestinian people.

That doesn't mean Hamas are unprepared to negotiate a peace deal with an oppressor it is seeking to resist. Indeed, Hamas has consistently offered a long-term truce, or hudnah, to set the process in motion, an offer rigidly refused by Israel. Nothing of these mediations and nuanced politics appears to distract the BBC from its one-dimensional view of Hamas as terrorists beyond the 'diplomatic' pale.

It is also notable that the above reply makes no mention of the assassinations of Al-Rantisi in 2004 and Sheik Yassin just before him - Israeli actions condemned by then UN Secretary Kofi Annan. Yes, Al-Rantisi advocated armed resistance. But the key contextual word here, "resistance", has no apparent place in discussing the strategy he advocated.

Besides failing to note the background reasons for Al-Rantisi's thinking, it's also disingenuous and lazy to portray his and Yassin's past statements as indicative of Hamas's evolving situation.

Much of this relies on the BBC's and wider media's spurious and selective interpretation of the 1988 Hamas Charter, an effectively rhetorical document released to coincide with the movement's formation, but which took little account of the group's wider feelings, the changing political environment or the more practical factors involved in any proto-negotiation process.

These critical points are specified by Azzam Tamimi in his definitive book Hamas: Unwritten Chapters (Hurst & Co, 2007). Tamimi describes how the Hamas leadership:
"are increasingly convinced that the Charter as a whole has been more of a hindrance than a help. Many would admit that insufficient thought went into the drafting and publication of the Charter. Once it had been drafted, Hamas institutions inside and outside Palestine were never adequately consulted over its content. According to Khalid Mish'al [head of the Hamas political bureau] the Charter was rushed out to meet what was perceived at the time as a pressing need to introduce the newly founded movement to the public. Mish'al does not view it as a true expression of the movement's overall vision...He sees the Charter as a historical document, which gives an insight into Hamas's original philosophy at the time of its establishment. However, it 'should not be regarded as the fundamental ideological frame of reference from which the movement derives its positions, or on the basis of which it justifies its actions.' " (pp 148-149)
None of this more complex and revealing picture can be detected anywhere in the BBC's version of the Hamas 'worldview'.

I've already sent two notable illustrations of Hamas's more mediated position to the BBC. Here's a more recent statement to that effect from Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal:
"Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal said that his movement supports the united Palestinian position that calls for the establishment of a fully sovereign state within the 1967 borders, including Jerusalem, and refugees’ right to return.

In an interview published yesterday in Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, Meshaal referred to the 2006 prisoners’ document as proof of this. “There is a Palestinian document and in it all organizations say they agree to a state in the 1967 borders.”

The prisoners’ document, also known as the National Reconciliation Document, was drafted by members of different Palestinian factions held in an Israeli prison, including Fatah and Hamas. It calls for the “establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital on all territories occupied in 1967.”

The Damascus-based leader said the Palestinian position had received a vote of consensus during the national accords of 2006 and that this position is considered acceptable to the Arab world. He called on ordinary Israelis to pressure on their government to stop aggression against the Palestinians in light of this document."
(Also carried by Haaretz.)

Why, then, does the BBC (in contrast to Al-Jazeera) persist in its own use of extremist language to castigate Hamas? Why is it so eager to embrace and promote the 'non-recognition' agenda set in stone by Israel, the US, EU and Quartet? And why does it refuse to employ appropriate and consistent language to characterise the much more crucial issue of Israel's illegal occupation and campaign of terror?

Serious, honest answers to these questions are unlikely to be forthcoming from the pp Boaden sanctum. And that makes the BBC a complicit party in prolonging the conflict and suffering of the Palestinian people.


Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Lapsed language and the 'mistaken war'

The things we say.

The late Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once famously commented in a TV interview:
"Someone said 'football is more important than life and death to you' and I said 'Listen, it's more important than that'."
The Kop legend's quip is still treasured for its witty profundity. In truth, it was a crude absurdity.

No individual need be judged by one remark - Mr Shankly seemed an otherwise decent and humorous man. Yet, rhetorical flourish or faux pas, we often, even in jest, make points in ways which betray a very false sense of priorities.

Sometimes this can be motivated by a genuine desire to raise a moral issue or press for a response. But it can also involve an easy lapse into 'indignant-viewer-speak'.

Thus, one correspondent recently questioning the BBC over its use of loaded pro-Israel language reverted to this embarrassing trope:
"As a licence payer, I am requesting a formal review of the terms used in this and other such reports."
"Licence payer"? Shouldn't that be "As a human being, I am requesting..." or, perhaps, in more existential mood, "As a person of conscience I am..."?

Maybe both alternatives contain other forms of loftiness. But the habit of seeking explanations from officialdom can also lead us into similar kinds of official or market-speak, as in, 'I've paid my licence fee' or 'I consume your product', therefore I expect an explanation of the product's shortcomings.

There are, of course, valid and useful exceptions to this kind of approach. For example, one may helpfully write:
"As one of your parliamentary constituents, please could you explain your support for allowing deadly armaments destined to murder innocent civilians in (select from long list of countries) through UK airports."
In contrast, the "as a Guardian reader" line of complaint presupposes a prior importance of our consumer ethics rather than any more fundamental ethical responsibility over our fellow human beings' oppression.

I should, for the sake of accuracy, offer a personal admission here. It was actually yours truly who was responsible for the above "licence payer" indulgence.

In feeble mitigation, perhaps it was used in an 'unconscious' effort to elicit a more qualitative response from the Kafkaesque 'pp Boaden BBC complaints' unit. But, I suspect it might also have been indicative of my own deep conditioning to market life.

While otherwise happy with the actual content of the piece, the "licence payer" aspect made me reflect on how we so-easily slip into that kind of privileged Western-speak and market-shaped language. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more risible the term seems; to speak of Palestinian or any other suffering from the 'viewpoint' of an 'irate' licence payer mirrors the kind of 'liberal media humanism' one feels compelled to challenge.

The 'mistaken war' narrative

On which note, there's the unctuous sound of 'betrayed' hacks to consider.

I heard the Times columnist Magnus Linklater on Newsnight Scotland recently tell us that he and others had "been conned" into believing Blair's case for ousting Saddam and had, thus, supported the war on that basis.

Which, as I've noted elsewhere, raises the obvious question of why those millions of 'ordinary citizens' who marched in worldwide demos against the war were, seemingly, not conned.

Indeed, it's disturbing to consider the limited comprehension of many of our 'noted' politicians, journalists and academics on the war issue.

While many right and liberal voices veered between excited belligerence and tortured soul-searching, the left, in the main, was never confused, conned or ambivalent over the non-case for war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another notable contender for 'liberal outrage over the mistaken war' award is Sunday Herald diplomatic editor Trevor Royle.

Royle's recent article, "Why this war is Britain's biggest mistake in my lifetime...", contained this set of 'anguished' comments:
"Except it did not quite happen that way. Instead of being a huge step forward against global terrorism, Iraq has turned out to be the worst diplomatic disaster of modern times."
"I cannot think of a more sorry episode, or one that has caused so much international mayhem or so profoundly dented Britain's reputation."
"Even the military campaign did not live up to its billing. The 'shock and awe' aerial bombardment proved air power can only achieve so much."
And so the 'painful' reflecting and selecting goes on, from using Iraq Body Count's false "80,000" civilian death figure (rather than the Lancet's and ORB's million-plus fatalities) to the "of course, there have been some gains" line in queasy apologetics for 'Our Great Mistaken Adventure'.

In effect, the voice of 'concerned liberal reason' hiding its own complicity.

Royle is not alone in this kind of media sterility. Newsnight's Mark Urban is the model example of the form. Urban's reporting 'signature' is not just the sympathetic military 'embed' in Iraq or the prominence he gives to the Israeli spokesmen over the Qassam 'rocket problem'. It's also about how he reduces the discussion of basic human life to this kind of standard 'diplomacy-speak'. In turn, such 'map-pointing' dissection of conflict has the effect of insulating 'the viewer' - that is, other human beings - from the actual blood and gore of lost and brutalised lives.

Moral of the story? That even from the vantage point of opposing war, or taking issue with those who rationalise it, it's very easy to lapse into a bland language of 'concerned detachment' where mass suffering and the loss of life become something we express a dutiful, consumerist-type view on, or even make strong representations to others about, but don't really feel the 'emotional weight' of what's going on and why.

Sometimes it's useful simply to stop and think just what it must be like to live in such a state of apprehension and terror, fearing the miltary boot at the door, or the daily brutality at checkpoints or the F-16 coming in the night to wipe out your family. Sobering thoughts of human suffering 'elsewhere' that require both human empathy and real humanist language to discuss it.

Peace and awareness,