Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Conflict and the art of compassion

The year draws to a close here at zenpolitics with reflections on conflict, mass killing and how we think about those who execute such acts.

It's been another day of indiscriminate Israeli bombing in Gaza. Israeli politicians are vying for electoral killing points, while rejecting any suggestion of a humanitarian ceasefire. The 'international community' remain dutifully silent in response to Israel's massacre of innocents.

And then there's this kind of gratuitous pleasure over the spectre of lives lost in Gaza:

"Finally, a month and a half before the elections, Israel takes some action. I definitely see this as linked, but it's OK, better late than never. What's been happening in Gaza is fantastic. I feel very bad about the man killed in [the Israeli town of] Netivot."
Do we rage or despair at such indifference to others' misery?

The BBC, meanwhile, are proclaiming their 'fairness' and 'diligence' in reporting the atrocity - though, terms like "atrocity" are unlkely to feature in such reports. Here's a token something sent to one our Media Lens contributors from Jeremy Bowen, supposedly meant as a serious, analytical reply:
Dear Rhisiart

I di[s]agree with your inaccurate description of BBC reporting from this story. We are working as hard as we can to report the story fairly, accurately and impartially. What we will not do is take sides.

I suspect that a fair number of the 'millions of us common punters' for whom you say you speak are in fact getting their news about Gaza from the BBC.


Jeremy Bowen
BBC Middle East Editor
A few replies to Bowen asking him to consider multiple evidence to the contrary seems to have made little impact. Still, we try:

Dear Mr Bowen,

Your reply to Rhisiart Gwilym is even more shameful than the template responses packaged-out by Helen Boaden, Stewart McCullough and other BBC hierarchy.

The claim that the BBC do not take sides is risible. It takes no great genius to see the massively loaded – or lacking - context, imbalanced language and selective omissions in these and other BBC reports.

Where, for example, are the words “massacre” and “atrocity” in any of these pieces, terms used without hesitation in describing state murder in non-western countries and other attacks like Mumbai?

You apparently “suspect that a fair number of the 'millions of us common punters' for whom you say you speak are in fact getting their news about Gaza from the BBC.”

Sadly, that's seems to be the case. And the really depressing outcome is that the limited information the public do get from the BBC on Gaza and the wider Occupation only serves to limit and neutralise their understanding.

I help run a Palestinian human rights campaign in Glasgow and one of the principal questions we're always asked at our weekly public stall is a variation on: “I had no idea all that was going on. Why haven't the BBC been telling us?”

It's not just the current apologist language for Israeli violence in Gaza that's at issue here. It's the deep institutional deference the BBC reserves for Israel, an understood quietism which results in the daily non-reporting of the Palestinian tragedy.

That's a large part of why this Palestinian misery has gone on for so long. And journalists who hide behind the BBC veil of 'objectivity' in denying that elementary truth are complicit in that suffering.

John Hilley
Sometimes one can feel a littlel drained following adversarial exchanges. Though ever-motivated by the 'good fight' against the powerful and their acolytes, the language of criticism, sometimes veering beyond the sharp, can disturb, even where one has challenged journalists so obviously biased in the service of power.

And yet, we carry on, energised by the conviction that to be submissive while others face the much harsher assaults of war, hunger and oppression would be even more dispiriting.

Today, our Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign ran an extra emergency stall. And it was inspiring to hear so many visitors come over to voice their eager concern and support for the people of Gaza. Which, despite the relentless media distortions, proves that people really do care about such state-inflicted suffering.

Yet, even in the midst of all this conflict, it's useful to reflect a little on the point and practice of such engagement. It's not to hate those we oppose. It's not to find oneself convulsed by anger. It's not to revel in spiteful attacks. Rather, it's to cultivate, however possible, the art of compassionate activism.

A last word on that task.

The Dalai Lama recently declared that he "loves George W Bush", an arresting thought for those rightly convinced that Bush should be arrested. And yet, a little closer meditation suggests the alternative possibility of a profoundly radical thought.

Part of that meditation involves, for me, a desire to comprehend the warmonger's mindset. Why do people like Bush, Olmert, Livni, Brown and Blair fail to see the true consequences of their actions? How can they seem so oblivious to mass murder? Watching Bush's shrugging response to the recent shoe-hurling incident, it occurred to me, not for the first time, that he may be so completely absorbed in his own simplified 'reality' that perhaps he simply can't comprehend the staggering loss and suffering he has helped unleash in Iraq and elsewhere.

So, the real challenge lies in cultivating an ability to speak and act in ways which not only help bring such people to actual justice for their crimes, but to feed our capacity for
compassionate understanding - even towards those who bring such pain to others. Therein lies the true possibility of meaningful alternatives to a system built on hate, anger and violence.

To that enduring task.

Peace and love - wherever our suffering friends in Gaza and elsewhere can find it - this new year.


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