Stop the Rhetorical Violence

The latest Media Lens alert, Israeli Deaths Matter More, provides a timely and refreshing analysis of the patently biased coverage of the ongoing violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

However there is a disturbing aspect of the Media Lens alerts, an angry thread running through them, especially directed at those in power. This is difficult to capture in a quotation as it diffuses though the whole piece but the superfluous and emotive adjectives appearing in the latest alert are marked, e.g., ‘repeated and brutal transgressions of international and humanitarian law over forty years’, which could have been written ‘transgressions of international law over forty years’.

This phrase was applied to Israeli actions, which is bound to inflame the sensibilities of the very people whose behaviour Media Lens seeks to change. It is more difficult to raise awareness of the actions of someone once they have been provoked. According to the Buddhist tradition compassion is the antidote to anger—they can’t exist together—anger being a delusion giving rise to violent and unskilful (i.e., violent) action.

The alert also talks of Israel being ‘massively supported – financially, militarily, diplomatically – by Washington’. but in truth the Israelis are supported by the whole of the industrial world, as we can see in our media. That support may be a little less craven in Europe than the USA, but this is really a matter of degree. In a sense Europeans can afford to hold onto their liberal consciences safe in the knowledge that the Americans will do what is necessary. Some Europeans may wring their hands but they are perpetuating the system (just look at the change in the ruling Labour cabinet ministers in the UK from their student politics days to today to see a clear example of this).

I have written about this before (Stop the Demonising and Peace Politics), how this particular phenomenon of the ‘Left’ in the industrial world (unconsciously) using the Palestinians (and others) as surrogates for their own angry agendas (and, of course we wouldn’t be the only people to use the Palestinians in this way). Thus the dismal, dysfunctional cycle continues with everyone’s prejudices in place. We are all a part of this cycle; we are all a part of the problem and we need to recognise this before we can start to effectively tackle the problem.

One of the central issues driving the show is guilt over the horrendous European record of persecuting Jews culminating in the horrible excesses in the middle of the 20th century, where the ‘good Europeans’ (and Americans) left the Jews to their fait. This needs to be honestly acknowledged as it is clearly contributing to the ongoing dysfunctional cycle where Israel is encouraged by the international community to continue on her current path of violence, something that we are all contributing towards, not just the Israelis, or the Zionists or the Right or the Americans or whatever.

Conclusion

Rhetorical violence is perpetuating this problem. Can we please have some intelligent analysis motivated by and grounded in sincere wisdom and compassion, that acknowledges the confusion and suffering of everyone in the situation, especially those whose behaviour we seek to change.

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One response to “Stop the Rhetorical Violence

  1. Hi Chris

    Many thanks for your email. I’ve had a look at your response to our latest alert (written by my co-editor David Cromwell) and some of your other pieces. Your blog on Flat Earth News was interesting – it’s refreshing to see our view of the media summarised with such accuracy.

    You write: “there is a disturbing aspect of the Media Lens alerts, an angry thread running through them, especially directed at those in power”

    In support of this, you add:

    “the superfluous and emotive adjectives appearing in the latest alert are marked, e.g., ‘repeated and brutal transgressions of international and humanitarian law over forty years’, which could have been written ‘transgressions of international law over forty years’”.

    I think this is a poor example in support of your argument. The word ‘repeated’ is simply accurate. The word ‘brutal’ also accurately describes the incredible suffering that has been inflicted on huge numbers of Palestinian men, women and children. One of the problems with media reporting is that it inures us to the reality of the suffering for which we and our close allies are responsible. So the civilian death toll in Iraq as a result of our invasion is consistently underestimated, in fact by orders of magnitude. The sheer illegality and violence of the invasion is out of sight. The suffering of 4 million Iraqi refugees is just not an issue for our media. The conditions in Iraqi hospitals, with patients forced to undergo major surgery without anaesthetics; the children dying for lack of the most inexpensive medicines and equipment; the children dying in their hundreds of thousands because of disease and malnutrition – our media are just not interested
    in these issues. For most people these tragedies (in fact, crimes) just don’t exist. And so we are left with a very complacent, comfortable sense that ‘Things aren’t that bad’, indeed that ‘We aren’t that bad – we mean well. We’re doing our best’. (By the way, for a truly revelatory expose of our good intentions, see Hans von Sponeck’s A Different Kind Of War).

    So we do deliberately use language that communicates something of the horrific truth in an effort to break through this complacency. The idea is certainly not to make people angry or to communicate our own anger. It’s more the kind of language we would use if we had seen that a school was on fire and children were burning alive. We wouldn’t rush to a group of people and say: ‘There’s a problem at the school’. We’d say: ‘The school’s on fire! Children are burning alive. We have to do something FAST!’ We’ve thought long and hard about this issue for many years; we really have. I guess my own view is that it is actually immoral to report on these issues in a bland way that fails to communicate the urgency and suffering involved – the complacency in society is just too entrenched and people are just so likely to ignore what is said in that way. But our goal is to present analyses that gain their power from the rationality of the arguments and the credibility
    of the referenced sources used. We hope this, in itself, leads people away from emotionality towards rational thought. In addition, we try to emphasise our compassionate motivation and to actively discourage the sending of angry emails (see the Suggested Action at the bottom of every alert). But, as discussed, we are also trying to challenge moral complacency.

    In his book, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Peter Harvey writes:

    “Asanga says that a Bodhisattva will lie so as to protect others from death or mutilation, though he will not lie to save his own life. He will slander an unwholesome adviser of a person, and use harsh, severe words to move someone from unwholesome to wholesome action.” (Harvey, An Introduction to Buddhist Ethics, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p.139)

    In The Six Perfections, Geshe Sonam Rinchen writes:

    “The tenth [way of assisting others] consists of giving support by castigating those who are engaged in detrimental activities. This may entail taking stern measures to stop them, since one should not condone or indulge others’ fondness for harmful actions.” (Geshe Sonam Rinchen, The Six Perfections, Snow Lion, 1998, p.40)

    You write:

    “The alert also talks of Israel being ‘massively supported – financially, militarily, diplomatically – by Washington’. but in truth the Israelis are supported by the whole of the industrial world, as we can see in our media.”

    This is technically correct but a red herring – the United States is overwhelmingly, by far, the most important political, military and economic supporter of Israel. As dissident writers have been pointing out for decades, it is the United States that has consistently obstructed the international consensus seeking a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But for the United States this conflict would surely long since have been resolved. The fact that other Western states also support Israel is important, but we are still justified in drawing attention to the key US role.

    You write:

    “using the Palestinians (and others) as surrogates for their own angry agendas”.

    I actually think this might be considered a better example of angry speech. To suggest that we are “using” the Palestinians is quite harsh, and to suggest we are doing so in pursuit of some “angry agenda” – as if we were exploiting their suffering in some way – makes for quite tough reading. Our agenda is compassion for human and animal suffering – our aim is the relief of suffering. We have no other agenda. And so our aim is to draw attention to the way Western media and politics have dehumanised the Palestinian people, and to show how this dehumanisation is crucial in facilitating continued misery.

    Likewise this comment:

    “Rhetorical violence is perpetuating this problem. Can we please have some intelligent analysis motivated by and grounded in sincere wisdom and compassion”

    Do you really believe our alert contains “rhetorical violence”? Your comment might also be construed as suggesting that our analysis is not intelligent, and not rooted in wisdom and compassion. Again, this is painful for us to read – we take this kind of criticism seriously. I think those two sentences show just how hard it is to rein in the tone and to avoid harming other people. It’s so easy to write something that feels totally innocuous but which feels like a harsh personal criticism to the reader.

    Finally, I notice on your website you write:

    “Face facts, George Monbiot. Our environmental catastrophe is partly your responsibility”

    This might also be seen as an aggressive and confrontational approach. No doubt this title could also have been softened.

    Best wishes

    David Edwards

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