On the Mind-Numbing, Sensationalistic Use of Emotionally Charged Words in International Politics
Recently, Israel railed against the Vatican when Cardinal Renato Martino, the president of the Council for Justice and Peace of the Vatican, characterized Gaza as a “concentration camp.” According to the NY Times:
Israel on Thursday harshly condemned the cardinal’s use of World War Two imagery. “We are astounded that a spiritual dignitary would have such words, that are so far removed from truth and dignity,” said Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
He added that it was “shocking to hear the vocabulary of Hamas propaganda coming from a member of the church.”
Now … the righteous use of emotionally charged words in international politics is not new, but I have always thought such uses – at the very best – obfuscate rather than illuminate and – at the worst – form the basis of insincere and deceitful hypocrisy. The verbal propaganda currently hurled by both sides of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict is but one example.
In my personal view, the West has spouted some of the most vehement versions of self righteousness mind-numbing sensational emotional goboddy-gook since WWII.
Take the word “genocide” as an example.
On the heel of the holocaust, the West was initially shocked into taking a deep introspection into why seemingly sane people would be so committed to bringing about existentialistic elimination of an entire people. In WWII Europe, Jews were systematically targeted, hunted down, forced into slavery, and murdered not because they participated in any part of any political struggle – but simply because they were who they were. There was no defense, no compromise – either social, political or cultural – that the Jews could take to spare themselves of elimination. Surely, this must be a crime against humanity.
What began as genuine introspection however quickly devolved in the Cold War that soon followed into an unhealthy development of a cult around which the West saw itself as the sole crusader against an evil world.
In a recent article in the Economist on genocide, the Economist – while bumbling about for a definition of “genocide” – nevertheless riled incoming President Obama to carry on the fight against “genocide” – which, if you read the article, can mean anything including effects of failed states, casualties in any conflict, and terrorism.
By buying into the use of vague, highly emotionally charged words to describe the world, many in the West willingly became hostage to an oligarchy that routinely uses emotionally charged words to justify their pursuit of interests and aggression around the world.
Other words that are often flaunted in mind-numbing and sensationalistic ways “terrorism,” “security,” “democracy,” “human rights,” “self determination,” etc.
When Israel attacked Gaza, Israel was in the right in its fight against “terrorism” and to preserve “national security.” The Palestinian’s plight to exercise liberty, freedom, security, food, water, shelter, self-determination, and even democracy fell on deaf ears.
When Georgia incited a brief war with Russia last year, the Russians were guilty of aggression against Georgian democracy and sovereignty. Of course, South Ossetians’ right to liberate themselves from Georgian domination and to exercise self-determination also fell on deaf ears.
When Kosovo wanted to secede, Kosovans were justified because they were victims of “genocide” and had a right to pursue freedom and self determination separate from Serbia. Lost on the wayside was the fact that the Serbian civilians also were victims of ethnic based killings and that Serbia had a legitimate interest in their exercise of self-determination and sovereignty free from the meddling of the West.
Look: my point here is not to take sides in any of the political conflicts I mentioned above. (The positions above can all be flipped to still make the same point.) It suffices for me to show that the use of simple emotionally charged words to characterize the world order discourages one from truly understanding the multi-dimensional nature of conflicts that lie at the basis of real-world politics. To depict legitimate political conflicts conveniently in normative terms or with provocative and righteous rhetoric is I believe counter-productive.
Many in the West deride Islamic fundamentalists’ alleged backward use of religious lens to view the world. But is the West any better in insisting to characterize themselves as having a monopoly grip on notions of “human rights”, “democracy,” and “freedom” and to view the world through a lens that defines international politics as a fight between good and evil in which the West must win?
People may snicker at George Bush’s frivolous rhetoric involving “axis of evil” or “if you are not with us you are against us.” But the truth is that in the last few decades, the West has grown so used to flaunting and throwing about routinely rhetoric such as democracy, freedom, human rights, fascism, genocide – among others – in pursuit of its private interests that many have come to see the West as deceitful if not hypocritical.
With the advent of the recent financial crisis, there are talks by many of China participating as a co-architect of 21th century “world order.” Hopefully, the West will take this opportunity to shed some of its righteousness and rhetoric – and to approach its dealings with the rest of the world in a fairer and more pragmatic manner.
There are currently 1 comments highlighted: 25914.