Monday, November 7, 2011

Protecting & Sustaining Democracy

If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State.
Joseph Goebbels,
German minister of propaganda in Nazi government

Only the mob and the elite can be attracted by the momentum of totalitarianism itself.
The masses have to be won by propaganda.

Hannah Arendt

Why is propaganda so much more successful when it stirs up hatred than when it tries to stir up friendly feeling?
Bertrand Russell

Western Wall in Jerusalem after the city was captured by Israel  soldiers during the Six Day War (June 5-June 10, 1967), where IDF paratroopers Zion Karasanti, Yitzhak Yifat and Haim Oshri, look for a hopeful and peaceful future. The Western Wall, dating to the Second Temple period of the first century, has great historical significance for the Jewish People,
Photo Credit: David Rubinger, 1967
Source: Israel Government

Many persons wonder why much of the world's media focuses on Israel, a country no larger in size than Vancouver Island, and 1/19th the size of California. There are many, including strategic and economic. Another is that Israel is a long-standing democratic state in a region, the Middle East, that has historically had little evidence of democracy, human rights and individual liberty. What happens to Israel is an accurate barometer of the political weather, so to speak, and more to the point the climate of democracy in the world. If Israel fails, it's bad news for democracy everywhere. Those that cheer the possible destruction of Israel, as a solution to the Middle East Problem, are not thinking clearly of the consequences of such sentiments.

States that fear democracy and the rights of individual liberty and freedom— totalitarian states, whether in name or action — always work assiduously to undermine democracy with the aim to delegitimize it, mainly because they don't understand it, and what they don't understand they fear. And what better way than to delegitimize the people that have undergone the greatest and longest period of unbroken persecution in recorded history—the Jewish People. If you take away such people's legitimate rights, then you can piece by piece dismantle democracy and the democratic institutions in other nations that have taken centuries to build.

So, we can now understand why the attack on Israel is so persistent, if not pernicious. Its roots are also easy to understood. Much of the efforts and language to delegitmize Israel in particular and Western democracy in general lies at an event that happened more than forty years ago— to the doorstep of the former Soviet Union, which stepped-up its campaign after Israel's victory in the Six Day War in June 1967. The victory by Israel was a surprise and embarrassment to not only the defeated Arab nations but also to the Soviet Union.

After all, the Soviet Union was for long fighting a proxy war against the United States, and the Arab states in the region were its allies, or in its service, so to speak. A loss for the Arab nations was a loss to the Soviet Union and its ideology. Thus, the Soviet Union began its campaign of discredit and delegitimization, with the intent of weakening the institutions of democracy, individual liberty and freedom. The aim was to discredit by all means possible, including the use of deceptive language. Such describes, of course, propaganda, and the Soviet Union were the masters of the Big Lie. "Propaganda was a sort of machine to mould your thought according to one style, one mould, one idea," notes Joe Adamov, a former Radio Moscow journalist.

There is no shortage of evidence to support this assertion. Many fine books by political historians have written about this period, including Robert Conquest's The Great Terror (1968) and Anne Applebaum's Gulag: A History (2003); as well as novels such as Arthur Koestler's Darkness at Noon (1940); George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949); and Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate (1980), which dissidents smuggled out in microfilm and which was published more than fifteen year's after the author's death. It was eventually published in the Soviet Union in 1988 during a period of glasnost (i.e., openness) under President Mikhail Gorbachev.

By then the deed had been done, and its consequences severe. That Israel eventually became the target of the Soviet ideologues, steeped in Marxist theory and thinking, is no surprise. The same techniques that were so easily used on its own Soviet citizens "for the state" to the people's misery were then used to undermine Israel and western democracy. This is borne out in a fascinating article, which I just discovered. In "The Cold-War Origins of Contemporary Anti-Semitic Terminology", published in Jerusalem Viewpoints (May 2004), Joel S. Fishman, a historian and a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. writes:
The ultimate danger of this systematic verbal aggression with its anti-Semitic intent lies in blurring the distinction between right and wrong and deconstructing the foundations of Judeo-Christian morality. After nearly three decades, the cumulative effects of the Soviet campaign to defame Zionism and the more recent attempts to turn the clock back at Durban have created an environment of moral confusion which has made terror and violence acceptable and justifiable. The resulting condition, known as anomie (literally, lawlessness, in Greek), signifies "a social condition in which the hierarchy of values disintegrates and 'all regulation is lacking.'"
Much of what we see today in anti-Israel language seems as if a type of hysteria has taken hold of much of the world. Which to a neutral and rational observer would be the case. No nation on earth is more vilified or demonized than Israel. Valid criticism of a nation's policies is normal and acceptable, but what we are now witnessing is beyond normal and acceptable and can only be considered hatred, and hatred of the Jewish People and, this ought to concern all, a hatred of democracy and its institutions.

Although it is the Islamic nations that are now leading the charge against Israel, often as a means to cover up their own political mistakes and immoral actions against their own people, they have learned their lessons all too well (e,g., see Assad and Syria here, here, here, and here). I sense that one can draw a straight line to the Soviet Union and its party ideologues, who have done a masterful job in the last three decades of its existence to make the world a morally confusing place.

Totalitarian regimes always act in such a manner, to divide and conquer, to confuse and obfuscate, to cause dissension and distort the facts. In short, the Soviet Union was both the architects and builders of much of the edifice of hate that is the common currency in the Middle East. Now, the Soviet Union no longer exists, and for ten years after it crumbled, until 2001, Russia was trying to find its place in the world. It seems that Russia has found its role, an adversarial one. To no one's surprise, Russia still maintains close ties in the middle east region, and is once again playing its old role as a thorn in the side of American policy. Its aims are to establish itself as a major player, both in the region and on the world stage. Old habits die hard. And the Russian bear is awake. (see here, here and here.)

But it doesn't have to end there. Gaining a sense of right and wrong is achievable, and although many would say I am being overly optimistic, I have no choice. Remember: blame, accusation and hatred has never made the world a better place. Nations achieve greatness, as has been the case historically with France, Britain, the United States and Canada, through science, knowledge, achievement and the assiduous and rightful application of morality.

In other words, there is a right and wrong. Such can be measured and judged by the actions and public speeches of a nation's leaders, and the decisions they makes to preserve the traditions of Western democracy, human rights, and a free press. In the end, what is at stake is the honest and transparent use of language delivered with clear intentions.

Now is not the time for the lovers of democracy to give up on Israel, to say they are tired of Israel, the Middle East and the complicated mess. It's actually not so complicated. Quite the contrary, as history has clearly shown us. It might eventually come down to showing yourself a friend of democracy and its institutions of free speech, freedom from want, individual liberty and human dignity.

Friendship takes on many forms, including speaking out when a democratic nation is under sustained attack,  as Israel has been for far too long.  This is what Evgeny Kissin, the great classical pianist, who is Jewish and was born in Moscow, said in an interview with Maxim Reider of The Jerusalem Post (January 7, 2011) before the beginning of his world tour, kicked off by a concert in Jerusalem:
But about a little over a year ago, I felt that I had to do it in order to counter the raging anti-Israel hysteria in much of the world. Since I was well known and hundreds of thousands of people all over the world were coming to my concerts and buying my recordings, I felt that I had to tell them: “If you like my art, this is who I am, who I represent and what I stand for.”
You can read more here.