Lost in Translation
One of the more interesting articles on the Israeli-Hezbollah ceasefire comes from Le Monde, which features an interview with French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who describes how his country's diplomatic goals were served by negotiating a ceasefire which left Hezbollah intact. I only have a Google machine translation to guide me, so I hope some French speaking readers can verify that the sense of Douste-Blazy's remarks have been preserved.
|Nous n'avons pas changé d'avis. Il y a eu deux éléments nouveaux. Le premier, c'est que plus personne n'a parlé de force multinationale, dès l'instant que l'armée libanaise a décidé de déployer 15 000 hommes au Liban sud, ce qui est un élément politique majeur. Et plus personne ne parle d'une force qui serait dotée d'un mandat offensif, pour désarmer le Hezbollah. Ce sont deux faits nouveaux, c'étaient nos lignes rouges.||We did not change an opinion. There were two new elements. The first, it is that nobody any more spoke about multinational force, as of the moment that the Lebanese army decided to deploy 15.000 men in southern Lebanon, which is a major political element. And nobody any more speaks about a force which would be equipped with an offensive mandate, to disarm Hezbollah. They is two new facts, they were our red lines.|
|Nous avons travaillé en étroite collaboration avec les Américains depuis le début de la crise, chacun avec nos spécificités et dans un esprit de confiance. Mais nous n'avons jamais pensé qu'une solution purement militaire pouvait régler le problème du Hezbollah. Nous sommes d'accord sur l'objectif, le désarmement, mais pour nous les moyens sont purement politiques. C'est une spécificité française.||We worked in close cooperation with the Americans since the beginning of the crisis, each one with our specificities and in a spirit of confidence. But we never thought that a purely military solution could regulate the problem of Hezbollah. We agree on the objective, disarmament, but for us the means are purely political. It is a French specificity.|
This is not the time or place to criticize or examine French policy, only to note that the words "peace" and "ceasefire" are not always what ordinary laymen understand them to be. These words are freighted in actual use with the enormous weight of political interest. In the case above it seems imperative to the French that Hezbollah not be forcibly disarmed by a ceasefire and efforts to do so would be crossing on of their lignes rouges. A ceasefire, yes, but a particular kind ceasefire. A peace, true; but a French peace.
When a person is awarded a Nobel Prize or called a pacifist, one might assume a mild mannered, innoffensive person opposed to violence. Yet nothing could be further than the truth. Very often the awardee is simply a person who has proved the most effective at promoting an agenda supposed to result in something the Nobel committee calls "peace". For example, Betty Williams, the Nobel Peace Prize awardee for 1976 was once a member of the IRA. She recently told Australian school children:
Campaigning on the rights of young people at the Earth Dialogues forum, being held in Brisbane, Ms Williams spoke passionately about the deaths of innocent children during wartime, particularly in the Middle East, and lambasted Mr Bush. "I have a very hard time with this word 'non-violence', because I don't believe that I am non-violent," said Ms Williams, 64. "Right now, I would love to kill George Bush." Her young audience at the Brisbane City Hall clapped and cheered.
Ms. Williams is an activist, striving for goals which are supposed to result in "peace"; not a passive, reticient person. Then of course, there was the Nobel Peace Prize Winner for 1994, Yasser Arafat, of which little needs to be said other than that he exemplifies how elastic the definition of the word "peace" can be, stretchable to encompass the destruction of Israel which in the view of some will bring lasting peace to the Middle East.
This view is not only sensible, but some will argue, profound. Jostein Gaarder the author of Sophie's World recently wrote in Aftenposten recently wrote that "there is no turning back. It is time to learn a new lesson: We do no longer recognize the state of Israel. We could not recognize the South African apartheid regime, nor did we recognize the Afghan Taliban regime. Then there were many who did not recognize Saddam Hussein's Iraq or the Serbs' ethnic cleansing. We must now get used to the idea: The state of Israel in its current form is history." Yasser Arafat was indeed a man of "peace" in this qualified, even philosophical sense.
Another example of celebrity Nobel pacifism is provided by Günter Grass, recipient of the Prize for Literature in 1999. Anti-American, pacifist, pro-Soviet, he was the idol of the "intelligensia". And why not, given his political positions?
Grass became active in the peace movement and visited Calcutta for six months. During the the events leading up to the unification of Germany in 1989-90, Grass argued for continued separation of the two Germanies, asserting that a unified Germany would necessarily resume its role as belligerent nation-state. He abandoned his mission of gradual socialist reform through the existing West German political institutions. Grass instead adopted a philosophy of direct action, similar to that advocated by the younger generation of 1968. In 2001 Grass proposed the creation of a German-Polish museum for art stolen by the Nazis.
Then on August 11 Grass admitted he had long concealed being a wartime member of the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg. Nothing about these juxtapositions would be in the least big surprising if pacifism were properly understood not in the dictionary meaning but simply as the term given to a particular political agenda which these individuals have doggedly and ably pursued. After all, we know how to interpret some terms. Everyone understands that the "Democratic People's Republic of Korea" is neither democratic, nor republic nor responsive to it's people. It's simply the conventional and recognized name for the poverty-stricken, brutal and repressive personal fiefdom of Kim Jong Il. Peace is the same thing.
Once these facts are clear subsequent discussions can proceed without misunderstanding. Like experienced consumers we will have learned to read the labels on the packaging and achieved a certain level of "sophistication" the exact opposite of which is the "naïveté" that Americans, especially from the Midwest, are said to be incorrigibly afflicted and for which they are roundly reviled. Of course, sophistication is another one of those words which in this context doesn't mean what it's supposed to -- "knowledgeable" or even "complex" -- it simply means the ability to engage in double-talk and coded conversation with the intent to deceive and get paid well into the bargain. I leave you with one final word: humanitarian. Learn it well.