Fooling the people

2011-09-30 00:00

THE almost miraculous modern media enable one to see many parts of the world more or less simultaneously. I can sit in my armchair — armchair critic that I am — and by a touch of my remote switch from, say, a speech by President Jacob Zuma in Johannesburg to a speech by Binyamin Netanyahu at the UN General Assembly in New York. We perhaps forget how amazing this is. One is there, in both cases. The situations are different, the atmospheres are different, and of course the issues are very different.

But at the same time there are similarities, and one cannot help making comparisons. We are all part of the same human race, and certain human and social phenomena are to be seen again and again. Almost everyone, it seems, appreciates true warmth and sincerity. Almost everyone seems a bit wary of warmth and sincerity which appear a bit laboured. Almost every speaker finds a way of expressing the all-importance of his or her own particular situation. For a variety of reasons, mostly bound up with the positions that individual people or nations find themselves in, there is very seldom consensus on any issue.

So one falls back on one’s own judgment of people and what one hears and sees them saying. And one of the statements that I find myself remembering from time to time is that famous one attributed to the great Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

For the fact is that some of the statements made by political leaders are obviously unconvincing. In the bad old days of apartheid many of the things said by Hendrik Verwoerd, John Vorster, PW Botha and many others were clearly unacceptable, even slightly crazy. One could see that they were the sorts of pronouncements that in a few years’ time would be generally regarded as irrelevant or ridiculous. Yet of course at the time a large number of white people could see nothing wrong with them, and even treated them as statements of simple common sense.

This process of making highly challengeable pronouncements carries on, as I suppose one would expect. I want to speak briefly about a few contemporary cases.

The position that Israel finds itself in is clearly difficult. Some of the settlements established in the territory captured by Israel in the 1967 war have been there for over 40 years. It isn’t easy to ask your own citizens to move after such a long time. But unwise decisions were made in 1967, and certainly the plight of the Palestinians today, subject as they are to an occupying force in the land of their birth, is unacceptable.

Netanyahu argues that the Israeli position is a tenable one, and the United States (for some strange reason) supports him. He has now announced that Israel will build 1 100 new units in the area that the Palestinians are claiming as their territory. Most of the rest of the world, however, can see through the Israeli argument, and at some time in (I hope) the not too distant future the truth will be accepted by Israel too — just as the injustice and bankruptcy of the apartheid system were eventually reluctantly recognised by the then Nationalist South African government.

Or take the situations in Syria and Yemen. The presidents of those countries assure the world that they are planning reforms, and they may indeed have some concessions in mind; but very few people believe that the rulers are willing to allow the democratic changes that most of the population clearly desire.

What of South Africa? Here too there is a good deal of unconvincing talk. Zuma says that the ANC leadership has in mind the good of the whole community, especially the poor; but many of his actions seem motivated above all by a determination to cling to power. Job creation is spoken about again and again, but very little seems to be done about it. The jobless are among those who are not fooled


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