EDITORIAL: Barbarianism unmasked

Barbarianism unmasked

The conceit of every autocratic leader is that power fits comfortably upon his shoulders. Even if he has not been chosen directly by his people, his right to rule reflects a natural order.

The World Economic Forum at Davos, with all its trappings of civility and reflective sophistication, embodies the same conceit. This is the forum of world governance that repeatedly unwittingly exposes the chasm dividing the world from its leaders.

Yesterday’s session, “Gaza: the case for Middle East peace,” was a pivotal moment in political discourse between the West and the rest of the world. The self-righteous hubris of an enraged Israeli president collided with the outrage of those who refused to ignore his bloodied hands.

To fully understand what happened, watch the one-hour eight-minute discussion. (For readers who want to fast forward to the part where Shimon Peres starts venting his rage, drag the play marker across to 45 minutes 50 seconds.)

“Why did they fire at us? What did they want? We didn’t occupy. There was never a day of starvation in Gaza. By the way, Israel is the supplier of water daily to Gaza. Israel is the supplier of fuel to Gaza.”

Right now, the press has much less interest in exposing Peres’ lies than it has in the headline-grabbing moment — the point at which Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan left the stage in reaction to the insulting behavior of the Washington Post‘s David Ignatius.

The real story — the story that an obsequious press corps has chosen to under-report — was a tirade from Shimon Peres that should rank on a par with Nikita Kruschev’s outburst at the United Nations in 1960 when he pounded his shoe in protest.

Never has the word “peace” been spewed out with such venom as when Peres thundered, “Our aim is peace, not war.”

Yet in response, the bias of opinion inside the hall was quickly exposed. Even though fellow panels members were visibly shocked by the Israeli’s unfettered anger, once Peres had finished his verbal assault on anyone who might dispute Israel’s version of reality, he instantly received a warm round of applause.

Up to that moment, it seems possible that Erdogan might have been willing to allow a potentially impartial audience to form its own judgment, but since Peres’s outburst had not only repeatedly been directed with utter contempt at Turkey’s prime minister but apparently received broad approval among the Davos elite, he felt compelled to respond.

David Igantius reluctantly acquiesced, giving him one minute — but Erdogan exceeded his time. The moderator with taps on the prime minister’s shoulder insisted that, “with apologies, we really do need to get people to dinner.”

Turkey is currently in a position to play a vital, perhaps indispensable role in Middle East peace mediation but a columnist for the Washington Post takes it upon himself to cut short the prime minister’s remarks because the illustrious Davos crowd will be late for dinner!

Had Peres not been given the central seat and had he been sitting right next to Ignatius and had he exceeded his time, would the hack from Washington have had the audacity to try and shut up Israel’s president? It’s hardly likely. Ignatius would have shown due respect to a man whose authority he would never dream of questioning.

Erdogan’s choice to walk off the stage was simply a refusal to accept an insult. As a result he received a hero’s welcome on his return to Turkey.

Beyond the passion of the moment, the incident exposes the hypocrisy that is embedded in the West’s view of the rest of the world.

If Hugo Chavez, or Muammar al-Gaddafi, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or any other non-Western leader had spoken with the vulgarity, deceitfulness and rage that Shimon Peres displayed, the universal response would have been that this was unbecoming and unacceptable behavior for a political leader on a world stage.

The conceit of Western civilization (within which Israel sees itself embedded and by which Israel is treated as a full participant) is that it has nothing to learn from the dignity of others.

As the self-appointed custodians of civilization we fail to see the degree to which dignity is something we often lack, while so many of those we look down upon regard respectful, dignified behavior as a fundamental mark of humanity. Commensurate with the loss of our dignity has been the rise of our arrogance.

If Israel wants to understand why it is currently viewed with contempt by so much of the world, it should not only consider the misery it has inflicted on millions of Palestinians; it should also consider why it takes pride in having as its preeminent emissary a man who acts like a thug.

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  1. And my understanding is that Peres had well exceeded the time alloted for his remarks, and that Erdogan wanted at least a semblance of equal time. I saw some of the video yesterday, and I too was appalled at David Ignatius’ behavior as moderator (and why, come to think of it, is a David Ignatius asked even to serve in that capacity at such a forum?). Get everyone to dinner?! Was he serious, or just desperate?

  2. delia ruhe says

    Thanks for covering this, Paul Woodward. Nobody else will–at least, not in the MSM. I wish I knew if this incident will just get forgotten, or if it will ignite some kind of further debate.

    I don’t know what I would have done without War in Context these past few years. I log on every morning–an on to Conflicts Forum too. These two sites are indispensable. Thank you.

  3. The bias of Ignatius was obvious. Erdogan is to be commended for his principled stance.

    Interesting note – in the Ynetnews story covering the incident, it’s revealed that Peres said last week to Putin

    “Israel has learned from Russia that there are some measures a country must resort to when it has no other choice. This was the case in Gaza; it was not out of choice that we launched (the offensive), but out of necessity.”

    One wonders which Russian ‘lesson’ Israel learnt from – Grozny or the siege of Leningrad, or both?

  4. Thanks Mr. Woodward; I looked in vain for the whole transcript, which is the only way Mr. Erdogan’s walk-off makes sense. Ignatius made a fool of himself, and I also, like John Robertson wonder why that hack was host to begin with. The Washington bubble gets bigger and more opaque all the time.

  5. Phillip Wilder says

    Very little or no coverage of this and the burning of a black church this week in our dear country. Thank you for your comments. I will forward to others.

  6. Very well said; however, I’m afraid Israeli intransigence will only get worse as they try to defend their pogrom against the Palestinians, whose land and natural resources they covet and whose unquestionable fealty they demand.

  7. Michael Renner says

    I’d like to echo the earlier comments. Viewing the entire debate and reading your take on it certainly gave me a very different sense of what happened than the puff piece the New York Times published — which, to me, came across as making Erdogan out to be unreasonable.

  8. What Erdogan did is so admirable. And the best thing is that he has not backed down from his statements. On the contrary, he has reiterated and elaborated them in subsequent interviews. Very courageous. If only more world leaders would follow his example.
    Here’s a transcript of the panel. The translation is by the Tlaxcala Translator network. It was posted by Mary Rizzo at the Palestine Think Tank blog: http://palestinethinktank.com/2009/01/31/transcripts-of-erdogan-moussa-peres-and-erdogan-again-at-davos/

  9. Thanks for posting this. I thought the MSM did a terrible job of reporting the incident, and now I know how terrible. There also needs to be a discussion and expose of the whole idea of “moderator” and moderation. It seems to be used to selectively present what the “acceptable” message is, and chastise, and remove any who would not allow their comments to be conformed. What a mockery of the “free press!” But, look who owns the western “free press?”

    I would never use MSM as “proof” or “evidence” because too many of their stories cite “witnesses” that do not exist, or were not at the place they claim to witness action at. If the MSM continues to “make up” the news, it will only hasten their demise.

    Citizen journalism, and reports like yours, will soon replace the MSM, and for good reason, we are tired of being fed propaganda under the guise of “news.” I have also started a blog, and which I have dedicated to Terry Anderson. http://shoe08.blogspot.com I list it here, because my name doesn’t link to my blog for some reason.

    take care, Kathy