This photograph, posted by a Facebook friend, led to an online conversation with the Israeli feminist movement, Coalition of Women for Peace, which in turn reminded me of an article, “The media, war and peace,” written during the August 2006 conflict in Lebanon, Gaza and northern Israel.
It turned out that this particular image, the cover photo on the CWP Facebook page, is a few years old but, as the CWP person who responded to my query said, “Still relevant, of course.” The FB exchange revealed that there have been similar demonstrations in Israel in response to the ongoing, mid-November Israeli attack on Gaza, including three protests in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, one in Jerusalem, and a couple in Haifa on 15 November.
In addition, the CWP along with The Alternative Information Center, New Profile, and Yesh Gvul released an advertisement stating: “No to the election war! We refuse war and bloodshed. We refuse the wave of hatred and incitement against the residents of Gaza. We refuse the abandonment of the South in favor of a political spin. Join us in protest demonstrations and actions across the country.”
As in the past, Israeli conscientious objectors who are against the occupation of Palestine and for peaceful and just co-existence find little mention in Indian media coverage of that seemingly unending conflict.
This is, of course, not surprising since peace-building efforts within India and across its borders are also given short shrift by much of the mainstream media here, which seem to thrive on conflict and controversy.
Take, for example, the Intra-Kashmir Cross-LOC Women’s Dialogues facilitated by the Centre for Dialogue and Reconciliation. An online search yielded only two links to coverage of the latest get-together in the series, which took place in early November: a brief news report by Muhammad Aslam Mir and an Op-Ed article by Kalpana Sharma, “Conversations across the LOC.”
It appears that, as Johan Galtung, founder of peace studies as an academic subject, who also introduced the concepts of war and peace journalism, has pointed out, “for the journalist violence is interesting because it is fast and something happens (whereas) peace formation is always a slow process.”
Then again that’s not necessarily true always, as this much ado about nothing story, based on presumably unofficial remarks by unidentified “highly placed” sources, establishes: “PM’s trip to Pakistan hangs in the balance.” The report contains no discernible information, let alone action, but it does, of course, presage at least diplomatic conflict, suggesting that while the “Indian side” is reasonable the “other side” is not. Maybe that’s what got it prominent space on the front page.
By not paying attention to processes attempting to create time and space for dialogue that can build bridges and bridge gaps the media are in effect precluding the possibility of peace. As Sharma points out in her piece, “A prerequisite for peace between countries and between regions must necessarily be a meeting of minds between the people. In the absence of routes of communication, how can there be any conversation that could presage peace?”
To make matters worse, in India, as in Israel, the concept of “security” is all-powerful. Many in the media here unquestioningly accept and perpetuate the view that “national security” – projected as perpetually under threat from a range of enemies – justifies a wide range of actions, including the silencing, discounting or demonising of dissent. As a result, media coverage of events and issues concerning “national security” – and internal or external threats to it – rarely includes voices of anyone who challenges the dominant, hawkish narrative. The absence of alternative perspectives is most evident in television “debates” on issues concerning Pakistan, but is noticeable in other discussions, too.
In this context, the CWP project, “Re-framing Security,” which is in line with current thinking across the world about non-traditional security concerns, is interesting and instructive. Exploring the term from “the broadest feminist-civil perspective,” it seeks to challenge “the narrow militaristic understanding of security” and highlights the need for economic security (having a job, a roof over one’s head, access to health care), security in the family and the community (safety from gender-related violence, protection from crime, having one’s children safe in schools), environmental security (clean tap water, clean air), etc.
An Op-Ed article by Sushanta Talukdar, “Rehabilitation faultlines threaten fragile peace” which highlights the continuing security concerns in the Bodoland Territorial Area District of Assam, concludes that the only way to move towards permanent peace in the Bodo heartland is through the “speedy and proper rehabilitation of all those displaced by this summer’s violence” and “dialogue between the two communities all the way down to the village level.” This is the kind of story that contributes to some understanding of the road to peace, long as it may be.
In contrast, while stories that focus primarily on violent incidents, such as the fresh cases reported from Kokrajhar district in mid-November, and promises of “crackdowns” by the authorities, may be necessary, they can do little to improve chances of peace unless follow-ups are done that paint a more holistic and realistic picture of the situation on the ground and what needs to change if peace is to prevail sooner rather than later.
As Giles Fraser observes in an article about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “making peace means leaving the protected place where we are right.” Whether one agrees with his analysis of the situation or not, this line from a poem by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichal, which inspired the comment, is certainly worth thinking about: “From the place where we are right, flowers will never grow in the spring.”