Saturday, December 15, 2012

Reclaiming Dialogue from Orwellian Newspeak

Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. - Winston Churchill 

If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear. - George Orwell

In July of 2004 Bishop Agustin Roman wrote about the necessity of rescuing, a word that he described as beautiful, but that had been twisted by the dictatorship in Cuba stating:
"It's good that to start this effort, the true meaning of the word dialogue be rescued. We have all witnessed the misrepresentation of this beautiful word, thanks to the manipulations of the dictatorship that has wanted to use it for its own purposes, and also thanks to some complying with the Castro lexicon, perhaps without noticing where the misrepresentation comes from, seem content to have them steal the dictionary, the same ones who previously stole our homeland."
The word dialogue has a long history and to have arisen in the West with Plato and the Greeks over 2,400 years ago. The root meaning of the word dialogue is formed by two words dia and logos which literally means  'two way flow/exchange' of meaning. Dialogue by definition can be applied to literature, drama, music, philosophy and for the focus of this essay in an exchange of ideas and opinions or in a purely political context: "a discussion between representatives of parties to a conflict that is aimed at resolution."

Unfortunately, in our modern era where words often lose their meaning or are twisted to suit particular agendas it appears that the word dialogue has become another victim of Orwellian Newspeak.

In this case "Dialogue is Normalization" that is when two parties meet in order to supposedly represent two parties in a conflict representing their position and interests but in reality one of the parties has invited who will represent their counterparts in the dialogue. This is done in order to promote their particular agenda which often in the case of those in power means normalizing and making permanent injustices committed while legitimizing systematic human rights violations. +972  Magazine offers the following definition of "normalization" which is often times what dialogues with a dictatorship can degenerate into: 
"It is helpful to think of normalization as a “colonization of the mind,” whereby the oppressed subject comes to believe that the oppressor’s reality is the only “normal” reality that must be subscribed to, and that the oppression is a fact of life that must be coped with. Those who engage in normalization either ignore this oppression, or accept it as the status quo that can be lived with." 
There is a spectrum of "normalization" as dialogue at one end you'll find the Brookings Institute that seeks to "overcome obstacles to dialogue" which in practice means acceding to the demands of the dictatorship on a whole host of issues then at the other extreme end is the example of Magda Montiel Davis who at a gathering of Cuban exiles, organized by the Cuban regime, in Havana in order to meet with them and "dialogue" exclaimed to Fidel Castro: "thank-you for what you have done for my people, you have been a great teacher for me."  Montiel Davis then kissed the old dictator on the cheek. The encounter of Montiel Davis with Castro was filmed by regime agents and later sold to Miami broadcasters

If you are to represent, as in the case of the Brookings Institution, U.S. interests in a dialogue with Cuba or, as in the case of Magda Montiel Davis, the Cuban exile community then one must represent the parties of the conflict and not seek to ingratiate oneself with the adversary while abandoning your parties positions. Also the gathering should be in a neutral location and each side should select the parties to represent them. In the case of the gathering attended by Ms. Montiel Davis all sides of the conversation were selected by the dictatorship. That is not a dialogue but a sham.

The other danger is to attempt to be "neutral." Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu ably explains the inadequacy of neutrality in a situation of injustice when he observes that:
 “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

Palestinian activists, for example, argue that "dialogue" stands in the way of justice with their conflict with Israel, but one would hope that the Palestinian diaspora would favor an actual dialogue that represents their interests and grievances. Naturally, a dialogue that embraces their adversary while abandoning their claims is another matter. Or to paraphrase the Palestinians into the Cuban context: 

Dialogue would only serve to sanitize the oppressive nature of the Castro regime. Instead, we seek to build the growing movement of people that will bring an end to the dictatorship, that will help restore human and civil rights.
Dialogue redefined as normalization and normalization redefined as caving into the adversary without addressing the underlying positions of the conflict is a recipe for stagnation that benefits those in power and in the end prolongs the conflict. On the other hand a dialogue where both parties meet on an equal playing field in a frank discussion can bear fruit.

Back in 2004, in Miami, Agustin Roman spoke of both the importance and the power of real dialogue while rejecting Orwellian newspeak: 
We begin, then, claiming the Cuban people's right to speak in possession of the real value of the words, that is the only way for good men to understand each other. That's what I would also like to see with the word liberty, with the word justice, with the word democracy, the word patriotism, and with the word peace. That never again those who hijack the essence of these words and deny our people, induce us to use them in a sense different from the goodness of its true meaning. Pray to Him who has the words of eternal life, who is the word of God made flesh, not to allow that they confuse us with the words once again.
Now in 2012, in Cuba, Cuban pro-democracy leader Antonio Rodiles offers a framework of dialogue for the Cuban context which until now, the dictatorship has rejected that Agustin Roman embraced:
Visualizing and working in support of a transition towards democracy in the convoluted scenario in which we live is a process that implies, above all, political and intellectual maturity, honesty, and a high level of civic awareness. We need to understand that such dynamics would not involve just one axis, just one angle. It is impossible to imagine a transition that does not take into account Cubans in Cuba today who hold different points of view. And a transition without full participation of those Cubans outside the Island, who constitute an essential part of our nation, is also inconceivable. It is not possible to outline a transition without the workers, intellectuals, professionals and entrepreneurs both inside and outside the country.
What will you tell him?

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