Historian Francis Fukuyama argued that the basis for historical optimism was the fact that liberal democracy had prevailed over totalitarianism. The pessimism of the twentieth century stands in sharp contrast to the optimism of the previous one which was by and large a century of peace and unprecedented increase in material well-being. The extreme pessimism of our own century is due at least in part to the cruelty with which the earlier expectations of conquering disease and poverty to improve human life were shattered. The first World War had undermined Europe’s self-confidence and brought down the old political order. Its deeper impact was however, psychological. All positive values were set aside in the systematic and pointless slaughter of other men.

If modern science made possible weapons of unprecedented destruction, modern politics created a state of unprecedented power. The past few decades have revealed a tremendous weakness at the core of strong totalitarian states. This suggests that the pessimistic lessons about history that our century taught us need to be re-thought from the beginning.

Democracy is no doubt the better alternate that we have always sought. However, if democratic institutions function as instruments of undemocratic behaviours and unprovoked violence, the system is not to blame. The fault lies with vested interests and politicians who fail the system. A state of unprecedented power created by modern politics has helped not the weak and the victim, but the powerful and the aggressor. What is currently going on in Gaza is no secret. The land that was home to Palestinians before 1948 legitimately belongs to them. Their rights must be acknowledged not only in the Gaza Strip but throughout the territory which was their jurisdiction and home to them before their exodus in 1948.

Politics’ psychology is dependent on what you wish to hide and what you wish to seek. It becomes a never ending conflict because the game creates communication blocks. Initiatives are needed worldwide to ensure justice and peace to create an environment for really addressing issues of poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy and the exploitation of man by man on the basis of religion, race, colour, creed and class.

The state of unprecedented power created by modern politics has been unfairly used against Muslims, especially, after September 11, 2001 throughout the globe. Pre-emptive wars against Muslim countries brought about miseries that will not be resolved in centuries. Unnecessary and unjustified hate against Muslims has resulted in their mass exodus from a number of countries.

Vaclav Havel, former president of Czechoslovakia, discussing the political importance of tasteful behaviour in an interview disclosed in 1992, had found that good taste, oddly enough, played an important role in politics. Good taste was a visible manifestation of human sensibility toward the world, environment, and people. Arriving in office and governmental residences inherited from communism, he was confronted with tasteless furniture and many tasteless pictures. He said, only then had he realized how closely the bad taste of former rulers was directly related with the way they ruled. In other words, the realization was how important good taste happened to be to politics.

It was important to know the what, when, who, how, where and why of political talk. More importantly, the degree of attention, how to address the public, how not to offend someone’s dignity, and on the other hand, to say what had to be said diplomatically. All such political behaviour related to good taste in a broader sense.

There is a lesson here for those who need to cultivate tasteful behaviour. Recognizing the political importance of tasteful behaviour was recognizing the importance of good governance and a real functional democracy that respected the rights of others. Violations of these rights, consequent bloody conflicts and destruction took place when the line of demarcation between democracy and totalitarianism was violated by vested interests and those lacking an understanding of the political importance of tasteful behaviour. At the end of the day, the need is for visible sensibility towards the world, the environment and people, irrespective of their belief systems, colour and creed. What makes a real difference, are the perceptions of the political leadership, their analytical ability and capacity to deliver.

Tasteful behaviour, especially on the political scene, is not visible. Seventy percent of the people killed or injured in Gaza are civilians, according to a United Nations’ report. Most slain are children and women. The number of dead is growing every day. Perhaps the idea of tasteful behaviour seems frivolous in the context of such extreme cruelty- but the argument exists. World leaders have a responsibility. Let peace prevail. Let tasteful behaviour condemn violence. Let democracy succeed. All of it starts with the individual.

 The writer is a former director NIPA, a political analyst, a public policy expert and an author.

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