Transparency has become the new buzzword of our times, especially for someone running for the public office.
It is a positive attitude if it allows for moving towards a better form of democracy and offers respect for the people who vote. Recent developments over the “Weinstein scandal” offered a good example. Through deciding to break walls and start denouncing unacceptable behaviour, women sometimes contribute towards putting a brake on a kind of offence that has never been treated accurately. The ‘name and shame’ twitter trend led to the start of the process of prosecution of some high-flying personalities. The case of theology professor Tarek Ramadan being accused of rape by a former colleague has something interesting to offer. Of course, such a move goes together with false accusations, difficulties in gathering proof or exoneration. But one cannot really argue against it in an increasingly connected world.
Yet, despite all that, it is fascinating to observe the irreversible curve of getting used to lies in politics.
For sure, the world history is made of lies. This is especially true in the Middle East: The massacre of Christians by the Druze in 1860; the hiding of the Sykes-Picot Agreements of 1916, sharing United Kingdom and French influence in the Middle East once the Ottoman Empire would be defeated, unknown to Arab forces; the denied Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turkish army in 1916-1918 and the massacre of the Assyrian-Chaldean community by the same army in 1919. More recently, the speech by former United States secretary of state Colin Powell at the United Nations in 2002, wherein he said: “I have the proof ...”, or for that matter former UK prime minister Tony Blair declaring in parliament that “Iraqi missiles could hit London in 45 minutes”.
And the list is endless: No official number of casualties in Iraq; no fixing of accountability for the use of poison gas over civilians in Syria; no acknowledgement of civilian victims killed in air strikes. As to Israel and the Palestinian issue, lies are countless: The former US president, Bill Clinton, had once proudly declared: “Occupied Territories should not be changed by establishment of permanent colonies by the occupying power.” Or former US president Barack Obama saying that “America does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli colonies”. US President Donald Trump, though, remains silent about a recent decision by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to install 1,300 new colony housing units on Arab lands.
The matter is not limited, of course, to any one field. Look at German automaker Volkswagen and its false statistics on anti-pollution norms; or some of the most famous Japanese conglomerates admitting that they have been lying for years on the quality of their products. There is also the ‘Madof scandal’ — see the recently released movie Lord of Lies, which establishes falsehood as a simple fact of life. Not to mention, of course, Trump, and his “tax-cuts-for-the-middle-class promise”; or the conviction of close aides in the ‘Russian gate’ scandal.
In France, what should be said of terrorist Abdul Kader Merah’s mother declaring in court last week that “his son was going to Egypt for vacation”? He was going there to be trained on arms handling. In Spain, how not to react to those claiming “a majority of Catalans want independence” when figures just show the contrary? And there is no need to further elaborate on those restaurants serving ‘home-made’ food, which has just been purchased from Metro supermarkets, and hardly warmed in the kitchens.
These are facts of life that interfere with our daily habits — and against which one can only but protect oneself.
Most democracies prevent convicted politicians to run again for offices. Couldn’t it be the same for politicians who have been proved to be blatant liers?
Can one rule a country and lie? Probably yes, in the short term. But in the longer term, we believe no. Let us remind ourselves of French poet Charles Peguy saying: “We must say what we see, and most importantly, what is more difficult, we must see what we see.” Unless one prefers to remind oneself of murdered Lebanese prime minister Rakik Hariri saying: “In Lebanon, never trust what you don’t see — and only half of what you see.”
Luc Debieuvre is a French essayist and a lecturer at Iris (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques) and the ‘Faco’ Law University of Paris.