Yesterday I finished reading George Lakoff's new book: "Whose Freedom?", and I understood better why framing, which sounds like a gimmick, is so important. Lakoff's book is a sort of primer for that vast majority of people of good will who quite naturally take words at face value, and would realize how American freedom has been turned into its opposite if they understood the link between strict father parenting and nurturing parenting. (That may sound like a roundabout way of talking about feedom, but it isn't.)
I didn't have to wait longer than this morning to see a striking example of how framing works. Over and over on the Sunday morning talk shows I heard this: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization; Israel has the right to defend itself. That sounds pretty unexceptional, but it's a frame. Only when Wolf Blitzer spoke to the Lebansese Prime Minister, Siniora, on the phone, did we hear that Hezbollah's provocation didn't come out of the blue: it's simply the latest in a long line of skirmishes that have been going on for more than fifty years between Israel and the people that lived in or around its territory long before the Jewish state existed.
The media never mentions the existence of Irgun, the Jewish terrorist organization that helped win Israeli statehood from the British after the Second World War. Nobody - except a man on the Beirut street, throwing up his arms in despair - mentions that people use the weapons they have.
But here's the kicker: Hezbollah represents, in the Lebanese parliament, many Lebanese Shiite citizens, who make up 40% of the population in a country whose other minorities are Christians and Sunnis. Like many other countries set up by the stroke of a pen after the end of the war, its population is not homogeneous. Introduce an Israeli state next door and you are bound to have problems: Israel occupied southern Lebanon for eighteen years. Can we say that was right, or should we rather say that it grew out of an inherently ambiguous situation?
Barely a year after Syria's withdrawal after thirty years of occupation, Lebanon is of course still not a homogeneous country. Probably the only common goal among its various components is a wish to be independent and live in peace. The majority of the population, whether Sunni or Shia Muslim, feels for the Palestinians, who, more than fifty years after the birth of the state of Israel, still do not have THEIR own state. Many Palestinians are Shias, hence many Lebanese Shias - i.e., Hezbollah - are ready to fight on their side against Israel.
Israel could put an end to all fighting by ceasing to play cat and mouse with the peace process: promising, but never giving, taking instead of giving, as in the West Bank.
The frame is: Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Read: it is not part of the almost non-existent Lebanese army, it fights with the weapons it can for something most Lebanese support.
The frame is: Israel has the right to defend itself. Read: Israel has the right to reduce the Palestinians to as small a nation as possible before giving them the right to an independent existence.
The frame is: the United States wants to help Lebanon become a country that can defend itself. Read: The United States is standing by while Israel demolishes Lebanon's infrastructure and kills hundreds of civilians (implicitely, for the crime of having voted for Hezbollah), but wil be ready, when the fighting stops, to negotiate lucrative contracts for Halliburton and other U.S. companies to rebuild Lebanon - on condition it becomes a junior partner in the U.S. Israeli alliance.
It's not going to happen.