Media Lies

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

The Vicar of Cynon Valley

If the Vicar of Dibley is the nation’s third favourite comedy (appropriate enough, as it’s a third rate show), Ann Clwyd’s sermons ought to studied more carefully by scriptwriters and cast members alike. Comedy abounds in her latest Guardian elegy to Iraqi "freedom" , a dazzling commixture of imprecation and implication, hosannah and high praise, invocation and intimation. Clwyd, in a curious way, makes the war on Iraq seem the result of desperate appeals by Indict, the commission she headed to try and get Saddam Hussein and his band of thugs nailed in an international court of human rights, in absentia. Those attempts, she explained, were blocked by Russia, China and France – and further adds (perhaps with a Welsh cackle?) that Hussein is now to appear in court, defended by a French lawyer. French and a lawyer! Where will the perfidy end? Well, even the devil must have an advocate you know.

Clwyd leaves a lot to implication but if we leave that aside, the structure of her argument is obvious enough. She suggests that the 270 mass graves USAID claims to have discovered in Iraq provide vindication enough for the invasion of that country. USAID is not a non-governmental organisation, but a body of the US government, so perhaps we might treat those claims with some scepticism. Nevertheless, the suggestion merits consideration on its own terms - because it is, in fact, a perfect non sequitur. Presumably Clwyd would allow that there are important questions of agency, of motive, of means and method, and of the alternatives. These have all been outlined in ample detail by critics of the war, and I won’t repeat this beyond suggesting that one way to stop the suffering of Iraqis would have been to stop contributing to it. An end to the sanctions may well have given the Iraqis enough medication, food and comfort to develop and nurture their own civil society opposition to the regime. Human Rights Watch has suggested that there was a steady and marked decline in the level of internal repression in Iraq through the Nineties which disqualified, in their view, any contention that the bombing of Iraq was a humanitarian war. And, why not, the withdrawal of sanctions and the release of aid could have been tied to democratic reforms, just as human rights improvements are tied to EU entry for Turkey. No. Of course not. We can never negotiate with dictators (except when we do) and anyone who says otherwise is an appeaser. One might also note in passing the curious logic that says the discovery of crimes committed in the past with ample support from the West may retroactively legitimise an invasion by the West.

"Most Iraqis now see the moral and political imperative for the war as overwhelming", Clwyd avers. This is an interesting fabrication, since it suggests that even if Iraqis were never consulted, their concerns never actually discussed in the Pentagon and the War Room, the idea that they "now see" the justice of it validates imperialist aggression. Perhaps Clwyd will also make similarly imaginative use of those same polls to suggest that “most Iraqis now see that the Zionist Crusader alliance is a corrupt alien occuper whose main candidate for President has less credibility than Saddam Hussein”. Of course, “most Iraqis” have never communicated anything of the sort that Clwyd suggests. The much-touted poll for the BBC showed the Iraqi public evenly split on whether the invasion had been a humiliation or a liberation. And of the 48% who said that overall the invasion had been worth it, half said the invasion was "somewhat right" and the other half said it had been "completely right". Not exactly "overwhelming", then.

Clwyd is most entertaining when playing ventriloquist. "The Kurds remind us" that WMDs were a conventional tool of repression for Saddam, which he had used more than 200 times and they had "every expectation" that they would be used again. I wonder if these expectations developed before or after Jalal Talabani kissed Saddam Hussein on the cheek? Before or after Massoud Barzani invited Saddam into his turf to kill his opponents in the PUK? And where are these WMDs now that we’re on the subject? Whatever happened to that "human shredder" , Ann? (Interestingly, Ann checked that latter story with Paul Wolfowitz and was told it was a "spot-on piece". She was even invited to go talk to him about it, which she did).

The crimes of Saddam are energetically built up, constructed into a vast apparatus of demonology so that no doubt may remain as to what the absence of war has meant. "The regime cost the lives of at least two million people through its wars and its internal oppression", Clwyd tells us. Well, let her hang by her own rope, because the logical corrollary of this is that other regimes, responsible for far worse loss of life through war and repression, ought to be toppled from without. A UN force, for example, could overthrow the US government, with the territory secured by mercenary bands working with foreign armies. Resistance could be attributed to loyalty to the old regime, or "fascism" – accurately enough, since there would unquestionably be those elements powerfully at work in any resistance to the occupation. No. Don’t be silly. We don’t apply the same standards to them as we do to ourselves.

Most importantly of all, Iraq is now "free". In less than a hundred days, Iraq will be in the hands of Iraqis. By which we ought to mean, Iraq will be in the hands of a puppet government, a government of quislings and collaborators, a government of pullovers and pushovers. The Kurds, she says, are no longer to be driven from Mosul and Kirkuk – I’m happy to defer to the future on that one. For, just as much as the pro-war liberals enthuse about "liberated" Iraq, the soldiers on the ground can report a daily, non-stop wave of rocket/shell/bomb attacks. Most of these go unreported. Only when a few soldiers are killed or perhaps a massacre goes down in the city centre are we entitled to know about it. The IGC discusses the implementation of Shari’a law, of federalisation, of Clause 24, and Iraqis are left to puzzle over how much they will have left to vote on if and when elections come.

Clwyd's touching faith in US power would merit an essay of itself, but as I mentioned Wolfowitz before, allow me just to sample one conversation of hers with The Guardian on a conversation between herself and the Vulcan:

"What came out during that discussion is that Mr Wolfowitz himself had been a campaigner on Iraq since the end of the 1970s and that human rights in Iraq was a major concern of his - which I'd never realised before, obviously. I had a very interesting hour and a quarter of conversation with him, on Afghanistan, and also on Israel-Palestine."

This would certainly come as a bit of a shock to his employers in Washinton. From 1977 to 1980, he was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Regional Programs, where he helped create the force that later became the United States Central Command. He then spent years as head of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff (1981-82), before becoming Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (1982-86) and finally Ambassador to Indonesia (1986-89). In the latter post, he oversaw US support for human rights atrocities being carried out by the Suharto junta - a regime every bit as bloody as Saddam's. But Clwyd is not, at any rate, very choosy about where she garners political support from. Cynical politicians, drenched in blood, flash her a smile and a cheque and she's happy. In 1997, her organisation pocketed $3m from the US Congress to pursue its cause - on account of an Iraqi Liberation Act pushed by some of the same people who had rained misery on the Iraqis for years. Clwyd also found that Donald Rumsfeld had "a great line in self-deprecation" - which I suppose you'd have to have if you happen to have shook hands with a dictator whose abuses you're now pretending to be worked up about.

Naturally, no canard is eschewed in the service of Clwyd’s war, and the Rwandan genocide makes an appearance to warn against the evils of non-intervention. (Curiously, she never mentions the Congo). Noone, surely, doubts that this cruel negligence should never be repeated? I have my doubts about the ability of a Western force to adequately handle a civil war of any kind – the record in Somalia, Haiti and Kosovo is not encouraging. But, fortunately, I don’t have to tender such a tough judgment since no such similarity exists. Genocide involves the attempted extermination of a race, ethnicity or nationality through premeditated slaughter. This accusation may have been levelled at the Ba'athist regime in 1988 when many human rights groups did refer to the massacre of Kurds as genocide, but not in 2003. No matter, for Rwanda, and cases like it, bespeak the need to end the over-riding status of national sovereignty in international law. A new UN, Clwyd says, is needed that can act in the face of atrocity, and curtail human rights abuses where they emerge.

Would that we had come so far. Would that the UN was ever likely to become a reliable agency for freedom, human rights and all of the other lovely epithets Clwyd invokes in the service of Bush Almighty. But perhaps what she means is a UN that will not attempt to thwart the benign ventures of her boss and mentor, the Prime Minister. For what Clwyd’s article boils down to is an off-key hymn ripped out of the PM’s book of praise. The devil is identified, as are his minions and his appeasers (France, Russia, the tolerance of "liberal opinion"), while God is only known through those acting on his behalf in the Whitehouse and Downing Street. And, what’s more, for all the talk of Honest Ann being manipulated by people unworthy of her good name, the way she argues displays a cynicism and a dishonesty characteristic of the Hitchens-led wing of neophytic imperialists. Clwyd has forfeited her right to claim she argues in good faith by her wilful distortion of facts, her amplification of untested claims and her omission of central facts. Pretending to speak for Iraqis, she speaks only for Bush and Blair. Making great fist out of her reputation for compassion and dissent, she makes the case for cold-hearted disregard for the victims of our crimes, and absolute conformity with it. Pack her off to Dibley, I say. Let her placate the locals with her soothing hymns and platitudes.

Monday, March 29, 2004

News from Planet Zog

Peter Preston’s latest thriller opens with “two things”, apathy and a decision as yet unmade, coming together on the brink of a canyon, then joining hands and jumping off. This is by far the best part.

The article, “Stop your whining and start voting” (Guardian, 29 March) is another of Preston’s diatribes against the lethargy and spinelessness of the common ruck. He uses the word “we” once or twice out of politeness: “We can blame away to our heart's content. It's Tony's fault, or Michael's. But why should we, Joe Citizenry, give ourselves a free pass?” I don’t think even David Blunkett is quite ready yet to hand out free passes for blamelessness, but never mind. When it comes to apportioning blame and laying down the law, Preston’s pronouns jump straight back into line. “They” have the apathy. “We” have the problem. “You” had better do something about it.

The dreadful They, naturally, are the great British public:

“Only 51% of the great British public thought themselves certain to vote at the next general election. Only 18% say the same about this summer's Strasbourg parliament ballot. … 58% didn't know who their MP was; 62% couldn't remember discussing politics with anyone at any time in the past two years. The simplest questions about personalities or procedures went blankly unanswered: 5% knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about the democracy they inhabit. They might as well have lived on Planet Zog.”

Notice Preston’s (and, for all I know, the pollsters’) idea of the heart of the problem: simple questions about personalities or procedures. No issues, no grievances, no worries. No wars, no privatisations, no top-up fees, no encroaching police state. None of these things can claw their way above Peter Preston’s mental horizon, so their blackened, broken fingernails won’t so much as scrabble at anyone else’s.

Notice also the excuses Preston anticipates for our disgusting apathy:

“Are Belgium's politicians more vibrant? Is Germany - turnout still running close to 80% - the home of charismatic leaders and exciting parties?”

This is “politics” in the best Mead Jar sense of the word – who’s the git in the grey suit, and what oafishness will he next perform in order to gain the attention of the Press? Are our leaders fun? Are they cool? Do they wear interesting ties? If this is the kind of “politics” most of us prefer not to discuss, I can only conclude that things are looking up a bit.

Anyway, it appears that, despite the fact that we don’t seem to care about anything, our whining is getting on Preston’s nerves. We have been bending his ear about the draft European constitution, and he’s just about had enough. He is kind enough to lay out the alternatives for us:

“You may sup from the Daily Mail's resumés, in which case the end of the universe is nigh; or you may conclude, with the FT, that "it presents ... a hybrid structure with some federal traits, but anchored in the nation state - and not the superstate of national myth". Or you may forage for your own opinion through the thickets of legal prose.
But that most diligent route, naturally, has nothing to do with the Mori-bund electorate previously described.”

No doubt Peter Preston has read the 150-page legal document in full, and would give us the benefit of his learned opinion if only we could do more to deserve it. Certainly we should be grateful that he uses his column to reproach us for our ignorance rather than doing anything to mitigate it. The mere supplying of information would go against all the dominant Mead Jar trends of the last twenty years or so, and where would we be then?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Mark Steyn and Stupidity

The whole outing thing may have left many people with a bad taste in their mouths. After all it’s got nothing to do with me if Tom cruise is gay or not but I don’t think outing should be totally discredited. Disheartened by the low turnout at the marches against the war at the weekend and increasingly pessimistic while viewing the coverage of the Yassin murder I feel that it is necessary to create a public blacklist of those piss-poor apologists for mass murder and devastation.

The first name I would like to etch on the town hall door would be that of Mark Steyn. I would like to see him refused service in shops restaurants and bars, then electronically tagged and banned from coming within earshot of another human being. He needs to be named and shamed.

Those unfortunate enough to read The Telegraph on this day of our lord march 23rd, 2004, will know just what I mean. If worms could write it might read something like the article that carries the title, We tried appeasement once…

Well, some young child who lives on Mark’s road was given a shield as a gift, his mum took the sword away, and the boy spent some time in his front garden deflecting the blows of imagined enemies. From this Steyn figures that the attack on Iraq was just and subsequent terrorist attacks a consequence of the west not being hard enough. Clever boy.

He begins with a devastating criticism of two Greenpeace activists who scaled the heady heights of Big Ben in protest at the attack on Iraq and begs the question “ Don’t ask me why Greenpeace is opposed to the liberation of Iraq. It’s been marvelous for the eco-system: The marshlands of Iraq are now being restored after decades of Saddamite devastation”. Mark, as is his wont as a writer published in a major daily paper, does not choose to inform us about whether the two in question were holding a banner requesting the Saddam be returned to power, that would be too incisive for a quack like this. He also chooses to indirectly suggest that no environmental damage has been done with the DU coated bombs and likely considers that this oversight is not important. All this without even getting to the third paragraph.

Mark then suggests that we should pay attention to the Osama impersonator who found his way into the palace and cites this as evidence that the state is unable to secure even prime targets. This is in the third paragraph, close to making a point there. The coup de grace though, is the last line which tells us that this should serve as a reminder and that “Tony Blair understands this, few other European leaders do” How can I begin to analyze the mind that conjures up statements like this? Are there two Tony Blairs? Or are we participating in the process of laughter and forgetting? The Blair who understands that provoking terrorism will cause terrorism and the other poor sods who just happen, by accident, to be called Tony Blair?

Mark then decides to pull out his joker, The Holocaust. Which one? The one in Chechnya? Iraq? No! Timor then? Wrong! Cambodia? No, the real one, the one in the history books, the one where a megalomaniac German killed millions of people. The one that has never been repeated. Mark claims that all those who bow their heads and nod thoughtfully in front of the shrines engraved “ Never again” are kidding themselves. Why? Because holocausts are happening all the time, in fact the Jews are up to their necks trying to perpetrate one themselves in Palestine. Of course not, it’s because our inaction, personified by the democratic raising of the voice by the Spanish is going to cause a holocaust visited upon us if we don’t stop waving the shield in front of our heads and take up the Sword of Damocles. Apparently the urge to avoid a repeat of The Holocaust “ has come to trump whatever revulsion post-Auschwitz Europe might feel about mass murder.” Apparently we have stood idly by while people were killed in Bosnia and Croatia because we chickened out of wiping the Serbs off the face of the earth. What a charming fellow! “Neville again” he tells us should be our slogan.

The gospel according to Mark Steyn then plumbs further depths. That evildoer we all know so well Rev. Mark Beach, I don’t know about all of you but I stay awake nights wondering just what I would do to Rev. Beach if I was sharing a room without windows with him. He had the sheer neck to state “The people of Madrid are reaping the fruits of our intolerance of those of different races and religions. The war in Iraq was never going to solve the problems of that region but instead inflamed Arab people all over the world to new heights of anger towards the west!” Mark reckons this is cowardly shield waving. He even follows with the words “God Almighty” in his frustration at the stupidity in Beach’s words. We Europeans and Americans are so nice that Muslims can actually travel on our buses and not call too much attention, he bemoans the fact that an blue eyed European could no do this in Damascus. He goes on to claim that the war in Iraq has not inflamed all arabs and has actually solved quite a few problems. He doesn’t care to mention which, I suspect he means the possibility of Saddam being overthrown by a democratic force which was one fear laid to rest by the invasion.

Last ball of the over now. Mark hits reason over long off for six. He quotes from the novel The Riddle of the Sands. The foreign office wallah is being persuaded to take seriously the possibility of a German invasion in the Frisian Islands. “Follow the parallel of war on land. People your mountains with a daring and resourceful race who posses and intimate knowledge of every track and bridle path, who operate in small bands, travel light and move rapidly. See what immense advantages such guerrillas possess over an enemy which clings to beaten tracks, moves in large bodies, slowly and does not know the country” Those are terrorists by the way. Hiding in the nook and crannies of tolerant Europe, waiting to ambush us as we stand behind our little toy shields.
Is mark giving us a call to arms? Or are these the warblings of a mental defective?

Saturday, March 20, 2004

The Grinning Christian Ad Exec as Tragic Hero

Andrew Rawnsley’s article "Blair is doomed to be ignored" (Observer, 14 March) compares Tony Blair to Cassandra. I fear Rawnsley’s erudition is a little shaky: Cassandra was a prisoner of war who always told the truth. Then again, Rawnsley's own dedication to the truth is nearly as impressive as his grasp of Greek myth.

Rawnsley, utilising the telepathic ability common to op-ed writers, notes that the Prime Minister does not think the country has yet “got it” about the gravity of the menace posed by international terrorism. Mr Blair, poor Mr Blair “issues his warnings to the people about the threat. He is fated to be right. And doomed to be ignored.” Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and, more recently, Saddam’s shadowy links to 9/11 are presumably the exceptions that prove the rule.

As usual, it is we, the public, who are at fault. The Prime Minister’s obsession about the terrorist threat “has created a quite severe dislocation between him and a large section of his public.” Not because the Prime Minister helped to create the threat by dragging us into George Bush’s war, no indeed. Rawnsley is not talking about those conspiracy theorists who think that, just because we’ve bombed a few thousand Muslims into oblivion with no very discernible compensation, a few more Muslims might be feeling hostile towards us and – much more dangerously – starting to believe that they have nothing left to lose.

No, the conspiracy theorists are not Tony’s public. Rawnsley is referring to real people: “what one senior government adviser calls 'focus group Britain'. These people have been telling Mr Blair's focus groups that they want him to concentrate less on international affairs and get back to the economy, education, health and crime, the bread-and-butter issues that impact on their daily lives.” By golly, that is just what Mr Blair wants to do. But the fact that we have not yet “got it” about the terrorist threat prevents him. He just has to keep banging on about it until it penetrates our thick heads. Regrettably, this too can have undesirable consequences:

“Just over a year ago, light tanks were rushed to Heathrow following a warning that terrorists might use Sam missiles to bring down jets … When the tanks left without apparent incident, there was considerable ridicule of the Government, accompanied by conspiracy theories that this was a stunt designed to crank up support for the invasion of Iraq.”

Speaking personally, I was ridiculing the Government and spouting those conspiracy theories long before the tanks left; but Rawnsley is more sensitive:

“I rather sympathise with the politician's dilemma, plaintively expressed by Mr Blair like this: 'Would you prefer us to act, even if it turns out to be wrong? Or not to act and hope it's OK? Suppose we don't act and intelligence turns out to be right? How forgiving will people be?'”

Rawnsley has not yet managed to assimilate the fact that, more than a year ago, the intelligence services told Blair that (a) there were no WMD in Iraq, (b) there was no connection between Iraq and the 9/11 terrorists, and (c) the planned assault on Iraq would very likely turn the Middle East into a very large al-Qaida recruiting station. Since Blair went to war in the teeth of such evidence, not to mention considerable protest by our despicably apathetic selves (“The Twin Towers may well have been a 'wake-up call' to the Prime Minister. For much of his country, it was not long before people punched the snooze button, snuggled back under the duvet of prosperity and went back to sleep”), I am not sure forgiveness is in order until he at least admits the error of his ways.

Rawnsley concludes with a fine rhetorical and punctuationally dubious flourish, throwing in a tantalising insight into the Prime Minister’s nocturnal activities:

“Will Madrid finally shake people into paying attention? Or will it take what keeps Mr Blair awake at night - a British 9/11.”

The Twin Towers keep on coming up. The attacks of 11 September 2001, as we all know by now, divided human history into two parts. They changed the face of America and thus that of the world. They blighted the twenty-first century when the century had barely begun. More importantly, they have been the underlying reason, justification, pretext and excuse for every attack on innocents abroad and civil liberties at home that Blair and Bush have perpetrated since.

Weirdly enough, in light of their obvious significance, the 9/11 attacks have not come in for a great deal of scrutiny in the mainstream media. We hear about them all the time, but always in the context mentioned above: “if you don’t let us bomb these people, THIS could happen to YOU!” The question of how THAT happened in the first place has gone by the board somewhat, and this in spite of 9/11’s obvious status as Dubya’s Reichstag Fire. Nobody in the mainstream seems to be interested in how easy or difficult it might be to fly an airliner into an office block, for example. I haven’t seen much about the refusal of Dubya and Condoleezza “Tanker Girl” Rice to participate in the inquiry about America’s own “intelligence failures” on that horrible day. Nor am I aware that anyone in the mainstream is asking any questions about the Bush Administration’s claim that a Boeing 757 flew into the Pentagon, and how far this claim is borne out by the evidence.

Despite his forthright condemnations of our loathsome moral and intellectual lethargy, Andrew Rawnsley certainly isn’t asking. He’s too worried about poor Tony’s state of mind to think of three thousand massacred Americans as anything more than a call to do precisely what George and Tony tell us. As we wait for that British 9/11 which the Iraq adventure has so brilliantly facilitated, the heights of journalistic integrity appear just as vertiginous as ever.

Friday, March 19, 2004

The First Casualties...

As I predicted, the media are busily larging up the entry of 750 troops into Kosovo, while resorting to the same empty banalities that have always helped to avoid explanation and blame when it suits them.

For Channel Five news today, "the troops cannot come soon enough".

For The Guardian , the most vigorously pro-war newspaper during the last Balkans war (so much so that even The Sun had to tell them to calm down), it is all because of "the deep and intense hatred between 2 million ethnic Albanians and fewer than 100,000 Serbs." They bemoan the absence of dialogue, intermarriage, and near-apartheid, South African-style. They do not mention that this is a direct legacy of the Nato intervention, which as a matter of historical record escalated a low-level civil war into ethnic cleansing and has now institutionalised nationalist sectarianism in Kosovo.

For The Independent , "Kosovo has been a model of nation-building", which we cannot allow to disintegrate. Astonishingly enough, it also outlines all of the ways in which that "model" has been an absolute catastrophic failure - there's a genius at work there.

Meanwhile, the truth emerges about the genesis of the riots. We were told that it was an inflamed response to the drowning of two Albanian boys. It now seems it was planned :

"What might have started off as an isolated burst of anger in Mitrovica over the still unexplained drowning of two Albanian children now appears to be something more planned. "We have had similar attacks to these in Kosovo before," said a UN spokesman, Derek Chappell. "But the fact that these attacks took place at the same time all over Kosovo does make me think they were orchestrated by the same extreme groups."

Lt-Colonel James Moran, a K-For spokesman, was more explicit. "There was a lot more organisation today than we saw yesterday," he said. "People had organised buses to take protesters to different areas. We turned several around." Whoever was behind that agenda has certainly succeeded in nullifying the UN's attempts to build bridges between Serbs and Albanians over the past four years."

Who would want to do a thing like that? Be upstanding, Kosovo Provisional Authority...

Thursday, March 18, 2004

"Ethnic Tensions" in Kosovo...

The Latest Crisis

Following the announcement that the UN will allow further elections to take place in Kosovo, which will be overseen by OSCE monitors, renewed “ethnic tensions” explode onto the streets of Kosovo . The partitioned town of Kovoska Mitrovica has witnessed pitched battles between Serb and Albanian “communities” resulting in 14 deaths. This followed the drowning of two Albanian children who allegedly leaped into a river after being chased by Serbians with a dog. It now seems that, whatever the rumours, no Serbs were involved. The violence has since spread across the country, with Albanians burning Orthodox Churches (90% of which are already ablaze according to Radio Five), and Serbs destroying Mosques . Britain is now to send 750 troops to Kosovo to put the natives back in their place.

Who Did What, Where and Why...

As per usual, it would repay significantly to step back from the immediate horror and ask what happens when nothing happens? In other words, what is in this place that is leading to a renewal of the old “divisions” which Nato thought they had pounded to dust when they wrecked the Serb civilian infrastructure, killed a few thousand and dented some tanks.
First of all, the terms that I have enclosed in “scare quotes” are precisely useless for talking about this. The only reason I use them is because they are automatically recognised by everyone when discussing a topic like this. “Bitter hatreds”, “barbaric enmity”, “divided communities” … the lexicon of the liberal humanist (for such it is) is thus disfigured with politically vacant terms. I remember them well from growing up in Northern Ireland when the alleged apolitical liberals of the press pack would constantly bemoan the “sectarian rivalries” which were tearing Northern Ireland apart. The only problem was “hard-liners” and “the tiny majority that spoils it for the everyone else”. Please! It wasn’t no “tiny minority”. And, at any rate, this whole gesture reduces an intensely political conflict with a transparent inequity of power and blame to a simple ethnic conflict, a failure of two cultures to understand one another properly.
Imperialists, naturally enough, seem to use the same tactics to divide people wherever they find it useful. So why should it surprise us that Nato and the UN thought the best thing for Kosovo would be first to partition Serbia and Kosovo, second to partition the towns within Kosovo? From Belfast to Kashmir, the same dynamics replicate themselves in alarming fashion. (Or perhaps these are best understood as yer Wittgensteinian “family resemblances”) It isn’t that they create the division in each case – rather, they take it as read, perhaps as something natural in the species they’re dealing with, and institutionalise it. Predictably, it also contributes enormously to diverting the resources of the subjugated into internal conflict.
So, what has been germinating, breeding, in this cleaved community?

Neither Belgrade, nor Washington...

The starting point has to be international interference in the former Yugoslavia, specifically the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo which began on March 24th, 1999. The bombing's alleged motivation was the oppression of Kosovo Albanians by the Serb authorities. Either the scale of Serb repression in Kosovo had escalated (one version) or it was going to escalate (complementary version) under the aegis of Operation Horseshoe. I bow to noone in my cynicism toward corrupt old Stalinoid regimes like that in Milosevic-era Serbia. But my equal cynicism toward America necessitates that I cast a somewhat wider net of critique than the narrow concerns of the mainstream (especially liberal) media.

It would be nice to believe that Nato had transmuted itself, in the post-Cold War world, from a defensive-aggressive military pact into the armed wing of Amnesty International (as Nick Cohen might have had it in one of his many comforting soujourns off the planet). But the record of that war suggest a different story to the one relayed to us by Nato and the ideologues who supported the war. Specifically, the UK government cannot have been overwhelmingly concerned about the oppression of Kosovo Albanians because George Robertson claimed, speaking before the House of Commons on the day the bombing started, that until mid-January 1999, "the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) was responsible for more deaths in Kosovo than the Serbian authorities had been".

He later claimed:

"We were faced with a situation where there was this killing going on, this cleansing going on - the kind of ethnic cleansing we thought had disappeared after the Second World War. You were seeing people there coming in trains, the cattle trains, with refugees once again." (Jonathan Dimbleby, ITV, June 11, 2000)

William Cohen, the US Defense Secretary claimed:

"We've now seen about 100,000 military-aged men missing... They may have been murdered." (Quoted, Degraded Capability, The Media and the Kosovo Crisis, edited by Philip Hammond and Edward S. Herman, Pluto Press, 2000, p.139)

This sort of claim was typical during the war, and was often used to legitemise the war itself. The salient fact that the bulk of the repression being described (and considerably exaggerated) began after the war started was rarely reported. Prior to the bombing, and for the following two days, the United Nations Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported no data on refugees. On March 27, three days into the bombing, UNHCR reported that 4,000 had fled Kosovo to the neighbouring countries of Albania and Macedonia. By April 5, the New York Times reported "more than 350,000 have left Kosovo since March 24". It is also worth noting, regarding Robertson's March 24th testimony before the Commons, that the mid-January point he refers to is January 15th, when the Racak massacre took place, killing forty-five people. Subsequent to that atrocity, there was no discernable shift in the distribution of violence - therefore, if the observations of both Robertson and Robin Cook were correct until Racak, they were correct afterward. (I don't know if they were, but since they are the ones who nominally led us to war on that occasion, they are entitled to be judged on their own words). According to those who waged the war, it cannot have been fought on the basis of an escalation of violence, approaching "genocide" (a term frequently bandied about during that war).

Nevertheless, The Guardian beamed :

"It's hard to resist pride that a Brit has been deemed worthy of presiding at a top table... Even if George Robertson were a shining star of the administration rather than a competent performer whom events have tested and found to have the right stuff, his loss would be a small price to pay for remaking Nato." ('A Brit for Nato? Robertson has a lot of the right stuff', Leader, the Guardian, August 2, 1999)

It is true that violence dramatically escalated after the war. The OSCE reports:

"Once the OSCE-KVM [monitors] left on 20 March 1999 and in particular after the start of the NATO bombing of the FRY on 24 March, Serbian police and/or VJ [army], often accompanied by paramilitaries, went from village to village and, in the towns, from area to area threatening and expelling the Kosovo Albanian population."

But that was "entirely predictable" according to Gen. Wesley Clark. In fact, "the military authorities fully anticipated the vicious approach that Milosevic would adopt, as well as the terrible efficiency with which he would carry it out." But that missed the point. The Nato war "was not designed as a means of blocking Serb ethnic cleansing. It was not designed as a means of waging war against the Serb and MUP [internal police] forces in Kosovo. Not in any way. There was never any intent to do that. That was not the idea."

After the Catastrophe

Nevertheless, it is not surprising that the crimes that took place as a result of the bombing were invoked to justify that bombing. Nor is it surprising that the bulk of the news media which had been so excited by Milosevic's crimes against the Albanians proferred little or no reportage of, or reaction to, the ethnic cleansing of Serbs from Kosovo which followed the end of the war. Jiri Dienstbier, the UN representative on human rights, declared in late 1999:

"The spring ethnic cleansing of ethnic Albanians, accompanied by murders, torture, looting, and burning of houses, has been replaced by the autumn ethnic cleansing of Serbs, Romas [gypsies], Bosniaks, and other non-Albanians accompanied by the same atrocities."

A November 1999 report by the International Crisis Group concluded that "there are as many killings right now in Kosovo as there were before NATO intervened."

Now, this is entirely predictable - not because the Kosovars were harbouring some secret agenda of destroying Serbia (as some Serbian nationalists pretend), but because it is precisely in the logic of trying to create a seperate state on the basis of ethnicity. (If anyone, by the way, will have the chutzpah to argue that this was a reaction to Serb crimes, will they at least be consistent and claim that the crimes of the Serb military were a reaction to Kosovan terrorism? That way I can disagree with them twice.) Indeed, these crimes did not merely let up after a while - which you might think if you allowed yourself to be guided by the quality and quantity of the news coverage. In 2001, 24 Albanians were shot, 13 of them children. They were members of the Krasniqi clan, of whom four men were considered "loyalists to the Serbian regime" because they worked in Serbian companies. For this, their whole family was exterminated:

"'Everyone in Kosovo knows but none dares to speak about it,' says the former prime minister of the exiled Kosovars and current chairman of the New Party for Kosovo, Bujar Bukoshi. 'After the war the cruelest cleansings took place among the Albanians. Under the pretext that they were 'Serbian collaborators', the leaders of the KLA liquidated their political opponents; old blood feuds were settled, and Albanian civilians were executed by the Albanians themselves.' ... The number of the victims is estimated to be more than a thousand. The perpetrators or instigators were usually former senior KLA leaders; after the war they were integrated nearly without exception into the KLA successor organization, the civilian Kosovo Protection Corps." (Der Spiegel, "The Cruelest Cleansings" September 21st, 2001).

Nor have the occupation forces acquitted themselves with any particular grace. Their corruption, the lack of democracy, the involvement of their security company, Dyncorp, in prostitution and sex with underage kids , perpetual unemployment and poverty have all led to rising anti-UN sentiment and protest in Kosovo. Radical Islamists have been able to capitalise on the poverty of Kosovans under the occupation, effectively monopolising the distribution of food, clothing and shelter in some areas, creating a "Taliban phenomenon" in which occupation policies in Kosovo may lead to "the production of Europe's own Taliban". (Isa Blumi, Current History, March 2003).

The Serbs have also attempted to reclaim some lost ground. And this is where Mitrovica comes in. In 2002, the International Crisis Group noted that the Serbian government was funding a security force in the northern half of the town, known as the "bridgewatchers" (which is about the height of creativity in the new Serbian regime), who see themselves a defending their part of the town against Albanians south of the river Ibar. Indeed, as far back as 2000, when Milosevic was overthrown, Kostunica suggested that Serb troops should be allowed to return to Kosovo. Naturally, the UN occupiers have done their very best to make the Serbs living in the north of Mitrovica even more resentful of the occupation than they had already been, by attempting to sieze control of a Serb factory in the town.

The Kosovo Provisional Authority has also been stirring the pot . In 2002, it passed a declaration challenging the Border Delineation Agreement of February 2001 which had established an internationally recognised border between Serbia and Macedonia. Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi, a member of the Democratic Party of Kosovo (PDK), presented the motion. The PDK is the main political successor to the KLA, headed by former commander Hashim Thaci. Albanian seperatists had never been particularly hot about an independent Macedonia, and two off-shoots of the KLA (the National Liberation Army and the ANA) began to mount attacks on the Macedonian army and police. One assumes the KPA declaration was intended to heighten that feeling and further the Greater Kosovo ends of certain a certain kind of Albanian nationalist. Dutch military intelligence analysts, at The Clingendael Institute , claim that the US has been supporting the NLA in its campaign against Macedonia .

So, with Serbian nationalists seeking to reassert their authority in Kosovo, Albanian nationalists seeking to expand Kosovo beyond its present borders, and geopolitical schemers in the Whitehouse playing the situation for all it's worth, who will be the first to fulfil my prophesy of liberal adulation for the escalation of the military presence which has so far proven a cataclysmic failure? Watch this space...

Semaphore to Timothy Garton Ash - Welcome to the Titanic

Welcome to the Titanic

Ahoy Timothy, I've a long one for you, but you'll love it because I've given it a nautical flavour - like your article ;)

"How can we make Muslims feel more at home in Europe, thus draining the swamp in which terrorist mosquitoes breed?" you ask.

You give the answer, but fail to recognise it. Zapatero's "vehement... criticism of Anglo-American policy in Iraq, talking of a war based on 'lies' and calling for 'self-criticism' by Blair and Bush" is a good start. His following up with "You can't just go and bomb people [in Iraq]" also helps.

You cannot square the circle of being 'statesmanlike' - that is, of not pointing out the ethical degeneracy of what the US and UK have done - and of getting Muslim trust. Muslims in the West need to see their Western leaders emphatically reject militarism and horrendous western violence. Rejection of the Western invasion and occupation is a good starting point. Zapatero has been very courageous. If you can put yourself in the position of Muslims, you will see that 'statesmanlike' behaviour toward two rogue nations who led illegitimate invasions is only likely to engender greater mistrust. He has started to build the right bridges - at least if we take the notion of democracy seriously.

The idea that the West is falling apart is hysteria. It is the sort of thinking that got

- NATO into setting off the ethnic purges in Kosovo (the HMS Hood of NATO credibility),
- Blair into Iraq (the Marie Celeste of Saddam's WMDs against the West)
- America into Vietnam (the USS Maddox of dominoes falling to communism)
- the Contras into Nicaragua (the HMS Repulse of communist attack from the south - 2 days from Texas after all).
- the French, Israelis and British into Suez (the Bismarck of Pan-Arabism)

All these things seemed at the time overwhelming motives which encouraged violent attack upon third world nations. Thus we have this body of experience which tells us that much of the history of Western violence and colonialism has been launched from the slips of hysteria. And by leaders whose real motives are founded in greed or power or expediency.

In effect, "statesmanship", based on our "fear" of Western failure, means we must all hang together in a strategic block and effectively ignore our populations, including the Muslims whom you so desperately want to be able to feel welcome . Right now, we cannot have both - statesmanship and democracy - because Bush and his sidekick Blair have given us a Manichean choice. In such an environment, it is imperative that Europe break ranks with them and set out to find its own solutions, because the US demands nothing less than full subservience in an environment of its own lying, deceit and yes greed. Because Iraq was not, from the Administration's point of view, an exercise in defeating terrorism. It was about using terrorism to pursue its broader strategic interests. You don't pander to this, this generator of terrorism and terror, any more than you pander to terrorism itself. And if you do, forget the Muslim population here - it will never trust you.

Three tiny words tinkling like a ship's bell in the ears of journalists may have prevented much of the cataclysm that Blair and Bush have brought upon us.

"Get a grip".

If we had taken the hysteria out of the "War on Horror" at the front end, we would now not be engaged in Iraq, saddled with thousands of more extremists and perhaps hundreds of thousands (millions?) of terrorist-sympathetic Muslims. We could have had a real debate about the causes of terror and taken concrete steps to remove the grievances that Muslims, indeed the people of the sorely-used third world, rightly have with us. All of this has already been shipwrecked in a wave of hysteria which was ably supported by mainstream journalists.

There was a duty to flash the aldis of discontent and disbelief at the time, to stand out with a vigorous, independent mind, since the pretext for war was so obviously concocted, the reasons so venal. And this, unfortunately, 95% of mainstream journalists failed to do. The biggest opportunity of a lifetime to get it right, and now the tipping point is past. Too late for you, too late for our societies and too late for unity against terrorism. But that doesn't mean the West is headed for the rocks. It just means that journalists, by amplifying the fear concocted by their governments to engender public support instead of doing their job by critiquing them, have largely helped to bring about the Western disunity. Don't perpetuate it by calling on our 'fear' again. Try for something higher.

Well, it be near 2 bells, I'm off to splice the mainbrace.

David Bracewell
Nelson BC

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Public stupidity and the liberal hack

Every now and then a writer in the liberal press will become fed up with pandering to the public whim and give their readers a stern re-introduction to the harsh home truths. In connection with the Madrid bombings, Peter Preston (“Admit it, we’re all in the dark”, Guardian 15 March) notes tactfully that

“Joe Public UK (or US) likes to "move on" even before being so instructed by his friendly spin doctors. Give him a quick rat-a-tat fix - Oh yes, it's ETA!; Oh no it's not! - and he can just about cope. Give him uncertainty and inquiry and debate, and the attention span shortens dramatically. Real Madrid, not real Madrid.”

I hope you recognise yourself. The thrust of the article seems to be that, since everyone is as ignorant as Peter Preston about the origin of the massacre, we’d all be better off not talking about it. If there’s one thing the forces of democracy need to win the battle against terrorism, it’s an end to all this chatter about who the terrorists actually are.

Preston’s irritation at our shallow and superficial ways was also in evidence a few weeks ago. On 26 January, he told us why so many people thought Blair had to go. Oh, “Baghdad” was a factor, certainly; but the real reason, the underlying cause, was simply this:

“We're bored ... Eleven years of Frasier, nine years of Friends, five years of the Sopranos, seven years of Blair ... We don't care what a twinkling bloke he is any longer. We've had it up to here with mission visions and rictoid grins. Now please, can we switch channels?” (“When it’s time to call time”, Guardian 26 January)

Sadly, the Guardian is by no means the only victim of its readers’ stupidity. Answering a query about his total silence concerning America’s horrendous relationship with Haiti in a purportedly historical analysis of the latter country, Paul Reynolds of BBC Online was in no doubt as to where the responsibility lay:

“One has to select, edit and choose in the process of trying to keep it tight enough so that people in general will actually read it. Believe me, it is a hard enough ask to get them to do that!” (Email to Philip Challinor, 6 March)

Polly Toynbee, like Peter Preston, is occasionally subject to righteous schoolmissy-fits. On 30 January (“Now Labour must show magnanimity in victory”), she defended the Hutton report against the rowdy barbarity of the sceptics:

“Hutton was right to exonerate a prime minister who had been monstrously traduced, in a casual, flippant way.”

The idea that anyone might have factual evidence to back up their traducings was naturally so contemptible as to be unworthy of mention.

But worse was to come. Those casual, flippant traducers just wouldn’t go away. A week later, Toynbee was forced to point out that the happy cameraderie of Guardian news meetings was being tainted by uncertainty as to

“whether the intricate daily arguments about the war – who knew what, when – have become so arcane that they are leaving even our readers behind” (“Revenge or victory”, Guardian 6 February)

Today Toynbee has returned to this theme of revenge or victory – that “the left” must beware of seeking vengeance on Blair at the expense of the next general election. As in her earlier piece, she waves Michael Howard at us in order to make clear what is at stake:

“Michael Howard and Maurice Saatchi are formidable foes - and formidably nasty.” (“Don’t collaborate with our enemies to tear Blair down”, Guardian 17 March)

The idea that Blair and his cronies are a significant improvement is of course so obvious as to be unworthy of discussion. The goodness of the incumbents is not open to doubt. If Labour is to blame for anything at all, it is the under-publicising of its own good works. Labour has failed to realise that the voters are too myopic and dim-witted to understand the golden blessings that have showered down upon them, so now there is a risk that – for the sake of a few thousand bodies littering the Middle East – we’ll piss it all away.

Horror! Give up our Labour government, which imprisons without trial and charges rent for unearned prison sentences; which has accelerated the privatisation of the NHS and which is headed by a war criminal and a pander to war criminals – give all this up for Michael Howard, who would do it all slightly differently? Perish the thought. Before you go charging out to protest on Saturday, reflect upon the wise words of Toynbee:

“There's much the government could do better. Its messages this second term have been a disaster, even if rolling out the delivery has continued apace. But those who want a Labour government - even if they want a different/better one - need to start appreciating the one they've got instead of collaborating with the enemy to tear it down.” (“Don’t collaborate with our enemies to tear Blair down”, Guardian 17 March)

Is that clear enough? You want a change because you’re bored. You’re bored because you don’t understand. You don’t understand because you’re thick. If you want a change, you’ve got to learn to appreciate the same old thing. If you want an improvement, you’d better be satisfied with what you’ve got. And if you want democracy, do as you’re told.


The BBC is all in a spin this week and those of us who watched BBC world yesterday had the wonderful news that the Iraqi people are happier now than they were one year ago repeated to us a minimum of three times per hour.

See if you think this is logical. I imagine I am Iraqi. You, a british researcher, come to my door and ask me a load of questions. You ask me if I am happier now than I was a year ago. I think to myself, a year ago an attack which would eventually result in the deaths of thousands of civilians was just beginning. Shock and awe it was called, deliberate mental torture along with the actual gore of people being blown apart by bombs. Am I happier now that its over, kind of a stupid question really. Oh, yes, I almost forgot. Before that attack we had been living with sanctions for 13 years so we didn't really have medicine, or services or proper food so the little we have now is certainly better hence the affirmative answer to the cleverly constructed question.

The powers that be put this in a blender and end up with a soup of happiness in Iraq, almost a primeval one in which Iraqis are milling about comsuming goods and optimistic about their future. Replicating democracy, truth, justice. Thank you America and Britain!

So apart from the carefully chosen information taken from the survey what else might we find out if we actually read it.

One question was
Who should be in control of public security?
5.3% said Coalition Forces and
7.3% United States
Why were they presented as separate options in this question since they are one entity in terms of purpose and also if the US was not there the others would not be there and if the US left then the others would follow suit.

Who should control the oil?
42.9% said Iraqi Government
11.6 Iraqi People
This makes 54.5%. So the survey indicates that the occupation forces should stop meddling in the oil industry in Iraq? To the same question 7.8% wanted US control of the oil with the coalition forces at 5.1% Once again I would question the wisdom of giving these two options rather than just one.

Who should control the process of reviving the economy?
Iraqi Govt 46.3%
Iraqi people 11.8% a total of 58%. Allied to the 21% don't know it would appear that any meddling in the economy from outside is against the express wishes of the Iraqi people, wouldn't it?

The report also made it quite clear that there is no leading figure around whom Iraqis are willing to stand. This suggests to me that excellent election conditions exist because there has not yet been a campaign based polarisation of opinion and the result would reflect regional concerns and the wideranging results would make for a government which may operate under pressure from regional forces which should be a good thing. It would mean loads of different groups could be represented.

Rebuilding Iraq. Who should do it.
25.2% say the Govt
26.2 say the people
Again a hands off message that the US/UK should not makes orders re reconstruction

Similar stats may be observed on the education system.

In terms of contact with the troops, 77.5% say they have had no contact with occupation troops and this fact is, I think, unsurprising since in many types of crisis a large number of any population suffer indirect rather than direct effects. Interesting to note that those who had contact said that it was very positive or just positive in a total of 9.3% of cases whereas negative or very negative contact was 8.4%. I does not seem that the troops know how to treat almost half of the population. Whe they said the treatment was negative or very negative what did they mean? Where family members of civilians killed in the war or its aftermath interviewed. That, I think, would be interesting to know.

I think this survey must be read with a great deal of scepticism even though it appears to have been carried out in good faith (albeit by people who are very well indoctrinated, certainly to the extent that they believe that people from the occupying country are qualified to judge, why not have people who understand the region carry out the survey?)
The following must be factored in when interpreting the results.
During and after the invasion dissenting voices in the media have been loud or silenced? I suspect the latter. The US did wage a 'hearts and minds' campaign which clearly creates bias since those opposed to the war and desperate to spread the full story of the war had no such counter opportunity.
The people who were interviewed, are they aware of civilian death stats? Depleted Uranium? American selling off of resources? Future plans to retain US military bases in Iraq? Employment of Saddams henchmen in the security forces? What sort of information about the conflict do they possess? It is clear that how much you know about these things influences how you percieve the war.

It is very clear from the survey that the Iraqi people want control of their own destiny. We still are left staring at the possibility that they will have only an illusion of this control. The BBC News did not state....
"Headlines today from the BBC, The Iraqi people have sent a clear message to the invasion forces that they want to take total control of their industries and resources" Does it count as a lie to leave a truth untold? Maybe we should have a new blog, mediatruthsuntold, its a special category.

I have used the survey to make a point of two here but I really do think that this is no way to try to gauge the current situation because the real issue is the power the people will have to influence the country in making its choices, that power is bound to be less than they imagine while responding a survey.

If I ask you who do you think should be the Minister for Defence of Great Britain or the US you might respond Michael Portillo and Karl Rove, you might respond George Galloway and Ralph Nader. The point is thet your answer, while a reflection of your opinion, should not be used to read too much into you as a person or your needs. We are all very aware that a democracy will not be built via an opinion poll and also that there will be no real way to transfer these opinions from paper to politics because we have no way of guaranteeing that the elections when held will be both free and fair. As usual the media are totally ignoring the real fight.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Iraq Opinion Poll

Like shit to a blanket, the BBC are clinging to government propaganda for dear life - presumably to save it from the chop. Their coverage of the latest opinion poll from Iraq produced the most unbalanced, sanitised, Orwellian piece of reporting it has been my displeasure to wake up to on a Tuesday morning. Granted, I'm always pissed off on a Tuesday morning - but the BBC have a duty to soothe early-week hangovers, not aggravate them.

The latest opinion poll from Iraq has been given such a glib, puerile, that's-alright-then spin over at Auntie's Place that I feel duty-bound to point out where their analysis might have been a bit slack:

1) The lead story noted that most people in Iraq felt that life had got better. This was its opener:

"An opinion poll suggests most Iraqis feel their lives have improved since the war in Iraq began about a year ago.
The survey, carried out for the BBC and other broadcasters, also suggests many are optimistic about the next 12 months and opposed to violence."

Quite impressive. But what start with these findings? Other findings are equally interesting, surely? Such as the fact that 50.9% of Iraqis said they were opposed to the occupation of Iraq, while only 39% suported it . Or that "Opinion was evenly split on whether the invasion of Iraq had humiliated (41 per cent) or liberated (42 per cent) the country."

2) That's it, really. Er...

I've written all I want to say about allowing opinion polls of the public in a defeated nation determine our stance toward imperial aggression here . The main point, for those too flipping lazy to click on the link is, quite simply that "[US power] must be opposed for what it is, not for what opinion polls say about it."

A couple of folks from the MediaLens website have been working out their views on this, especially the spectacular ways in which the Beeb chose to spin the evidence.

The case against “Spanish appeasement” and overt lying by our Champagne bombers

Britain's pro-war left-leaning opinion writers should click to something creepy in their behaviour which they now share with right wing journalists - those at the Telegraph, the Daily Mail, the Times of London. They should click to their loathing for democracy and then clarify this for their readership.

They loathed democracy when it got out on the street before the Iraqi invasion, when Spanish, Britons and Australians marched against the possibility of war in Iraq, they loathed it when poll after poll showed outright rejection of aggression in the UK up until the false prospectus they championed changed the dynamic and they loathed it when the Spanish voted out a government of bums who took them to war against their will.

The only times they embraced it were when UK citizens came in behind a false prospectus that they amplified across the national consciousness and when the Spanish 'seemed' to be 100% behind the Aznar's War on Horror government the day after the terrorist attacks.

Their miserable notion of democracy holds that people should align with their government, show solidarity with a government who acted against their will on the gravest issue and with a false prospectus - a peculiarly authoritarian and rigid notion of democracy. Their idea of war is that it is not a matter for the population but for a small ruling elite of which they conceive themselves an influential part. Could the Japanese leaders of World War 2 have asked for more than this slavish endorsement of aggressive policy? If we write of appeasement, let that enacted by our Champagne bombers in the Western press be the paragraph and the punctuation.

Their idea of a brave nation is one where people blindly get driven by government- and journalist-inspired fear and where the definition of 'stoic' excludes from its ambit the individual's responsibility to doubt, to judge on the basis of universal principle, to have one's own mind and to insist that government represent you.

Spain is socialist now, but not because of AQ. Spain is socialist because Aznar fractured his society and the nibbley bit, the 20% on one side of the fracture, had the privilege of taking an unwilling population to war. If the Spanish had shown informed support for the war in the first place, then Spain most probably would still be under the Popular Party, regardless of Al Qaeda's action.

The Spanish did not appease Al Qaeda or cop out of the War on Horror in Iraq, because apart from the nibbley bit, they were never for it.

This is a logic built on a set of facts that all parts of the political spectrum share. You can barely attribute appeasement or cowardice to the Spanish state of mind for democratically aligning their government to the long-term wishes of the majority. Well, you can, of course, but not on the facts coupled with the underlying principles of democracy that all mainstream journalists pay lip service to. This is why it is important for these journalists to clarify to their readership their loathing for democracy. Only in the context of a loathing for democracy does the logic of the Champagne bombers find a solid foundation.

Did Al Qaeda influence the vote? Yes it did - in a way that brought home to the Spanish the consequences of their government's unsupported complicity in Western aggression. So yes, we have to say that Al Qaeda influenced the election, much as any disaster deriving from foolish non-democratic government policy can. The atrocity inflicted by Al Qaeda helped put foreign policy, rather than the economy or internal strife with ETA at the top of the agenda.

The lesson? If the government doesn't want to be treated like bums it should tell the truth at the front of the process and then respect its own people's judgment. Don’t lie and co-opt citizens into aggression! Only then can it expect support when something like this happens. It's a simple lesson in democracy that is utterly lost on the Champagne bombers at the Guardian and Observer.

Funny that it's not lost on the Spanish Popular Party, who had strong electoral support for its rigorous stand against ETA and in the days following the atrocity went all out to prove the hypothesis that where it had garnered support it could expect solidarity against terrorism. If the Spanish population wasn’t up for the fight against terror, what was the object of putting ETA in the headlights? Could it be? Surely not! They knew the Spanish population would stand alongside them on the issue of ETA terrorism?

The undemocratic nibbley bit thus confirmed in its own behaviour that the appeasement argument was rubbish. So did the Spanish press, the US and UK governments and their press and, quelle surprise, the UN Security Council. The entire ‘coalition’ dancing troupe attempted, through lies (the one domain in which it excels), to co-opt the Spanish populace in the only arena where the rejection of ‘appeasement’ had any meaning for it - ETA. Funny that! And so when these same people talk of Spanish appeasement, remind yourself that they don’t believe their own words. ;)

Now a happy thought. The leaders of the 'coalition' have been screeching at us that the War on Horror and particularly the initially unrelated war in Iraq must become the number one issue in our new world view. Finally they have their wish! Spain was the first to place it top of the agenda. Be careful what you wish for, because you may get it, eh Senor Aznar? If I were Blair, Howard or Bush, perhaps I'd soft-pedal this line, since it may leave these hapless leaders watching from the sidelines after the next elections as the 'coalition' is reduced to Poland.

And so onto the inevitable irony. The preposterous insult that the Spanish have been frightened by Al Qaeda out of voting for the Popular Party, rather than enraged by Aznar's folly, is asserted by the same obsequious journalists who leap to Tony Blair's beck and call to frighten citizens into acquiescing to State violence for reasons that are then kept from them.

Our Western journalists pile in and help out when our governments try to scare and lie us into support for illegal aggression. It is when governments are held to account, when people are showing the opposite to cowardice, fear and their peculiarly neutered notion of 'stoicism', that these journalists show their loathing for the population and characterise courage as cowardice.

I wonder what its like for these mainstream, left-leaning journalists: to start out with notions of an independent-minded journalistic future only to see themselves slump into slavishly playing the commissar day in, day out?

David Bracewell
Nelson BC

Monday, March 15, 2004

A victory against terrorism

“I don’t see why we should stand back and let a country go communist because of the irresponsibility of its own people” Henry Kissinger

I don’t know about everybody else but the above quote comes to mind to when watching what passes for coverage of the Spanish election results on the BBC (I don’t watch ITV so someone else will have to insult them). What should be celebrated as a massively important victory in the “war against terrorism” is instead being treated as a victory for Al Qaida. Firstly the people of Spain turned out to protest against terrorism after the Madrid bombings, a move welcomed and celebrated in the mainstream media and by pro-war politicians (because it could use the protests to support their own agenda). Secondly the people of Spain followed through this principle and removed its government because of its support for the terrorism of Bush, a move that has been wholeheartedly condemned in the media and by pro-war politicians. I’m attempting to think if there has ever been another example of such a fast turnaround in another nations popularity, and failing.

Instead of the drawing the obvious conclusion, that Spain decided to get rid of a leader that took them into a disastrous and unpopular war, the mainstream media is now intent upon reporting the election as a grim sober moment, a moment when terrorists intimidated the population into voting out a brave and virtuous government that it would have otherwise voted back in. Once again the media and western elites reveal their utmost contempt for the public, particularly the public of other countries. The notion that the Spanish electorate punished Anzar for his unpopular policies over Iraq, or that they were expressing rage over his unethical foreign policy seems to be beyond the media. Instead it has interpreted the results as solely the result of the bombings, and an illustration of the “weakness of democracy”. Perhaps there are those in the media and government who wish that we demonstrate our “commitment to democracy” and our “civilised values” by discounting the results of yesterday’s election and prepare another military coup. They don’t see why they should stand back and let a country withdraw its support for military aggression because of the irresponsibility of its own people.

However we shouldn’t let the media get away with this. The result should be celebrated as a major victory for democracy, a clear sign that we won’t tolerate imperialism. As for me, it was one of the best Sunday’s I’ve had in a while, not only did Man Utd lose, but Spain gave us a result that must make Blair really **** his pants. It was well worth enduring my hangover for.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Shredding the truth?

Before the invasion of Iraq we heard much regarding Saddam's crimes. Saddam Hussein was a brutal dictator, but amongst today's convenient truths - Saddam's crimes were inconvenient truths when he was a US ally - there are some stories that are questionable. One of those stories was that of the infamous "people shredder", news of which emerged in the build up to the invasion. This horror was supposed to have shredded the victim feet first, like a paper shredder. It was first brought to the public's attention by Indict, an organisation chaired by Ann Clwyd, the Labour MP for Cynon Valley, and now the special envoy on human rights in Iraq. Indict campaigns to bring the Ba'athists before an international criminal tribunal. The shredder story became quite prominent in the media, and it surfaced in various forms in different outlets. It became 'common currency'.

Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail said "bodies got chewed up from foot to head", and added "this is the evil that the Pope, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican bishops refuse to fight."

William Shawcross, who "stands as the foremost journalist of his generation" according to the Irish Times, said the Iraqi regime "fed people into huge shredders, feet first to prolong the agony".

Trevor Kavanagh, of the Sun, said: "Public opinion swung behind Tony Blair as voters learned how Saddam fed dissidents feet first into industrial shredders"

But in this article Brendan O'Neill raises serious questions about the validity of the story, such as it being from a single uncorroborated source.

The shredder was allegedly at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But if it was there, and if it did indeed shred 30 people (according to Clywd's single anonymous source) we should be asking the following questions:

Why did Amnesty International, with its huge network of global contacts and sources draw a complete "blank" on the issue of the shredder? Why did Human Rights Watch say "we have not heard of that particular form of execution or torture"?

Why has a doctor at the hospital attached to Abu Ghraib prison denied the existence of the shredder, despite calling the prison "horrific", and having frequent access to the prison? He saw no evidence to support the existence of the shredder, and nor, he said, did any other doctor.

Why is there just one single uncorroborated source to back the claim?

Where is the shredder? Was it destroyed? Is there any evidence of its prior existence at the prison? Are there any documents suggesting that it existed or it was used?

How and why did the story gain such credence and wide circulation in the media?

Ann Clwyd, in her reply does not deny O'Neil's central point - that her evidence is uncorroborated. The original claim was based on one person's testimony - this remains the case. She does state that its Indict's general policy to get corrobarated evidence, and that Indict works to the "high standards of admission of evidence of the English and Welsh courts, under the guidance of Queen's counsel." Which therefore raises new questions. Clearly the shredder story was not based on corroborated evidence. Why not? And why did Clwyd choose to circulate the claims so widely if they had such an uncorroborated single source grounding? And why does James Mahon (who was Indict's head of research but has now left the organisation) refuse to speak to journalists about his work at Indict?

A discussion of the shredder claim at the pro-war 'centre-left' blog Harry's Place drew this response from a reader:

"Bush and Blair have just shut down the torture chambers across Iraq, which all came with the stardard electric wires and hooks in the ceiling, and your quibbling over a bloody shredding machine?
Can the anti war movement sink to lower depths?"

This is a familiar argument, and the use of language is revealing. That the media tells untruths and the public is misled does not matter, apparently. The fact the UK went to war on the declared and explicit basis of the "threat" from Iraq's non existent WMD does not matter either.

But the truth does matter. And the fact that the public are misled does matter.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Will the Madrid Massacre Become Europe's 9/11?

No, of COURSE it won't!

Timothy Garton Ash, our beloved "tortured liberal" at The Guardian, is expert at plucking the latest liberal abortiveness from the zeitgeist and turning it into another reason why We Must Unite Europe! It seems this guy won't stop with his EU-fetishism. Blair goes to war, we need more European integration. US President a moron, we need a European Defence Force. Terrorist attack in Madrid, we need Franco-Spanish unity. But check this out from his latest :

"If it was al-Qaida, then few will doubt that this is Europe's 9/11. Those commuters will have been murdered as punishment for the sins of the west. (No matter that the innocent victims included Muslims from north Africa now living in the suburbs of Madrid. Don't bother Islamist terrorists with such details.) To prevent future attacks will require even closer cooperation between European police and intelligence services, and Europe-wide immigration and asylum procedures. We will finally wake up to the fact that Islamist terrorism is a threat geographically closer to us than to America. It will be clear what Europe has to do, although no easier to do it.

There will also be a deeper case for European solidarity. If Aznar's government is being singled out for joining what al-Qaida calls the "Crusader-Zionist alliance" in the Iraq war, the lesson to be learned in this moment is not that no European government should ever participate in any action in the Muslim world for fear of reprisals. It's that Europeans should stick closer together, one way or the other."

A distinctly global problem (Indonesia, Turkey, Kenya, Saudi Arabia etc) thus becomes a specifically European problem. If Ash wants "European-wide immigration and asylum procedures", of course, he need only await the completion of Fortress Europe. The measures being undertaken by EU governments include the effective militarisation of the EU's external frontiers, both on land and at sea; policies of destitution, detention and deportation; punitive sanctions for airlines, shipping companies and road hauliers who fail to police their passengers by applying rigid documentation standards that ignore the often desperate need of refugees for clandestine travel; and the setting of ever higher refugee recognition hurdles on an asylum track of shrinking legal protections. None of this augurs particularly well for human rights, but after all, since we know that your average asylum seeker is probably a terrorist incognito it would be churlish not to acknowledge "what Europe has to do" even if it will be "no easier to do it". (Notice that this truly is tortured liberalism - a humane conscience tormented, torn out of figure, by the knowledge of the brutal measures it must undertake).

Aside from anything else, it is transparently the case that the Madrid Massacre will not become Europe's 9/11. It will not do so for two simple reasons: 1) It wasn't on television, and 2) Spain doesn't have the werewithal to launch a series of aggressive wars, even supposing a specific country could be saddled with the blame for this atrocity. What took place on 9/11 was shown on television screens as it happened around the world. I watched it, (awaiting, in vain, Tony Blair's drubbing at the TUC), and watched it, and watched it. No amount of repetitions of that same, bleak image could tear my eyes from that screen. It was shocking both because Americans were the victims (a matter of some schadenfreude among certain European cynics), and also because it actualised the horror moment from every US disaster film of the 1990s. And finally, it carried with it a horrendous sense of doom since noone could predict how the United States government would react to that horror. I knew people who seriously anticipated a nuclear strike on Iraq, or Sudan, or North Korea.

The Spanish tragedy will remain that, most likely, just as the tragedy of Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, the Congo, and every other country which has suffered horrendous barbarity will remain its own. If some Al Qaeda affiliated group turns out to be responsible for this it may resonate more broadly, but it will not have the phantasmatic impact that planes destroying two vast towers in one of the world's richest, most populous and most vibrant cities did.

Is it Al Qaeda? Well, Al Qaeda cells have been discovered in Spain. In November 2001, Spanish authorities arrested eight men suspected of being Al Qaeda operatives involved in the September 11 attacks. In September 2003, Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon said the September 11 attacks were partially planned in Spain. There were some spurious attempts at connecting Al Qaeda with ETA - because one of the alleged Al Qaeda members was also said to have had some past links with Bantusana, the 'political wing of ETA' - but experts note that ETA's secular-nationalist agenda (expressed in the idiom of mutilated Marxism) is a world away from Islamic fundamentalism. (By the way, don't you just love the abuse of language involved here? Sinn Fein are similarly "the political wing of the IRA". And what, may we ask, is not political about what the IRA and ETA say and do? What is meant, of course, is that Bantusana and Sinn Fein pursue parliamentary success, which is the only genuine application of the term 'politics' in the bourgeois lexicon.) So, it shouldn't be altogether surprising to find Al Qaeda trying to launch an attack on Spain, and we shouldn't need to refer to the Crusades to figure it out. The attack would be their first on the European main-land (the GIA attacks in France belong to a different category), and is directed at a significant European partner in the 'war on terror'.

But let's all amen the PM: "This terrorism is terrorism waged without limit, without any care for the grief of the innocent... but like previous battles vital to the progress of humankind, this one too will be won." Yeah, Tony, someone's going to win it. But since you implicitly acknowledge now that there are different levels of terrorism - that with limits and that without - where do we rank your terror attacks on Iraq? We all acknowledge how appalling ETA's attacks on government buildings in Spain are, just as we cursed the IRA for its explosions in Belfast, London and Manchester. But at least they gave warnings, PM, at least they gave police the opportunity to clear the area and protect innocents. Who warned the Iraqis in that market place when you decided to take them out? And are your 'limits' reached at the minimum of 8437 civilians killed in Iraq? Or do we aim for the stars?

Friday, March 12, 2004


Diane Abbot explaining why Al Qaeda might have attacked Spain:

"Plus, you know, terrorists are big on history and, you know, Spain was important in the Crusades..."

(Diane Abbot, The Politics Show, 11th March 2004).

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Left Wing Imperialism: An Infantile Disorder.

Nick Cohen in the New Statesman

The antiwar movement just won’t stop it with the Bush-bashing. According to Nick Cohen, in a comedy piece for this week’s New Statesman, Iraqis are struggling for democracy, and freedom, and human rights – and the antiwar movement is still banging on about the war, and how dangerous that man in the Whitehouse is! Why, he wonders, can’t they get over it already and just support Iraqi democrats? Why is the far left supporting “fascist uprisings”? How were 150,000 people persuaded to march against Bush carrying banners demanding the withdrawal of occupation forces, when even the Iraqi Communist Party has learned by “chastening experience” that “capitalism is preferable to fascism”?

Leaving aside the problematic opposition between fascism and capitalism (surely by capitalism he means ‘liberal democracy’, unless somehow Iraq had not been awash with money and profiteers for some forty years), the ICP has learned many lessons through “chastening experience”. They once learned, for instance, that Ba’athism was preferable to resistance. So did Jalal Talabani, the leader of Cohen’s beloved PUK, when he kissed Saddam’s cheek during the first Gulf War, then went on to collaborate with Iranian theocracy. Massoud Barzani, of the KDP, was not averse to inviting Saddam in to wipe out his PUK opponents either. Unsurprisingly, those forces most willing to collaborate with the occupation have been the most opportunistic backers of Saddam in the past.

So when Cohen complains that the antiwar movement is still banging on about Bush and the war when Iraq is in such a terrible mess, he could consider that the two might just be connected. Not just in terms of the war itself, but in terms of the total prior engagement of the West with Iraq. Suppose the present imbroglio has something to do with that. Most people would notice a correlation like that, just in terms of cause, effect, the apparent proximity of events, etc., but not our eagle-eyed extirpator of heresy.

“There were half a dozen good reasons for being against the war,” Nick Cohen admits a year too late, only to add, “there wasn’t one for the left turning its back on its comrades in the war’s aftermath.” The reasoning is approximately as follows: the resistance to the occupation is composed of the political supporters of Osama bin Laden, and the Ba’athists. They are ultra-rightists, homophobes and bigots seeking to crush the left. The reaction of the international left was that “they shrugged” rather than rally in defense of their comrades. This gesture is “so shocking” that “a year later they cannot admit to themselves what they have done”. Imagine – just say – that the United States government does not really intend democracy for Iraq. Suppose that Shi’ites demanding elections are right to be hostile to the occupation and cynical about its goals. And suppose that among the anti-occupation forces were democrats, civil society forces, opponents of Saddam? Would it then be enough to convince the war-liberals that not everyone who called for the occupation to end was somehow covering up for Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda or other past allies of US capitalism?

Examples? How about the man whose premature death is recorded in the same issue of the New Statesman , Professor Abdullatif Ali Al-Mayah, a “prominent human rights campaigner” and also a dedicated opponent of the British-American occupation of Iraq? How about the Mahdi Army, a Shi’ite force with no particular reverence for the Ba’ath ‘fascist’ machine? How about the Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation, an exile group whose opposition to US imperialism is in no way mitigated by their opposition to the Hussein regime that they had to flee.

At any rate, Nick Cohen is wrong to suggest that the left has simply ‘shrugged’ when faced with the atrocious actions of bigots in Iraq. Since he mentions Tariq Ali, I’ll just mention that I attended a packed public meeting in which Tariq Ali denounced the mysognistic violence of Muqtadr’s boys and supported Iraqi comrades in the audience who called for them to be defeated. He has repeated the same things in speeches in Lahore and Los Angeles. That is also the position of Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation, whom Cohen has never to my knowledge even mentioned in any of his articles. It is not that the left has neglected this terrain – it has just stubbornly insisted on appending to this opposition the demand to resist what the US is doing in Iraq. Far from abandoning Iraq, the Left has simply persisted in casting the net of critique somewhat wider than the myopic neo-imperialists of the liberal press.

Cohen’s prose is impressionistic, a layering of details rather than a structured argument. Crucial facts are elided, fictitious positions are imputed to his opponents, and once again Barham Salih is evoked as the symbolic figure of resistance. Not having met Salih, I find it difficult to evaluate his own political integrity, although he is quite willing to impugn that of leftists who disagreed with the US invasion. But I do know that he is a member of the PUK, and that this organisation has been opportunistic, mercenary, utterly unprincipled in its attitude to dealing with Saddam and with Iranian theocrats. They would rather have allowed the Iranian government to enter their territory, murdering Kurdish dissidents who were hiding out from the Mullahs, than lose their pathetic feud with the KDP. Cohen is happy to accuse the left of covering up crimes, but oddly omits to mention this salient bit of history. He rarely has a bad word to say about the occupation, although it has so far generated more corpses than the so-called “fascist uprisings”. He has spent more time discussing the alleged crimes of the Stop the War Coalition than the actual crimes of troops in Iraq, and would rather be having his debate with Saddam Hussein than the left (hence the constant need to imply guilt by association).

But since Cohen stupidly claims that Tariq Ali’s support for the Iraqi resistance to the occupation represents a nuanced version of the standard shift from 1968 radicalism to the right, (because anyone who resists the foreign occupation of their country is, let us never forget, a fascist) let me play his game. If he is willing to condemn antiwar activists for working with the Muslim Association of Britain because they are a branch of the Muslim Brothers, he is obliged to condemn in even more vigorous terms the US occupiers for appointing a member of the Muslim Brothers to the Iraq, who has been responsible for trying to equip the new Iraqi regime with the accoutrements of theocratic power. He might also have a word or two to say about whether the Iraqi Governing Council is murdering its opponents. Particularly the aforementioned Al-Mayah of the Baghdad Centre for Human Rights, who was gaining in popularity as he excoriated the corruption of the IGC, and “making some of the politicians here quite jealous”. Al-Mayah is just one of seven university professors to be assassinated recently, as liberal forces opposing both the occupation and the “Ba’athist remnants”. Where is all this liberal crap about solidarity when the US or its quislings may be the villains? And it is hard to believe Nick Cohen is ignorant of the intentions of the US government. Anyone with their ears and eyes open will have caught a glimpse of what Rumsfeld and company have in store for the world – US domination through both military and market forces. So, shall we rejoice while they slaughter thousands in pursuit of this goal?

Cohen complains that the Left only opposes murderous regimes that are backed by the West – but that argument, aside from being untrue, cuts both ways. Liberal imperialists rarely have anything to say about the crimes of their own states, and never judge these by the same standards they would apply to any other government. He complains that the Left elevates Israel into a matchless demon, which blots out all the abhorrent Muslim forces in the Middle East. Aside from the obvious disparity in privilege and power, this again is untrue. The left has consistently argued that the corrupt regimes in the Arab world are Israel’s greatest asset. They have crushed their own left, and crippled pan-Arab solidarity. Egypt has taken America’s money, used the radical Islamists to crush its Nasserists and Leftists, and provided Israel with a crucial comfort zone while it decimates the Palestinians.

There is, finally, the standard dig at political-correctness. Cohen cites Paul Berman of Dissent magazine (a witless misnomer if ever one was coined), who pretends that the antiwar Left was convinced, out of its own liberal multiculturalism, that Arabs somehow choose to live under grotesque dictatorships, and should be free to enjoy their squalour. This smokescreen is doubly ironic, since it is precisely our warmongering Prime Minister Tony Blair who loves to invoke cultural relativism where it suits him. (In an otherwise inert interview for Newsnight, Jeremy Paxman asked the PM why Britain continued to sell arms to the disgusting Saudi oligarchy if it was so enamoured of democracy and human rights all of a sudden. Blair’s response, reflexively, was “well… they have their culture…”!) Of course Arabs do not choose to live under tyranny – they have been forced to do so, courtesy of the West. That being the case, who but the most naïve liberals would trust the US government with dispensation of the vital task of liberating the oppressed of that region?

Cohen even complains when BBC journalists like John Humphreys do their job by pointing out to lachrymose, insinuating politicians that ‘liberation’ is not the reason we went to war (it isn’t, is it?). Fortunately, the international Left has been proven right in almost every essential. It has allies in Iraq, (and not the ones Cohen thinks it has), who should be encouraged to continue their resistance against both the corrupt occupation and the vile merchants of bigotry exploiting discontent with the occupation. Cohen’s infantile lashing out reflects his failure to win the argument on the Left and his desire to cover up and compensate for his immense loyalty and service to power.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

English Socialism – Alive and Well

“We should stop apologising for using the word [socialism]”
Tony Blair, 1994

“The mutability of the past is the central tenet of Ingsoc.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Ingsoc, as readers of Orwell’s great satire will recall, is Newspeak for “English Socialism”, the only permitted ideology in the West in the year 1984. Fifty-five years after the book’s publication, and twenty years after the date at which it is set, our friends at the Ministry of Truth are still faithful to the cause.

On 28 January 2003, George W Bush’s State of the Union speech went into a dozen paragraphs of detail about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction and attempts to block inspections. Bush gave a single paragraph to human rights violations (presumably of the kind that also went on when Saddam was a US ally), and added the obligatory assurance to the people of Iraq that, in case they didn’t know it, “the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation”. Nevertheless, Bush was quite explicit about his priorities: “Let there be no misunderstanding: If Saddam Hussein does not fully disarm, for the safety of our people and for the peace of the world, we will lead a coalition to disarm him.” Not “to liberate the Iraqi people and disarm him”; much less “to disarm him, remove him and put Paul Bremer in charge” – the main thing was to disarm him, for the safety of the US and everyone else.

However, the mutability of the past is a central tenet at the Guardian. When Iraq’s WMD became positively obtrusive by their absence, the Guardian stated flatly (under the byline of Nicholas Watt, Richard Norton-Taylor and David Teather) that “Mr Bush … never used the banned weapons as the main reason for going to war”. (“Blair alone after Bush WMD move”, Guardian, 2 February 2004)

A couple of days earlier, Polly Toynbee claimed that the Hutton report was right to exonerate Tony Blair from all wrongdoing

“because the government genuinely thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction: everyone did, French and German intelligence as well as the US. Hans Blix and David Kelly thought so, as did Dr David Kay.” (“Now Labour must show magnanimity in victory”, Guardian 30 Janary 2004)

Strangely enough, on 1 June 2003 the Sunday Herald (Scotland) had reported a British intelligence source as saying “French intelligence was telling us that there was effectively no real evidence of a WMD programme … The French, the Germans and the Russians all knew there were no weapons there – and so did Blair and Bush as that’s what the French told them directly.”

Equally strangely, despite his genuine conviction that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Hans Blix does not appear to have gone out of his way to warn the Security Council of this dire emergency. On 27 January he said that Iraq was co-operating “rather well”; his interim report on 28 February “remained critical of the extent of Iraqi cooperation but noted that significant progress had been been made” (“Report gives small comfort to hawks and doves”, Guardian 1 March 2003). Meanwhile, former weapons inspector Scott Ritter had been claiming for months that Iraq had been at least 90% disarmed by 1998, and that any capability for chemical warfare Iraq might have possessed would by now be harmless sludge. It is unclear how Toynbee reconciles Ritter’s claims, now proven correct beyond all shadow of a doubt, with her own claim that “everyone” genuinely thought Iraq had WMD.

On 6 February, Toynbee gave another demonstration of her loyalty to Ingsoc when she observed that Bush and Blair’s “legal case for war was to pre-empt the use of WMD” (“Revenge or victory”, Guardian 6 February 2004). This was a wonderful piece of alternate reality, not least in its bland assumption that pre-emption can possibly constitute a “legal case”. Except perhaps in the mind of Blair’s attorney general and chum Lord Goldsmith, it cannot. Neither the UN Charter nor Resolution 1441 gives any mandate for pre-empting the use of WMD. It would be hard for them to do so, since the UN inspectors had been withdrawn, by Britain and the US, without finding any WMD to pre-empt. According to Toynbee, therefore, Bush and Blair’s legal case is that one can lawfully circumvent the law in order to prevent the use of what does not exist.

I emailed Polly Toynbee about both of the statements I’ve quoted. She replied only to my query about what “everyone genuinely thought”. My email ran, in part:

“If everyone genuinely thought Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, what was all the fuss about? Why did the US and Britain try to bribe the Security Council of the UN into giving them a second resolution? Why did Tony Blair have to rely on a sexed-up, outdated student's report to make what passed for his case? Why did W Scott Ritter keep saying, months before the assault on Iraq, that any WMDs Iraq might have possessed were harmless sludge? Why did France and Germany opt out of the glorious crusade to topple Saddam Hussein if their intelligence services thought he was a threat?” (Email to Polly Toynbee, 30 January 2004)

Her reply, in toto, was:

“A lot of anti war people, like me, thought Saddam would only use his WMD if attacked - a good reason for not attacking.” (Email to Philip Challinor, 30 January 2004)

“Crimestop means the faculty of stopping short, as though by instinct, at the threshold of any dangerous thought. It includes the power of not grasping analogies, of failing to perceive logical errors, of misunderstanding the simplest arguments if they are inimical to Ingsoc, and of being bored or repelled by any train of thought which is capable of leading in a heretical direction.”
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

The examples I’ve mentioned are not isolated. These brilliant faculties are on display virtually everywhere in our proudly independent media, and glowing examples are not hard to come by. Johann Hari recently argued in the Independent that, whatever the motives may have been for our assaults on Iraq and Afghanistan, we should be happy for our victims because of the democracy we are about to impose on them (“We should build on our successes”, Independent 20 February 2004). When I asked him why he thought the results would be any purer than the motives, he answered:

“You are totally right: arguing that we should ride the beast of US power in the hope that greater human rights will emerge is dangerous. But the alternative - leaving Saddam and the Taliban in power - created an absolute certainty of no democracy and vast human rights abuses. At least this way there's a chance.” (Email to Philip Challinor, 20 February 2004)

The dangerous thought that Saddam and the Taliban were largely the creatures of US power in the first place clearly has no place here. Nor has any grasp of the contradiction inherent in the idea “the best chance for democracy is to trust the powerful”.

It is, of course, quite unfair to compare Toynbee, Hari and their colleagues with the likes of Winston Smith at the Ministry of Truth. Smith and his fellow denizens of Orwell’s 1984 live in an all-encompassing police state, under a total surveillance of which David Blunkett and his fans can only dream, at least for the moment. Smith lives under the constant threat of denunciation, torture and death. By comparison, the penalties for exposing the lies of Tony Blair and his crew are negligible; but it appears they are easily formidable enough to keep the mainstream media from asking the wrong questions.

Furthermore, Orwell’s Party of Ingsoc has sufficient respect for the intelligence of its citizens to falsify the past as completely and scrupulously as possible – newspapers, books, films, all conceivable sources of information are continually “updated” and “corrected” to conform with the latest lie. Tony Blair’s English Socialist party has no such scruples. Blair’s lies can be refuted by anyone with a memory and an hour or two to spare on the Internet. As Arundhati Roy has somewhere observed, the pathetic transparency of Blair’s lies is even more depressing than the fact of his telling them. Nevertheless, as far as the mainstream media are concerned, the purity of Blair’s motives remains unimpeachable.

Bear in mind that I’ve been discussing the Guardian and Independent – the bastions of the British left-of-centre press, which pride themselves on “balance” and “impartiality”. The degree of intellectual rigour and moral courage here on display is a testament to the devotion of our Ministry of Truth.