[DEBATE] : Re: (Fwd) Review of new John Pilger book
eve and tony hall
matumi at icon.co.za
Fri Jun 9 13:45:51 BST 2006
Of course John Pilger is the most outstanding journalist in the world
today -- but no hagiography please.
In his crusade for East Timor, he was wrong to mythologise it as a future
viably independent state. Look at it now. Likewise it's over the top to talk
about the people of Chagos, as if Diego Garcia can survive alone, culturally
The 'invasion' of Lesotho should not be characterised, out of context, as
either ridiculous or bloody. This enclave in the middle of South Africa, the
poor poor mock state, should long ago have been absorbed into post 1994
South Africa. (The same with the oppressive and feudalist Swaziland, which
is a dangerous powderkeg; Botswana is fine on its own, for many reasons).
It is simple-minded to lump Algeria in with states with a bad human rights
record. Under Bouteflika, it has tried to restore its progressive, anti
muslim fundamentalist roots as an independent state.
Awarding Suharto? Come on, John, why try to smear Madiba continually with
that kind of PR error. You must know as well as anybody that he tried his
best to start on and outspoken progressive line on foreign policy, and a
people-empowering anti-corporate stance at home, but was shouted down and
pressured by SA's giant corporates - and the recently corporatised Afrikaner
establishment. At least, when you mention such things - always put them in
context. After all, who knows better than you, the way imperialism works,
and who broadcasts it better than you
----- Original Message -----
From: "Patrick Bond" <pbond at mail.ngo.za>
To: "debate: SA discussion list" <debate at lists.kabissa.org>
Sent: Thursday, June 08, 2006 6:26 PM
Subject: [DEBATE] : (Fwd) Review of new John Pilger book
Voice of the unpeople
Mark Curtis is awed by journalist John Pilger and his novel Freedom Next
Saturday June 3, 2006
Freedom Next Time by John Pilger
Freedom Next Time
by John Pilger
352pp, Bantam, £17.99
John Pilger is a very unusual journalist. He writes about people on the
receiving end of grisly western policies - whether bombs or economic
"advice" - and then exposes the motivations of those who are
responsible. One might think Pilger is just doing his job. In fact, it
is an indictment of western journalism that this way of working is
rather unusual and Pilger unique. He opens by writing: "This book is
about empire, its facades and the enduring struggle of people for their
freedom. It offers an antidote to authorised versions of contemporary
history that censor by omission and impose double standards."
Chagossians, Palestinians, Afghans, South Africans and Indians are the
voiceless given a voice.
Chagossians? The media, especially TV, has largely failed to report
Britain's forced depopulation of the Chagos islands (including Diego
Garcia, now a US military base), which must count as one of the great
state propaganda triumphs in recent history. "What upsets you the most?"
Pilger asks Olivier Bancoult, the Chagossians' leader in exile. "The lie
that we didn't exist," he replies. Why, with 24-hour news coverage and
hundreds of channels, have these people been invisible for so long?
A secret document drawn up by British planners in 1968 was called
"maintaining the fiction", and argued (knowing it was untrue) that the
islanders were not permanent inhabitants. The author, one Anthony Ivall
Aust, then a legal adviser to the Foreign Office, was subsequently
awarded a CMG in the Queen's birthday honours. The story is a good
indication of mainstream British political culture - buried in the
mainstream media, the perpetrators of crimes against foreign unpeople
shower honours on themselves while the US is appeased.
Yet "maintaining the fiction" also nicely describes Whitehall's current
stance in the Middle East, where the official story is that Britain is
an "honest broker" between Israel and Palestine. The reality is that
Britain has provided more than £70m in military equipment to Israel in
the past five years, acts as Israel's chief defender in the EU by
resisting calls to rescind preferential trade arrangements and virtually
never even calls for an end to the occupation of Palestinian territory.
Pilger writes that Britain, and France, gave Israel a "green light" to
attack the West Bank in 2001, having been shown a secret plan for an
all-out reoccupation. He also counters the "absurd claim" - widely
reported - that Israel's former prime minister Ehud Barak previously
offered to give up 90% of the West Bank.
Pilger's interviews with Palestinians are among the most moving in the
book, such as with Liana Badr, the director of the Palestinian Cultural
Centre, just after it has been hideously destroyed by Israeli soldiers.
"We have been raped; and all the while, the perpetrators are crying that
they are the victims, demanding the world's sorrow and perpetual silence
about us while their powerful army demolishes our culture, our lives,"
What about the "authorised version" of reality in South Africa since the
end of apartheid? Pilger notes that while average household income has
risen by 15%, average black household income has fallen by 19%. The
World Bank in effect imposed a traditional "structural adjustment
programme" after apartheid, but with the complicity of the African
National Congress (ANC) government. Although the ANC certainly has its
achievements, it has failed to reclaim sufficient land for the
dispossessed and presides over a growing gap between rich and poor.
"The unspoken deal," Pilger writes, "was that whites would retain
economic control in exchange for black majority rule." Thus secret
meetings were held in Britain before 1994 between the current president,
Thabo Mbeki, members of the Afrikaner elite and companies with big
commercial stakes in the country. Mandela told Pilger: "We do not want
to challenge big business that can take fright and take away their money
. . . You can call it Thatcherite but, for this country, privatisation
is the fundamental policy."
Pilger is virtually alone in daring to expose the "ambiguity of Mandela"
himself. Though recognising Mandela's role in alerting the world to the
dangers of the Bush administration, Pilger writes that "as the first
liberation president, he ordered a ridiculous and bloody invasion of
tiny Lesotho. He allowed South African armaments to be sold to Algeria,
Colombia and Peru, which have notorious human rights records. He invited
the Indonesian mass murderer General Suharto to South Africa and gave
him the country's highest award . . . He recognised the brutal Burmese
junta as a legitimate government."
In some of Pilger's other interviews, such as those with Bush
administration officials John Bolton and Douglas Feith, the absurdity of
modern imperialism stands out. Bolton was described by Senator Jesse
Helms as "the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at
Armageddon"; Feith, meanwhile, after his fall from the Pentagon, was
described by General Tommy Franks, the US commander in Iraq, as "the
fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth".
Pilger sees the low turnout in the 2005 election - when only a fifth of
the adult population voted for Blair - as showing not apathy but "an
undeclared strike that reflects a rising awareness, consciousness even,
offering more than hope".
Freedom Next Time allows us to hear the personal testimonies of those
challenging power. The array of interviews with the voiceless and abused
provides an indispensable corrective to the litany of disinformation we
are fed by the media, and for this achievement Pilger is surely the most
outstanding journalist in the world today.
· Mark Curtis's Unpeople: Britain's Secret Human Rights Abuses is
published by Vintage. Freedom Next Time is launched at the Hay festival
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