A Murderous Theatre of the Absurd
In his latest column for the New Statesman, John Pilger examines news as parody as those prominent in the British media seek to justify the official versions of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.
By John PilgerTry to laugh, please. The news is now officially parody and a game for all the family to play.
First question: Why are “we” in Afghanistan? Answer: “To try to help in the country’s rebuilding programme.” Who says so? Huw Edwards, the BBC’s principal newsreader. What wags the Welsh are.
Second question: Why are “we” in Iraq? Answer: To “plant a western-style open democracy”. Who says so? Paul Wood, the former BBC defence correspondent, and his boss Helen Boaden, director of BBC News. To prove her point, Boaden supplied Medialens.org with 2,700 words of quotations from Tony Blair and George W Bush. Irony? No, she meant it.
Take Andrew Martin, divisional adviser at BBC Complaints, who has been researching Bush’s speeches for “evidence” of noble democratic reasons for laying to waste an ancient civilisation. Says he: “The ‘D’ word is not there, but the phrase ‘united, stable and free’ [is] clearly an allusion to it.” After all, he says, the invasion of Iraq “was launched as ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’”. Moreover, says the BBC man, “in Bush’s 1 May 2003 speech (the one on the aircraft carrier) he talked repeatedly about freedom and explicitly about the Iraqi transition to democracy . . . These examples show that these were on Bush’s mind before, during and after the invasion.”
Try to laugh, please.
Laughing may be difficult, I agree, given the slaughter of civilians in Afghanistan by “coalition” aircraft, including those directed by British forces engaged in “the country’s rebuilding programme”. The bombing of civilian areas has doubled, along with the deaths of civilians, says Human Rights Watch. Last month, “our” aircraft slaughtered nearly 100 civilians, two-thirds of them children between the ages of three months and 16 years, while they slept, according to eyewitnesses. BBC television news initially devoted nine seconds to the Human Rights Watch report, and nothing to the fact that “less than peanuts” (according to an aid worker) is being spent on rebuilding anything in Afghanistan.
As for the notion of a “united, stable and free” Iraq, consider the no-bid contracts handed to the major western oil companies for ownership of Iraq’s oil. “Theft” is a more truthful word. Written by the companies themselves and US officials, the contracts have been signed off by Bush and Nouri al-Maliki, “prime minister” of Iraq’s “democratic” government that resides in an air-conditioned American fortress. This is not news.
Try to laugh, please, while you consider the devastation of Iraq’s health, once the best in the Middle East, by the ubiquitous dust from British and US depleted uranium weapons. A World Health Organisation study reporting a cancer epidemic has been suppressed, says its principal author. This has been reported in Britain only in the Glasgow Sunday Herald and the Morning Star. According to a study last year by Basra University Medical College, almost half of all deaths in the contaminated southern provinces were caused by cancer.
Try to laugh, please, at the recent happy-clappy Nurembergs from which will come the next president of the United States. Those paid to keep the record straight have strained to present a spectacle of choice. Barack Obama, the man of “change”, wants to “build a 21st-century military . . . to stay on the offensive everywhere”. Here comes the new Cold War, with promises of more bombs, more of the militarised society with its 730 bases worldwide, on which Americans spend 42 cents of every tax dollar.
At home, Obama offers no authentic measure that might ease America’s grotesque inequality, such as basic health care. John McCain, his Republican opponent, may well be a media cartoon figure – the fake “war hero” now joined with a Shakespeare-banning, gun-loving, religious fanatic – yet his true significance is that he and Obama share essentially the same dangerous prescriptions.
Thousands of decent Americans came to the two nominating conventions to express the dissenting opinion of millions of their compatriots who believe, with good cause, that their democracy is evaporating. They were intimidated, arrested, beaten, pepper-gassed; and they were patronised or ignored by those paid to keep the record straight.
In the meantime, Justin Webb, the BBC’s North America editor, has launched a book about America, his “city on a hill”. It is a sort of Mills & Boon view of the rapacious system he admires with such obsequiousness. The book is called Have a Nice Day.
Try to laugh, please.