Rewriting Rwanda: John Pilger

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John Pilger

Who is John Pilger? Born in Australia in 1939, he worked as a reporter for the Sydney Daily Telegraph, then relocated in 1962 to Britain, where over the years he made a name for himself as a foreign correspondent, TV journalist, documentary maker – and, not least, as one of a small number of prominent scribes (among them Noam Chomsky, Robert Fisk, and Howard Zinn) who are famous for their anti-Western rancor. As is so often the case with such figures, his anti-Western rancor hasn’t kept Pilger from receiving honorary doctorates from several leading Western universities and from collecting a long list of major Western awards – an Emmy, a Peabody, a BAFTA, two nods for “Journalist of the Year,”multiple prizes from the UN, an award from Reporters without Borders, and a human-rights prize from Norway, among others.

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein yells at the court as the verdict is delivered during his trial held under tight security in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone, Sunday Nov. 5, 2006. Iraq's High Tribunal on Sunday found Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity and sentence him to die by hanging. (AP Photo/David Furst, Pool)
Saddam Hussein

We saw yesterday that even after 9/11 Pilger couldn’t see Americans as ever, ever being victims. That atrocity and its aftermath evoked some of Pilger’s most wretched writings. It’s one thing to consider the whole “War on Terror” misguided or botched, and to deplore the collateral damage caused by coalition forces in Afghanistan and Iraq; it is quite another to look upon the utter savagery of Saddam or of Taliban jihadists, as Pilger did, with apparent indifference. (Indeed, Pilger openly declared that he was on Saddam’s side.) For him, as one critic wrote,

the people of Iraq, the terrorists, the psychopathic death squads, only exist in the dim and distant background. If they are mentioned at all…they are products of Western policy. They lack all agency. To all intents and purposes they are the absent party. They are non-persons; hapless nobodies…..There’s obviously a kind of racism at play here: only Westerners matter; and only then if they can be blamed.

It gets worse. In 2010, Pilger endorsed a book, The Politics of Genocide, in which Edward S. Herman and David Peterson denied the monstrous 1994 annihilation of the Tutsi in Rwanda by the Hutu majority. According to Herman and Peterson, the shoe was on the other foot: the Tutsi, in fact, had massacred the Hutu. Pilger called the book a “brilliant exposé of great power’s lethal industry of lies.” As one former admirer of Pilger commented: “In the Rwandan context, this is the equivalent of asserting that the Nazis never killed Jews in death camps – indeed, that it was really Jews who killed Germans.”

In Pilger’s view, we weren’t even the good guys in the Cold War: complaining in one 2005 essay about the history syllabi then in use at Oxford and Cambridge, he mocked the references to Soviet “expansionism” and the “spread” of Communism and protested the fact that “there is not a word about the ‘spread’ of rapacious America.”

(FILES) In this 04 September1999 file photo, Cuban President Fidel Castro discusses his request to the president of the International Olympic Committee in Havana for an investigation into the treatment of certain Cuban atheletes. Castro said the communist nation is not afraid of dialogue with the United States -- and not interested in continued confrontation with its powerful neighbor. The comments came as a group of US lawmakers visited Cuba this weekend to try to end nearly half a century of mutual distrust and amid reports that President Barack Obama was planning to ease economic sanctions on the island, including travel restrictions on Cuban-Americans. "We're not afraid to talk with the United States. We also don't need confrontation to exist, like some fools like to think," Castro, 82, said in an article on the Cubadebate website on April 5, 2009. AFP PHOTO/ADALBERTO ROQUE /FILES (Photo credit should read ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images) Original Filename: Was672139.jpg
Fidel Castro

Of course he loves Cuba, which he first visited in 1967. In a 2011 article, he depicted that initial exposure to the Castros’ island as a fun, colorful, fiesta-like experience. The Cubans he met were uniformly delightful and friendly – but, he added, “the hardship of their imposed isolation left smiles diminished and eyes averted once the music had stopped.” And whose fault was that isolation? One guess. America’s, naturally. In fact, everything that went wrong with the Castro Revolution, it turns out, was America’s fault: the increasing poverty, the decrease in food supplies, the crumbling of infrastructure, etc., etc. Also, while America’s relations with the rest of the world are driven by a sheer lust for power, don’t you know, Cuba’s international relations are motivated by pure altruism: the “revolution,” Pilger maintained, echoing the Castros’ ludicrous propaganda, “sends tens of thousands of doctors across the world for the sole purpose of helping other human beings: an epic internationalism.”

And he was at least as fond of Hugo Chávez as he is of the Castros. More on that tomorrow.

John Pilger’s “great game”

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John Pilger

How better to introduce John Pilger than to quote from a notorious piece he published in The Guardian in July of 2002? The piece in question, we hasten to point out, isn’t much more appalling that many of the other things he’s written during his more than half-century-long career. But it certainly is representative, and it spells out his worldview with considerable – and disgusting – clarity.

“It is 10 months since 11 September,” he wrote

and still the great charade plays on. Having appropriated our shocked response to that momentous day, the rulers of the world have since ground our language into a paean of cliches and lies about the ‘war on terrorism’ – when the most enduring menace, and source of terror, is them….There is no war on terrorism; it is the great game speeded up. The difference is the rampant nature of the superpower, ensuring infinite dangers for us all.

Those sentences pretty much sum up Pilger’s worldview. Everything that happens in the world can be explained by a single, overarching, black-and-white narrative: the West, with the U.S. at its helm, is an evil force, poisoned by cutthroat capitalism, bloodthirsty imperialism, and an abiding illusion of freedom (Pilger refers to America and its allies as “societies that call themselves free”) and motivated by an unflagging lust to overpower and control the rest of the planet.

johnpilgerThis is the aforementioned “great game.” Every non-Western nation is a victim of this game; every non-Western people is virtuous; every non-Western culture is superior to the West.

All the tensions in the Middle East, therefore, are the fault of Israel, which is nothing more or less than a terrorist outpost of the West, run by the likes of “supreme terrorist Ariel Sharon.” (“[T]he Zionist state,” Pilger has written, “remains the cause of more regional grievance and sheer terror than all the Muslim states combined.”) Hamas, Hezbollah, all of them, are only reactive forces, lashing out in defensive response to the West’s vicious assaults.

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With Hugo Chavez

In the same way, Castro is a hero, and Cuban freedom fighters are terrorists. Today’s Japan is “very ultra-nationalist…the kind of Israel of Asia, for the United States,” while today’s Communist China is an innocuous country that seeks only to develop its economy without Western interference. The Sandinistas in Nicaragua were saints; their opponents were demons. When it comes to sheer wickedness, the worst Taliban fanatics, in Pilger’s view, have nothing on “the Christian Right fundamentalists running the plutocracy in Washington.” Ukraine’s 2014 democratic revolution was “Washington’s putsch in Kiev,” and it turned Ukraine “into a CIA theme park right next to Russia.”

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Ho Chi Minh

On and on it goes. Ho Chi Minh was a good guy; the U.S. waged the Vietnam War not just against North Vietnam but against all of Vietnam, “north and south, communist and non-communist.” (No mention, of course, of Ho’s epic brutality, of the pernicious role of China, or of the dark reality of Communism in postwar Vietnam.)

Even Osama bin Laden himself was not so horrible compared to the real bad guys: “Al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan,” wrote Pilger, “were kindergartens compared with the world’s leading university of terrorism at Fort Benning in Georgia.” Yes, he actually wrote that. All too often, his stuff reads like some kind of parody of knee-jerk anti-Americanism. 

Who is this clown? We’ll dig deeper tomorrow.

Weisbrot’s friends

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Mark Weisbrot

We’ve devoted this week to Mark Weisbrot, who for years has served as an economic advisor to and ardent defender of the most notorious, incompetent, and corrupt regimes in South America. Since he’s the founder and grand poobah of something called the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), it’s not unreasonable to ask a few questions. For example: who, exactly, is providing the funds to pay Weisbrot’s salary and keep his “center” afloat? And who are the other powerhouses who make up this “center,” which represents itself as a hotbed of serious economic analysis?

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Walden Bello

Well, as it turns out, most of CEPR’s staffers and directors have more of a background in organized left-wing activism on issues like global warming and women’s rights than in economics. No fewer than three members of CEPR’s small staff (John Schmitt, Deborah James, and Alexander Main) used to work for the “Information Office” of the Venezuelan government – which isn’t exactly famous for its world-class economic acumen. As for CEPR’s “board of directors,” it includes Filipino congressman Walden Bello, a critic of capitalism and globalization who’s written such books as Capitalism’s Last Stand?: Deglobalization in the Age of Austerity (2013). In a piece on free trade, Bello put the word “free” in scare quotes. In November 2010, Bello called Néstor Kirchner “remarkable,” “an exemplary figure in the Global South when it came to dealing with international financial institutions.” Pronounced Bello: “Along with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Lula of Brazil, Evo Morales of Bolivia, and Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Kirchner was one of several remarkable leaders that the crisis of neoliberalism produced in Latin America.”

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Danny Glover

Also on the CEPR’s board is Julian Bond, an activist and former NAACP head who’s compared the Tea Party to the Taliban. Neither Bello nor Bond is a trained economist. The most familiar name on the list is Danny Glover – yes, that Danny Glover, of Lethal Weapon fame, whose love for Hugo Chávez, for Fidel Castro, and for Communism generally we’ve already discussed on this site. Needless to say, Glover isn’t an economist either.

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Dan Beeton

Then there’s CEPR’s International Communications Director, Dan Beeton. In August 2014, he wrote a paean to Cristina Kirchner’s newly appointed Minister of the Economy that read less like the work of a sober economist than of an overly gushing publicist. Excerpt: “Alex Kicillof, the telegenic economy minister famous for his Elvis-style sideburns, has emerged on the international stage as a heroic figure championing the Argentine people. Kicillof is perhaps reminiscent of another bold, young economy minister in a different South American country: Ecuador’s Rafael Correa, whose public sparring with the World Bank in 2005 helped to launch his political career.”

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Robert Naiman

Finally, check out CEPR staffer Robert Naiman, who, after Néstor Kirchner’s death, eulogized him at the Daily Kos website for “defying Washington and the International Monetary Fund.” Naiman also recommended Oliver Stone’s documentary South of the Border, which represented Kirchner as a hero – and which, as we’ve seen, was written by Weisbrot. Who’s Naiman? In addition to his work at CEPR and his writing for sites like Daily Kos and the Huffington Post, he’s served as Policy Director for a website called “Just Foreign Policy,” and as head of the board of the “progressive” news website Truthout, as a member of the steering committee of Gaza’s Ark (which is all about repeatedly violating Israel’s sea blockade of the Palestinian territories).

Back to Weisbrot tomorrow for a wind-up.