Self-Pitying Imperialists

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Four
years ago, I traveled the length of Iraq, from the hills where St.
Matthew is buried in the Kurdish north to the heartland of Mesopotamia,
and Baghdad, and the Shia south. I have seldom felt as safe in any
country. Once, in the Edwardian colonnade of Baghdad’s book market,
a young man shouted something at me about the hardship his family
had been forced to endure under the embargo imposed by America and
Britain. What happened next was typical of Iraqis; a passerby calmed
the man, putting his arm around his shoulder, while another was
quickly at my side. "Forgive him," he said reassuringly.
"We do not connect the people of the west with the actions
of their governments. You are welcome."

At
one of the melancholy evening auctions where Iraqis come to sell
their most intimate possessions out of urgent need, a woman with
two infants watched as their pushchairs went for pennies, and a
man who had collected doves since he was 15 came with his last bird
and its cage; and yet people said to me: "You are welcome."
Such grace and dignity were often expressed by those Iraqi exiles
who loathed Saddam Hussein and opposed both the economic siege and
the Anglo-American assault on their homeland; thousands of these
anti-Saddamites marched against the war in London last year, to
the chagrin of the warmongers, who never understood the dichotomy
of their principled stand.

Were
I to undertake the same journey in Iraq today, I might not return
alive. Foreign terrorists have ensured that. With the most lethal
weapons that billions of dollars can buy, and the threats of their
cowboy generals and the panic-stricken brutality of their foot soldiers,
more than 120,000 of these invaders have ripped up the fabric of
a nation that survived the years of Saddam Hussein, just as they
oversaw the destruction of its artifacts. They have brought to Iraq
a daily, murderous violence which surpasses that of a tyrant who
never promised a fake democracy.

Amnesty
International reports that US-led forces have "shot Iraqis
dead during demonstrations, tortured and ill-treated prisoners,
arrested people arbitrarily and held them indefinitely, demolished
houses in acts of revenge and collective punishment."

In
Fallujah, US marines, described as "tremendously precise"
by their psychopathic spokesman, slaughtered up to 600 people, according
to hospital directors. They did it with aircraft and heavy weapons
deployed in urban areas, as revenge for the killing of four American
mercenaries. Many of the dead of Fallujah were women and children
and the elderly. Only the Arab television networks, notably al-Jazeera,
have shown the true scale of this crime, while the Anglo-American
media continue to channel and amplify the lies of the White House
and Downing Street.

"Writing
exclusively for the Observer before a make-or-break summit
with President George Bush this week," sang Britain’s former
premier liberal newspaper on 11 April, "[Tony Blair] gave full
backing to American tactics in Iraq… saying that the government
would not flinch from its u2018historic struggle’ despite the efforts
of u2018insurgents and terrorists’."

That
this "exclusive" was not presented as parody shows that
the propaganda engine that drove the lies of Blair and Bush on weapons
of mass destruction and al-Qaeda links for almost two years is still
in service. On BBC news bulletins and Newsnight, Blair’s "terrorists"
are still currency, a term that is never applied to the principal
source and cause of the terrorism, the foreign invaders, who have
now killed at least 11,000 civilians, according to Amnesty and others.
The overall figure, including conscripts, may be as high as 55,000.

That
a nationalist uprising has been under way in Iraq for more than
a year, uniting at least 15 major groups, most of them opposed to
the old regime, has been suppressed in a mendacious lexicon invented
in Washington and London and reported incessantly, CNN-style. "Remnants"
and "tribalists" and "fundamentalists" dominate,
while Iraq is denied the legacy of a history in which much of the
modern world is rooted. The "first-anniversary story"
about a laughable poll claiming that half of all Iraqis felt better
off now under the occupation is a case in point. The BBC and the
rest swallowed it whole. For the truth, I recommend the courageous
daily reporting of Jo Wilding
, a British human rights observer
in Baghdad.

Even
now, as the uprising spreads, there is only cryptic gesturing at
the obvious: that this is a war of national liberation and that
the enemy is "us." The pro-invasion Sydney Morning
Herald is typical. Having expressed "surprise" at
the uniting of Shias and Sunnis, the paper’s Baghdad correspondent
recently described "how GI bullies are making enemies of their
Iraqi friends" and how he and his driver had been threatened
by Americans. "I’ll take you out quick as a flash, motherf****er!"
a soldier told the reporter. That this was merely a glimpse of the
terror and humiliation that Iraqis have to suffer every day in their
own country was not made clear; yet this newspaper has published
image after unctuous image of mournful American soldiers, inviting
sympathy for an invader who has "taken out" thousands
of innocent men, women and children.

What
we do routinely in the imperial west, wrote Richard Falk, professor
of international relations at Princeton, is propagate "through
a self-righteous, one-way moral/legal screen positive images of
western values and innocence that are threatened, validating a campaign
of unrestricted violence." Thus, western state terrorism is
erased, and a tenet of western journalism is to excuse or minimize"our"
culpability, however atrocious. Our dead are counted; theirs are
not. Our victims are worthy; theirs are not.

This
is an old story; there have been many Iraqs, or what Blair calls
"historic struggles" waged against "insurgents and
terrorists." Take Kenya in the 1950s. The approved version
is still cherished in the west — first popularized in the press,
then in fiction and movies; and like Iraq, it is a lie. "The
task to which we have set our minds," declared the governor
of Kenya in 1955, "is to civilize a great mass of human beings
who are in a very primitive moral and social state." The slaughter
of thousands of nationalists, who were never called nationalists,
was British government policy. The myth of the Kenyan uprising was
that the Mau Mau brought "demonic terror" to the heroic
white settlers. In fact, the Mau Mau killed just 32 Europeans, compared
with the estimated 10,000 Kenyans killed by the British, who ran
concentration camps where the conditions were so harsh that 402
inmates died in just one month. Torture, flogging and abuse of women
and children were commonplace. "The special prisons,"
wrote the imperial historian V.G. Kiernan, "were probably as
bad as any similar Nazi or Japanese establishments." None of
this was reported. The "demonic terror" was all one way:
black against white. The racist message was unmistakable.

It
was the same in Vietnam. In 1969, the discovery of the American
massacre in the village of My Lai was described on the cover of
Newsweek as "An American tragedy," not a Vietnamese
one. In fact, there were many massacres like My Lai, and almost
none of them was reported at the time.

The
real tragedy of soldiers policing a colonial occupation is also
suppressed. More than 58,000 American soldiers were killed in Vietnam.
The same number, according to a veterans’ study, killed themselves
on their return home. Dr. Doug Rokke, director of the US army depleted
uranium project following the 1991 Gulf invasion, estimates that
more than 10,000 American troops have since died as a result, many
from contamination illness. When I asked him how many Iraqis had
died, he raised his eyes and shook his head. "Solid uranium
was used on shells," he said. "Tens of thousands of Iraqis
— men, women and children — were contaminated. Right through the
1990s, at international symposiums, I watched Iraqi officials approach
their counterparts from the Pentagon and the Ministry of Defense
and ask, plead, for help with decontamination. The Iraqis didn’t
use uranium; it was not their weapon. I watched them put their case,
describing the deaths and horrific deformities, and I watched them
rebuffed. It was pathetic." During last year’s invasion, both
American and British forces again used uranium-tipped shells, leaving
whole areas so "hot" with radiation that only military
survey teams in full protective clothing can approach them. No warning
or medical help is given to Iraqi civilians; thousands of children
play in these zones. The "coalition" has refused to allow
the International Atomic Energy Agency to send experts to assess
what Rokke describes as "a catastrophe."

When
will this catastrophe be properly reported by those meant to keep
the record straight? When will the BBC and others investigate the
conditions of some 10,000 Iraqis held without charge, many of them
tortured, in US concentration camps inside Iraq, and the corralling,
with razor wire, of entire Iraqi villages? When will the BBC and
others stop referring to "the handover of Iraqi sovereignty"
on 30 June, although there will be no such handover? The new regime
will be stooges, with each ministry controlled by American officials
and with its stooge army and stooge police force run by Americans.
A Saddamite law prohibiting trade unions for public sector workers
will stay in force. Leading members of Saddam’s infamous secret
police, the Mukhabarat, will run "state security," directed
by the CIA. The US military will have the same "status of forces"
agreement that they impose on the host nations of their 750 bases
around the world, which in effect leaves them in charge. Iraq will
be a US colony, like Haiti. And when will journalists have the professional
courage to report the pivotal role that Israel has played in this
grand colonial design for the Middle East?

A
few weeks ago, Rick Mercier, a young columnist for the Free-Lance
Star, a small paper in Virginia, did what no other journalist
has done this past year. He
apologized to his readers
for the travesty of the reporting
of events leading to the attack on Iraq. "Sorry we let unsubstantiated
claims drive our coverage," he wrote. "Sorry we let a
band of self-serving Iraqi defectors make fools of us. Sorry we
fell for Colin Powell’s performance at the United Nations… Maybe
we’ll do a better job next war."

Well
done, Rick Mercier. But listen to the silence of your colleagues
on both sides of the Atlantic. No one expects Fox or Wapping or
the Daily Telegraph to relent. But what about David Astor’s
beacon of liberalism, the Observer, which stood against the
invasion of Egypt in 1956 and its attendant lies? The Observer
not only backed last year’s unprovoked, illegal assault on Iraq;
it helped create the mendacious atmosphere in which Blair could
get away with his crime. The reputation of the Observer,
and the fact that it published occasional mitigating material, meant
that lies and myths gained legitimacy. A front-page story gave credence
to the bogus claim that Iraq was behind the anthrax attacks in the
US. And there were those unnamed western "intelligence sources,"
all those straw men, all those hints, in David Rose’s two-page "investigation"
headlined "The Iraqi connection," that left readers with
the impression that Saddam Hussein might well have had a lot to
do with the attacks of 11 September 2001. "There are occasions
in history," wrote Rose, "when the use of force is both
right and sensible. This is one of them." Tell that to 11,000
dead civilians, Mr. Rose.

It
is said that British officers in Iraq now describe the "tactics"
of their American comrades as "appalling." No, the very
nature of a colonial occupation is appalling, as the families of
13 Iraqis killed by British soldiers, who are taking the British
government to court, will agree. If the British military brass understand
an inkling of their own colonial past, not least the bloody British
retreat from Iraq 83 years ago, they will whisper in the ear of
the little Wellington-cum-Palmerston in 10 Downing Street: "Get
out now, before we are thrown out."

April
17, 2004

John
Pilger
was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. This article was first published in
the New Statesman.

©
John Pilger 2004

John
Pilger Archives

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