Author of Voice of the Unpeople, Mark Curtis is awed by journalist John Pilger and his novel Freedom Next Time! ~ The Guardian, Saturday 3 June 2006.
Buy Freedom Next Time at the Guardian bookshop [Public domain]
by John Pilger
352pp, Bantam, £17.99
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,” she says.
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 tomorrow.
COMMENTS ON JOHN PILGER’S NEW BOOK FREEDOM NEXT TIME ~ STEPHEN LENDMAN, THURSDAY, JUNE 15, 2006.
John Pilger is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker and one of the truly great ones of our time. For nearly 50 years, he’s courageously and brilliantly done what too few others in his profession, in fact, do – his job. John has also been a war correspondent, is the author of 10 books and is best known in his adopted country Great Britain for his investigative documentaries exposing the crimes of US and Western imperialism.
Freedom Next Time is John’s newest book just published and the fifth one of his I’ve read. The others were magnificent, and when I learned a new one was due out, I couldn’t wait to read it knowing it would be vintage Pilger and not to be missed. I wasn’t disappointed and am delighted to share with readers what it’s about. What else, as John himself says in his opening paragraph: “This book is about empire, its facades and the enduring struggle of people for their freedom. It offers an antidote to authorized versions of contemporary history that censor by omission and impose double standards.” Indeed it does, and John devotes his book to exposing the crimes of empire in five countries. I’ll cover each one in a separate section.
The Introduction – An Explanation of the Imperial Mindset
In his introduction, John explains how the imperial notion of “colonial assumptions have not changed,” and to sustain them the great majority of people everywhere “remain invisible and expendable.” He poignantly recounts how while on September 11, 2001 a few thousand people tragically died in New York and Washington, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization reported the daily mortality rate of 36,615 children alone from the effects of extreme poverty. Not a word of it was in the news that day or any other. Nor was there any explanation of why these people were denied the bare essentials to survive in a world able to provide them. These and the ones killed daily in Iraq and elsewhere are what John calls the “unworthy victims” as distinguished from the “worthy ones” in the US on 9/11 and those in London on July 7, 2005 who died in a “terrorist” bombing. The only crimes we recognize are the ones committed by others – those we call “terrorists” or label as enemies, never any by us. Nobel laureate Harold Pinter refers to this as “a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed.” We only know what our leaders and complicit corporate media (BBC, NPR and PBS included) choose to tell us, and it’s never the truth or full disclosure we’re entitled to have. What they suppress is far more important than what they report.
Until the fall of the Soviet Union, the notion of imperialism in the US was that it was a European, not an American tradition. It was untrue, of course, but a proper education in the US, like the one I got, never let on. It hid the true history of my country that from inception practiced a policy of imperial expansion west and south and engaged in plunder and genocide against the original inhabitants living there to make it possible. George Washington was its first practitioner, referring to the new nation as a “rising empire.” He helped build it by removing and exterminating its native Indians so expansion could proceed as the Founding Fathers and those who followed them wished. Washington believed the Indian peoples were subhumans (no different from how we view Iraqis today) and compared them to wolves and “beasts of prey” who must be destroyed. And our sacred Declaration of Independence contained the language “merciless Indian savages” which left no room for their independence or any justice either.
The tradition begun at the republic’s birth never changed but until the end of the “cold war” was well hidden behind a respectable democratic facade and still mostly is. Any notion of imperialism was never something taught in school at any level, discussed in polite society or acknowledged publicly. But all that changed in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union. What never before could be admitted now began to be seen as something respectable and even a matter of national pride. And with the advent of the Bush administration, imperial dominance and expansion began to be portrayed as something positive and contributing to the advance of civilization. How low we’ve sunk in coming so far.
John explains how fraudulent and dangerous Bush’s priorities are based on its policy papers and one conceived a few years before it came to power. It began with a 1997 “messianic conspiracy theory” called The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) written by many of the far right neoconservative ideologues now in power. This document is an imperial plan for US global dominance to extend well into the future and be enforced with unchallengeable military power. It was a blueprint for the current “war on terror” (which John calls a “war of terror’) and “preventive war” that began after 9/11 and is now ongoing in Iraq and Afghanistan with further conflicts likely ahead. The Pentagon goes even further in its Vision 2020 that lays out a goal that calls for “full spectrum dominance.” By this is meant the total, unchallengeable control of all land, sea, air and space and the self-given right to enforce it with the use of nuclear or any other kinds of weapons.
The British government under Tony Blair is part of the same scheme as a complicit junior partner. It sees it in its own interest to be allied with the US and Bush administration and supports its imperial policies. As a result, John explains, it’s no surprise Mr. Blair has taken his nation to war more often than any British Prime Minister in modern times. For him and George Bush, international law, norms and any sense of morality are irrelevant and aren’t allowed to stand in the way of their unrestricted political violence portrayed as having a democratic face and purpose. Freedom Next Time exposes this hypocrisy to show that “imperialism, in whatever guise, is the antithesis of the ‘benevolent and moralistic.’ ” It examines the history and events in five countries John knows well as a journalist and filmmaker.
Before beginning, John first addresses the present in his introduction. He quotes those who see the seeds of fascism and disturbing similarities in the US (and UK) today to Nazi Germany and Hitler’s demonic appeal to his divine mission as that country’s savior that he sold to his people in Christian religious terms. He did it in a country that was the pride of Western civilization and a very model of democracy. If it can happen there, it can anywhere and will unless enough committed people work to prevent it. But John stresses he hasn’t written a pessimistic book. He cites the alternate seeds of hope, rebirth of democracy, and social equity in Latin America – especially in Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela and the poorest of all the continent’s nations Evo Morales’ Bolivia. He sees these forces as part of a “worldwide movement against poverty, war and misinformation that has arisen in less than a decade, and is more diverse, enterprising, internationalist and tolerant of difference than anything in my lifetime.” John concludes his message of hope saying that the “wisest… know that just as the conquest of Iraq is unraveling, so a whole system of domination and impoverishment can unravel, too.”
John’s book is divided into five chapters for each nation he covers. Four are well-known, but few readers may know about the first one discussed below in the Chagos archipelago or even know where it is.
Chapter One: Stealing A Nation Called Diego Garcia
Diego Garcia is a small 84 square mile British controlled island in the Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean(officially known as British Indian Ocean Territory) that lies strategically half way between Asia and Africa. It was once the home of 2,000 “gentle Creole” people who are British citizens, but between 1967 – 1973 they were tricked and expelled by the UK government so their island home could be given to the US for a military base. They were sent into exile to a very inhospitable new home in Mauritius where seven British governments watched their displaced citizens suffer and perish in the shanties they were forced to live in and the desperate poverty they were forced to endure.
This “act of mass kidnapping” was so devious and deceitful, it was carried out in secrecy, and for almost a decade was concealed from the Parliament and US Congress. The Chagossians were treated with contempt as they not only lost their homeland, they were “deemed not to exist.” It was the US that made the demands and cut the deal. Washington wanted the entire population expelled and the whole dirty business covered up. Then as today, the British went along with the ugly scheme. The people had no say, and those who refused were lied to and told they had no choice because “their removal was ‘legal’ under the rules of the colony.”
In their new home, life became a living hell. The Chagossians found themselves in a society foreign to their simple way of life, and they were unable to adjust. On Diego Garcia they had their own home, grew their own food, fished and worked on a plantation. In Mauritius they had to find jobs to survive and most couldn’t. The result was by the mid-70s most of the exiles were unemployed, impoverished and began to die. The British Foreign Office and High Commission contemptuously ignored their plight saying the Chagossians should take up their problem with the Mauritian government. It hardly mattered that these people were British citizens and entitled to the same rights as all other Brits. All they got in compensation was 1,000 pounds (about $1,800) in exchange for agreeing to renounce their right ever to return to their homeland and do it on a document they couldn’t read.
The history of this disgraceful episode was well hidden until the 1990s when a “treasure trove of declassified documents” was found in the National Archives at Kew in London. It proved there was a conspiracy between two governments that Article 7 of the statute of the International Criminal Court referred to as a “deportation or forcible transfer of a population (and) a crime against humanity.” It also violated Article 73 of the UN Charter that obliges a colonial government like Britain to obey its “sacred trust” to protect the human rights of its people. Britain shamelessly did none of this and instead dutifully bowed to the wishes of Washington and obeyed its commands as it still does today. The two countries also engaged is a huge cover-up for a decade that went to the highest level of both governments hoping to hide the truth from ever coming out. Those involved included Prime Minister Harold Wilson, Queen Elizabeth and Presidents Johnson and Nixon among others. Everything was hidden including a secret financial kickback Washington made that was also concealed from the US Congress and British Parliament.
But once the truth began to come out, things changed. On November 3, 2000 the British High Court stunned the government by citing the Magna Carta and annulled the original deportation order. It meant the people were entitled to British passports and had the right to go home. But it was a short-lived pyrrhic victory as one year later the Chagossians were back in the High Court seeking compensation for their ordeal. This time they faced a hostile judge who described their case as “unmeritorious” and denied their claim. Then three months later, the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Chagos sent an “order-in-council” to the Queen for her “rubber-stamped” approval which overturned the High Court 2000 victory and banned the islanders from ever returning home. As John was writing, he reported the Chagossians were back in London for a last chance judicial review before the High Court to annul the government’s denial of their right of return to their homeland. Even after all these years, these courageous people were and still are fiercely determined to achieve the justice they so rightfully deserve.
It finally came in late March 2006 (after John’s book was finished), in a damning High Court verdict that condemned as “repugnant” the decision to remove the Chagossians at the US insistence. It overturned the Blair government “order-in-council” discussed above. The Foreign Office must now decide if it will appeal the verdict and may be pressured to do so by the US. But even if all litigation ends favorably for the Chagossians, it’s by no means certain they’ll ever be allowed to return as long as Diego Garcia remains an important US military base. The Bush administration is contemptuous of the law, may likely ignore it and a new US administration elected in 2008 may do the same. It thus remains to be seen if justice will ever be served in this long-running tragedy. However, it’s likely the Chagossians will never stop seeking it.
Chapter Two: The Last Taboo – The Five and A Half Decade Cover-Up of Israel’s Oppression of the Palestinians
John chose the title of this chapter from an essay with that title written by the eminent and courageous Palestinian-born writer, scholar and activist Edward Said shortly before his death in September, 2003. Said was a brilliant man and passionate fighter for justice for his people. In his essay he wrote: “The extermination of the Native Americans can be admitted, the morality of Hiroshima attacked, the national flag (of the United States) publicly committed to flames. But the systematic continuity of Israel’s 52-year oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians is virtually unmentionable, a narrative that has no permission to appear.”
It appears boldly and courageously in John’s chapter as he recounts the unexplained and irrational hatred most Israelis have for Palestinians, a people whose country they stole and have relentlessly oppressed for many decades. He explains what life is like for these defenseless people under a cruel occupying power in the refugee camps or the world’s two largest open-air prisons of Gaza and the West Bank. He recounts how ordinary people who only want to live in peace and have normal lives are denied their most basic personal, economic and political freedoms, dignity and any sort of justice. He shows how Israelis with full financial and political backing from the US and the West have terrorized the Palestinian people with impunity, and when the victims dare defend themselves or resist they’re called “terrorists.”
I, too, have written about Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people in a recent article I called Life in Occupied Palestine. What John documented on the ground from the people who endure this brutal daily onslaught, I summarized in a few paragraphs I’d like to share here. I wrote as follows:
Try to imagine daily life under these conditions:
You live in limbo in a country occupied by an oppressive foreign army and a system of institutionalized and codified racism. You have no recognized nation, no right of citizenship and no power over your daily life. You live in a constant state of fear. The occupier imposes economic strangulation and collective punishment by restricting free movement; enclosing population centers; closing borders; barring most of your people from working inside their border; imposing regular curfews, roadblocks, checkpoints, electric fences and separation walls and continues to build new settlements in your Occupied Territories (on your land in your country) violating the Geneva Conventions prohibiting an occupier from settling its population on conquered land.
The occupier denies your people their basic human rights including those under the Fourth Geneva Convention which governs the treatment of civilians in war and under occupation. There are 149 articles of this Convention. The occupier’s government violates almost all of them and in so doing is committing war crimes according to international law. The UN Human Rights Commission determined it’s also committing “crimes against humanity” against your people. This concept comes from the 1945 Nuremberg Charter drafted by the U.S. to try Nazi war criminals. The international notion of a “crime against humanity” was established to define what Hitler did to the Jews. The UNHRC ruled this is what the occupier is doing to your people, and that this act is the historical and legal precursor to the international crime of genocide as defined by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The occupier also sends its troops, tanks and heavy armor into neighborhoods at will to maraud and destroy. It strikes at will from the air with sophisticated missle-firing attack helicopters and F-16s and deliberately inflicts eardrum shattering and terrifying sonic booms. And it gives its military the right to freely harass, arrest or kill extra-judicially any of your people – man, woman or child on any pretext with impunity. It bulldozes homes and the people in them if they don’t escape in time (usually in middle of the night and without warning or notice) as punishment or for lacking a permit to build on their own land, in their own country or for any other reason. It steals land relentlessly hoping it will have it all one day or at least all the parts it wants. It detains, imprisons and tortures thousands of your people for the real or perceived crime of fighting for their freedom against an oppressive occupier.
To enact vengeance and to provide security for its illegal settlers in the Occupied Territories, it restricts or prevents access to essential and emergency health care, education, employment, the right to move goods and services from producer/suppliers to end users, and even enough food and water. It created a state of economic siege forcing up to nearly two-thirds of your people (according to the UN) below the poverty line of $2.20 a day (and half of those two-thirds on $1.60 or less) and over half the work force to be unemployed (the number varying with the intensity of the Israeli lockdown). It destroys your peoples’ crops and orchards including more than 1 million olive trees. It imposes punitive taxes and provides few services or withholds them at will as collective punishment. You have no power to stop any of these abuses or receive any redress in the occupier’s courts. How can you as a Muslim in a racist Jewish state.
John explains that Britain was the architect of this historic disaster and injustice. In 1917, it wanted a client state in the Middle East to watch over its economic interests and got one with the Balfour Declaration that promised a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. The Declaration also made a hollow promise to the Palestinians who’d been living there for centuries that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of the existing non-Jewish communities.” It was not to be. The Jewish state came into being in 1948 and was born in the original sin of mass slaughter and forcible expulsion of the people living there, and nothing was ever the same thereafter. Israel systematically defies all international laws and norms, has the full backing and financial support of the US and the West, and the Palestinians are forced to endure the most outrageous abuses without end and with no help from the outside to stop them.
Most people in the West have little knowledge of any of this because the major media refuse to report it and only portray Israel as a beacon of democracy in a region that has precious little of it. It’s a myth, but one that’s widely believed. Those who dare expose it or Israeli crimes are called anti-semites or self-hating Jews. They also face extreme denunciation and even ostracism. There’s an unwritten binding rule no one dare violate in the US especially: Israel can do no wrong and must be fully supported whatever it does. As a result, the myth of a so-called “peace process” that never was and never will be persists as well as the false hope that the Palestinians will ever have a state of their own beyond the bantustans the Israeli’s have in mind for them after they’ve been fully ethnically cleansed or murdered in the areas the Israelis want for themselves.
John also exposes the fraud of the Oslo Accords and later Camp David meetings hosted by Bill Clinton at which Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered nothing to Yasar Arafat. The public was fraudulently told otherwise and Arafat was unfairly blamed for turning down a proposal no sane and responsible leader could ever accept. We learned about the many massacres from the hundreds of Palestinians killed at Deir Yassin in 1948, the 18,000 slaughtered when Israel illegally invaded Lebanon in 1982 including the Ariel Sharon ordered massacre of up to 3,000 defenseless men, women and children at the Sabra and Shatila camps, to the rape of Jenin in April, 2002 when the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) invaded this city of 35,000 (including its refugee camp), cut it off from any outside help, destroyed hundreds of buildings (many with people buried alive under the rubble), cut off power and availability of food and water from the outside, prevented outside help from entering the city and murdered an unknown number of Palestinians.
John covers much more including the daily killings of defenseless people, the mass Israeli inflicted unemployment, poverty and deprivation, and the life of unending desperation these people are forced to endure. Yet they do and continue to cling to the hope that one day their stolen land will be returned and their rights fully restored. One of the many untold stories is that many outraged Israeli Jews have the same hope and are courageously defying their government and supporting the Palestinians to achieve it.
Chapter Three: Shining India – The False Facade of A Nation Where Over One Third of the People Live in Desperate Poverty
John explains how India is a nation of stark contrasts, and the country’s richest city, Bombay, may show it best. At one extreme is a thriving business community of maritime trade, merchant banks and two stock exchanges. At the other is a city of one million humans per square mile and typified by the “rail roads” district foreigners and outsiders know nothing about. It teems with desperate people living under conditions “barely describable – a packing case for a home with sewage “ebbing and flowing in the monsoon.” John asks how can a nation with memories of “great popular struggle” and democracy allow this. The answer is its leaders chose to sell its sovereignty to the neoliberal model of a global economy dominated by giant transnational corporations, especially those in the US.
The rise of the Hindu nationalist (proto fascist) BJP-led government in the 1990s accelerated the process. It removed the barriers in place to protect Indian industry and opened the country to invasion by foreign predatory corporations that took full advantage. The result is a nation that could be a poster child for how an adopted economic model got it all wrong and caused mass human misery. It’s seen in an increase in “absolute poverty” to over one third of the population or about 364 million people. John explains that although India’s growth rate is high, “this is about capital, not labour, about liberated profits, not people.” He also exposes the myth of India being a high-tech juggernaut. While the nation has risen to “pre-eminence” in computer and other technology, the new “technocratic class” is tiny. Also, the so-called consumer boom has benefitted at most about 15% of the population.
Over two thirds of the people live in rural villages and depend on small scale agriculture for their livelihood and survival. These people have been devastated by the nation’s embrace of the Western economic model. It’s caused a hidden epidemic of suicides among them because they can’t compete with agribusiness. Those opting for a less severe solution are forced off their land in a futile attempt to seek refuge among the teeming masses in the cities. The result is growing poverty, deprivation and extreme human misery on a massive scale. Because of its huge population of over one billion, India stands out as a warning of the kind of future people everywhere will face unless a way is found to reverse a failed economic model that enriches the few, devastates the many and is strangling the ability of the planet to continue sustaining the abuse afflicted on it.
Chapter Four: Apartheid Did Not Die – Predatory Capitalism Made It Worse
The hated apartheid may have ended in South Africa about 16 years ago, but the new neoliberal Washington Consensus was even worse. The obsession with race in a white supremacist society was replaced by the dominance and pursuit of wealth allowed only a privileged minority at the expense of the great mostly black majority. The result is that while average household income has risen for about 15% of the population (including some blacks), the overall black majority household income has fallen by about 20% making conditions today far worse than under apartheid.
The new South Africa under its heroic new president Nelson Mandela chose to embrace the Western economic model. He agreed to an “unspoken deal” that allowed the white elite to retain economic control in exchange for black majority rule that would be subservient to the former white government. The current president Thabo Mbeki cut the deal when he led a group of ANC officials in secret meetings in London between 1987 – 1990. They agreed to essentially betray their people and their 40 year struggle for freedom now lost. In came the World Bank and IMF dictating mass privatizations and structural adjustments to cut essential social services in return for financial aid. It’s caused an oppressive level of debt, unemployment of about 38%, an HIV infection rate of about 20%, 40% of the schools with no electricity, 25% of the people with no access to clean water and most of those with access unable afford the cost, 60% with inadequate sanitation and 40% with no telephones. The result has been an economic apartheid replacing a legal one with the majority black population worse off today than under the political oppression of the past. It’s a disturbing story of what’s occurred in all countries that agreed to the Washington Consensus under which they sold their sovereignty to the interests of capital. The difference in South Africa is that the man oppressed blacks thought would win their freedom, in fact, sold them out instead.
John returned to South Africa after a 30 year absence following his expulsion by the apartheid government he abhorred. He interviewed Mandela in retirement and is nearly alone explaining the first ANC president’s “ambiguity.” He posed tough questions asking how could the ANC that struggled so long for freedom now have embraced “Thatcherism.” Why would he allow his long-suffering people to suffer even greater harm under a system where virtually everything, including essential services, is privatized and deregulation allows big business free reign to pursue profit at the expense of the public interest. Mandela responded that “You can put any label on it you like; you can call it Thatcherite but, for this country, privatization is the fundamental policy.” A sorrowful answer from a man who knows better. John also confronted Mandela about why he supported and showed deference to oppressive governments in Indonesia, Burma, Algeria, Colombia and Peru and even ordered a bloody invasion of neighboring tiny Lesotho. Again the answer he got was none too impressive and from a man who once was and still is in important ways a giant in the fight for social equity and justice.
Once again John shows how he discovered on his return that the spirit of resistance had survived. He found it among numerous “social movement” and allied organizations that he called the most “sophisticated and dynamic in the world.” They’ve forged links to international human rights and anti-capitalist movements along with independent trade unionists. He said what South Africa has in abundance is a force called “ubuntu” – “a humanism that is never still…..a subtle concept….that says a person’s humanity is expressed through empathy and solidarity with others; through community and standing together.” It’s what Steve Biko called “authentic black communalism.” It’s in that spirit that John hopes the future of South Africa lies.
Chapter Five: Liberating Afghanistan – the US Inflicted Nightmare on Another Long-Suffering People
John begins describing Afghanistan like it’s more a moonscape than a functioning country – Kabul streets with “contours of rubble rather than streets, where people live in collapsed buildings, like earthquake victims waiting for rescue……(with) no light or heat.” It’s an age-old story for these beleaguered people who’ve had a long history of conflict and suffering with little relief ever. For almost a century the country was victimized by the “Great Game” of competition between the British empire vying with Tsarist Russia for control of this part of the world. In recent history, it paid dearly again in the 1980s when a US recruited mujahedin guerrilla army battled against a Soviet occupation. It forced the occupiers out but only at the expense of a ravaged country that never recovered throughout the 1990s as a brutal civil conflict followed the Soviet withdrawal. Then came 9/11 and the US inflicted nightmare that continues to this day with no end in sight.
John explains that Afghanistan today is what the CIA called during the Vietnam war “the grand illusion of the American cause.” While Kabul has some freedoms denied by the Taliban, the rest of the country has virtually none. In place of the Taliban, who’ve begun a resurgence, are the brutal regional “warlords” that human rights groups say have “essentially hijacked the country.” The nation is a war zone and failed narco-state with regional “warlords” and drug kingpins controlling everything outside the capitol. The country’s US selected and nominal president Hamid Karzai (a former CIA asset) is a caricature of a man and willing stooge who’s little more than the mayor of Kabul. He has no mandate or support and wouldn’t last a day on his own without the heavy protection afforded him round the clock by the US military.
Life was no bed of roses under the Taliban. But despite their ultra-puritanical ways and harsh treatment for the disobedient, at least they kept order and wouldn’t tolerate banditry, rape or murder. They also virtually ended opium production. Now all that’s changed. The US-British invasion in 2001 ended the ban on opium production, allowed the “warlords” to replant and the result is that 87% of the world trade in this drug is from these fields. In addition, unemployment is soaring at about 45%; there’s been little reconstruction; the poverty is overwhelming; there’s little electricity, clean water or most other essential services; lawlessness is back; Sharia law has been reinstated; the internal conflict has resumed; and no one is safe either from the country’s warring factions or from the hostile occupying force. In addition, the Taliban have reclaimed parts of southern Afghanistan and are gaining supporters among the people fed up with the misery inflicted on them by the US and multinational force invaders. It may just be a matter of time before the violence again explodes into another catastrophic guerrilla war just like in Iraq. Already it seems to be beginning.
So what was the invasion and occupation all about? We now know it was planned before 9/11 and had nothing to do with a Muslim fundamentalist government that treated its people harshly. It had everything to do with an Afghan leadership that wouldn’t surrender its authority to US demands and its imperial quest to dominate this strategically important region. It was explained earlier by former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski under President Carter in his 1997 book The Grand Chessboard. He referred to Eurasia as the “center of world power extending from Germany and Poland in the East through Russia and China to the Pacific and including the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. By dominating this region, the US would assure itself control of a vast supply of energy and other essential resources. Afghanistan was a key part of the plan as it was across this country that the US wanted to build the oil pipelines needed to transship the Caspian basin oil to deep water ports where it could easily be shipped to the parts of the world the US would allow it to go.
At first the US was very content to work with the Taliban when they were in power. As long as it was felt a deal with them was possible, their religious extremism and human rights abuses were of no concern. It was only when agreement couldn’t be reached that the decision was taken to remove them. And that brings us to the present. The country is in ruins, the conflict continues without end, and the people are suffering more than ever with no visible hope on the horizon for relief.
John wrote his book to document the history of imperial abuse he witnessed first-hand in five countries. But he also wants it to be a message of the hope he found that may one day lead to the same rebirth of democracy and social equity now growing in parts of Latin America like Venezuela. He finds courageous and dedicated people everywhere, even in Afghanistan where conditions are so bad it’s hard finding any. He said that “Through all the humanitarian crises in living memory, no country has been abused and suffered more, and none has been helped less, than Afghanistan.” It’s still that way and seemingly getting worse. Unless it changes, a time of peace and an end to the violence and suffering of the Afghan people is a long way off at best. And yet hope persists. John finds it everywhere in the hearts of people who’ll never give up the struggle for the fair and just world they want and are fighting to get.
John has once again written a brilliant and magnificent book. Everyone should read it to learn from this great man what was and is ongoing in the five countries he chose to cover from among the many he knows well from having witnessed events around the world first-hand over his long career. He explains what few others do or would dare to help us understand how peoples’ lives everywhere have been affected by the US economic model that’s based on militarism and imperial expansion to control the world’s markets, essential resources and cheap labor with no challengers to its dominance allowed. That’s one message the book imparts. But it also breathes a special hope that the human spirit is indomitable and will find a way to overcome adversity and oppression and be able to endure. John believes a time of deliverance is ahead because committed people everywhere will never give up working for it.