#BookReview: #FreedomNextTime by #JohnPilger!

Book Review: Freedom Next Time ~ Reviewed by Jim Miles, Special to PalestineChronicle.com, June 4, 2007.

Freedom Next Time – Resisting the Empire.  John Pilger.  Nation Books, New York, 2007. 

John Pilger is one of the foremost journalists today who, in the current vernacular, ‘walks the walk’.   He has been to most of the world’s hotspots, and whether or not the standard media has considered them ‘hot’, has revealed much of the truth behind the cynical and disguised if not hidden rhetoric of politicians, businessmen, and, discouragingly, former freedom fighters.  In Freedom Next Time, Pilger explores five countries, exposing the contradictions between the actions viewed by the people of the land and the words of rationalization supplied by the politicians. 

FreedomNextTimePilger

Pilger starts very directly and succinctly, stating with his very opening line, “This book is about empire, its facades and the enduring struggle of people for their freedom.”  He examines two empires working in unison, the American, globally powerful after a quick post war ascendancy, accompanied with a heavy dose of remnant British Imperialism, the two combining in all areas to some degree or other.  The introduction discusses the changes of viewpoint created within the media, the dichotomy of ‘ours’ and ‘the other’, formed in part by the spin of what is reported as newsworthy and what is ignored.   The current American government’s political devices are reminiscent of approaching fascism, especially as one considers George Bush’s considerable powers with his ‘presidential signing statements’ most recently used with “The National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive,” giving him virtual unitary power over all facets of government in an emergency (signed May 9, 2007).  The current liberalism cloaks a renewed pride in empire, the rhetoric of bringing freedom, democracy, and capitalist free-market structures to the world (mostly the latter).

Freedom Next Time is a story of the majority of people looking for their own individual peace and security, away from the grip of encroaching empires, in spite of the weaknesses of their own governments.  And it is, ironically, the people, the public, who hold considerable power, if only they were well informed.  The ‘leaders’ of the new militaristic neoliberalism know “that if power was truly invincible it would not fear the people so much as to expend vast resources trying to distract and deceive them.”

With his directions clearly stated and outlined, Pilger starts with the mostly unheard of Chagossians.  More than three decades ago, the British and the Americans conspired, colluded, to give the American forces the island of Diego Garcia for a major military base.  Formerly a tropical paradise, free of tropical storms, a sustainable economy and lifestyle, it had, more importantly a large protected natural harbour and plenty of room to build a major airbase.  Through trickery, conniving, and back-room political manoeuvring that kept it out of sight of Parliament, Congress, and the media, the people within the Chagos Archipelago where Diego Garcia is located, were forcefully expelled, tricked into leaving, and refused the right of return (that has a familiar ring to it).  Pilger fills in many of the details of “La lutte” (“struggle” in French) calling it a “crime that allows us to glimpse how great power works behind its respectable, democratic façade and helps us to understand how much of the world is run for the benefit of the powerful, and how governments justify their actions with lies.”   Much of the criticism here is directed at the British crown, whose “collusion demonstrates where elite royalty so often lies – not with the home country, its citizens or its democratic institutions, but with a rapacious foreign regime seeking to occupy sovereign territory for reasons it wishes to conceal from its own people.”  Harsh words, but accurate.

Used as a prime military base, its location in the centre of the Indian Ocean gives it paramount strategic importance to the United States for controlling, or attempting to control, the strategic resources of the Middle East.  Unfortunately, it is entirely an illegal occupation.  The Chagossians have persisted with their court actions, succeeding in receiving the right to return in 2000, and just recently (May 23, 2007), after many trips to court because of various appeals, had that right upheld.  What remains to be seen is whether there will be still more appeals (which from the obvious illegality of the initial action should probably just be thrown out) and how those rights will be “interpreted” and acted upon.  If patterns of the past are any indication (Guantanamo comes to mind), the American military is there to stay.

The longest section of the work is “The Last Taboo”, that taboo being to recognize the ongoing occupation and conflict in Palestine as an historic injustice.   While the United States is currently acknowledged as the main supporter of the Israeli government, Pilger identifies “Britain [as] a principal architect of the historic disaster in Palestine,” suggesting that the “Balfour Declaration invests the British government with a special responsibility to honour its commitment…to support international action aimed at ending Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.”  In modern times, the now defunct Blair government “disguised the fact that British support for Israeli repression was secretly accelerating.”

Many familiar arguments and much historical information is provided to support the idea of the last taboo: the brutal assault on Jenin; the defiance of UN resolutions; the warlike nature of many Israeli leaders – Begin, Shamir, and Sharon – the latter responsible for several notable massacres, including Sabra and Chatila; the “gross acts of vandalism….to destroy the infrastructure of organised society”, the violence, the attacks on children, women, the elderly, the murder and incarceration of adults; home demolitions and roadblocks; the reversal of the argument of occupation such that the Palestinians become the perpetrators of the violence (a similar imperial story in most areas from South Africa to Iraq); military connections with South Africa’s apartheid regime, along with many comparisons to the actuality of apartheid; and on.  What differentiates Pilger’s work from others is his extensive record of interviews with a variety of people within the upper echelons of Israeli society, interviews that clearly show their racist and ‘victimizing’ perspectives.

Israel/Palestine is a prime example of how media bias serves the purpose of those in power.  The BBC news is seen as having “an overwhelming bias towards the policies of the State of Israel,” again the perpetrator becoming the victim, their attacks being part of the ‘war on terror’.  One of the larger media constructions still remains the so called ‘peace process’, a powerfully flawed process that eventually led to the ‘disengagement plan’ whose actual purpose was “to distract attention from international criticism of Israel’s construction of a wall across the West Bank [ruled illegal by the ICJ]” and “designed to freeze the peace process” such as to “ensure permanent Israeli control over the entire Land of Israel while foreclosing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.”

The comparisons with apartheid South Africa are frequent.  Both governments “deprived millions…of their liberty and property perpetuat[ing] a system of discrimination.”  Ostensibly democratic with all the trappings of democratic institutions, both are primarily racist.  The separation of families, the forced separation of races, the use and abuse of workers, the development of military technology, in particular nuclear weapons outside the standards of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, are paralleled in each. What is missing in the commonalities is that of boycott.  The South African boycott worked to a degree, but anytime an Israeli boycott is mentioned, it becomes an act of anti-Semitism, of academic freedom in relation to the universities, of keeping politics out of sports, of freedom to trade.  While the Americans superficially sided with the boycott on South Africa, the likelihood of it doing so with Israel is extremely minimal (South Africa after all was not as important for geopolitical strategy).

Before discussing the idea that “Apartheid did not die”, Pilger takes a brief tour into India, where the same themes arise.   In India, more than elsewhere, Britain has done the most at impoverishing the masses in order to enrich the few.  It began with the East Indian Company and is recognized in the Hindi word “loot”, now commonly recognized in English, defined as “goods taken from enemy, spoil; booty, illicit gains made by official.”  Today India is one of the poorest countries in the world as it is “home to more people living in poverty than any other country in the world (recognizing that India has more people than all countries except China, which has its own problems with the rich-poor gap).

Life in India is mainly one of poverty, of “ a life preordained by powerful groups for their benefit…they need the poverty…for their enrichment.”   Health services are poor, ranking 171st out of 175 countries, while private health spending “is among the highest in the world.”   Accompanying this are the abuse of drugs in clinical tests, food and water contamination in most areas, and the abject desperation of “thousands of ‘globalised’ Indian farmers sell[ing] their kidneys in order barely to survive.”   As with most states worried about their wealth growth, the military is an important factor, in India “consuming almost half the national budget” (recognize that most military budget comparisons are to the GDP, a significantly different and more misleading figure).

Democracy in India is seen as a direct result of “the non-violence of the freedom movement.  Democracy perhaps, but freedom waits.”

This provides Pilger with an excellent sequitur into conditions in South Africa, discussed above in relation to Palestine/Israel, his emphasis being that “Apartheid Did Not Die.”  Pilger had been to South Africa in the 1960s where he found “Humiliation and brutality, at once systematic and arbitrary, exemplified apartheid.”  It becomes familiar territory.  Forced removals from homes and home demolitions moved the black population to ‘bantustans’ or tribal homelands with all the “fake trappings of self-government,” and serving as a source for the “cheapest labour possible.”  As elsewhere, poverty and its associated ills of poor health, lack of education, and ultimately violent resistance became the norm.

With apartheid legally abolished, the unfortunate record is that of continuing black oppression.  The leaders of apartheid, including the much beloved Nelson Mandela, have been co-opted into the neoliberal economic policies of the ruling white class, the “inclusion of a small group of blacks in the country’s white corporate masonry….has allowed white and foreign capital to fulfil its legal obligations under new corporate charters.”   This means, as elsewhere, low wages, poor working conditions, union stripping, poor social services including health and education for the masses, and alternately the increasing wealth and control of the corporate elite.  Those blacks that ‘succeeded’, “proved they could be as ruthless as their former white masters in labour relations, cronyism and the pursuit of profit, hundreds of thousands of jobs were lost in mergers and ‘restructuring’.”  The latter, as is too frequent in African oppression, as a result of  “World Bank-supported tyrants.”

The British remain in the picture, as the “Old symbiotic relationship with Britain has a special place.”  Again through a combination of personal interviews and economic information, Pilger presents a picture showing “that apartheid and capitalist exploitation were twos ideas of the same coin,” while the new “liberal humanitarianism turned out to be a shallow, tawdry, deceptive thing.”

Probably the same motives could be applied to “Liberating Afghanistan” with the current government described as a “façade”.   The usual – well perhaps not so usual for mainstream media – history of American and British complicity in the Afghani problems is provided.  Afghanistan has become minor news in Pilger’s world (whereas in Canada it frequently dominates due to our ongoing occupation).  As with the previous chapters, the anecdotal style of reporting his various interviews with those in power and those suffering from that power demonstrate the arrogance and social blindness of the rulers.

The theme of the facades of imperialism and the enduring struggle for freedom is well supported throughout Freedom Next Time.  While I sometimes wondered what timeline I was on while reading some of the anecdotal material, that perhaps demonstrates again the similarities of empires past and present, the militaristic grab for wealth and power at the expense of the people of the land.  John Pilger’s writing is clear and accessible, presenting a picture to the reader of people struggling against the almost overwhelming power of the global corporate elite.  Perhaps ‘next time’, a different story will be available because of that enduring struggle.

– Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.

 



Freedom Next Time, by John Pilger
; A hero’s blinded eye ~ JOHANN HARI, The Independent, Friday 09 June 2006.

John Pilger is the most polarising journalist in Britain. To his fans, he is a lank-haired Australian Messiah, the only man who cuts through the lies of the corporate media to bring The Truth. But his detractors despise him so much they even coined a verb – “to pilgerise” – in his honour: “to present information in a sensationalist manner to reach a foregone conclusion”. Few people stand between these two positions, admiring his great skills and exposés but weeping over his occasional follies. I try to.

Freedom Next Time mostly showcases Pilger at his best. There are none of the wild statements that sometimes scar his New Statesman columns. In a long discussion of 9/11 here, he does not repeat his recent claim – based on a single source he has not met – that, unless there was an “extraordinary coincidence”, the US government deliberately stood down their defences to let the massacre proceed. Nor does he repeat his statement that he has “seldom felt as safe in any country” as in Saddam’s Iraq, a claim he usually follows up by presenting Blair’s Britain in contrast as “a police state”.

Instead, he writes up the superb investigative films he has made over the past five years. Two chapters in particular are world-class journalism, reaching the heights of Pilger’s old friend and mentor Martha Gellhorn. “Stealing a Nation” tells the shamefully under-reported story of how the British government ethnically cleansed thousands of its own citizens – a “crime against humanity”, according to the International Criminal Court. In secrecy, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, British governments “tricked, coerced and finally expelled the entire population” of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, “to give the principal island, Diego Garcia, a paradise, to the Americans for a military base”.

Pilger brilliantly cuts from melancholic close-ups of islanders, dumped in distant countries, homeless and suicidal, to the high politics of Whitehall. After telling of dead babies and wrist-slashing mothers, he unearths memos in which civil servants declare they must present the islands as empty, “because to recognise that there are permanent inhabitants will imply there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded”. Pilger draws a subtle comparison with the response to a threat to the Falkland Islands a few years later, when the invasion by the Argentines was (rightly) depicted as a fascist monstrosity.

The chapter “Apartheid Did Not Die” is just as contrarian and just as true. Pilger returns to South Africa after 30 years, the ban imposed by the apartheid tyranny having dissolved into dust. He finds that the ultra-neoliberal policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank – with the complicity of the ANC elite – have pickled the racial divisions of the old regime and suffocated dreams of black freedom. More black farmers have been evicted under ANC democracy than under apartheid, and the World Bank is even lobbying the ANC to stop paying wages to whole sections of public sector workers, suggesting instead they offer “food for work”.

He offers a blizzard of bleak human stories that lie behind the figures: while white average income has risen by 15 per cent under the ANC, average black household income has fallen by 19 per cent. Yet again, the promise of Thatcher-style trickle-down economics is a hallucination, and yet again racial divisions become stronger. This is an end to apartheid?

And yet… despite these hand-grenade passages, Pilger’s flaws can be spotted elsewhere. His concluding chapter on Afghanistan declares “the liberation of women is a mirage”, but Afghan women do not agree. A coalition of aid agencies including Oxfam and Save the Children – hardly stooges of the US government – conducted detailed polls that found a vast majority believe they are better off since the fall of the Taliban. Yet Pilger says “the plight of rural women is often more desperate now, because whereas the Taliban… punished crimes against women”, the warlords do not. Talibanism was itself a crime against women, reducing them to chattels. The Taliban were the perpetrators of crimes against women; in what bizarre circumstances could they be presented as their protectors?

Worse still, Pilger praises the Taliban’s eradication of heroin crops, approvingly quoting an aid worker who calls it a “modern miracle”. How is this something for a left-winger to praise? This eradication was achieved by mass terror, with the Taliban slaying bitterly poor farmers dependent on the opium crop – a tactic the most hardline in the Bush administration now want to repeat by trashing the crops and leaving the farmers to die. The humane solution is legalisation of the heroin trade, not praise for the most vicious and insane drug eradication programme of all. This passage is a reminder that when Pilger is good, he is great, but when Pilger is bad, he reeks.



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.

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.

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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.


 CHAPTER-BY-CHAPTER REVIEW

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.

A Summation

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.

 

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