Munich American Peace Committee (MAPC)
Radio Lora, 14. April 2008
TARIQ ALI III
Der Krieg und die MedienDer in Lahore geborene international bekannte Schriftsteller und Aktivist Tariq Ali arbeitete lange Jahre in London für die „New Left Review“. Er schrieb mehr als ein Dutzend Bücher über Geschichte und Politik. Auf der ganzen Welt schätzt man diesen charismatischen Redner, der in seiner „Freizeit“ Filme macht und Drehbücher und Romane schreibt. Zu seinen bekanntesten Werken gehören: „The Clash of Fundamentalism“, „Bush in Babylon“ und „Pirates of the Carribean“. Gemeinsam mit David Barsamian verfasste er”Speaking of Empire and Resistance“
In den vergangenen 40 Jahren hat sich im Bereich der Medien ein kolossaler Wandel vollzogen. Die Printmedien verloren ihre Vormachtstellung. Das Bild verdrängte das geschriebene Wort. Das Fernsehen wurde zur Hauptinformationsquelle.
In den Zeitungen war noch Platz gewesen für kontroverse, durchaus nicht immer regierungskonforme Meinungen. Entscheidend für diese Meinungsvielfalt war der Kalte Krieg. Weil die Menschen in den kommunistischen Staaten nicht mehr glaubten, was ihnen von den Parteiorganen vorgesetzt wurde, ließ man im Westen unterschiedliche, auch radikale Fernsehsender, Zeitungen und Radioprogramme zu, um so zu demonstrieren, wie liberal man ist. Die Reportagen über den Vietnamkrieg waren von hoher journalistischer Qualität. Der Fernsehsender CBS zeigte Marines, die im vietnamesischen Dschungel ein Haus in Brand steckten, in dem sich Frauen und Kinder befanden und deren Kommandeur diese Aktion als „Kampf für den Frieden“ bezeichnete. Diese Art der Fernsehberichterstattung ist inzwischen in den westlichen Medien von den Bildschirmen verschwunden. Heute muss man niemandem mehr beweisen, wie gut man ist – denn fast auf der ganzen Welt sieht man die gleichen Nachrichten. Der beste Beweis dafür, sind die Berichte über die drei großen Konflikte im Mittleren Osten.
Die Berichterstattung über den Krieg im Irak setzte neue Maßstäbe. Nur „eingebettete“ Journalisten gelten jetzt als zuverlässig. Journalisten also, die abhängig sind von den westlichen Streitkräften, die die von der Armee kontrollierten Gebiete nie verlassen haben und die nur das berichten. was von den Presseoffizieren genehmigt wurde. Nur zwei oder drei mutige Journalisten darunter Seymour Hersh und Robert Fisk halten sich nicht an diese Regeln. Fast alle westlichen Zeitungen kauften Präsident Bush ab, dass der Irak über Massenvernichtungswaffen verfügt. In den USA nahm man ihm sogar auch Saddam Husseins Verbindungen zu al-Qaida ab. Kein Europäer glaubte diese Geschichte und die arabische Welt brach darüber in schallendes Gelächter aus. In Wahrheit ermöglichte es erst die US-Invasion, dass al Qaida im Land ihres ehemaligen Erzfeindes Saddam Hussein Fuß fassen konnte.
Später hat sich The New York Times bei ihren Lesern für diese Fehlinformationen entschuldigt. Aber wir wurden nicht falsch informiert, die Zeitungen hatten nur kritiklos die Meinung der Regierung übernommen. Die BBC feuerte sogar einen konservativer Journalisten weil er die angeblichen Massenvernichtungswaffen als Coup der Geheimdienste bezeichnet hatte.
Sobald der Irakkrieg in vollem Gange war, bezahlten mehr und mehr Journalisten mit ihrem Leben, wenn sie sich außerhalb der militärischen Kontrollzone aufhielten. Nicht selten wurden sie dabei „versehentlich“ von Marines erschossen.
Als 2005 durchsickerte, dass seit der US Invasion bis zu 600 000 irakische Zivilisten ums Leben gekommen sind, wurde dies von Tony Blair und der amerikanische Regierung abgestritten. Da diese Zahlen sich jedoch später als korrekt erwiesen, muss man davon ausgehen, dass bis heute eine Million Iraker umgekommen sind. Zwei Millionen flüchteten in die Nachbarländer. Iraks soziale Infrastruktur, das Bildungs- und Gesundheitssystem brachen zusammen.
Über all das wird wohlweislich nicht berichtet. Dabei geht es hier um Völkermord und um Politiker, die vor ein Militärgericht gestellt werden müssten.
- 2 -.
Als ich vor zwei Jahren im winzigen Katar den größten US Stützpunkt in Arabien und den Nachrichtensender Al Jazeera besuchen wollte, erhielt ich zum Stützpunkt keinen Zutritt, aber bei Al Jazeera beantwortete man bereitwillig alle meine Fragen. Seitens der Regierung in Katar besteht für Berichte aus dem Ausland keinerlei Zensur. Bei den Amerikanern ist das nicht immer so. Kaum hatte Al Jazeera einen Filmbericht aus Bagdad, ausgestrahlt, der zeigte, wie ein US Panzer auf offenere Strasse ein Privatauto beschoss und die Insassen, ein junges Paar und seine zwei kleinen Kinder, darin verbrannten, verschaffte sich ein hoher US General Zutritt in das Sendegebäude und verlangte umgehend eine Entschuldigung, denn eine derartig schamlose Berichterstattung würde in der arabischen Welt antiamerikanischen Hass anfachen. Es war nicht der Tod dieser unschuldigen Menschen, der ihn empörte, sondern die Bilder davon. Als Al Jazeera über den Krieg in Afghanistan berichtete, bombardierte die US Armee das Al Jazeera Hauptquartier. Filmaufnahmen bezeugen, wie auch das Sendegebäude in Bagdad ganz gezielt unter Beschuss genommen wurde und der Chefkorrespondenten Tariq Ayub dabei ums Leben kam. Al Jazeera wartet bis heute auf eine Entschuldigung.
Eigentlich wollten die USA noch vor den Überfall auf den Irak diesen lästigen Sender aus dem Weg räumen. Es war ausnahmsweise Tony Blair, der dies verhinderte.
Und obwohl nun alle Sender weltweit die gleichen eingebetteten Bilder ausstrahlen, ist die öffentliche Stimmung schlecht. So fordert die Mehrheit der Amerikaner und 80% der britischen Bevölkerung den Rückzug aus dem Irak. Man hat offensichtlich die Wirkung medialer Desinformation unterschätzt. Trotz der relativ hohen amerikanischen Opferzahlen vertrauen die Menschen den Massenmedien nicht mehr und wenden sich gegen diesen nun schon so lange andauernden Krieg. Bei den Printmedien gibt es auch heute noch sehr mutige Gegenstimmen, aber den Journalisten von The Guardian, The Indepedent und auch von Los Angeles Times steht eine Phalanx aus weltweit allein 230 Chefredakteuren des Rupert Murdoch Zeitungs-Imperiums gegenüber.
Die Berichterstattung über den Krieg im Libanon von 2006 machte keine Ausnahme. Schriftsteller aus Amerika, Brasilien und Israel protestierten bei einem Literaturfestival in Brasilien gemeinsam gegen das Vorgehen Israels. Es konnte sich nicht wirklich um eine spontane Reaktion auf das Kidnapping von drei israelischen Soldaten durch die Hisbollah gehandelt haben. Dazu war sie viel zu gut vorbereitet. Doch die westlichen Medien verbreiteten unverdrossen, dass die Hisbollah diesen Krieg provoziert habe. Sie erwähnten nicht die 50 gefangenen Hisbollah-Mitglieder, die gegen die drei Soldaten ausgetauscht werden sollten. Später wurde bekannt, dass Bush und Blair, gegen den heftigen Widerstand des britischen Kabinetts, den Israelis grünes Licht gegeben hatten, die Hisbollah in einer Woche und als das nicht gelang, in zwei Wochen, zurückzudrängen. Doch als dies dann noch immer nicht klappte, zogen sich die israelischen Truppen zurück und hinterließen Trümmer, Ruinen und eine zerstörte Infrastruktur.
Als der israelische Premierminister Ehud Olmert vor einem Untersuchungsausschuss zugeben musste, dass dieser Krieg 6 Monate lang vorbereitet worden war, wurde dieses sensationelle Geständnis - außer in Israel - auf den hinteren Seiten versteckt.
Schlecht ist auch die amerikanische Berichterstattung über die palästinensische Tragödie. Eine starke Lobby diffamiert jede Kritik an Israel als Antisemitismus oder, so es sich um jüdische Kritiker handelt, als jüdischen Selbsthass. Deshalb rate ich amerikanischen Journalisten, das abzudrucken, was kritische israelische Journalisten schreiben. Selbst der Appell berühmter israelischer Schriftsteller, mit der Hamas zu verhandeln und Gaza nicht weiter zu strangulieren, wurde in den amerikanischen Medien totgeschwiegen. Damit tut man Israel keinen Gefallen, denn es gibt nur zwei Optionen. Entweder einen einziger Staat Israel-Palästina mit gleichen Rechten für alle Bürger oder einen eigenen, zusammenhängenden palästinensischen Staat, nachdem sich Israel auf die Grenzen von 1967 zurückgezogen, seine Siedlungen aufgelöst und seine Panzer abgezogen hat. Auch viele Israelis sehen, dass es dazu keine Alternative gibt, auch wenn der Weg dahin sehr mühsam sein wird..
- 3 –
Wenden wir uns jetzt der Berichterstattung über den „guten“ Krieg in Afghanistan zu, durch den angeblich afghanische Frauen von den Taliban befreit werden sollten. Tatsächlich wollte man sich an Osama bin Laden rächen. Natürlich waren die Afghanen froh, die Taliban loszuwerden, doch sie bekamen stattdessen: einen Dressman für elegante Umhänge von Amerikas Gnaden mit einem Bruder, der es vom Restaurantbesitzer zum mächtigsten Waffen- und Heroin- Schmuggler des Landes gebracht hat. Hamid Karzai und seine Leute bemächtigten sich des besten Landes, bauten für sich unter dem Schutz der NATO Truppen elegante Luxusvillen statt Wohnungen für Flüchtlinge. Als daraufhin antiamerikanische Unruhen aufflackerten, wurde darüber wieder einmal nicht berichtet.
Und so fassten die Taliban wieder Fuß und griffen die NATO-Truppen an. Die USA antworteten mit Bombenangriffen, schossen wahllos um sich und töteten dabei 70, 80, 90 oder 20 angebliche Taliban-Kämpfer. Auch nach 35 Jahren Krieg haben die Afghanen noch immer kein funktionierendes Gesundheitssystem, kaum Schulen und viel zu wenig Wohnungen.
Afghanistan kann nur zur Ruhe kommen, wenn sich seine einflussreichen Nachbarn Russland, Pakistan, Iran und Indien über eine nationale Regierung in Kabul einigen und für die nächsten 5 Jahre Frieden und Sicherheit garantieren. Man kann nicht über Demokratie reden, solange den Menschen die Luft zum Atmen fehlt. Doch anstatt darüber zu informieren, erzählen uns die Medien etwas über völlig sinnlose militärische Erfolge.
Diese Art der Berichterstattung prägt heute auch die Politik der westlichen Welt.
Staatsmännern wie Charles de Gaule, Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer oder Clement Attlee folgten Politiker von der Stange, die am Rockzipfel der Medien hängen und völlig von ihnen abhängig sind.
Gleichzeitig ruinieren Politiker wie Tony Blair den Ruf der guten alten BBC. Sie setzen kritische Programmmacher unter Druck, mischen sich in ihre Programmgestaltung ein und wenn die Sache auffliegt, lassen sie sie im Regen stehen. Das führt wiederum zu einer gefährlichen Selbstzensur, zur Schere im Kopf.. Darüber hinaus passen die öffentlichen Sender ihr Niveau immer mehr dem der kommerziellen an. Junge Leute interessieren sich deshalb kaum mehr für Politik. Dass ihre Wahlenthaltung keineswegs Zustimmung bedeutet, zeigt der Slogan: „Wenn Wahlen etwas ändern würden, hätte man sie schon längst verboten.“
Je schlechter die Qualität der öffentlichen Medien wurde, umso schneller nahm besonders in den USA die Zahl der alternativen, unabhängigen Sender zu.. 3 Millionen Amerikaner sehen und hören allmorgendlich die Nachrichten auf Amy Goodmans Democracy Now! Nicht resignieren heißt die Devise, sondern die richtigen Informationsquellen aufspüren! Websites im Internet informieren über das, was die Massenmedien verschweigen.
Nur wenn wir gut informiert sind, können wir unsere Gesellschaft ändern. Eine Gesellschaft, die sich Konsumgesellschaft nennt, in der aber immer weniger Menschen konsumieren können. Erst als die Menschen aufhörten, den offiziellen Verlautbarungen Glauben zu schenken und selbst Verantwortung übernahmen, konnten sie die Regime in Russland, Polen und Tschechien zu Fall bringen. Auch bei uns füllen nicht die Reden der politischen Elite die Kinosäle, sondern Michael Moores Dokumentarfilme. Wir wissen eigentlich, was für uns wichtig ist und deshalb könnten wir - wenn wir nur wollten – sogar Berge versetzen.
Schließen möchte ich mit einem Gedicht von Bert Brecht:
Nach dem Aufstand des 17. Juni
Ließ der Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbandes
In der Stalinallee Flugblätter verteilen,
auf denen zu lesen war, dass das Volk
das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt habe
und es nur durch verdoppelte Arbeit
zurückerobern könne. Wäre es da
nicht einfacher, die Regierung
löste das Volk auf
und wählte ein anderes?
War & the Media
Montreal, Quebec 4 October 2007
Tariq Ali, an internationally renowned writer and activist, was born in Lahore, Pakistan. For many years he has been based in London where he is an editor of "New Left Review." He's written more than a dozen books on history and politics. A charismatic speaker, he is in great demand all over the world. In his spare time he is a filmmaker, playwright and novelist. He is the author of "The Clash of Fundamentalisms," "Bush in Babylon," "Pirates of the Caribbean " and "Speaking of Empire & Resistance" with David Barsamian.
A big change has taken place over the last 40 years-slightly longer. The dominance of the print media, which existed in the 19th century and a large chunk of the 20th, when the written word was crucially important for the development of the human personality, for the development of ideas, has been replaced by the image. So many, many more people get the news from television than from any other medium. There was much more space in the print media for divergent views, for views which challenged governments, which challenged dominant ideas, than there ever are now.
One crucial reason for this, in my opinion, was the fact that during the Cold War the perceived enemy of the West was communism, and one of the characteristics of the system that called itself by that name was the total domination of one party. They were one-party states, and one-party states meant one dominant newspaper and one dominant state television network, and that's what gave the news. And most people in those countries didn't believe a word of what they read. That's a fact. Because of that, within the Western world it was considered absolutely normal and natural to have media which reflected different opinions, including very radical opinions. One reason for that was to hold it up as an example to the world which lay on the other side and say, "In our country the people who are opposed to the government, and even strongly opposed, find voices on television, radio, and national newspapers, the print media." So you can see a very different way of reporting which emerged.
I will just give you one example, from the United States. During the Vietnam War, in some of the print media, such as The New York Times, its correspondent, David Halberstam, was sending in reports from the battlefields of Vietnam, the quality of this reporting was quite extraordinary. If you look at what the television reporting was, I can still remember one image very, very clearly, which was repeated on the BBC when we were young and agitating against the war in Vietnam. This was Morley Safer, the correspondent in Vietnam of CBS, reporting from the jungles, where the Marines were about to torch a house with women and children in it. Morley Safer filmed this entire operation and then actually said, "When I asked the Marine commander, he said, 'This is a fight for freedom.'" You didn't need to say anything else.
That level of reporting on television has virtually disappeared, certainly in the Western media. You don't get it. And the contrast is very pronounced. One reason is they don't have to convince anyone in any other part of the world about how great the media is compared to anything else, because the media is, by and large, the same in most parts of the world-though not all, as we shall discuss in a moment. So it's quite constructive to look at the media in relation to the three different conflicts that are shaping, reshaping, destabilizing the Middle East.
The first, of course, is Iraq. If you look at how the war in Iraq has been covered, it's completely different from coverage given to previous wars. With the current war in Iraq, the actual phrase used is the only trustworthy journalists are embedded journalists. Embedded journalists are those totally dependent on the Western armies in Iraq, who don't step outside the zones controlled by these armies and who don't do anything without asking the public relations people of the various armies there whether they can do this or not. The bulk of the reporting comes like that. Occasionally you have two or three brave journalists who break the routine, but by and large that's what the reporting is. So you do not get a complete or an everyday account of what is happening in the country.
I don't need to mention it now because this is so well known that it's almost a cliché to repeat it, that all the mainstream papers in the Western world by and large bought Bush's line on weapons of mass destruction. And the United States bought the line which no European paper could buy because it was too fantastical for words, that one reason for invading Iraq was because of Saddam Hussein's links with al-Qaeda. When the United States came up with that, the entire Arab world roared with laughter, because anyone with a tiny bit of knowledge knew that Saddam and al-Qaeda loathed each other, absolutely hated each other, and al-Qaeda did not exist in Iraq under the previous regime, it went in with the occupation. Essentially, that's a fact. No one believed that, so the European papers couldn't carry that line. In the United States it was carried by the main networks, Fox television, the main print media. Two lines went in tandem: he has weapons of mass destruction and is a friend of al-Qaeda. This was repeated ad nauseam. When it was challenged, people who challenged it were accused of being apologists for the regime, saying, "Why are you challenging this? It's a well-known fact."
We now know, and The New York Times officially made an apology to its readers, "We were misled." But you weren't just misled. You made no effort to investigate whether this was true or not. That's the problem. You can certainly publish the views of the government. You have to. But you must preserve independence. You must have a team of journalists who go and investigate whether this was true or not. And that investigation did not happen. When a BBC journalist, as it so happens, a right-wing BBC journalist, Andrew Gilligan, more or less said on BBC's main current affairs show, Today, that nobody really believed in these weapons of mass destruction and the whole dossier had been raped by the intelligence network, which turned out to be true, he was fired.
Then, as the war began to unfold, you began to see a slightly different nature of reporting. They only wanted you to report and they only wanted you to see what was completely under their control. Journalists who went outside Western military control were often found dead. More journalists have died in the Iraq War than in previous wars in the last 25 years. And many of them were killed from accidental fire by the U.S. Marines. Seymour Hersh, Robert Fisk, and a few other intrepid souls carried on reporting, but not everyone did, because your life could be at risk if you actually went in search for the truth.
So what has happened to Iraq we only know through alternative sources, that a million Iraqis have died. When the British medical magazine Lancet first said about two years ago that, using the same methods we use to ascertain causalities during times of famine or civil wars, we have used exactly the same methods, our team has said-this was two years ago-that up to 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S. occupation, there was shock, horror. Tony Blair denounced them, the Americans denounced them. A year later they said, "Well, these figures were accurate." And if those figures were accurate two years ago, then the deaths now must be about a million. So a million people have died in Iraq. There are over 2 million refugees flooding neighboring countries. The social infrastructure of that country has collapsed. The education system doesn't function, the health system doesn't function. There is no electricity in Baghdad for most of the day. But this is not reported, because countries which do this to other countries are usually called-in these days especially, when the word "genocide" is bandied about and used in a very cavalier fashion, but that is the appellation that is normally applied to it-genocidal and that the politicians carrying out or responsible for this are war criminals and should be tried. But there is a set of double standards in operation, that such an appellation is only applied to people who are enemies of the West at a particular given point and not to politicians belonging to the West, even though the conditions they have created are much worse than have happened almost anywhere else.
So the coverage here in the case of Iraq has been very muted, very muted indeed, because if public opinion in the West were shown pictures every single day of what has been happening in Iraq, there would be anger. Have no doubt about it, there would be real anger, crossing political lines, crossing all lines. People would be angry that this is being done. But it's not reported.
About two years ago, a year and a half ago, I was in the tiny Arab state of Qatar, literally a dot. This tiny state is famous for two things: it has the largest U.S. military base in the Arab world, Al Udeid, from where the war was launched, by the way, and from where planes flew over off to bomb Baghdad; and it also is the center of Al Jazeera television, probably the most radical in terms of reporting television networks in the world. I was visiting to give a lecture in Qatar, and they said, "What would you like to do? Is there anything you would like to see?" I said, "I would like to see the U.S. military base, and I'd like to go to Al Jazeera television, because these are your two big tourist attractions. They said, "You can't go to the base. That's not permissible. But you can certainly go to see Al Jazeera." I said, "Okay, I'll settle for that."
I went and talked to the director of Al Jazeera, and I said, "Be honest with me. If you want, I won't even report it. But do you have any censorship?" And he said, "Look, we have a self-denying ordinance. We don't mention the Qatari regime. It's a tiny part of the world, no one cares. We don't discuss Qatar. But on every other issue, we write, we speak, we film what we want." I said, "That's remarkable." He then said, "But hang on. There was an open attempt at censorship just two weeks ago, two weeks before you arrived." I said, "What was that?" He said, "You know, we have 36 television crews in Iraq in different parts of the country covering what is going on for our viewers. And one of our crews in Baghdad actually captured on film a tank coming out on to the street, targeting a car, hitting the car, burning the people in it alive. We had photographs of who was in the car because our team just happened to be there wondering what was going on. In the front of the car there was a young couple and in the back of the car were their two kids. And the car burnt up with the family in them. "So," he said, "we felt this was an important news item and led our news with this the minute the film arrived, with our correspondent saying what he had to say."
He said, "When the third news bulletin was being read, the security guards at the television station came running in and they said to me, 'Sir, the American military is arriving.' I said 'What?' He said, 'You know, the Jeeps, armored carriers are on the way. They've just entered the compound.' And," he said, "just as he said that, the senior U.S. general walked into my office with his phalanx of armed guards and said, 'I've just been watching what you're putting out on your television channel, and this is absolutely disgraceful.'" So the guy said, "I remained very calm." And he said, "I won't hide it from you, I was a bit scared as well. But I remained calm. And I said, 'What exactly that we have reported upsets you, General?' He said, 'It's images of this sort that create anti-Americanism in the Arab world.'" I said, "What did you say?" He said, "What could I say? I was speechless." He said, "Finally, I said, 'But, General, isn't it what you do that creates this anger rather than what we show?' He said, 'But you shouldn't show it.'"
Then there was an argument, and the general then demanded an apology. He said, "I want an apology that this was a decontextualized item that you showed and you didn't know, you didn't say what was in the mind of the commanding officer when he fired." He said, "We can't read people's minds. We just saw a tank destroying a car with civilians in it." But then he said, "General, when we went to cover the war in Afghanistan, you bombed our headquarters in Afghanistan. When we started to cover the war in Iraq, we told you, we sent to the Pentagon where our offices were because of the Afghan experience, and we said, 'This is where we are. These are our exact coordinates. Please give them to our pilots and make sure they don't hit us.' And," he said, "you used those coordinates to target our offices and you killed Tariq Ayub, our chief war correspondent in Baghdad, which was filmed. You sent in helicopter gunships with rockets, and as he was reporting, he was hit by a rocket and died immediately. So if it's time for apologies, why don't you start by apologizing for what you've done to us?"
He said the general then walked out. And he said, "That is the only concrete attempt to stop us reporting what we report every single day and every week from this particular war zone in the Arab world."
That's interesting. And one reason for the hostility to Al Jazeera is not that these people are raving left-wingers or anything nutty like that. Far from it. It's that they show images that counter everything that is being shown in the Western media or not being shown at all. It's alternative images. That's what they provide. And that's what creates the anger. Tony Blair admitted it. It came out in the British press that before they launched the war in Iraq, Bush said to Blair, "Should we take out Al Jazeera before we go to war? It will solve a lot of problems." Blair claims that the British government said that this would be unacceptable behavior, which is the only time he ever disagreed with Bush, if he did. But that is what the British government said, that the Americans wanted to bomb, just so that there was no alternative reporting of this war, which indicates how important public opinion has become.
But now despite that, despite the strict regulation of images-and often if you watch on a single day, when something has happened in Iraq, as I tend to do, CNN, BBC World, and a few other channels, you will find it's the same image that is shown, the same image that is shown on all these channels-despite that, public opinion remains angry. A majority of citizens in the United States want to withdraw from Iraq, are opposed to the war. In Britain the figure is now 80%. So that is an interesting thing, which shows that one shouldn't overrate the role of the media in creating disinformation, because sometimes they go so far that people just switch off and don't believe them at all. This has happened in some countries. And that is a corrective to what sometimes those of us who study the media get very worked up about, and rightly so. But we sometimes underestimate the intelligence of the average citizen. And that we should not do, because if people just believed what they saw in the media, you wouldn't have these high figures that are against the war. Because the American casualties are relatively high, but they're not as high as they have been in previous wars. It's just that people see this as an endless war. So that is the relationship of the bulk of the Western media to the Iraq war.
If you look at the print media, there are brave oppositional voices, The Guardian, The Independent in Britain, occasionally, the Los Angeles Times will do one or two strong pieces. But in terms of the corporate control of the media, the figure I like giving is that Rupert Murdoch, who is not just a television mogul but also owns over 200 newspapers all over the world-that all Rupert Murdoch's newspaper editors, 230 or however many there are, supported the war in Iraq. When I made this point in Australia, where Rupert Murdoch, as you know, is a sort of household word, one journalist said, "Well, I think you're 99.9% right, Tariq, but I think the editor in Tasmania was a bit critical of the war." I said, "Well, I'm glad to hear that. That means that some progress is being made. That's very good news," I said, "because it shows change is in the air."
If you then look at the two other events-and because the world is dominated by these wars-you will see a similar process. The Lebanese war of 2006. When this war happened, I was in Brazil at a festival of literature, Toni Morrison, many other writers from the United States. Everyone came and said, "We've got to issue a statement. It's unacceptable what the Israelis have done." So we signed a big appeal. All the Brazilian writers signed it. There were some Israeli writers. They signed it, too. It was a very broad thing, saying this is not the way to deal with it. I remember reading all the press coverage, and I just said publicly at the time, "This war is too well prepared to be a spontaneous response to the kidnapping of two or three Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah. It can't be done like that. This is a well-prepared reaction." This created a bit of a controversy. I thought it was quite a mild statement on my part. But people said, "No, no, no. Of course it's Hezbollah that provoked the war." Anyway, that was the overwhelming coverage in the Western media, that Hezbollah had provoked the war by kidnapping three Israeli soldiers. The fact that each side kidnapped the other side and they kidnapped them because they wanted 50 Hezbollah prisoners released, all these things get forgotten in the heat of the moment.
Anyway, what happens? The war backfires, and we now know what happened. Members of Tony Blair's cabinet have said that within the British cabinet there was real anger and hostility to the war, but Blair overrode them because he and Bush had agreed and given the green light to the Israelis. And when the Israelis, who said they needed a week to go in and wipe out Hezbollah, couldn't do it in the first week, Bush and Blair said, "Have another week, then." And the war went on unnecessarily, destroying a lot of the infrastructure around Beirut, and many buildings which had been newly built were destroyed. They still didn't succeed. And they finally had to pull out. It was seen as a big setback.
This setback created a big crisis inside Israel, and there was a public inquiry. At this inquiry, Ehud Olmert, the prime minister of Israel, testified before Israeli judges and said that "We had been preparing this war for six months." What was the coverage? In Israel it was very big; it was a major admission. It was buried in all the newspapers which had headlined the Hezbollah-provoked war, etc. You would have thought at least they would have put it on the front page. No. Even in Britain, it was reported, but it was buried. And that, then, decontextualizes what goes on in that part of the world.
While on the subject, I want to say something else, which is that the coverage of the Palestinian tragedy is pretty bad in North America. Less so in Europe, but it's pretty bad in North America, to put it mildly. Anyone who tries to report on Israel or be critical of Israel is denounced. There is an active lobby in North America which systematically denounces people and attacks people as anti-Semites or, as is often the case, if they happen to be people who are of Jewish origin, as self-hating Jews. So you can't win: either you're anti-Semitic or you're a self-hating Jew.
So I often when I'm in the United States I say to journalists from The New York Times, "I know your problems, guys. But if you compare with what is published in the Israeli press itself, in Ha'aretz, in Maariv occasionally, they are extremely critical, courageous, Israeli journalists. Why don't you just reprint what the Israeli press is saying without comment?" They still won't do it.
Two weeks ago, some of the most distinguished Israeli novelists, some of them hard-core Zionists, like A. B. Yehoshua, one of the founders of the Israeli republic, issued a public statement in Israel calling on the Israeli government to open negotiations with Hamas and to stop torturing Gaza. These are Israeli novelists. Does it have any impact within the North American media? No.
I think this is a real tragedy, because this does Israel no favors, because the situation in that part of the world is getting worse, and there are only two real solutions there: either you have a single Israel-Palestinian state with equal rights for all citizens; or the only other option, which doesn't seem to be a serious option now but used to be considered a serious option, is that Israel pulls back to the 1967 frontiers, moves the settlements out, and permits the Palestinians to set up their own state without being overlooked by Israeli tanks, without their having settlements in there, and without being divided into shriveled little bantustans. Those are the only two alternatives. Many Israelis-I was at a conference in Rome two weeks ago with the former Israeli foreign minister, Shlomo Ben-Ami. This is a guy who was at the heart of the Israeli regime. I said what I'm saying to you, with him on the platform. And he said, "Basically, I think you're right. There is no third solution." I said, "You're no longer the foreign minister, and maybe that's why." But he said, "A lot of people in Israel realize that there is no way out." But you cannot get there without a debate."
I want to tell you another story about the courage of one Israeli journalist. A dozen Israeli air force pilots -and those of you who know what it means to be inside the military, it's very difficult to breach discipline-about four of five years ago went public in Israel and said, "We are not going to go and bomb Palestinian villages. We are not going to bomb anything outside the 1967 frontiers." And they were provocative. They said, "When we joined, we thought we were joining the Israeli air force and not some Mafia outfit which embarks on revenge killings." They were sacked, naturally, and they knew they would be. They were not only sacked, but they were denounced, traduced. They said, "We are defending the best in Jewish culture, the right to dissent. It's part of our culture, and no one can tell us they're better Jews than us. We know what our traditions are."
The anger against them was so great that one Israeli journalist on the newspaper Maariv-his name was Yehuda Nuriel, which means he was a Baghdadi Jew who had gone to Israel, whatever, his family had-wrote a column. He used to have a full page in Maariv, which is not the most radical newspaper in Israel, called "Nuriel's World." He did something which even I found a bit provocative and which no one in the West would even dream of doing. He got so angered by the constant attack on these pilots and their families and their children being spat on at schools that he went into the library, researched something, and in next week's paper published in his column "Nuriel's World" a whole page denouncing the Israeli pilots in savage terms and said that this was an article that had been submitted to him by someone he didn't know whose name was A. Schicklgruber. Some of you know that that was Hitler's real name. What he had gone and done inside the library is dug out Mein Kampf and all Hitler's speeches denouncing dissent, cobbled them together, which is quite an achievement, to make them coherent, and said, "This is an article denouncing the Israeli pilots." Every single word used was from Hitler's speeches. But for two or three days no one knew. And this article was reprinted in other papers and other magazines, until someone in Jerusalem said, "What the hell is going on?" and rang up the editor. They fired this guy. And he gave a press conference and he said, "I knew they would fire me, but it was worth doing."
That sort of journalist has virtually disappeared from the West: someone who just puts his or her job on the line to make a point and challenges orthodoxy. That's why my criticism of the Western media is not that they're craven on this question because they're scared, but that they don't even have the guts to publicly praise the courageous Israeli journalists who are reporting what they are reporting.
Let's move now from the Middle East to the third war that is being fought, which concerns this country, which is the war in Afghanistan, and how this war is being reported. This is not an unimportant war. This was meant be the good war. Iraq was the bad war, Afghanistan was going to be the good war. Why was it going to be the good war? Because, as Mrs. Blair and Mrs. Bush explained to an incredulous nation, the war in Afghanistan is a war to liberate Afghani women from the Taliban. When I was asked to comment on it, I said, "This would be interesting, because it would certainly make history. It would be the first war waged to liberate women. And I hope they succeed," I said slightly sarcastically, "but I somehow doubt it." Bush was, of course, more open about it and said that this is war which has one aim, to capture Osama bin Laden dead or alive, which was closer to the mark. But they failed to do that either. So Osama wasn't captured, nor was Mullah Omar. The NATO occupation is now in its sixth year, and it is getting more and more tricky for them.
Why? Because this war is waged at a very strange time in world politics, when only one economic orthodoxy, neoliberal economics, is dominant. So the way in which they reshape Afghan society doesn't do anything for ordinary people. That's the big problem. Most Afghans, to be totally frank with you, were quite relieved when the Taliban was removed. It wasn't a popular government. They were quite relieved. But when they saw that a bunch of people implanted there from the United States, Hamid Karzai, who would have been better off showing off shawls on a Parisian catwalk, because he loves shawls, and his brother, who was running an Afghan restaurant in Baltimore. I remember I once went in and they said, "This is Karzai's brother's restaurant." So I said, "Maybe we shouldn't be here." He went back and was implanted in Afghanistan and is today regarded as one of the top gun runners, arms smugglers, and heroin merchants in the country.
All the prime land in Kabul was seized by Karzai and his cronies, often cabinet ministers, guarded by NATO troops, constructing lavish villas in the heart of Kabul, when all it costs to build an apartment or a little single-story house, which could put four or five Afghans, even more probably, is $5,000. That's all it costs to build a very elementary house to house the Afghan refugees. But all the money was siphoned off by corrupt politicians in charge. That began to anger people. And you had anti-American riots in Kabul two years ago, precisely because of this issue. Barely reported.
Then you had the Taliban reformed, and it started attacking the NATO armies. Initially they didn't have much support, but the response of the United States was to use bombers to go and bomb people. And often they did it in a sort of shooting-from-the-hip way; they didn't care who they killed. If you study the reports which have appeared on pages 6, 7, and 8 of most newspapers, 70 Taliban killed, 80 Taliban killed, 90 Taliban killed, 20 Taliban killed, and you add it up, you suddenly find that if this is actually the case, then the Taliban must have a phenomenally large army inside of Afghanistan. It's these killings now which have turned many, many Afghans totally against the NATO occupation.
And they're just not going to be able to pull it off because they've done absolutely nothing that would make real sense in terms of health, education, housing for ordinary Afghans, who have known nothing but war now for the last 35 years. So this isn't going to help the situation. This is a part of the world where the culture of revenge is very strong still. It's essentially a tribal society, pretty largely. The one thing they're all agreed on is they don't like being occupied by foreigners. This is something people in the United States find difficult to understand sometimes. But to most people in the world it's pretty normal, especially a country which was never occupied. The British tried it in the 19th century. They waged two wars and they were defeated. The Russians tried it in the 20th century. They were defeated. Now the NATO armies are trying it out with the United States at the head, and they are finding out it's not going to work.
The only solution here, if one is being serious, is to have all the regional powers who have influence, Iran in western Afghanistan, the Russians in northern Afghanistan, Pakistan in southern Afghanistan, and India is the largest regional power in the whole area, sit down and agree on a national government and for all these regional powers to guarantee peace and security there for the next five years to give the country a chance to breathe. You can't talk about democracy or anything like that if people can't breathe in a country.
This is barely reported. I was watching the television news before I came here today. And the ticker tape that runs underneath the news, which sometimes can be more interesting than what you're actually seeing, said the actions carried out by Canadians in one part of Afghanistan were reported to be a huge success. This is nonsense, absolute nonsense. The British used to say it, the United States used to say it. It's nonsense. It's not going to work.
Good journalists should be out there reporting what is going on in that country and why it is turning against a foreign occupation. It's not a big mystery. Occasionally Pakistani journalists go in and do report what is going on. And the reporting is quite good. So in times of war, how a war is reported is increasingly vital in the formation of public opinion. Sometimes public opinion doesn't even need it. It gets worked up. But in the case of Afghanistan, about which very little is known, it does need it, and it should need it. But it doesn't get it.
There is another problem, which is linked to the problem of the media, which is what is happening to politics in the Western world. If you look just at the caliber of politicians that are being produced in the Western world, regardless of whether they're from the center left or center right or whatever their politics may be, you have to realize that the standards have deteriorated phenomenally. Just if you go back to the period of the Second World War, you had Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer, Winston Churchill, three major political leaders of the right. And one disagreed with them, but you knew what they said, you could argue with them. You had Clement Attlee, the Labour leader in Britain, a very mild-spoken man who didn't do well on television, but very sharp, very effective. These leaders no longer exist. Instead, you largely have confected politicians. And these confected politicians are overdependent on the media because it's their only real contact with the population because of the decline we're seeing in political parties and their ability to mobilize people in the Western world. When you see that, then you understand the symbiosis which exists between politicians and the media and why they get very agitated when the media or sections of the media defy them or challenge them.
A classic case in point is the BBC. This is an institution which people still respect, but this respect is declining very rapidly because of what happened to it under Blair. During the Iraq War, the BBC director-general confronted a big problem. Normally, balance, as they call it, is determined by the interplay of parliamentary debates. What happens when there are no debates? What happens when the country goes to war and the main opposition party and the government party are in total agreement? When that happens, what does the BBC do?
Greg Dyke, the director-general of the BBC, said, "We had a choice. The bulk of the country was against the war, a million and a half people had marched against the war in the largest demonstration in British history, the politicians were for the war. What the hell could we do? We had to give voice to antiwar people." And he said the constant pressure from 10 Downing Street had become unbearable.
The letters now have been published between Greg Dyke and Tony Blair. Tony Blair more or less says to him, "You're being hostile." And Greg Dyke says, "You have your job to do as prime minister of Britain, and I have my job to do, and they're not the same jobs. I have to run a public broadcasting network and tell people as much truth as I can." And Blair's chief of staff then replies, "How come in all your current affairs programs the bulk of the people you find are antiwar?" And Dyke says, "That reflects the country. It's very difficult for us to find pro-war to even bus in to our programs." The government then says, "We will help you out on that." And they do. I was in one of these programs, Question Time, and I said to the BBC producer, "Something has changed. Who supplied half these people?" And they said, "Oh, the government told us." I said, "Right. Say no more." So the pressures were very great. Finally, Blair couldn't contain himself. He set up a tame court to condemn the BBC, sacked Greg Dyke, sacked the chairman of the board of governors of the BBC.
The BBC immediately imposed a self-censorship. There was no official censorship, but they imposed a self-censorship. So we have increasingly government exercising its influence, and then we have the commercial channels exercising another influence. Whereas when public service broadcasting was set up, you had the commercial television channels which followed it using public broadcasting standards as a guide and a criterion, that has now become exactly the opposite. And many public service networks actually are waiting to be privatized. That's the way it seems when you watch some of the stuff they're putting out on their channels.
That, I think, would be a tragedy, if it happened, because all these things begin to impact ondemocracy.Thenpeoplewonder,whyaren'tyoung people as engaged as they used to be? They're alienated, that's why. In the last two elections in Britain, a majority of young people between the ages of 18 and 26 didn't bother to vote. Gordon Brown, the new prime minister, when asked about this, said, "The reason they aren't voting is because they're perfectly happy with what we're doing." He actually said that. He should have gone to Hackley in the East End of England and seen the slogans that were chalked up. One slogan, which was very dominant during the last election was, "If voting changed anything, they would abolish it." That's the sort of anger and alienation that exists.
So what we are now seeing is attempts to create alternative networks. The United States, where the channels really went under in the 1990s, is the country where alternative media is probably the most advanced. I often give this example. Here you still have some public media and some room, some space, as in Britain. It's getting reduced, but it's still there. In the United States, all this space disappeared. So you have Amy Goodman's Democracy Now!, which goes out every morning with alternative news, which is different from the mainstream news. About 3 million Americans watch it or listen to it or get it on the Web later. And that is what is going on. So it's not a case for despairing, but it's a case for seeing where to get the news from, how to get it. There are some Web sites which go electric. Whenever there is a war on, people turn to them to try and get the news. The editor of The Guardian in Britain once told me that the week following 9/11 the hits on The Guardian's Web site from the United States increased by a million and a half. That's a good sign, that there were a million and a half Americans who wanted to read something different from what they were getting.
So it's not all over in that sense. Things are changing. If total mainstream politics and the media go on like this, people will eventually begin to ignore them and develop within these societies a different way of functioning. Unless they come up with certain good alternatives, that, unfortunately, will affect democracy itself.
So the issues we're discussing are not small issues. These are big issues, which is why it's extremely important for people to be engaged, not to give up, not to say that you can't do anything, not to retreat into a total narcissistic, individualist world, a world which consumerist society encourages. But consumerist society is limited, because not everyone can afford to shop. In Britain, actually, fewer and fewer people can afford to shop because of the prices, leave alone buy homes. And that's why change will have to be made in the way in which these societies are being run. That will only come about if there are movements from below, if people think, if people challenge, if people question.
That remains a very important part of what needs to be done in Western societies, because that was also what happened ultimately in Brezhnev's Russia, in Poland, in Czechoslovakia. People ignored officialdom and began to organize separately. And you had very active dissidents, you had great literature being produced, you had documentaries being produced. That's why Michael Moore is so popular, because he produces a documentary which 30 years ago, give or take a few scenes, would have been shown on mainstream television everywhere. But now it isn't shown on mainstream television, so he has to go and make a documentary, which plays to packed houses. So the problem is not the people. The problem is the political elite, which is very dominant at the present time. And when the people actually decide to move, they can move mountains.
I end with a wonderful quote from the great German poet and playwright, Bertholt Brecht. When the East German regime under which he lived sent out the tanks to crush a workers' uprising in East Berlin and then blamed the people and said, "The reason we had to send out the tanks is because the people were irresponsible," Brecht wrote this wonderful four-line poem, which was an open letter to the central committee of the German Communist Party, which was ruling. He said,
"Dear comrades, it seems to me
You think the fault is with the people.
Why don't we dissolve the people
And elect a new one?"
Copies of the book "Speaking of Empire & Resistance" are available from AR
Other AR Tariq Ali programs -
Imperialism: Then & Now
Bush in Babylon
Cracks in the Empire
Enablers of Empire
Delusions of Empire
Jihad: Theirs and Ours
Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope
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