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Ditch This Bitter Pilger By: Ted Lapkin
The Australian | Tuesday, July 13, 2004


If anyone needed a reminder, the brutal spate of beheadings in Iraq and Saudi Arabia further emphasized the immense moral chasm that separates America from its terrorist enemies.

The US Army is engaged in court-martial proceedings against a handful of aberrant soldiers who committed acts of brutality against Iraqi prisoners. By contrast, al-Qaeda lionizes its cadre of professional decapitators and is doubtless engaged in operational planning to sever the heads of other helpless civilian hostages.

Yet this self-evident dissimilarity is lost on the likes of John Pilger, a documentarian and journalist whose repertoire is dominated by a virulent strain of anti-Americanism that is a staple of hard leftist doctrine. Along with Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali and other far-Left commentators, Pilger provides grist for the mills of those who populate the polar reaches of our political spectrum.

Pilger has a long history of radical, hate-America leftism, ever since his early days as a reporter and freelance writer in Sydney, Australia. He has taken his particular brand of yellow journalism to many cities around the world, including Italy, London, Vietnam, Cambodia, Egypt and the Middle East. His long list of “eye opening” anti-war documentaries includes the 2000 film “Paying the Price: Killing the Children of Iraq,” which accuses the UN of killing Iraqi children with sanctions against Saddam Hussein.

Pilger's most recent documentary, "Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror," was broadcast on Brittish ITV in September, 2002. Fan and reviewer Mark Turner cooed on www.marxist.com  that Pilger opened the program by accusing "the US of being 'a rapacious imperial power,' and that the US and UK were responsible for 'the terrorism that dare not speak it's name, because it's our terrorism.'"

John Pilger was one of the first to outright call the War on Terror a “fraud,” and accuse the US of atrocities against innocent Afghanis. “After three weeks' bombing, not a single terrorist implicated in the attacks on America has been caught or killed in Afghanistan,” he told Mirror.co.uk in 2001.

“Instead, one of the poorest, most stricken nations has been terrorized by the most powerful - to the point where American pilots have run out of dubious 'military' targets and are now destroying mud houses, a hospital, Red Cross warehouses, lorries carrying refugees,” he said.

On April 22, 2003, Pilger wrote on the same site, “The ‘liberation’ of Iraq is a cruel joke on a stricken people. The Americans and British, partners in a great recognized crime, have brought down on the Middle East, and much of the rest of the world, the prospect of terrorism and suffering on a scale that al-Qaeda could only imagine.” That’s right, America is first to blame and al-Qaeda is the little guy in worldwide terror, according to Pilger. His agenda is quite obvious, and his devotees love him for it.

Pilger's fondest fans hail from the ranks of those who yearn to see the dynamism of the free markets replaced by the economic sclerosis of the socialist welfare state. His most enthusiastic acolytes are those who seek the downfall of America for that most unconscionable of crimes -- proving that capitalism cannot only survive, but actually thrive.

Pilger believes not merely that the US is dancing with the devil, but that America is Beelzebub in nation-state form. Thus, he writes: "There has long been a geopolitical fascism, overseen by the United States," making America the "greatest source of terrorism on earth."

Pilger's reflexive anti-Americanism leads him to embrace strange positions and even stranger bedfellows. In Pilger's alternative universe for example, there was no Serbian campaign of genocide in Kosovo. His writings portray Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic as a victim of American aggression rather than the architect of war crimes against the Albanian Kosovar minority. Welcome to the twilight zone.

This past April, Pilger wrote about a journey he took four years ago through Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The film-maker related how he traveled from the hills of the Kurdish north to the Shia south, remarking: "I have seldom felt as safe in any country."

If that was the conclusion Pilger drew from a trip through the heart of Ba’athist darkness, it must have been one hell of a stage-managed magical mystery tour. As a journalist with a lengthy anti-American track record, Pilger was surely pampered and cosseted by the regime's media handlers.

But he displayed a sublime indifference to the obvious fact that similar privileges did not extend to masses of ordinary Iraqis who were slaughtered by Saddam's secret police.

This chronic political myopia has caused Pilger to conclude that the war against al-Qaeda is simply a "pretext by the rich countries, led by the US, to further their dominance over world affairs.”

Pilger vehemently opposed the conflict in Iraq as well, asserting that the carnage inflicted by the recent Madrid terrorist bombings "was small compared with the terrorism of the American-led coalition.” Of course, there is no shortage of politicians, celebrities and media commentators who opposed the campaign to liberate Iraq from Saddam's tyranny.

But while most of these anti-war voices paused after expressing their condemnation of the conflict itself, Pilger brazenly rushed in where angels fear to tread – he has advocated the deaths of American, British and Australian troops.

During a recent interview on Australian Broadcasting Corporation Television's Lateline, Pilger expressed effusive support for what he called "the Iraqi resistance."

Then, in response to a query from presenter Tony Jones, Pilger actively encouraged the killing of coalition forces in Iraq because they were "legitimate targets" who are "illegally occupying a country.” But as Jones pressed his line of questioning on this issue, Pilger suddenly began to dodge and weave in a manner that would make a circus contortionist proud. Thus when Jones inquired: "So you would regard Australian troops in Iraq as legitimate targets?" Pilger responded with an elusive, "Excuse me, but that's an unbecoming question.”

Unbecoming? Why? What could conceivably be improper about asking Pilger to clarify his position on a matter about which he had already spoken at length? In fact, far more unseemly was the evasive maneuver that demonstrated Pilger's unwillingness to show the courage of his otherwise loudly expressed convictions.

In that same Lateline interview, Pilger complemented this display of intellectual cowardice with a morally repellent apologia for the terrorism being perpetrated by Iraqi insurgents.

The Americans, said Pilger, are the moral equivalent of the Nazi occupiers of France, which transforms any Iraqi who works with the coalition into a collaborator who can be legitimately marked for death.

But to Pilger even non-collaborating Iraqi civilians are inconsequential bit players in the real game that is afoot. He views the deliberate killing of Iraqi non-combatants by insurrectionist car bombs as a worthwhile price that must be paid to achieve the greater good of inflicting military defeat on the US.

After all, says Pilger, the intentional murder of innocents happens "in all resistances.”

Pilger's penchant for excusing the inexcusable brings to mind a similarly lame attempt to justify the unjustifiable that took place at the height of the Soviet mass murder spree of the 1930s. At that time, The New York Times correspondent Walter Duranty entered the pantheon of journalistic infamy when he quipped "you can't make an omelet without breaking eggs" in an effort to rationalize Stalin's gulags, summary executions and show trials.

Just as Duranty considered Stalinist repression a necessary tool in the construction of a communist utopia, Pilger thinks that any and all means are permissible to achieve his utopian vision of a humbled and chastened America.

Towards the end of his Lateline appearance, Pilger was asked whether he thought a moral case could be made for the forcible overthrow of Saddam.

"Absolutely," he answered. "By the Iraqi people!"

Pilger expressed his conviction that "had there not been 10 years of medieval siege imposed on Iraq by the US,” the Iraqis would have risen up against the Ba’athist dictator.

Yet there is no plausible evidence to indicate that the Iraqi dictatorship might have ever been removed from power by anything short of the business end of an American bayonet. After three decades of brutal Ba’athist repression, Saddam was well ensconced in power and the thoroughly traumatized Iraqi people were utterly cowed into submission.

Pilger's prognostication of a storming of the Baghdad Bastille was just another opportunity to lay the blame for yet more villainy on Uncle Sam.

Thus, while Pilger pays lip service to support the idea of freedom for Iraq, the practical result of his anti-war position would be to leave Saddam's tyranny intact. Pilger was willing to fight his vision of US imperialism to the last Iraqi, sacrificing untold thousands of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish victims in his delusional quest to oppose the Yankee peril.

The stridency of Pilger's polemic causes one to wonder whether the degree of his dyspepsia might be directly proportional to his failure to attract a serious political constituency. Despite all his books and documentaries, Pilger's world view ends up appealing to a small sliver of public opinion that is far outside the mainstream.

Notwithstanding his most vehement jeremiads and denunciations, conservative politicians such as Margaret Thatcher, John Howard and George Bush have been elected. And even when more left-leaning leaders are chosen to assume the helm of government, they are invariably statesmen of a centrist variety such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton.

In the corridors of power where policy is made, Pilger is dismissed as an utter non-entity whose extremist perspectives have never gained serious political traction. And this, of course, gives rise to the question how anyone with such an incredible outlook is afforded any credibility by Australia's public broadcasters.

Yet, whenever Pilger produces another documentary, it invariably winds up on Australian TV screens, courtesy of the ABC or SBS. By broadcasting his factually challenged films, our public broadcasters are inevitably providing Pilger's drivel with a stamp of respectability that it does not deserve. And by so doing, the ABC and SBS taint themselves, yet again, with the perception of partisan left-wing partiality, further alienating themselves from the majority of Australians whom these networks are chartered to serve.

Ted Lapkin is associate editor of The Review, published by the Australia-Israel & Jewish Affairs Council. This is adapted from the June edition of The IPA Review.




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