Hurricane Harvey in Texas vs war, famine, and disease in Yemen

Storm Harvey has brought real suffering to people in Texas. 33 dead so far. And a lot of coverage on TV and the papers.

Meanwhile, a lot less visible on TV and the papers – but faithfully kept before readers of The American Conservative by their writer Daniel Larison –  Yemen has experienced an estimated 16,200 deaths, many of them children and other civilians.  (The picture above – taken from a recent article in the New York Times, entitled “The Photos the U.S. and Saudi Arabia Don’t Want You to See”  shows Buthaina (or Bouthaina), a girl believed to be 4 or 5 who was the only survivor in her family of a bombing last week by the Saudi coalition that killed 14 people.)

And . . . it is now in the grip of a cholera epidemic, with an estimated 500,000 victims.

And . . . there is widespread malnutrition.

And . . . it has seen its cities demolished by years of bombing by Saudi Arabia.

And . . . the Saudi-led coalition war and blockade are the chief causes for famine and cholera crises in Yemen. The blockade is a major reason why both crises are as severe as they are, and it is why it is so difficult to combat both of those crises.

Why do we hear so little?  One of the main reasons is that Saudi Arabia makes every effort to ensure that journalists are kept out – as (to quote Larison) “part of the [Saudi-led] coalition’s effort to conceal its crimes and hide the disastrous effects of their war from the rest of the world.”*

And . . . (and this is the important part) the U.S. and Britain have backed the bombing campaign and blockade from the very start, and that support has remained constant despite ample evidence of coalition war crimes and the enormous suffering that the intervention has caused and continues to cause.

Will there be consequences?  There almost certainly will be.  Larison: “Our government has made us the enemy of tens of millions of innocent Yemenis who have never done anything to us.”

Some of you will have noticed that I keep writing about this.   This is my 8th post on the subject of Yemen.  And I have been pointing out the same thing over and over again.  Over a year ago, I wrote:

According to CNBC, “U.N. investigators say that air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition are responsible for two thirds of the 3,200 civilians who have died in Yemen, or approximately 2,000 deaths. They said that Saudi forces have killed twice as many civilians as other forces in Yemen.”

The United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Johannes van der Klaauw, said Sunday that coalition strikes over the weekend had targeted schools and hospitals, in breach of international law.

According to Reuters, “The U.N. report on children and armed conflict – released last Thursday – said the [Saudi-led] coalition was responsible for 60 percent of child deaths and injuries in Yemen last year, killing 510 and wounding 667, and half the attacks on schools and hospitals.”

According to Medecins Sans Frontiers “Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces have carried out a series of air strikes targeting schools that were still in use, in violation of international humanitarian law, and hampering access to education for thousands of Yemen’s children, said Amnesty International in a new briefing published today. The coalition forces are armed by states including the USA and UK.” Note the word “targeting”. MSF seems to be saying that Saudi Arabia is deliberately attacking schools.

And from the Red Cross: “The International Committee of the Red Cross says Saudi war planes have targeted hospitals in Yemen, killing staff and wounding patients.”

Why do I do keep writing about Yemen?  Well, it seems to me that it is an important story.  Much more important than most of the trivia that fills the news.  And nobody seems to realise what is going on.

And also because the Bible says (Proverbs 31:8) “\Open your mouth for the voiceless, for the justice of all who are destitute.”

I reckon that describes the people of Yemen far too well.

 

* Note:

That is not the whole story of why so little news comes out of Yemen.    Iona Craig (winner of the 2016 Orwell Prize for journalism and the 2014 Martha Gellhorn Prize for investigative journalism), who has visited Yemen several times and done a lot of first class reporting of what is going on there, writes:

“Yes, it’s extremely hard to get into Yemen. But it is possible. Getting travel costs and expenses covered as a freelancer is much harder.  In my experience, greater barrier to covering Yemen than Saudi coalition is media organisations unwilling to cover expenses.  I rely on donations or grants to get to Yemen. Media organisations have never covered my costs to get there. Not in seven years.  And I can guarantee my travel budget is a small fraction of what BBC, CNN et al pay to get there.  Yemeni friends make it possible with warm hearts, comfy floors and home cooking. I wouldn’t travel 3,000 miles around Yemen any other way.  “

And then there is the way the media report Yemen . . .

But there is another problem.  Even the news that does come out of Yemen is often reported in a way that seems designed to keep people in the dark, according to Ben Norton, in an article yesterday at Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) entitled “How Media Obscure US/Saudi Responsibility for Killing Yemeni Civilians.”  He writes:

“A coalition of Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates, with minor support from several other Middle Eastern nations, has relentlessly bombed Yemen since March 2015. This August, the coalition ramped up the ferocity of its airstrikes, killing dozens of civilians.

On August 23, the US/Saudi coalition bombed a hotel near Yemen’s capital Sanaa, killing 41 people, 33 of whom—80 percent—were civilians, according to the United Nations.

Then on August 25, the coalition bombed homes in Sanaa, massacring a dozen civilians, including eight members of the same family.

Major Western media outlets have, however, obscured the responsibility Saudi Arabia, and its US and European supporters, bear for launching these airstrikes.

There are no other parties presently bombing Yemen, so media cannot feign ignorance as to who is responsible for the attacks. But reports on the bloody US/Saudi coalition airstrikes were nonetheless rife with ambiguous and downright misleading language.”

His complaints are basically that headlines about deaths in air strikes rarely mention Saudi Arabia, headlines sometimes speak of Yemeni air strikes, when the air strikes are never carried out by Yemenis, and that stories often give the impression that air strikes on civilian targets are Saudi mistakes, when there is a lot of evidence that they are deliberate.

He writes:

“Media frequently obfuscate and downplay the culpability for bombing when the US and its allies are responsible.

When the US bombed a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, in October 2015, killing dozens of civilians, media scrambled to craft almost laughable euphemisms. FAIR (10/5/15) documented at the time how news outlets used circuitous headlines like “US Is Blamed After Bombs Hit Afghan Hospital.” Also seen in the August 23 NPR report cited above, this brand of misleading, ambiguous rhetoric is the “officer-involved shooting” of war reporting.

On the other hand, the responsibility of US enemies for killing civilians is rarely if ever obscured.

It is instructive to compare Western media coverage of Yemen to that of Syria . . . .”

In fact, Norton reckons that calling the war in Yemen a “civil war” is misleading, on the grounds that the reality is that “the conflict is actually a foreign war on Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their US and European sponsors.”   And there is also the uncomfortable fact that in reality, “if the US wanted the war in Yemen to end, it would end overnight. The “Saudi-led” coalition is only led by Saudi Arabia in name.”

Is he right?  It is interesting to look at recent BBC reports about Saudi bombings.  It turns out that Norton is spot-on.  An article about Bouthaina says nothing about who dropped the bomb.  The only mention of Saudi Arabia is in the middle of the article, and reads, “Since 2015, Saudi-led forces have been fighting Houthi rebels, who control northern Yemen including Sanaa.” .

There are two linked BBC stories about Saudi bombings.  Neither mention Saudi Arabia in the headlines.  One, entitled “Yemen war: Air strike on hotel outside Sanaa ‘leaves 30 dead‘” does mention Saudi Arabia in the opening sentence of the report: “At least 30 people have been killed in a Saudi-led coalition air strike on the outskirts of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, local medics and an aid group say.”

The other, entitled “Yemen war: Children dead after Sanaa air strike”  when it does mention Saudi Arabia in the text, suggests that there is uncertainty about who dropped the bomb:

“At least nine people, including children, have been killed after an air strike hit a residential area of Yemen’s capital, Sanaa.  Witnesses said two buildings in the south of the city, which is controlled by Houthi rebels, had been destroyed.  Saudi-led forces have been fighting Shia Houthis – backed by Iran – for the last two years.  Thousands of civilians have died. The country is on the brink of famine and facing a cholera outbreak. The planes, thought to be from the Saudi-led Arab coalition which backs Yemen’s government, hit the buildings in the southern district of Faj Attan, according to AFP.”

By the way, the article does not point out that: 1) The part of under the control of the “government” only contains about 20% of the population.  2) It is questionable whether the government has popular support among Yemenis.  3) And it is actually a government in exile, since the president actually resides in the Saudi capital, Riyadh.  4) The “president”, Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, was overthrown in an uprising in 2015, resigned, then fled the capital and proclaimed himself president again.

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Afghanistan: The longest war, and the sad truth about democracy

This week, Donald Trump made his long awaited statement about Afghanistan. But nobody I know was actually waiting for it – because nobody talks much about Afghanistan, and nobody cares much about Afghanistan – except a few foreign policy aficionados. And hence most people know very little about it.

And yet, the story of America’s involvement is interesting – not least because, at 16 years, it is the longest war America has fought in its history, and shows no sign of ending. (Yes, I realise that for those of us in Europe, looking back over hundreds of years of history, 16 years for a war is nothing, but for America, it is – or at least should be – something big.)

The lessons of history

Several people have compared America’s involvement in Afghanistan to its involvement in Vietnam, including Rod Dreher, who refers to comments by Mark Bowden, author of a recently published book about the American defeat in Vietnam at the Battle of Hue in 1968. Dreher says that according to Bowden,

that there were plenty of reasons specific to Vietnam and its history why this war was unwinnable. The American leadership could not conceive that the United States, the most powerful military in the world, could be beaten by local guerrillas. Bowden calls it “a triumph of ideology over reality in Washington, this anti-communist ideology which completely ignored the realities of Southeast Asia and Vietnam’s history and what actually was happening there.”

He says the same thing is happening today in Afghanistan. I think he’s right, except now, we, the American people, have no excuse for putting up with it. We have lived through Vietnam. We have lived through the debacle of Iraq. And yet — and yet! — we will allow Washington to send thousands more American soldiers to fight and die in a war we cannot win.

afghanistan graveyard of empires

And history suggests that it is not just a matter of learning from Vietnam. Afghanistan has been called the Graveyard of Empires, and it has often been said that although it was invaded by Alexander the Great, the Turks, the Mongols, the British, and the Soviet Union, no occupying power has ever successfully conquered it.

And, rather memorably, when the Soviet Union tried (1979-1989), the American response was to arm the Islamist extremists called the Mujahideen, celebrated as brave freedom fighters by Hollywood in the film Rambo III in 1988. (And of course America has been involved in arming Islamic extremists much more recently than that, including, yes, al-Qaeda in Syria.)

Indeed, there seems to be widespread opinion that America cannot win this war, and many people think that America has nothing to gain by staying. Indeed, the Taliban, who were removed from power by the American led invasion in 2001, actually control more of the country today than at any time over the past 15 years.

afghan map b_crop

How it all started

The invasion came about because of the terrorist attacks in America on September 11, 2001 – in which over 3,000 people were killed. The attacks were carried out by al-Qaeda, and the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, was soon traced to Afghanistan. America demanded that the Taliban hand over Osama bin Laden and expel al-Qaeda. The Taliban responded that they would require evidence that Bin Laden was behind the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US, but added: “we would be ready to hand him over to a third country”.

America refused the Taliban offer, invaded the country, and have been there ever since (even though bin Laden fled to Pakistan).

Now, it seems to me very, very questionable whether the Taliban’s refusal to unconditionally hand over Bin Laden was sufficient grounds for an invasion. And the conditions they suggested were not totally ridiculous. If every country that refused to extradite a wanted criminal was invaded by the country that demanded the extradition, the world would be a somewhat more dangerous place.  The American government could have at least tried to negotiate.  But it didn’t.

And yet despite that, there is no doubt that the vast majority of Americans believed that their government was justified, and supported the invasion.

Democracy

Indeed, one suspects that most Americans actually wanted the invasion to take place, and that one of the main reasons that the Bush administration was eager to invade was because of public feeling. America was still reeling from the 9/11 attacks, and people were angry. They wanted action. George Bush couldn’t just do nothing. Failure to take strong decisive action would have been politically disastrous. And, under the circumstances, invading Afghanistan was probably, politically speaking, the smartest thing to do.

In 2004, Afghanistan had democratic elections. Many people saw this as good, with democracy as the first step along the road to a better, freer, future.

But what really happened seems to be that democracy actually came to Afghanistan in 2001. That is, American democracy came to Afghanistan. The American feeling that something must be done, which in practice meant a desire for justice, which in reality often meant a desire for blood – meant that the armed forces of America (and the UK), acting on behalf of the baying mob (i.e. the American electorate), arrived. National pride had been insulted, and must be avenged.

And therein lies the problem with democracy. The electorate may be mistaken in what they want.  What they want may be very foolish.  Indeed, it may be profoundly evil.  And democracy certainly doesn’t solve all problems.   Western military interventions in the past 20 years brought democratic elections to Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya.  Before the western interventions, those countries had their problems – but since the elections they have known little but turmoil and war.

The first fully democratic elections in Egypt, which took place 2012, were won by the Muslim Brotherhood – and the resulting government had the worst record for freedom of religion of any recent government in Egypt.

And even in Europe, democratic elections do not necessarily produce good outcomes. Germany in the 1930s had fully democratic elections. And the choices that the people made in them were not just unwise – they were a strong indication that there is something deeply flawed about human nature.

Democracy has become one of our great modern idols.  People in the west speak of democracy as if it is sacred. It isn’t. It is just a way of making decisions – particularly political decisions. And, as Marvin Simkin wrote, 25 years ago, “Democracy is not freedom. Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to eat for lunch.”

But over 1000 years ago, Alcuin of York, a theologian, said much the same thing: “Those who always say ‘the voice of the people is the voice of God’ should not be listened to, for the uproar of the crowd is always close to madness.”

OK, that’s a slight exaggeration, and democracy is probably better than most (or even all) of the alternatives. But there are plenty of times when electorates will make decisions that are so foolish that they verge on madness, and Simkin was certainly correct in his view that voters often think and act like hungry wolves.

As for the voice of the people not being the voice of God – well, that is certainly correct, as any reading of the Bible will show. In the Old Testament, the children of Israel repeatedly grumbled against God in the wilderness in the time of Moses; in the New Testament the crowd in city after city wanted to kill the apostle Paul. In the Bible, what the people wanted was often completely wrong.

And the same is true in the modern world.

And so, in 2001, the American armed forces invaded Afghanistan.  Today, almost 16 years later, they are still there. There is no reason for them to remain – other than the fact that it would look rather embarrassing to leave. And no president (so far) is willing to be the one who admits that, and allows the troops to go home. And so it seems that we can expect the longest war to get longer still, and probably continue indefinitely.

Charlottesville: Is Trump right?

The top headline at Huffington Post screamed: “GOING BIGLY ON BIGOTRY: Trump Blames Alt Left For Charlottesville Violence In Craziest Press Conference.”

The Guardian was much more restrained, but the perspective was similar: “Republicans denounce bigotry after Donald Trump’s latest Charlottesville remarks.”

Furthermore, the Guardian described his press conference as ‘extraordinary’. And an opinion piece in it was entitled “The President of the United States is now a neo-Nazi sympathiser.”

Trump was criticised left, right and centre, according to the BBC’s report Charlottesville: What made Trump remarks so offensive? It ended with a short paragraph which asked the question “Has anyone come out in favour of his words?” and gave the answer “Yes, a small fraction, most notably former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and the spokeswoman of the Republican National Committee.

After that, one hesitates to stick one’s head above the parapet. Yet, strangely enough, I think Donald Trump has got it about right.

What happened

It all began with a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, organised under the banner “Unite the Right”. The purpose was to protest the decision of Charlottesville City Council to remove a statue of American Civil War general Robert E Lee from a public park in the city. In the words of Jason Kessler, one if its organisers, “We’re trying to do a pro-white demonstration,” Kessler said. “We’re trying to show that folks can stand up for white people.” Hundreds of people joined the rally, though they were outnumbered by counter-protestors. Clashes between protesters and counter-protesters culminated in a man driving a car into a crowd of counterproposal, killing one of them – Heather Heyer – and injuring 19 other people.

Donald Trump appeared on TV and made a statement, in which he said

“We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump. Not Barack Obama. It’s been going on for a long, long time. The hate and the division must stop right now. We have to come together as Americans with love for our nation.”

His comments echoed an earlier Tweet that “ALL must be united & condemn all that hate stands for. There is no place for this kind of violence in America. Lets come together as one!”

As a result, Trump was widely criticised because he had spoken of “many sides” – without explicitly condemning the white extremist groups involved in the rally.

In other words, Trump had given the impression that hatred, bigotry, and violence was equally shared by different sides, whereas his critics took the view that the blame lay almost entirely with one side. He later issued a statement, undoubtedly as a result of the criticism, in which he said “Racism is evil and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis and white supremacists.” Which, I think is pretty obviously true.

Then last night, he spoke again, and, more or less, reverted to the “many sides” position of the first statement, and said:

When you say the ‘alt-right’, define alt-right to me. You define it. What about the ‘alt-left’ that came charging at, . . . as you say, the ‘alt-right’, do they have any semblance of guilt? They do. What about the fact that they came charging swinging, they had clubs in their hands. Do they have any problem? I think that they do. As far as I’m concerned, that was a horrible, horrible day. . . . That was a horrible day. I will tell you something. I watch the shots very closely. You had a group on one side that was bad, and you had a group on the other side that was also very violent, and nobody wants to say that, but I’ll say that right now. You had a group on the other side that came charging in without a permit, and they were very, very violent. 

Which is basically why I thought Trump actually got it right first time.

Actually, it takes two to tango

To start with, I don’t have any sympathy for the views of the KKK, neo-Nazis, or white supremacists – nor for the actions of the protesters at Charlottesville. I think that they were wrong to organise the rally, and that the organisers of the rally bear much of the responsibility for the violence – and Heather Heyer’s death.

However, I don’t believe it ends there, much as many people would like to think that it does. If the counter-protest had not taken place, the violence – including the death and the injuries – would not have taken place. Indeed, it is clear that many of the counter-protesters came to Charlottesville intent of violence.

But even if all the counter-protesters were committed to non-violence, I think they were still mistaken in their action. There was absolutely no necessity for the counter-protest. Indeed, it seems to me that the correct response to the Unite the Right rally was probably to completely ignore it. Why take seriously a tiny group of people who represent nobody? Yes, there may have been a few hundred people there, but they travelled for miles, from an area with a population of millions. By all means take their views seriously – but why act as if a tiny number of rather sad individuals are somehow important? The KKK is a small, despised organisation, and neo-Nazism is a totally insignificant political force. But somehow, these tiny, irrelevant groups seem to have a lot of people utterly spooked. (On this subject, this short video by an African-American lady is spot-on. She reckons that the blame for the panic lies largely with . . . you guessed it . . . the media.)

A better way

charlottesville davis

In fact, there is something else that people can do. A Christian Blues musician in America, Daryl Davis, has an unusual approach. In his spare time, he befriends white supremacists. Lots of them. Hundreds. He goes to where they live. Meets them at their rallies. Dines with them in their homes. He has been meeting with white supremacists for three decades. He never tries to convert the Klansmen. He simply becomes friends with them and they give up the KKK on their own.

It’s a wonderful thing when you see a light bulb pop on in their heads or they call you and tell you they are quitting. I never set out to convert anyone in the Klan. I just set out to get an answer to my question: “How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?” I simply gave them a chance to get to know me and treat them the way I want to be treated. They come to their own conclusion that this ideology is no longer for them. I am often the impetus for coming to that conclusion and I’m very happy that some positivity has come out of my meetings and friendships with them.

Davis has been criticised by fellow blacks:

Some black people who have not heard me interviewed or read my book jump to conclusions and prejudge me … I’ve been called Uncle Tom. I’ve been called an Oreo.

I had one guy from an NAACP branch chew me up one side and down the other, saying, “you know, we’ve worked hard to get ten steps forward. Here you are sitting down with the enemy having dinner, you’re putting us twenty steps back.”

I pull out my robes and hoods and say, “look, this is what I’ve done to put a dent in racism. I’ve got robes and hoods hanging in my closet by people who’ve given up that belief because of my conversations sitting down to dinner. They gave it up. How many robes and hoods have you collected?” And then they shut up.

The politicians

It goes beyond that. I don’t expect anything in the way of responsible behaviour from the Unite the Right protesters; and I suppose that one shouldn’t expect a huge amount of responsible behaviour from the individuals who took part in the counter-protest. But I would expect a little more from the members of the Charlottesville City Council. If they had not decided to remove the statue of Robert E Lee, which had stood in Charlottesville since 1924 without doing much harm, none of this would have happened. Those who voted to remove the statue – instead of leaving well enough alone – also share responsibility for the violence.

But at every stage, somewhat did something that angered someone else, and the tension was ratcheted up, and finally spilled over into violence. And then everyone involved rushed to blame someone else. And nobody that I have heard of said “Well, I guess I am partly responsible.”

Self-righteousness

Self-righteousness exists in all of us. And the Bible tells us that Jesus was not slow to address it:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.'” (Luke 18:10-12)

We don’t tend to appreciate the illustration today, since most people tend to think of Pharisees as being nasty people. What we hear, when we hear that parable, is not what the people of Jesus’ day would been heard. The Pharisees were, in the eyes of society, good, virtuous people – and very much respected. The tax collectors were seen as corrupt. And the way that society saw them was actually pretty accurate. In terms of the way they behaved the Pharisees were good people – like the sort of people who would be members of Charlottesville City Council – and the tax collectors were, on the whole, scoundrels – like the sort of people who would be Unite the Right protesters

But we find it so difficult to see ourselves as Pharisees.

Which is why Jesus said on another occasion,

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)

Basically, it is our natural tendency to demonise our opponents, and to whitewash and excuse our own behaviour. Of course, in this case, there can be little doubt that the main responsibility for the violence belongs with those involved with the Unite the Right rally. But those who voted to remove the statue should have taken account of the fact that their action would upset some people, including some people who were prone to violence. There was a recklessness in what they did. Had they not decided to remove the statue, Heather Heyer would be alive today.

In that, by the way, there is nothing unusual. Politicians often take action with very little thought of the possible consequences. As a result, a lot of decisions taken by politicians end up achieving the opposite of what was intended. Failure to learn that lesson, and to think these things through carefully, is not just reckless, but, like reckless driving, is not acceptable. You may not have meant any harm, but if you cause harm through recklessness, you bear at least part of the blame.

Trump the Nazi?

What about the accusation that Trump is a neo-Nazi sympathiser – or at least soft on Neo-Nazism?

The simple response to that is that it is clearly total nonsense. Trump’s own statements on Charlottesville, make that clear. But there is another thing that makes it obvious that Trump has not sympathies in that direction. In 1999, Trump launched an attack on Pat Buchanan, saying among other things,’Look, he’s a Hitler lover. . . . ‘I guess he’s an anti-Semite. He doesn’t like the blacks, he doesn’t like the gays. It’s just incredible that anybody could embrace this guy.”

What Trump said about Buchanan strikes me as being complete nonsense, and to his credit, Trump did apologise to Buchanan a few years later. But I see no evidence that Trump’s basic views on prejudice against blacks, gays, and Jews have changed in the last 18 years. Trump can be faulted for many things. But being a neo-Nazi sympathiser? No. It seems to me that Trump’s views on neo-Nazism are probably much the same as those of Heather Heyer.

Very fine people

And yet, one thing that Trump said about Charlottesville was rightly criticised.

Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me, not all of those people were white supremacists. By any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E Lee, and you take a look at it, many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E Lee. So this week it’s Robert E Lee, I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down, I wonder is it George Washington next week and is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You all, you really do have to ask yourself where does it stop … You had some bad people in that group, but you also had very fine people on both sides.

Those final words are astonishing. As Congressman Julian Amash tweeted, “Very fine people” do not participate in rallies with groups chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans and displaying vile symbols of hate.”

meme charlottesville 2

I agree with Amash. I think that while both the protesters and the counter-protester were a pretty mixed bag, with some very violent people on each side – it also seems to me that many of the counter-protesters were decent, well-behaved individuals who meant well, whereas anybody who chose to take part in the Unite the Right rally had serious problems, and that Trump’s comment that some of them were “very fine people” is truly bizarre.

Which is why I didn’t say that I thought Donald Trump has got it right, but said that I thought he got it about right.

But that does not make Trump a neo-Nazi apologist or sympathiser. For a start, it seems to me that Trump’s idea of what constitutes a very fine person would not be mine. He and I have very different views about what is right and what is wrong. Not to put to fine a point on it, I suspect that Trump would set the bar for “very fine” pretty low.

But more importantly, I think that it is fair to say that Trump routinely says things that are so wildly exaggerated that that they can’t be taken too seriously. He doesn’t exactly choose his words with care. And I think that is what is going on here. In this case, he probably means that some of the people involved in the Unite the Right march were fairly harmless, law-abiding citizens.

The statue in question

Let’s get back to the root cause of the problem: the Lee statue. The statue has been there for about 100 years without causing any problems. But in the last few months, there has been a move to take down statues in public places associated with the Confederate side in the American Civil War. This move was sparked by the shooting of 9 people at a black church in Charleston, South Carolina by Dylan Roof, a young white man who had posted photos of himself on the internet posing with emblems associated with white supremacy and with photos of the Confederate battle flag.

Why, exactly, people feel that the statues need to be removed varies. Some people may think that the statues contribute to racial tension (though it seems to me that removing them probably stirs up more tension than just leaving them alone.) Others see them as intrinsically evil, and having no place in a decent society – a perspective that seems to me to be remarkably similar to that of the Taliban.

meme charlottesville

Be that as it may, I guess that if one is going to say that some responsibility for the violence lies not only with with those individuals who acted violently, but also with the organisers of the march, the organisers of the counter-protest, and the Charlottesville City Council, then one could also say that some blame must also be shared by those who put up the statue in the first place.

We learn from Wikipedia that the man responsible was Paul Goodloe McIntire, who commissioned the statue. Apparently,

McIntire was a generous philanthropist. Virginia historian Virginius Dabney notes that he gave nearly $750,000 to the University of Virginia in named gifts, in addition to gifts to the city of Charlottesville and other anonymous donations, and that by 1942 he had given away so much of his fortune that he “was struggling to live within his annuity of $6,000.” He is best remembered for his $200,000 gift establishing a school of commerce and economics, today the McIntire School of Commerce.

However, he now has the blood of Heather Heyer on his hands. After all, he didn’t have to commission that statue. Charlottesville didn’t need it. It was utterly pointless.

And, that, it seems to me, is the tragedy of this whole episode. Just as the statue was ultimately pointless, trivial, and unnecessary – so was the decision to remove it. And so was the decision to protest against its removal, and counter-protest against the protesters The whole saga is a testimony to human silliness. People got worked up about something utterly trivial, and a young woman died. And America has been talking about it all week.

(Meanwhile, almost nobody in America seems to be getting worked up about the fact that America has been aiding and abetting Saudi Arabia’s killing spree in Yemen. But that’s another story.)

Lee the racist?

lee

And then there is Robert E Lee himself, the man in the statue. Anybody who knows anything about Lee knows that he had a reputation for being one of the most honourable figures in 19th century American history, and someone who was not exactly enthusiastic about slavery.

In a letter to his wife, written a few years before the Civil War, he wrote: “In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.” Indeed, I am unaware of any statement made by Lee which shows him to hold particularly racist views.

On the other hand, if one goes through the statements of Abraham Lincoln, who, I suspect, is regarded as a hero by most of the counter-protesters, one finds such things as

“I have no purpose to introduce political and social equality between the white and black races. There is physical difference between the two which, in my judgement, will probably forever forbid their living together upon the footing of perfect equality, and inasmuch as it becomes a necessity that there must be a difference, I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favour of the race to which I belong having the superior position”?

and

“Our republican system was meant for a homogeneous people. As long as blacks continue to live with the whites they constitute a threat to the national life. Family life may also collapse and the increase of mixed breed bastards may some day challenge the supremacy of the white man.”

The heart of the matter

And with Lee and Lincoln, I think we are getting to the heart of the matter. Lee was a soldier – a man of battles. Lincoln was a politician – a man who is remembered for being the American President during the civil war. And the truth of the matter is that while there are times when soldiers start wars, or when their political influence may lead to war, the general pattern is that wars are started by politicians.

Many people have a fatalistic view of history, and believe that its conflicts were inevitable. And in particular, they think that the American Civil War was inevitable, and the only way to end slavery in America. My suspicion is that if Britain (and the rest of the western world) was able to end slavery peacefully, that it was not beyond the wit of America to do the same. Indeed, I suspect that political stubbornness and refusal to compromise, combined with clumsiness, led America into an entirely avoidable war, and the unnecessary violent deaths of over 600,000 people.

Basically, there was a ratcheting up of tension, which in the end spilled over into outright war. Both sides refused to back down. Both sides believed that they had to respond to the moves of the other side. Both sides believed that they had to be talk tough, to be tough, and to not back down.

And, it seems to me, that was basically what happened in Charlottesville. The city council started it. They meant well, but what they did was not only unnecessary, but also provocative. The organisers of the protest felt the need to respond, and to respond with a show of strength. They didn’t need to respond at all, of course, and certainly not in the way that they responded, but they wanted to. The organisers of the counter-protest likewise felt the need to respond strongly. Again, they didn’t need to do anything of the kind, and it would have been better for everyone if they hadn’t – but, it was a case of “We can’t just allow this to happen! Something must be done!” And the blood flowed. Fortunately only one person died.

People thought that what was needed was action – in other words, escalation. In actual fact, what was needed was de-escalation.

Which brings us back to the Bible – this time to the Book of Proverbs (30:33). For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.” And even if the stirring up of anger is entirely unintentional, the anger that it stirs up and the strife it produces is just as real.

Or, if one turns back a few pages (Proverbs 15:1) “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” The problem is that soft answer is seen as exactly that: soft. And softness is seen in politics as fatal.

I think that there are a few lessons here – about politics and diplomacy and words. And I don’t think they just apply to Charlottesville, and the many sides there. I think they apply to relations between nations. Including, for example, America’s relations with Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea.

Syria, chemical weapons, Seymour Hersh, and the utter dishonesty of the western media

1968 – My Lai

On 16th March, 1968, near the Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai, at least 300 (and probably over 500) unarmed Vietnamese civilians – men, women, and children – were massacred by American troops.

It took over a year for the story to make the news. That is not to say that nothing was reported. Two days after it happened, The Stars and Stripes, an American military newspaper, published a laudatory piece, entitled “U.S. troops Surrounds Red, Kill 128”. The following month, The Trident, the newsletter of the American Army’s 11th Infantry Brigade, reported that “The most punishing operations undertaken by the brigade in Operation Muscatine’s area involved three separate raids into the village and vicinity of My Lai, which cost the VC (Viet Cong) 276 killed.” In short, the U.S. Army covered up the story.

1969 – The story comes out

But information began to leak out, and on the 5th September 1969, an officer was charged with premeditated murder, and a vague press release concerning the charges was distributed. Consequently, a report on NBC on 10th September 10 mentioned the murder of a number of civilians in South Vietnam.

As a result, a soldier decided to disobey the Army’s order to withhold the information from the media. He approached a reporter who chose not to handle the scoop. Another reporter uncovered the story on his own but also decided to put it on hold. Two major national news press outlets—The New York Times and The Washington Post, received some tips with partial information but did not act on them.

On the 22nd of October someone contacted a journalist called Seymour Hersh, who investigated it. He initially tried to sell the story to Life and Look magazines; both turned it down. Hersh then went to the small Washington News Service, which sent it to 50 major American newspapers, and 30 of them accepted it for publication.

And the truth was out.

2009 – Observer profile of Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh, however didn’t stop there. An article in The Observer, published in 2009, was entitled “The man who knows too much”, which tells us that “It was Hersh who first revealed the full extent” of the torture of Iraqi prisoners by American forces at Abu Ghraib, and in Hersh’s book, Chain of Command, “it became clear that Abu Ghraib was not an “isolated incident” but, rather, a concerted attempt by the government and the military leadership to circumvent the Geneva Conventions in order to extract intelligence and quell the Iraqi insurgency.'” (Needless to say, the Pentagon denied much of what Hersh reported.)

Perhaps the most significant part of the article is this:

“What really gets Hersh going – he seems genuinely bewildered by it – is the complicit meekness, the virtual collapse, in fact, of the American press since 9/11. In particular, he disdains its failure to question the ‘evidence’ surrounding Saddam’s so-called weapons of mass destruction. ‘When I see the New York Times now, it’s so shocking to me.”

Notice that the American press largely failed to question the ‘evidence” concerning allegations that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). That suggests one of two things – a press that was gullible and naive – or a press that was basically aligned with the government’s agenda.

Interestingly, the same can be said for western media coverage of the fall of Gadaffi in Libya. The 2016 Foreign Affairs Committee report, quoting Amnesty International, said:

“much Western media coverage has from the outset presented a very one-sided view of the logic of events, portraying the protest movement as entirely peaceful and repeatedly suggesting that the regime’s security forces were unaccountably massacring unarmed demonstrators who presented no security challenge. ”

As I commented in a previous post:

“It is worth noticing that Western media were biased in exactly the same direction as their governments. That raises an interesting question: “Were Western governments unduly influenced by the biased media, or was the media coverage biased because the media did not want to be out of step with the politically powerful, or was there a general bias in Western countries which affected both media and governments? “

Seymour Hersh’s comments about the Western media in 2009 seem to dovetail with Amnesty International’s observations a few years later. Most of the media in America and Britain seem to be remarkably unwilling to question the government’s actions in the Middle East.

And that, I think, is worth noticing.

The other thing that I think needs to be noticed is that with My Lai, Saddam’s WMDs, and the torture of Iraqi prisoners – the American government, and, in particular, the American military, have shown consistently that they cannot be believed. Seymour Hersh, by contrast, proved to be a reliable source.

2014 – Hersh on Syria (1)

Which brings us to Hersh’s article “The Red Line and the Rat Line“, published in the London Review of Books in April 2014.

In August 2013, two opposition-controlled areas in the suburbs around Damascus, Syria were struck by rockets containing the chemical agent sarin. The Syrian opposition, as well as many governments, and the European Union stated the attack was carried out by forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian and Russian governments blamed the opposition for the attack, the Russian government calling the attack a false flag operation by the opposition to draw foreign powers into the civil war on the rebels’ side.

Several countries including France, the United Kingdom, and the United States debated whether to intervene militarily against Syrian government forces and, two weeks after that attack, the United States Senate filed a resolution to authorize use of military force against the Syrian military in response. However, military intervention was averted when (and this is important) the Syrian government accepted a US – Russian negotiated deal to turn over “every single bit” of its chemical weapons stockpiles for destruction and declared its intention to join the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Seymour Hersh got to work researching the story, and his article published 6 months later. He reported that British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the attack and analysis at Porton Down demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. Furthermore, British and American intelligence knew that some rebel units in Syria were developing chemical weapons, and the US Defense Intelligence Agency had issued a highly classified briefing which stated that al-Nusra (the Syrian arm of al-Qaeda, and one of the main rebel groups fighting the Syrian government) maintained a sarin production cell. And there was plenty of strong evidence which suggested that Russia was indeed correct, and that the Gouta attack was a false-flag operation designed to get western governments to attack the Syrian government.

Hersh’s report got remarkably little coverage in the mainstream western media, which seems odd since the Observer / Guardian had published a profile of Hersh 5 years earlier.  The American government issued a denial.

Hersh made a lot of interesting allegations in it, and to this day, it is difficult to know how much will turn out to be true, and how much will not. But it has, on the whole, stood up pretty well.

2017, 4th April – The Khan Shaykhun chemical attack

On 4 April 2017, a chemical attack took place on the town of Khan Shaykhun in the Idlib Governorate of Syria. At the time of the attack, the town was under the control of – yes, you’ve guessed it, al-Nusra – now renamed Tahrir al-Sham. The attack was the deadliest use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war since the Ghouta chemical attack, and at least 74 people were killed, according to the Idlib health authority. As before, most western goverments blamed the Syrian government, and the Syrians denied responsiblity. Three days later, on 7 April, the United States launched 59 cruise missiles at Shayrat Air Base, which U.S. intelligence claimed was the source of the attack.

2017, 6th April – Philip Giraldi

Even before Donald Trump launched the missile attack, doubts were being raised. Philip Giraldi – a retired CIA officer who had worked in the Middle East (and who has a PhD from the University of London), who is, in my opinion, a very credible source – gave an interview, in which he said that the narrative that Assad or Russia did it is a “sham.”

“I am hearing from sources on the ground, in the Middle East, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are all hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known — but maybe didn’t–and they’re afraid this is moving towards a situation that could easily turn into an armed conflict.

These are essentially sources that are right on top of the issue right in the Middle East. They’re people who are stationed there with the military and the Intelligence agencies that are aware and have seen the intelligence And, as I say, they are coming back to contacts over here in the US essentially that they astonished at how this is being played by the administration and by the media and in some cases people are considering going public to stop it. They’re that concerned about it, that upset by what’s going on.

. . . the intelligence indicates that it was not an attack by the Syrian government using chemical weapons… There was an attack but it was with conventional weapons–a bomb– and the bomb ignited the chemicals that were already in place that had been put in there by the terrorist group affiliated with al Qaida.

2017, 17th April – Theodore Postol

Ten days later, further serious doubts were thrown on the official American government story by Theodore Postol, Professor of Science, Technology and National Security Policy in the Program in Science, Technology, and Society at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Postol, like Giraldi, is a very credible source; MIT is the number 5 ranked university in the world, according to Time Higher Education.

Postol studied the evidence, and then said of the White House Intelligence Report,

I have reviewed the document carefully, and I believe it can be shown, without doubt, that the document does not provide any evidence whatsoever that the US government has concrete knowledge that the government of Syria was the source of the chemical attack in Khan Shaykhun, Syria at roughly 6 to 7 a.m. on April 4, 2017.

In fact, a main piece of evidence that is cited in the document points to an attack that was executed by individuals on the ground, not from an aircraft, on the morning of April 4. This conclusion is based on an assumption made by the White House when it cited the source of the sarin release and the photographs of that source. My own assessment, is that the source was very likely tampered with or staged, so no serious conclusion could be made from the photographs cited by the White House.

What I can say for sure herein is that what the country is now being told by the White House cannot be true and the fact that this information has been provided in this format raises the most serious questions about the handling of our national security.  

Postol’s contribution got almost no coverage in the mainstream media.  Again, this is slightly curious, because in 2013 the BBC carried a story about Postol, describing him as “a leading US expert on missile defence.”

2017, 25th June – Hersh on Syria (2)

In June, Hersh’s piece, Trump’s Red Line, appeared – in the German daily paper, Die Welt.

In a series of interviews, I learned of the total disconnect between the president and many of his military advisers and intelligence officials, as well as officers on the ground in the region who had an entirely different understanding of the nature of Syria’s attack on Khan Sheikhoun. I was provided with evidence of that disconnect, in the form of transcripts of real-time communications, immediately following the Syrian attack on April 4.

According to a senior adviser to the American intelligence community, who has served in senior positions in the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency,

“Russian and Syrian Air Force officers gave details of the carefully planned flight path to and from Khan Shiekhoun on April 4 directly, in English, to . . . [one of the American AWACS surveillance planes that monitor Russian and Syrian flights once airborne ], which was on patrol near the Turkish border, 60 miles or more to the north. . . .

The Syrian target at Khan Sheikhoun, as shared with the Americans at Doha, was depicted as a two-story cinder-block building in the northern part of town. Russian intelligence, which is shared when necessary with Syria and the U.S. as part of their joint fight against jihadist groups, had established that a high-level meeting of jihadist leaders was to take place in the building, including representatives of Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-affiliated group formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra. The two groups had recently joined forces, and controlled the town and surrounding area.

Russian and Syrian intelligence officials, who coordinate operations closely with the American command posts, made it clear that the planned strike on Khan Sheikhoun was special because of the high-value target. . . . The advance intelligence on the target, as supplied by the Russians, was given the highest possible score inside the American community.

This was not a chemical weapons strike,” the adviser said. “That’s a fairy tale.

The target was struck at 6:55 a.m. on April 4, just before midnight in Washington. A Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) by the U.S. military later determined that the heat and force of the 500-pound Syrian bomb triggered a series of secondary explosions that could have generated a huge toxic cloud that began to spread over the town, formed by the release of the fertilizers, disinfectants and other goods stored in the basement, its effect magnified by the dense morning air, which trapped the fumes close to the ground.

The internet swung into action within hours, and gruesome photographs of the victims flooded television networks and YouTube.

Within hours of viewing the photos, according to the special adviser who spoke to Hersh,

“Trump instructed the national defense apparatus to plan for retaliation against Syria. “He did this before he talked to anybody about it. The planners then asked the CIA and DIA if there was any evidence that Syria had sarin stored at a nearby airport or somewhere in the area. Their military had to have it somewhere in the area in order to bomb with it.” “The answer was, ‘We have no evidence that Syria had sarin or used it,’” the adviser said. “The CIA also told them that there was no residual delivery for sarin at Sheyrat [the airfield from which the Syrian SU-24 bombers had taken off on April 4] and Assad had no motive to commit political suicide.” Everyone involved, except perhaps the president, also understood that a highly skilled United Nations team had spent more than a year in the aftermath of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syria, removing what was said to be all chemical weapons from a dozen Syrian chemical weapons depots. . . “

“And yet it was impossible for the experts to persuade the president of this once he had made up his mind. “The president saw the photographs of poisoned little girls and said it was an Assad atrocity,” the senior adviser said. “It’s typical of human nature. You jump to the conclusion you want. Intelligence analysts do not argue with a president. They’re not going to tell the president, ‘if you interpret the data this way, I quit.’” “

2017, 29th June – Scott Ritter

A few days later, Scott Ritter published his thoughts. Ritter had been a US. Marine Corps intelligence officer who served in the former Soviet Union implementing arms control treaties, and who had served as a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998. Prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Ritter stated that Iraq possessed no significant weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities, and was described by the New York Times “the loudest and most credible skeptic of the Bush administration’s contention that Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.”  Ritter was, of course, to be proven to be correct.

In his article about the Khan Sheikhoun incident, Ritter discussed the two conflicting stories about what actually happened, and came to the conclusion that Hersh’s story was more likely to be correct than that of the White House.  He has expanded on that in a recent interview which can be watched on YouTube.

What do I think?

Well, every bit of evidence coming from the ground (e.g. photographs) comes from al-Qaeda affiliated groups or those approved by them.  In practice, these people have proved to be thugs who have a track record of mistreating Christians and members of other religious minorities.   In other words, the evidence from the ground is pretty much worthless.

And, to repeat myself, “with My Lai, Saddam’s WMDs, and the torture of Iraqi prisoners – the American government, and, in particular, the American military, have shown consistently that they cannot be believed. Seymour Hersh, by contrast, proved to be a reliable source.”

And I reckon the Phil Giraldi is an impeccable source, and that Theodore Postol knows what he is talking about.

And then there is the fact that a United Nations team had spent more than a year in the aftermath of an alleged sarin attack in 2013 by Syria, in an effort to remove all chemical weapons held by the Syrian government.

Everything suggests to me that it is extremely unlikely that there is any truth at all in the White House’s account.

But Khan Sheikhoun and Syria is not what this post is really about . . .

What about the media?

Perhaps the most significant part of Hersh’s June article, however, was not about what happened in Syria or in the corridors of power in America, but about the response – and in particular the response of the media – to Trump’s missile attack on Syria:

“The next few days were his most successful as president. America rallied around its commander in chief, as it always does in times of war. Trump, who had campaigned as someone who advocated making peace with Assad, was bombing Syria 11 weeks after taking office, and was hailed for doing so by Republicans, Democrats and the media alike. One prominent TV anchorman, Brian Williams of MSNBC, used the word “beautiful” to describe the images of the Tomahawks being launched at sea. Speaking on CNN, Fareed Zakaria said: “I think Donald Trump became president of the United States.” A review of the top 100 American newspapers showed that 39 of them published editorials supporting the bombing in its aftermath, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.”

And curiously, the media in America and the UK gave Hersh’s report very little publicity. And why was the report published in a German newspaper?

John Cook is a British writer and a freelance journalist based in Nazareth, before which he was a staff journalist with the Guardian. He has worked in journalism for over 20 years. In 2011, he received the Martha Gellhorn special award for journalism for his work on the Middle East.

A few days after Hersh’s piece came out, Cook wrote an article about it.

It makes very interesting reading. Here are some of key paragraphs:

“If you wish to understand the degree to which a supposedly free western media are constructing a world of half-truths and deceptions to manipulate their audiences, keeping us uninformed and docile, then there could hardly be a better case study than their treatment of Pulitzer prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.

All of these highly competitive, for-profit, scoop-seeking media outlets separately took identical decisions: first to reject Hersh’s latest investigative report, and then to studiously ignore it once it was published in Germany last Sunday. They have continued to maintain an absolute radio silence on his revelations, even as over the past few days they have given a great deal of attention to two stories on the very issue Hersh’s investigation addresses.

. . . the western media were supremely uninterested in the story. Hersh, once considered the journalist’s journalist, went hawking his investigation around the US and UK media to no avail. In the end, he could find a home for his revelations only in Germany, in the publication Welt am Sonntag. “

Glenn Greenwald, another highly respected independent journalist, says much the same as Cook: “Hersh shows how someone is marginalized for dissenting from US orthodoxy despite abundant mainstream credentials.”

Yes, the story is actually the media.

In other words, this is not so much about Syria, or Donald Trump. It is about the western media.

I’ve written on this subject before. Last November, I wrote about how the Barnabas Fund, and Amnesty International, and Patrick Cockburn, an award-winning journalist who writes in the Independent, and has been described as “the best western journalist at work in Iraq today”, spoke of how biased and one-sided most western media coverage of the Middle East is.

I think the case of Seymour Hersh and his recent work on Syria shows that the western media is not just biased and one-sided. Robert Fisk, also writing in the Independent,said:we have been lying to our readers and viewers for years “. But while Fisk, rather gently, simply said “we journalists”, Cook, more accurately I think, wrote: “every single US and UK mainstream newspaper and TV station.

“Journalists” are not quite the same as the media, and they are certainly not the same as the mainstream media. There are thousands of journalists – some more honest than others. They have different perspectives and they say different things. But when it comes to reporting on the allegations of the use of chemical weapons in Syria – and indeed most things regarding Syria and the Middle East – every single US and UK mainstream newspaper and TV station is saying the same thing.

And they are being blatantly dishonest.

The thing that brought it home to me was the fact that they all know about Hersh’s story, and yet they don’t even mention it. They go out of their way to be silent about it – even though it is vastly more important than most of the stories that they cover.

And if the media are being blatantly dishonest about the Middle East, then they will feel free to be blatantly dishonest about any subject at all.

Those who hate the light

And I am reminded of some words in John’s gospel (John 3:19-20):

“People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” 

Yes, I know that it talking about something quite different. And yet, somehow, it does seem to me to be quite an appropriate comment about the western mainstream media.