Monday, 27 January 2014

False foundation of Blair's 'religious' convictions

And so, 'Vicar Blair' has delivered another homily from his 'pulpit' at the Guardian/Observer, beseeching us to see the true, dark forces driving war, conflict and terror in the Middle East and wider world:      
The fact is that, though of course there are individual grievances or reasons for the violence in each country, there is one thing self-evidently in common: the acts of terrorism are perpetrated by people motivated by an abuse of religion. It is a perversion of faith.
No intimation here, of course, that, by far, the greatest levels of terror and violence originate in the abuse of power and perversion of office, rather than religion and faith - all helping to evade the actual truth that the worst acts of terrorism, in terms of scale, impact and inhumanity, have been perpetrated by war-seeking states and 'religiously'-driven evangelists like Blair himself.

With standard deceit, Blair also uses his Observer sermon to lament the conflict in Syria as a core problem of internal religious imbalances between Shia and Sunni, faithfully omitting the religious-sectarian agenda of his Saudi Arabian and Qatari friends, and the West's/Israel's own malevolent part in fomenting this catastrophic civil war.

Behind the sham ecumenical lines, the key target of Blair's facile piece is Islam and its 'particular' cultivation of 'terrrorist tendencies'.  Predictably, the key link between Western invasions and political radicalisation of Muslims is completely ignored. It's all just attributed to wayward religious fanaticism.

Akin to his posturings as Middle East Peace Envoy, he does include a token nod to other religious violence:
But this issue of extremism is not limited to Islam. There are also many examples the world over where Muslims are the victims of religiously motivated violence from those of other religious faiths.
What 'revelation'. Should we be astounded by this great 'admission' - or just by the kind of money he gets paid for such 'insight'?  

If in need of greater elaboration, Blair's Guardian angels, ever-welcome with their platform, provide devotional interpretation of his meaning and message.

Blair's invocation of 'good religion' rallying to combat 'bad religion' isn't just cringing rhetoric. It's a seeming intensification of his own religiously-pitched psychosis in rationalising more violence. 

Even after his zealous part in the brutal destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan, the sermonising crusader goes relentlessly on:
Such religious tolerance has to be taught and argued for. Those who oppose it have to be taken on and defeated not only by arms but by ideas.
Thus, the still-resolved missionary handing down his lofty injunction: you will be educated for your own good, whether by our righteous bombs or our ennobled words.

Given the alarming mindset of someone who, with Bush, invoked 'Christian guidance' over the 'deliverance' of Saddam, Blair's latest 'appeal' to religious tolerance and compassion suggests either a deepening descent into even starker delusion, more calculating efforts - in lieu of Chilcot's report - to whitewash his actions, or some disturbed mixture of both.

Whatever the underlying psychiatry, the Guardian has acted as a complicit, discipled liberal in hosting Blair's vacuous gospel and the crux of this shabby article, a brazen advert for Blair's 'religious' foundation.

Thus, does unctuous litany slip seamlessly into shameless self-promotion:
The answer is to promote views that are open-minded and tolerant towards those who are different, and to fight the formal, informal and internet propagation of closed-minded intolerance. In the 21st century, education is a security issue. For that reason, when I left office, and in part based on my experience post-9/11 of how countries whose people were freed from dictatorship have then had democratic aspirations thwarted by religious extremism, I established a foundation whose aim is to promote greater knowledge and understanding between people of different faiths....The foundation is now active in more than 20 countries, including some of those most affected by sectarianism, with a multimillion-pound budget, full-time and part-time staff, and expanding rapidly. 
A nice 'moral' earner to sanctify his multiple other mammonic urges, corporate dealings and shady payola.

Suffice to say, any associating body - faith-based, academic or otherwise - participating in or accepting funding from this spurious front organisation is, in effect, a 'holy' accomplice to Blair's murderous criminality.

Meanwhile, highest praise to the real humanitarian impulses of one Twiggy Garcia for endeavouring a citizen's arrest of Blair.

Hopefully, one day soon, we may be giving thanks over Blair's criminal conviction rather than cravenly indulging his 'religious' ones.

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

The Gatekeepers - a 'confessional' film still evading the truth

The Gatekeepers, a film by Israeli director Dror Moreh, provides some fascinating insights into the dark working of Israel's internal intelligence agency, the Shin Bet.

It's also a disturbingly deluded exercise in rationalising Israel's military prowess and the brutal occupation of an always subserviently-portrayed Palestinian people.  

Six former Shin Bet heads - Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter and Yuval Diskin - speak for the first time about their experiences, expressing cold self-recognition of their considerable powers and where they believe the state of Israel has 'gone wrong'.

The seeming concern is to help expedite an end to the Occupation, but the base motive behind all these reflections and revelations is more specifically to save Israel, rather than liberate Palestine. 

Despite the inclusion of some fine archival footage, the film's historical sequences provide little honest, searching explanation of Palestinian displacement and suffering, focusing, rather, on the ex-leaders' comprehensions of the 'Palestinian problem'. 

Thus, Diskin describes his formative fears and motivations after reading a Zionist-prescribed book, and his dreaded possibility of Israel being 'taken over' by Arabs. 

Peri also relates how he and other dedicated Shin Bet agents made it their early business to understand common Arabic language and text, in order, as they saw it, to be 'inside' the Palestinian mindset.

One can see here some genuine sense these figures may have had in witnessing and 'being part' of that 'integral' landscape, even as occupying soldiers.

But the predominant motivation was always to serve the Israeli state, and, in that endeavour, to fight 'terrorism', a term and task which resonates throughout the entire film. 

Never is there any serious acknowledgement that this is, primarily, a process of legitimate resistance, a basic struggle for human liberation and justice.

The gatekeepers' defining context, and that of the film, deals in the symptoms of the 'conflict' - from suicide bombings to Palestinians' incarceration - rather than the principal causes, namely the illegality of the Occupation and an all-consuming state-militarism that's been developed to enforce it.

At no point is there any authentic discussion of Palestinians as, first and foremost, a people, a population, a set of equal human beings.

We hear candid recollections from Gillon and others on the brutal arrests, systematic torture, enforced collaborations and other coercive techniques, all, in itself, considerable testament to understanding the deviant extent of state actions and dark psychology of these directors.

Some also reflect openly on the 'grey area' between seeking high political approval for extra-judicial killing of Arabs and the 'strategic' process of making that decision on their own. 

When Shalom is questioned on the morality of such unlawful killing he replies: "With terrorism there is no morals."

Having 'done their dirty work', there's also a sense of discontent within the Shin Bet at being 'abandoned' at certain points by expedient politicians - part of the repeated sentiment about the organisation's 'duty', 'integrity' and 'esprit de corps'.

Charting the 'peace process', we hear of a certain faith and hope in the Rabin leadership, the seeming inevitability of his execution amid the heightened Oslo dealings, and the 'lowest depths' within the Shin Bet over its 'failure' to prevent suicide bombings and Rabin's assassination.

The aftermath of bus bombings in Israel features consistently, with the directors recalling their resolve for harsh 'responses'. Yet, nowhere are Palestinian voices permitted proper contextual comment over the attacks. Repeated, menacing footage of armed and masked Hamas fighters reinforces the central concern of the film: how to confront the 'perennial threat to Israel's security'.       

An account of Shin Bet intelligence leading to the apprehension of Zionist bomb plotters is offered as additional 'evidence' of the organisation's 'noble' bona fides in maintaining public security.

We hear revelations that such zealots were preparing a crazed attack on Temple Mount, that the plotters had key access to top figures in the Israeli establishment, and that most were granted paltry sentences and gracious rewards after being caught and convicted.

We're also told how the Shin Bet intervened to temper zealot settlers and rabbis as the political temperature rose in lieu of the attack on Rabin. The incendiary roles of Sharon and Netanyahu in promoting this and other key violence is critically intimated.    

Yet, such 'worried vigilance' and the deep loss some of these intelligence heads felt over Rabin's killing merely confirms their view of Israel itself as a 'benign' state, and how that 'legitimate' entity has now been 'infested' by rightist forces.

Rabin's assassin, in this view, is castigated as a "punk" who has wrecked the peace process, while the state, the Zionist project itself, is somehow beyond any such critical examination or fundamental blame.

In essence, it's an inward-looking narrative on 'what we have become', rather than what illicit monster 'we actually created' in stealing another people's land.

More accounts follow of the proud intel crafted to murder revered Palestinian leaders - again, always posed as a virulent threat. Asked about the overall effects of such acts, there's admission that Israeli state violence may only induce greater hatred and violent resistance, but the imperative of maintaining a higher capacity for violent control must still prevail.

Dichter, thus, talks in proud, smirking terms about the 'logistics' of dropping an enormous bomb on the populous middle of Gaza in order to decimate the Hamas leadership, and the 'collateral damage' resulting, as though it were primarily a technical task rather than a murderous annihilation.

One can but imagine any similar film commentary from Hamas figures on planning such attacks on the Israeli leadership.

Some other Shin Bet leaders deliberate, finally, on Hannah Arendt's concept "the banality of evil", and the perceived irrationality of Israel killing so many civilians in pursuit of 'selected terrorists'.

Yet, even this criticism helps cement the false discourse of 'mistaken tactics'. For, as seen during the mass bombing of Gaza in 2008/9, Israel's modus operandi has been to kill as many civilians as possible in deliberate shows of terror and strength. 

Ultimately, there's broad consensus amongst the film's participants that Israel must end the Occupation and talk to the Palestinians, even engage its deepest foes.

There's even firm agreement from one director that, as forecast long ago by Professor Liebowitz, an esteemed opponent of the Occupation, Israel has, in fact, become a "Shin Bet state" due to its cruel oppressions.

Showing images of Israeli forces raiding a Palestinian home in the middle of the night, there's further admission of the brutality and fear: "It's not easy. You see the family suffering", Ayalon says, adding, "and when you retire, you become a bit of a leftist".

Gillon admits that "we" are making the lives of millions of Palestinians "unbearable" - "It kills me".
Comparing, in certain ways, the treatment of Palestinians to that suffered by various European states at the hands of the Nazis, Shalom more boldly concludes: "We've become cruel...mainly to the occupied population."

It all seems like a collective admission of failure and guilt, the 'great Zionist goal' deeply compromised.

Yet, what's never truly addressed by any of these men is the primary crime of Palestinian expulsion and persecution - not just from 1967 or 1973, but from 1948.

The Nakba is never actually mentioned, nor the crucial words 'ethnic cleansing'. The systematic imprisonment of Gaza and colonisation of the West Bank are treated, rather, as a 'problem of containment', a 'game-theory' discussion on the case for or against violent supremacy. 

Ultimately, while shedding considerable insight, this movie leaves one feeling a sense of bleak despair over the 'regretful' yet still calculating mindset of such figures. Their apparently open admissions still negate any deeper search for catharsis or redemption.

The Gatekeepers remains a fascinating, clinical and chilling portrayal of what people in positions of military and political power can do to the powerless.

But, as with much other Zionist 'docu-self-examination', it's an inward-gazing exercise in self-denial, serving the convenient establishment image of Israel as an 'open, soul-searching and accountable society'.

Indeed, for some Israeli diplomats, Moreh's production is "proof of the highest order of Israeli democracy", and "a powerful film that brings viewers into confrontation with the political-security dilemmas Israel faces". [My emphasis.]

That's the deeply-loaded context and ersatz discussion this film is most likely to elicit. 

As with the sham politics that's continually pitched as a 'peace process', so much of this 'brave engagement' and 'tortured dilemma' permits just another system-serving layer of diversion, evasion and normalization.

Monday, 6 January 2014

PJ Harvey's Today edit - what's in it for the BBC?

PJ Harvey's guest editorship of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme on 2 January provided a energising New Year antidote to what relentlessly passes for BBC news and commentary.

Alongside fine input from John Rees, Phil Shiner and Ian Cobain, Harvey included particularly brilliant contributions from John Pilger on the state-corporate media's servicing of Western warmongering, and damning historical detail from Mark Curtis on Britain's imperialist crimes.

Harvey's invitation and selected features brought predictable right-wing reaction, including a savaging from the Telegraph and Daily Mail, with the latter's Stephen Glover asserting over Julian Assange's inclusion:
For the BBC to give airtime to such a grubby man is both cringe making and unpatriotic.
There was also much derisory flak from establishment liberals like David Aaronovitch, who tweeted:
I think that the editors of @BBCr4today must know how dreadful that programme was. What next? Freddie Forsyth?
In contrast, much of the wider liberal media applauded both Today and Harvey's 'fresh approach'. Seemingly incredulous, former-Newsnight editor Paul Mason even tweeted:
 Brilliant @PJHarveyUK edition of @BBCr4today demonstrating difference between "truth" and "editorial policy" - amazing how weird it feels
Miranda Sawyer at the Guardian also lauded Harvey's "exhilirating" editorship, yet, in typical Guardian garb, balked at certain voices and tones:
"[It]could have done without WikiLeaks' Julian Assange preaching about openness of information. John Pilger, whose documentaries I admire, was a bit ranty."
What Sawyer called "solo pontification slots" seemed nothing of the kind to this listener. Yet, such is the limitation of what even supportive liberal commentators can stomach when it comes to those more darkly-maligned announcers of vital truths.

Soaring high above all this flak and qualified commendation, it was, thus, a delight to read Joyce McMillan's more acute observations, not only concerning the content of Harvey's edit, but the implications of the rumpus:
The row over Harvey’s edition of Today is likely, of course, to be little more than a brief storm in a media teacup. Yet it comes as a sharp reminder that what was once a normal left-of-centre agenda in Britain has now become so exotic that people react to its presence on Radio 4 with various degrees of shock. Most of the points made by Harvey’s contributors may have been accurate, truthful and based on fact. But, in terms of contemporary British political debate, they nonetheless remain marginal, because they are not part of the dominant grand narrative of our time, which requires constant deference to the priorities of rich so-called “wealth creators”, and a rapid refocusing of any popular anger towards other vulnerable groups, such as this New Year’s imaginary tidal wave of new migrants from Romania and Bulgaria.
McMillan continued:
The great political question of our time, in other words – in the UK and across the West – is whether any political force will emerge, in the 21st century, that seriously challenges this dominant narrative; or whether we are now trapped by an account of reality so far adrift of the truth, and so rarely challenged, that a long age of social, moral and intellectual decline seems almost inevitable.
And, with timely reference to the coming independence poll in Scotland:  
It is a damning indictment of the current state of British politics – and particularly of the recent history of the Labour Party – that it takes a rock star to create a Today programme that seriously challenges and shifts the conventional news agenda.

Nor is it surprising that many centre-Left voters in Scotland are looking to [this] year’s independence referendum as a unique and vital opportunity to escape from this stale and ugly politics of reaction, and to start reinventing a more just and creative form of national community for the 21st century.
But what of the BBC's own apparent motives in all of this? While the 'PJ show' had the twittersphere and wider social media buzzing with approval and disapproval, the question never seriously asked was what point may be been served here for the BBC in allowing such output?

The effective absence of this question in itself says much about the passive ways in which the issue of alternative media comment is contextualised and treated by right-wing and liberal observers alike. Thus, the guest editor and her content may all be subject to lively scrutiny, while the legitimising factors underlying the BBC's hosting of it is never coherently addressed.
So, beyond indignant Daily Mailers spluttering into their morning cornflakes, and assorted liberals approving the BBC's 'editorial daring', what's in it for the BBC?               

Most immediately, this kind of 'deviation' gives such programmes a certain 'edgy topicality'. As with Newsnight's recent dalliance with Russell Brand, and Question Time's occasional invite to the likes of George Galloway, even the 'ever-reliable' and sober Today slot has to angle for viewer interest and ratings in a now highly competitive and picky media market.

More crucially, such invitation allows the vital fig-leaf function of saying: 'look, we carry a wide plurality of views, even radical ones like this.'
Of course, as the Today guest list indicates, the dominant presence of those like Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, and Antony Jenkins, head of Barclays, means the weight of those views is always safely managed.
But what of the elasticity of such critical comment?  Could it ever stretch to allow any specific suggestion, discussion or critique on the Today slot about that very programme's fig-leaf inclusion of people like PJ Harvey?

Pilger's piece on media bias certainly included a direct hit by name on the BBC. Yet, as with so much 'risky' guest appearance, Today and other such outlets would likely avoid any deeper scrutiny of its own in-house motives.    

This rare BBC 'concession' over content also helps amplify the notion that, while such output can be aired, it should always be regarded as alternatively marginal.

This was consistently inferred throughout the programme, with reminders from lead presenter Sarah Montague of Harvey's guest status and desire to 'bring something different'.  

Thus, even this 'mature editorial permission' helps reinforce the 'higher' ideal of 'BBC continuity', while 'acknowledging' the viewer-friendly need for 'experiment and variety'.

Even though so many have expressed their appreciation of Harvey's vigorous edit and comment pieces, normal BBC service has been safely resumed.

Indeed, in the name of BBC 'balance', it was notable that Today deemed it necessary to carry numerous 'fair responses' to the claims made by Rees, Shiner, Cobain, Pilger and Curtis over Iraq war deaths, arms supplies and British torture. This included replies from BAE, Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics, and former Iraqi national security adviser Mowaffak Al Rubaie, the man who led Saddam to the gallows
With a public so already bombarded by establishment-sided news, such 'balancing opinion' was akin to calling (as the BBC dutifully does) the relentless Israeli bombing of Gaza 'retaliatory responses'.
As with the wide and subversive discussion of liberal parliamentary democracy that followed Russell Brand's Newsnight appearance, PJ Harvey's editorship of Today has elicited a welcome, deeper questioning of both elite-fed and media-supported 'truth'. 
Let's hope that wherever else such invitations occur, the critical focus is not only on the loaded establishment message but the particular, crafted posturing of the BBC as 'impartial' host and 'open' messenger.