A voice for the voiceless
These are dark times indeed, and Pilger’s latest addition to the ensemble, Fire next time, is a courageous exposure of the crimes and double standards of empire in five countries.
Pilger himself says in his opening paragraph, “This book is about empire, its facades and the enduring struggle of people for their freedom. It offers an antidote to authorised versions of contemporary history that censor by omission and impose double standards.”
Chagossian’s, Palestinians, Afghans, South Africans and Indians are the voiceless given a voice.
Chagossians? The media, especially TV, has largely failed to report Britain’s forced depopulation of the Chagos islands (including Diego Garcia, now a US military base), which must count as one of the great state propaganda triumphs in recent history. “What upsets you most?” Pilger asks Olivier Bancoult, the Chagossian’s leader in exile. “The lie that we didn’t exist,” he replies.
A secret document drawn up by British planners in 1968 was called “maintaining the fiction”, and argued that the islanders were not permanent inhabitants.
Yet “maintaining the fiction” also nicely describes Britain’s current stance in the Middle East, the subject of another chapter in the book, where the official story is that Britain is an “honest broker” between Israel and Palestine. The reality is that Britain has provided more than $70mn in military equipment to Israel in the past five years, acts as Israel’s chief defender in the EU and virtually never even calls for an end to the occupation of Palestine.
Pilger’s interviews with Palestinians are among the most moving in the book, such as with Liana Badr, the director of the Palestinian Cultural Centre, just after it has been hideously destroyed by Israeli soldiers. “We have been raped; and all the while, the perpetrators are crying that they are victims,” she says.
Then there’s the “authorised version” of reality in South Africa since the end of apartheid. “The unspoken deal,” Pilger writes, “was that whites would retain economic control in exchange for black majority rule.” Thus secret meetings were held in Britain before 1994 between the current president, Thabo Mbeki, members of the white Afrikaner elite and companies with big commercial stakes in the country. Nelson Mandela told Pilger: “We do not want to change big business that can take flight and take away their money. You can call it Thatcherite but, for this country, privatisation is the fundamental policy.”
Pilger is virtually alone in daring to expose the “ambiguity of Mandela” himself. Though recognising Mandela’s role in alerting the world to the dangers of the British administration, Pilger writes that “as the first president, he ordered a ridiculous and bloody invasion of tiny Lesotho… He recognised the brutal Burmese junta as a legitimate government.”
In some of Pilger’s other interviews, such as those with Bush administration officials John Bolton and Douglas Feith, the absurdity of modern imperialism stands out. Bolton was described by US Senator Jesse Helms as “the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon”. Feith meanwhile is described by General Tommy Franks, the US commander in Iraq, as “the fucking stupidest guy on the face of the earth”.
There’s more, much more, that allows the reader to view the personal testimonies of those challenging power in an age of rampant globalisation. The array of interviews with the voiceless and abused provides an indispensable corrective to the litany of disinformation we are fed by the media.
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