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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Waking up is hard to do

I've hesitated for a couple of weeks about writing this. I'm reluctant to say much about a subject on which I'm not an expert and of which I have no first-hand experience. On the other hand, I do have a lot of first-hand experience of Western mass media propaganda techniques, having been subjected to them all my life, so that's what I'm mostly writing about. I finally decided to put something on virtual paper when my initial suspicions started turning out to be correct.

I was deeply suspicious from the start of the media coverage of the popular uprisings in North Africa. Western media are not well known for their sympathy for protest or support for Third World democracy - unless it suits their particular purposes. The liberal press in particular were overwhelmingly effusive in their support for the protests in Egypt and other North African nation-states. What is it about this phenomenon that leads the media to spin it in this particular way, rather than, for example, describing the protesters as rebels or insurgents, describing the violence as a morally intractable conflict rather than a clear case of one group being oppressed by another, or ignoring the protests and ensuing human rights abuses altogether? All of these tactics have been used in other situations which were broadly morally equivalent and of comparable importance.

It is also important to remember the medium-term historical background. Since the period of decolonisation, the Western powers have consistently supported violent repressive states and actively and violently undermined Third World democratic movements. The US in particular, as has frequently been stated by people like Chomsky, have consistently used proxy or direct violence to undermine any decolonising nation-state that tries to set up a welfare system or to keep the profits of resource exploitation. Despite this, we have seen in the past fortnight commentary in the liberal press explicitly expressing complete faith in the US government's commitment to grassroots democracy and ruminating about the benevolent superpower's options about how best to facilitate it in this case.

This is nauseating hypocrisy bordering on outright historical lying. But what is it all about? My interpretation right from the start has been that the media are building the propaganda foundations for a Western-corporate military occupation of the whole of North Africa based on the golden opportunity provided by the uprisings. The first stage has been to continually and prominently report and support the uprisings - and who could disagree with that? The sympathy created among the liberal readership can now be steered in the direction of military occupation.

The next step was taken last week when the UN called for a no-fly zone in Libya. Very well - who could question the benevolence of protecting the population from airborne violence? But no-fly zones have to be enforced. There was a curious silence about who would do this. At the same time NATO issued the predictably sinister (and self-contradictory) denial that it was considering military force - a way of introducing the possibility into the argument, in fact more or less equivalent to a statement that it does intend to use military force. Now the US government has announced that they are considering it, which was not much of a surprise.

Corporations like mercenary contractor Blackwater, arms dealers, Halliburton - who are siphoning off billions from the Iraq 'reconstruction' - and resource extraction interests must be salivating over the disorder in North Africa and the opportunities it presents them: arms sales, mercenary 'security' contracting, rebuilding of infrastructure once the military have destroyed it, multinational corporate control of resources, privatisation of public services... it is a historic moment of opportunity which they are unlikely to have overlooked.

Perhaps equally important, the alternative is too dangerous to contemplate - a politically moderate, integrated North African economic (and military?) region with nationalised industries and some kind of welfare state systems. Such an outcome would create an undesirable counterweight of stability to the US and their allies' apparent determination to reduce everything to the use of violent force - with which they have so far presumed they can conquer at will. Not only that, it would force Israel to do what is in the interests not only of Palestinians in the occupied territories but also of Israelis: retreat to its legally established borders and integrate peacefully into the region, thereby negating its strategic value to the US as a stick to stir up the Middle East.

It is utterly naive to think that these obvious conclusions have not occurred to the US strategic planners and military-industrial complex. The horrible example of the 20-year devastation of Iraq, one of the greatest and most cynical crimes in human history, should prove this beyond any doubt. But the question of whether the public in the UK will be lied and smarmed into supporting military occupation in North Africa depends on whether they are self-reliant enough to see how the propaganda system works and where it is currently leading. I still remember people expressing support for, or at least equivocation over, the invasion of Iraq on the grounds of 'human rights'. Unless they have selectively forgotten this, I hope they now realise that they were wrong, and how and why they were led to such a preposterous position.

More importantly I hope that they will draw the necessary conclusion from their disastrous mistake - that the liberal media, far from being an objective source of information about reality, are an increasingly sophisticated propaganda machine that is playing a major role in taking the world in an extremely dangerous direction. And, finally, I hope that enough people are prepared this time to take the necessary (relatively minor) risks to themselves to engage in effective rather than merely symbolic resistance to another imperial war.