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Monday, July 30, 2007

Are the unions in crisis? by Graham Matthews

On July 23, the Australian published extracts from a leaked internal Australian Council of Trade Unions report that described unionisation in the private sector as being at “crisis levels”. The report, authored by ACTU assistant secretary Chris Walton, warns unions against any expectation of a “golden age” should Labor be elected at the forthcoming federal election, and proposes continuation of a levy on all members to build a war chest with which to rebuild the movement.

The ACTU report estimates that union membership is at 15.2% in the private sector and warns unions against expectations that a federal Labor government would re-regulate the labour market. “There will be no return of closed shop, secondary boycotts or compulsory arbitration”, the Australian quoted the report as saying. “We still face decentralised bargaining, employer hostility and international competition. Our industries and sectors will continue to change, and the workforce trends towards casual and part-time work do not look likely to reverse.” The ACTU’s sober internal assessment of the promise of a returned Labor government contrasts starkly with its resolutely uncritical attitude to Labor in public. The ACTU has taken every sell-out by Kevin Rudd of Labor’s industrial platform in its stride — from restrictions on the right to strike, to bans on pattern bargaining, to Labor’s promise to keep the draconian Australian Building and Construction Commission and allow individual contracts (AWAs) to run to 2013. In a statement released during the ALP national conference on April 28, the ACTU’s president, Sharan Burrow, said: “The industrial relations policy announced by Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard today will give great hope to working families because it means that under a Labor Government basic rights at work will be protected.”

This was despite the ALP’s refusal to commit to the complete reversal of PM John Howard’s Work Choices laws. Rather than fight for the removal of legal proscriptions on union activity such as solidarity actions (so-called secondary boycotts), industry-wide bargaining or the right to strike, the ACTU leadership is in fact arguing that unions need to adapt to changed circumstances, including to greater casualisation of the work force. In 1986, union membership nationally stood at 45.6%. By 2006, the rate of union coverage had more than halved to 20.3%, although as a result of an increase of almost 3 million in the work force, the number of unionised workers still remains significant at 1,786,000 according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). However it is a fact that the rate of union coverage of the work force has declined sharply. The reasons for the relative decline of union membership over the last 20 years or more must be found in social and political factors.

The most catastrophic fall in union coverage occurred during the years of the Hawke and Keating governments (1983-96). Under the Prices and Incomes Accord that began after Labor PM Bob Hawke took power in 1983, real wages fell by up to 28% and the profit share of the economy ballooned. The union movement was firmly tied into the central wage-fixing system and unions that attempted to campaign for a better deal for their members (notably the Builders Labourers Federation and the Australian Federation of Air Pilots) were smashed by the federal government. By the election of the Howard government in 1996, union membership had declined to 31%. The Hawke and Keating governments also presided over an extensive restructuring and deregulation of industry. Large numbers of jobs were lost in manufacturing, and casualisation and the number of part-time jobs increased massively. The part-time portion of the work force grew from 17.3% in 1984 to 24.7% in 1996. The proportion has continued to grow under the Howard government — to 28.5% by 2005. Unionisation among part-time workers — many of whom work in the service and retail industries — is low. In 2006 it was only 15.5% according to the ABS, considerably below that of full-time workers.

In many cases the union movement has failed to make union membership attractive to this growing part-time work force and has been unable to stem the tide of casualisation, leaving much of this work force unorganised. A notable exception is the work done by the Liquor, Hospitality and Miscellaneous Union among cleaners with its Clean Start campaign, which takes up the cause of the lowest paid. Similarly, unions such as the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union have successfully campaigned for the rights of casual workers — winning some increases in casual loadings and the right for casual workers to convert to permanent work after a set period of employment. The proportion of the work force employed in better-organised manufacturing industries has also rapidly declined since the mid ’80s.

The proportion of the work force employed in manufacturing industries fell from 17.8% in 1984 to 11.5% in 2005, while those employed in the less organised service sector grew substantially. The Accord years led to a serious decline in the combativity of the union movement as measured by working days lost to strike action, illustrating a move away from a more militant unionism that fights for members’ wages and conditions, to one that relies more on arbitration and other legal processes. Statistically, the decline in days lost mirrors the decline in union membership, falling from 269 days per 1000 employees in 1988 to 28.8 days per 1000 workers in 2005. Nevertheless, the union movement, although weakened by 13 years of Accord politics and 11 years of Coalition attacks, continues to exert a large influence. Despite the Howard government’s claims that unions are irrelevant to workers, since its election in 1996 it has gone out of its way to try to push them out of the workplace.

The Howard government has wanted to nobble the union movement, through the introduction of Work Choices and the liberalisation of AWAs in particular, in an effort to practically exclude unions from the workplace. The unions that have taken up the fight against the government and defended their members’ rights most energetically in this period have grown in strength and size. The success of the Your Rights at Work campaign in mobilising hundreds of thousands of workers for every rally staged since June 2005 demonstrates that unions still hold broad appeal for working people and retain a level of organisational strength.

There is, however, an underlying truth in the warning that Walton made in his leaked ACTU document about declining union influence, though perhaps not exactly as he intended it. Whichever major party wins the next federal election, the union movement faces a struggle if it is to retain and build its strength. The corporate, ALP-backed model of unionism fashioned during the Accord years has only led to decline and weakness. If the movement is to regain its lost size and influence, a more militant and more responsive model, championed by a range of newer union leaderships nationally, has to be generalised.

From: Comment & Analysis, Green Left Weekly issue #719 1 August 2007.

How truth slips down the memory hole by John Pilger

In his latest article for the New Statesman, John Pilger applies to current events Orwell's description in '1984' of how the Ministry of Truth consigned embarrassing truth to a memory hole. He highlights the killing of a Palestinean cameraman by the Israelis as an example of how "we" are trained to look on the rest of the world as quite unlike ourselves: useful or expendable.

One of the leaders of demonstrations in Gaza calling for the release of the BBC reporter Alan Johnston was a Palestinian news cameraman, Imad Ghanem. On 5 July, he was shot by Israeli soldiers as he filmed them invading Gaza. A Reuters video shows bullets hitting his body as he lay on the ground. An ambulance trying to reach him was also attacked. The Israelis described him as a "legitimate target". The International Federation of Journalists called the shooting "a vicious and brutal example of deliberate targeting of a journalist". At the age of 21, he has had both legs amputated.Dr David Halpin, a British trauma surgeon who works with Palestinian children, emailed the BBC’s Middle East editor, Jeremy Bowen. "The BBC should report the alleged details about the shooting," he wrote. "It should honour Alan [Johnston] as a journalist by reporting the facts, uncomfortable as they might be to Israel."He received no reply.The atrocity was reported in two sentences on the BBC online. Along with 11 Palestinian civilians killed by the Israelis on the same day, Alan Johnston’s now legless champion slipped into what George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four called the memory hole. (It was Winston Smith’s job at the Ministry of Truth to make disappear all facts embarrassing to Big Brother.)While Alan Johnston was being held, I was asked by the BBC World Service if I would say a few words of support for him. I readily agreed, and suggested I also mention the thousands of Palestinians abducted and held hostage. The answer was a polite no; and all the other hostages remained in the memory hole. Or, as Harold Pinter wrote of such unmentionables: "It never happened. Nothing ever happened... It didn’t matter. It was of no interest."The media wailing over the BBC’s royal photo-shoot fiasco and assorted misdemeanours provide the perfect straw man.

They complement a self-serving BBC internal inquiry into news bias, which dutifully supplied the right-wing Daily Mail with hoary grist that the corporation is a left-wing plot. Such shenanigans would be funny were it not for the true story behind the facade of elite propaganda that presents humanity as useful or expendable, worthy or unworthy, and the Middle East as the Anglo-American crime that never happened, didn’t matter, was of no interest.The other day, I turned on the BBC's Radio 4 and heard a cut-glass voice announce a programme about Iraqi interpreters working for "the British coalition forces" and warning that "listeners might find certain descriptions of violence disturbing". Not a word referred to those of "us" directly and ultimately responsible for the violence. The programme was called Face the Facts. Is satire that dead? Not yet.
The Murdoch columnist David Aaronovitch, a warmonger, is to interview Blair in the BBC's "major retrospective" of the sociopath’s rule.Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four lexicon of opposites pervades almost everything we see, hear and read now. The invaders and destroyers are "the British coalition forces", surely as benign as that British institution, St John Ambulance, who are "bringing democracy" to Iraq. BBC television describes Israel as having "two hostile Palestinian entities on its borders", neatly inverting the truth that Israel is actually inside Palestinian borders. A study by Glasgow University says that young British viewers of TV news believe Israelis illegally colonising Palestinian land are Palestinians: the victims are the invaders.
"The great crimes against most of humanity", wrote the American cultural critic James Petras, "are justified by a corrosive debasement of language and thought... [that] have fabricated a linguistic world of terror, of demons and saviours, of axes of good and evil, of euphemisms" designed to disguise a state terror that is "a gross perversion" of democracy, liberation, reform, justice. In his reinauguration speech, George Bush mentioned all these words, whose meaning, for him, is the dictionary opposite.

It is 80 years since Edward Bernays, the father of public relations, predicted a pervasive "invisible government" of corporate spin, suppression and silence as the true ruling power in the United States. That is true today on both sides of the Atlantic. How else could America and Britain go on such a spree of death and mayhem on the basis of stupendous lies about non-existent weapons of mass destruction, even a "mushroom cloud over New York"? When the BBC radio reporter Andrew Gilligan reported the truth, he was pilloried and sacked along with the BBC's director general, while Blair, the proven liar, was protected by the liberal wing of the media and given a standing ovation in parliament.

The same is happening again over Iran, distracted, it is hoped, by spin that the new Foreign Secretary David Miliband is a "sceptic" about the crime in Iraq when, in fact, he has been an accomplice, and by unctuous Kennedy-quoting Foreign Office propaganda about Miliband's "new world order".

"What do you think of Iran's complicity in attacks on British soldiers in Basra?" Miliband was asked by the Financial Times.

Miliband: "Well, I think that any evidence of Iranian engagement there is to be deplored. I think that we need regional players to be supporting stability, not fomenting discord, never mind death..."

FT: "Just to be clear, there is evidence?"

Miliband: "Well no, I chose my words carefully..."

The coming war on Iran, including the possibility of a nuclear attack, has already begun as a war by journalism. Count the number of times "nuclear weapons programme" and "nuclear threat" are spoken and written, yet neither exists, says the International Atomic Energy Agency. On 21 June, the New York Times went further and advertised an "urgent" poll, headed: "Should we bomb Iran?" The questions beneath referred to Iran being "a greater threat than Saddam Hussein" and asked: "Who should undertake military action against Iran first... ?" The choice was "US. Israel. Neither country".

So tick your favourite bombers.

The last British war to be fought without censorship and "embedded" journalists was the Crimea a century and a half ago. The bloodbath of the First World War and the Cold War might never have happened without their unpaid (and paid) propagandists. Today's invisible government is no less served, especially by those who censor by omission. The craven liberal campaign against the first real hope for the poor of Venezuela is a striking example.

However, there are major differences. Official disinformation now is often aimed at a critical public intelligence, a growing awareness in spite of the media. This "threat" from a public often held in contempt has been met by the insidious transfer of much of journalism to public relations. Some years ago, PR Week estimated that the amount of "PR-generated material" in the media is "50 per cent in a broadsheet newspaper in every section apart from sport. In the local press and the mid-market and tabloid nationals, the figure would undoubtedly be higher. Music and fashion journalists and PRs work hand in hand in the editorial process... PRs provide fodder, but the clever high-powered ones do a lot of the journalists' thinking for them."

This is known today as "perception management". The most powerful are not the Max Cliffords but huge corporations such as Hill & Knowlton, which "sold" the slaughter known as the first Gulf war, and the Sawyer Miller Group, which sold hated, pro-Washington regimes in Colombia and Bolivia and whose operatives included Mark Malloch Brown, the new Foreign Office minister, currently being spun as anti-Washington. Hundreds of millions of dollars go to corporations spinning the carnage in Iraq as a sectarian war and covering up the truth: that an atrocious invasion is pinned down by a successful resistance while the oil is looted.

The other major difference today is the abdication of cultural forces that once provided dissent outside journalism. Their silence has been devastating. "For almost the first time in two centuries," wrote the literary and cultural critic Terry Eagleton, "there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life." The lone, honourable exception is Harold Pinter. Eagleton listed writers and playwrights who once promised dissent and satire and instead became rich celebrities, ending the legacy of Shelley and Blake, Carlyle and Ruskin, Morris and Wilde, Wells and Shaw.

He singled out Martin Amis, a writer given tombstones of column inches in which to air his pretensions, along with his attacks on Muslims. The following is from a recent article by Amis:
Tony strolled over [to me] and said, "What have you been up to today?" "I've been feeling protective of my prime minister, since you ask." For some reason our acquaintanceship, at least on my part, is becoming mildly but deplorably flirtatious.

What these elite, embedded voices share is their participation in an essentially class war, the long war of the rich against the poor. That they play their part in a broadcasting studio or in the clubbable pages of the review sections and that they think of themselves as liberals or conservatives is neither here nor there. They belong to the same crusade, waging the same battle for their enduring privilege.

In The Serpent, Marc Karlin's dreamlike film about Rupert Murdoch, the narrator describes how easily Murdochism came to dominate the media and coerce the industry's liberal elite. There are clips from a keynote address that Murdoch gave at the Edinburgh Television Festival. The camera pans across the audience of TV executives, who listen in respectful silence as Murdoch flagellates them for suppressing the true voice of the people. They then applaud him. "This is the silence of the democrats," says the voice-over, "and the Dark Prince could bath in their silence."

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The invisible government, a speech by John Pilger delivered at the Chicago Socialism 2007 Conference on June 16 2007

In this Chicago speech, John Pilger describes how propaganda has become such a potent force in our lives and, in the words of one of its founders, represents 'an invisible government'.

The title of this talk is Freedom Next Time, which is the title of my book, and the book is meant as an antidote to the propaganda that is so often disguised as journalism. So I thought I would talk today about journalism, about war by journalism, propaganda, and silence, and how that silence might be broken. Edward Bernays, the so-called father of public relations, wrote about an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. He was referring to journalism, the media. That was almost 80 years ago, not long after corporate journalism was invented. It is a history few journalist talk about or know about, and it began with the arrival of corporate advertising. As the new corporations began taking over the press, something called “professional journalism” was invented. To attract big advertisers, the new corporate press had to appear respectable, pillars of the establishment—objective, impartial, balanced.

The first schools of journalism were set up, and a mythology of liberal neutrality was spun around the professional journalist. The right to freedom of expression was associated with the new media and with the great corporations, and the whole thing was, as Robert McChesney put it so well, “entirely bogus”.For what the public did not know was that in order to be professional, journalists had to ensure that news and opinion were dominated by official sources, and that has not changed. Go through the New York Times on any day, and check the sources of the main political stories—domestic and foreign—you’ll find they’re dominated by government and other established interests. That is the essence of professional journalism.

I am not suggesting that independent journalism was or is excluded, but it is more likely to be an honorable exception. Think of the role Judith Miller played in the New York Times in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. Yes, her work became a scandal, but only after it played a powerful role in promoting an invasion based on lies. Yet, Miller’s parroting of official sources and vested interests was not all that different from the work of many famous Times reporters, such as the celebrated W.H. Lawrence, who helped cover up the true effects of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in August, 1945. “No Radioactivity in Hiroshima Ruin,” was the headline on his report, and it was false.Consider how the power of this invisible government has grown.
In 1983 the principle global media was owned by 50 corporations, most of them American. In 2002 this had fallen to just 9 corporations. Today it is probably about 5. Rupert Murdoch has predicted that there will be just three global media giants, and his company will be one of them. This concentration of power is not exclusive of course to the United States. The BBC has announced it is expanding its broadcasts to the United States, because it believes Americans want principled, objective, neutral journalism for which the BBC is famous. They have launched BBC America. You may have seen the advertising.The BBC began in 1922, just before the corporate press began in America.

Its founder was Lord John Reith, who believed that impartiality and objectivity were the essence of professionalism. In the same year the British establishment was under siege. The unions had called a general strike and the Tories were terrified that a revolution was on the way. The new BBC came to their rescue. In high secrecy, Lord Reith wrote anti-union speeches for the Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and broadcast them to the nation, while refusing to allow the labor leaders to put their side until the strike was over.

So, a pattern was set. Impartiality was a principle certainly: a principle to be suspended whenever the establishment was under threat. And that principle has been upheld ever since.Take the invasion of Iraq. There are two studies of the BBC’s reporting. One shows that the BBC gave just 2 percent of its coverage of Iraq to antiwar dissent—2 percent. That is less than the antiwar coverage of ABC, NBC, and CBS. A second study by the University of Wales shows that in the buildup to the invasion, 90 percent of the BBC’s references to weapons of mass destruction suggested that Saddam Hussein actually possessed them, and that by clear implication Bush and Blair were right.

We now know that the BBC and other British media were used by the British secret intelligence service MI-6. In what they called Operation Mass Appeal, MI-6 agents planted stories about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction, such as weapons hidden in his palaces and in secret underground bunkers. All of these stories were fake. But that’s not the point. The point is that the work of MI-6 was unnecessary, because professional journalism on its own would have produced the same result.Listen to the BBC’s man in Washington, Matt Frei, shortly after the invasion. “There is not doubt,” he told viewers in the UK and all over the world, “That the desire to bring good, to bring American values to the rest of the world, and especially now in the Middle East, is especially tied up with American military power.” In 2005 the same reporter lauded the architect of the invasion, Paul Wolfowitz, as someone who “believes passionately in the power of democracy and grassroots development.”

That was before the little incident at the World Bank.None of this is unusual. BBC news routinely describes the invasion as a miscalculation. Not Illegal, not unprovoked, not based on lies, but a miscalculation.The words “mistake” and “blunder” are common BBC news currency, along with “failure”—which at least suggests that if the deliberate, calculated, unprovoked, illegal assault on defenseless Iraq had succeeded, that would have been just fine. Whenever I hear these words I remember Edward Herman’s marvelous essay about normalizing the unthinkable. For that’s what media clichéd language does and is designed to do—it normalizes the unthinkable; of the degradation of war, of severed limbs, of maimed children, all of which I’ve seen.

One of my favorite stories about the Cold War concerns a group of Russian journalists who were touring the United States. On the final day of their visit, they were asked by the host for their impressions. “I have to tell you,” said the spokesman, “that we were astonished to find after reading all the newspapers and watching TV day after day that all the opinions on all the vital issues are the same. To get that result in our country we send journalists to the gulag. We even tear out their fingernails. Here you don’t have to do any of that. What is the secret?”What is the secret? It is a question seldom asked in newsrooms, in media colleges, in journalism journals, and yet the answer to that question is critical to the lives of millions of people.

On August 24 last year the New York Times declared this in an editorial: “If we had known then what we know now the invasion if Iraq would have been stopped by a popular outcry.” This amazing admission was saying, in effect, that journalists had betrayed the public by not doing their job and by accepting and amplifying and echoing the lies of Bush and his gang, instead of challenging them and exposing them. What the Times didn’t say was that had that paper and the rest of the media exposed the lies, up to a million people might be alive today. That’s the belief now of a number of senior establishment journalists.

Few of them—they’ve spoken to me about it—few of them will say it in public.Ironically, I began to understand how censorship worked in so-called free societies when I reported from totalitarian societies. During the 1970s I filmed secretly in Czechoslovakia, then a Stalinist dictatorship. I interviewed members of the dissident group Charter 77, including the novelist Zdener Urbanek, and this is what he told me. “In dictatorships we are more fortunate that you in the West in one respect. We believe nothing of what we read in the newspapers and nothing of what we watch on television, because we know its propaganda and lies. I like you in the West. We’ve learned to look behind the propaganda and to read between the lines, and like you, we know that the real truth is always subversive.”Vandana Shiva has called this subjugated knowledge.

The great Irish muckraker Claud Cockburn got it right when he wrote, “Never believe anything until it’s officially denied.”One of the oldest clichés of war is that truth is the first casualty. No it’s not. Journalism is the first casualty. When the Vietnam War was over, the magazine Encounter published an article by Robert Elegant, a distinguished correspondent who had covered the war. “For the first time in modern history,” he wrote, the outcome of a war was determined not on the battlefield, but on the printed page, and above all on the television screen.” He held journalists responsible for losing the war by opposing it in their reporting. Robert Elegant’s view became the received wisdom in Washington and it still is.

In Iraq the Pentagon invented the embedded journalist because it believed that critical reporting had lost Vietnam.The very opposite was true. On my first day as a young reporter in Saigon, I called at the bureaus of the main newspapers and TV companies. I noticed that some of them had a pinboard on the wall on which were gruesome photographs, mostly of bodies of Vietnamese and of American soldiers holding up severed ears and testicles. In one office was a photograph of a man being tortured; above the torturers head was a stick-on comic balloon with the words, “that’ll teach you to talk to the press.” None of these pictures were ever published or even put on the wire. I asked why. I was told that the public would never accept them. Anyway, to publish them would not be objective or impartial. At first, I accepted the apparent logic of this. I too had grown up on stories of the good war against Germany and Japan, that ethical bath that cleansed the Anglo-American world of all evil.

But the longer I stayed in Vietnam, the more I realized that our atrocities were not isolated, nor were they aberrations, but the war itself was an atrocity. That was the big story, and it was seldom news. Yes, the tactics and effectiveness of the military were questioned by some very fine reporters. But the word “invasion” was never used. The anodyne word used was “involved.” America was involved in Vietnam. The fiction of a well-intentioned, blundering giant, stuck in an Asian quagmire, was repeated incessantly. It was left to whistleblowers back home to tell the subversive truth, those like Daniel Ellsberg and Seymour Hersh, with his scoop of the My-Lai massacre.

There were 649 reporters in Vietnam on March 16, 1968—the day that the My-Lai massacre happened—and not one of them reported it.In both Vietnam and Iraq, deliberate policies and strategies have bordered on genocide. In Vietnam, the forced dispossession of millions of people and the creation of free fire zones; In Iraq, an American-enforced embargo that ran through the 1990s like a medieval siege, and killed, according to the United Nations Children’s fund, half a million children under the age of five.

In both Vietnam and Iraq, banned weapons were used against civilians as deliberate experiments. Agent Orange changed the genetic and environmental order in Vietnam. The military called this Operation Hades. When Congress found out, it was renamed the friendlier Operation Ranch Hand, and nothing change. That’s pretty much how Congress has reacted to the war in Iraq. The Democrats have damned it, rebranded it, and extended it. The Hollywood movies that followed the Vietnam War were an extension of the journalism, of normalizing the unthinkable. Yes, some of the movies were critical of the military’s tactics, but all of them were careful to concentrate on the angst of the invaders.

The first of these movies is now considered a classic. It’s The Deerhunter, whose message was that America had suffered, America was stricken, American boys had done their best against oriental barbarians. The message was all the more pernicious, because the Deerhunter was brilliantly made and acted. I have to admit it’s the only movie that has made me shout out loud in a Cinema in protest. Oliver Stone’s acclaimed movie Platoon was said to be antiwar, and it did show glimpses of the Vietnamese as human beings, but it also promoted above all the American invader as victim.I wasn’t going to mention The Green Berets when I set down to write this, until I read the other day that John Wayne was the most influential movie who ever lived. I a saw the Green Berets starring John Wayne on a Saturday night in 1968 in Montgomery Alabama. (I was down there to interview the then-infamous governor George Wallace).
I had just come back from Vietnam, and I couldn’t believe how absurd this movie was. So I laughed out loud, and I laughed and laughed. And it wasn’t long before the atmosphere around me grew very cold. My companion, who had been a Freedom Rider in the South, said, “Let’s get the hell out of here and run like hell.”We were chased all the way back to our hotel, but I doubt if any of our pursuers were aware that John Wayne, their hero, had lied so he wouldn’t have to fight in World War II. And yet the phony role model of Wayne sent thousands of Americans to their deaths in Vietnam, with the notable exceptions of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.
Last year, in his acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the playwright Harold Pinter made an epoch speech. He asked why, and I quote him, “The systematic brutality, the widespread atrocities, the ruthless suppression of independent thought in Stalinist Russia were well know in the West, while American state crimes were merely superficially recorded, left alone, documented.” And yet across the world the extinction and suffering of countless human beings could be attributed to rampant American power. “But,” said Pinter, “You wouldn’t know it. It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.” Pinter’s words were more than the surreal.
The BBC ignored the speech of Britain’s most famous dramatist.I’ve made a number of documentaries about Cambodia. The first was Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia. It describes the American bombing that provided the catalyst for the rise of Pol Pot. What Nixon and Kissinger had started, Pol Pot completed—CIA files alone leave no doubt of that. I offered Year Zero to PBS and took it to Washington. The PBS executives who saw it were shocked. They whispered among themselves. They asked me to wait outside. One of them finally emerged and said, “John, we admire your film. But we are disturbed that it says the United States prepared the way for Pol Pot.”I said, “Do you dispute the evidence?” I had quoted a number of CIA documents. “Oh, no,” he replied. “But we’ve decided to call in a journalistic adjudicator.”Now the term “journalist adjudicator” might have been invented by George Orwell.

In fact they managed to find one of only three journalists who had been invited to Cambodia by Pol Pot. And of course he turned his thumbs down on the film, and I never heard from PBS again. Year Zero was broadcast in some 60 countries and became one of the most watched documentaries in the world. It was never shown in the United States. Of the five films I have made on Cambodia, one of them was shown by WNET, the PBS station in New York. I believe it was shown at about one in the morning. On the basis of this single showing, when most people are asleep, it was awarded an Emmy. What marvelous irony. It was worthy of a prize but not an audience. Harold Pinter’s subversive truth, I believe, was that he made the connection between imperialism and fascism, and described a battle for history that’s almost never reported.
This is the great silence of the media age. And this is the secret heart of propaganda today. A propaganda so vast in scope that I’m always astonished that so many Americans know and understand as much as they do. We are talking about a system, of course, not personalities. And yet, a great many people today think that the problem is George W. Bush and his gang. And yes, the Bush gang are extreme. But my experience is that they are no more than an extreme version of what has gone on before. In my lifetime, more wars have been started by liberal Democrats than by Republicans.

Ignoring this truth is a guarantee that the propaganda system and the war-making system will continue. We’ve had a branch of the Democratic party running Britain for the last 10 years. Blair, apparently a liberal, has taken Britain to war more times than any prime minister in the modern era. Yes, his current pal is George Bush, but his first love was Bill Clinton, the most violent president of the late 20th century. Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown is also a devotee of Clinton and Bush. The other day, Brown said, “The days of Britain having to apologize for the British Empire are over. We should celebrate.”Like Blair, like Clinton, like Bush, Brown believes in the liberal truth that the battle for history has been won; that the millions who died in British-imposed famines in British imperial India will be forgotten—like the millions who have died in the American Empire will be forgotten. And like Blair, his successor is confident that professional journalism is on his side. For most journalists, whether they realize it or not, are groomed to be tribunes of an ideology that regards itself as non-ideological, that presents itself as the natural center, the very fulcrum of modern life. This may very well be the most powerful and dangerous ideology we have ever known because it is open-ended. This is liberalism.

’m not denying the virtues of liberalism—far from it. We are all beneficiaries of them. But if we deny its dangers, its open-ended project, and the all-consuming power of its propaganda, then we deny our right to true democracy, because liberalism and true democracy are not the same. Liberalism began as a preserve of the elite in the 19th century, and true democracy is never handed down by elites. It is always fought for and struggled for.A senior member of the antiwar coalition, United For Peace and Justice, said recently, and I quote her, “The Democrats are using the politics of reality.” Her liberal historical reference point was Vietnam. She said that President Johnson began withdrawing troops from Vietnam after a Democratic Congress began to vote against the war.

That’s not what happened. The troops were withdrawn from Vietnam after four long years. And during that time the United States killed more people in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos with bombs than were killed in all the preceding years. And that’s what’s happening in Iraq. The bombing has doubled since last year, and this is not being reported. And who began this bombing? Bill Clinton began it. During the 1990s Clinton rained bombs on Iraq in what were euphemistically called the “no fly zones.” At the same time he imposed a medieval siege called economic sanctions, killing as I’ve mentioned, perhaps a million people, including a documented 500,000 children. Almost none of this carnage was reported in the so-called mainstream media. Last year a study published by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that since the invasion of Iraq 655, 000 Iraqis had died as a direct result of the invasion. Official documents show that the Blair government knew this figure to be credible.

In February, Les Roberts, the author of the report, said the figure was equal to the figure for deaths in the Fordham University study of the Rwandan genocide. The media response to Robert’s shocking revelation was silence. What may well be the greatest episode of organized killing for a generation, in Harold Pinter’s words, “Did not happen. It didn’t matter.”Many people who regard themselves on the left supported Bush’s attack on Afghanistan. That the CIA had supported Osama Bin Laden was ignored, that the Clinton administration had secretly backed the Taliban, even giving them high-level briefings at the CIA, is virtually unknown in the United States. The Taliban were secret partners with the oil giant Unocal in building an oil pipeline across Afghanistan.

And when a Clinton official was reminded that the Taliban persecuted women, he said, “We can live with that.” There is compelling evidence that Bush decided to attack the Taliban not as a result of 9-11, but two months earlier, in July of 2001. This is virtually unknown in the United States—publicly. Like the scale of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. To my knowledge only one mainstream reporter, Jonathan Steele of the Guardian in London, has investigated civilian casualties in Afghanistan, and his estimate is 20,000 dead civilians, and that was three years ago.The enduring tragedy of Palestine is due in great part to the silence and compliance of the so-called liberal left. Hamas is described repeatedly as sworn to the destruction of Israel. The New York Times, the Associated Press, the Boston Globe—take your pick.

They all use this line as a standard disclaimer, and it is false. That Hamas has called for a ten-year ceasefire is almost never reported. Even more important, that Hamas has undergone an historic ideological shift in the last few years, which amounts to a recognition of what it calls the reality of Israel, is virtually unknown; and that Israel is sworn to the destruction of Palestine is unspeakable.There is a pioneering study by Glasgow University on the reporting of Palestine. They interviewed young people who watch TV news in Britain. More than 90 percent thought the illegal settlers were Palestinian. The more they watched, the less they knew—Danny Schecter’s famous phrase.The current most dangerous silence is over nuclear weapons and the return of the Cold War. The Russians understand clearly that the so-called American defense shield in Eastern Europe is designed to subjugate and humiliate them.

Yet the front pages here talk about Putin starting a new Cold War, and there is silence about the development of an entirely new American nuclear system called Reliable Weapons Replacement (RRW), which is designed to blur the distinction between conventional war and nuclear war—a long-held ambition.In the meantime, Iran is being softened up, with the liberal media playing almost the same role it played before the Iraq invasion. And as for the Democrats, look at how Barak Obama has become the voice of the Council on Foreign Relations, one of the propaganda organs of the old liberal Washington establishment. Obama writes that while he wants the troops home, “We must not rule out military force against long-standing adversaries such as Iran and Syria.” Listen to this from the liberal Obama: “At moment of great peril in the past century our leaders ensured that America, by deed and by example, led and lifted the world, that we stood and fought for the freedom sought by billions of people beyond their borders.”
That is the nub of the propaganda, the brainwashing if you like, that seeps into the lives of every American, and many of us who are not Americans. From right to left, secular to God-fearing, what so few people know is that in the last half century, United States adminstrations have overthrown 50 governments—many of them democracies. In the process, thirty countries have been attacked and bombed, with the loss of countless lives. Bush bashing is all very well—and is justified—but the moment we begin to accept the siren call of the Democrat’s drivel about standing up and fighting for freedom sought by billions, the battle for history is lost, and we ourselves are silenced.So what should we do?

That question often asked in meetings I have addressed, even meetings as informed as those in this conference, is itself interesting. It’s my experience that people in the so-called third world rarely ask the question, because they know what to do. And some have paid with their freedom and their lives, but they knew what to do. It’s a question that many on the democratic left—small “d”—have yet to answer.Real information, subversive information, remains the most potent power of all—and I believe that we must not fall into the trap of believing that the media speaks for the public. That wasn’t true in Stalinist Czechoslovakia and it isn’t true of the United States. In all the years I’ve been a journalist, I’ve never know public consciousness to have risen as fast as it’s rising today.

Yes, its direction and shape is unclear, partly because people are now deeply suspicious of political alternatives, and because the Democratic Party has succeeded in seducing and dividing the electoral left. And yet this growing critical public awareness is all the more remarkable when you consider the sheer scale of indoctrination, the mythology of a superior way of life, and the current manufactured state of fear. Why did the New York Times come clean in that editorial last year? Not because it opposes Bush’s wars—look at the coverage of Iran. That editorial was a rare acknowledgement that the public was beginning to see the concealed role of the media, and that people were beginning to read between the lines.If Iran is attacked, the reaction and the upheaval cannot be predicted. The national security and homeland security presidential directive gives Bush power over all facets of government in an emergency.

It is not unlikely the constitution will be suspended—the laws to round of hundreds of thousands of so-called terrorists and enemy combatants are already on the books. I believe that these dangers are understood by the public, who have come along way since 9-11, and a long way since the propaganda that linked Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda. That’s why they voted for the Democrats last November, only to be betrayed. But they need truth, and journalists ought to be agents of truth, not the courtiers of power.I believe a fifth estate is possible, the product of a people’s movement, that monitors, deconstructs, and counters the corporate media. In every university, in every media college, in every news room, teachers of journalism, journalists themselves need to ask themselves about the part they now play in the bloodshed in the name of a bogus objectivity. Such a movement within the media could herald a perestroika of a kind that we have never known. This is all possible. Silences can be broken.

In Britain the National Union of Journalists has undergone a radical change, and has called for a boycott of Israel. The web site Medialens.org has single-handedly called the BBC to account. In the United States wonderfully free rebellious spirits populate the web—I can’t mention them all here—from Tom Feeley’s International Clearing House, to Mike Albert’s ZNet, to Counterpunch online, and the splendid work of FAIR. The best reporting of Iraq appears on the web—Dahr Jamail’s courageous journalism; and citizen reporters like Joe Wilding, who reported the siege of Fallujah from inside the city.In Venezuela, Greg Wilpert’s investigations turned back much of the virulent propaganda now aimed at Hugo Chávez. Make no mistake, it’s the threat of freedom of speech for the majority in Venezuela that lies behind the campaign in the west on behalf of the corrupt RCTV.

The challenge for the rest of us is to lift this subjugated knowledge from out of the underground and take it to ordinary people. We need to make haste. Liberal Democracy is moving toward a form of corporate dictatorship. This is an historic shift, and the media must not be allowed to be its façade, but itself made into a popular, burning issue, and subjected to direct action. That great whistleblower Tom Paine warned that if the majority of the people were denied the truth and the ideas of truth, it was time to storm what he called the Bastille of words. That time is now.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

AMWU elections: the left cleans up by Ben Courtice, Melbourne

In last month’s elections in the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), the Workers’ Rights team took all positions against a ticket led by an alliance between the union’s print and vehicle divisions. Some Workers’ Rights candidates received over 80% of the vote. In the Victorian branch, where most positions were strongly contested, 40% of members voted.

The unsuccessful New Directions team emerged after AMWU national secretary Doug Cameron announced his retirement to run for ALP preselection for a Senate position in NSW, which he subsequently secured.

The Workers’ Rights team formed as a result of an alliance between the ruling National Left caucus and the Workers First leadership of the Victorian branch when Workers First agreed to support National Left candidate and former Victorian secretary Dave Oliver for AMWU national secretary.

Despite years of conflict between the Workers First and National Left groups within the union, they agreed to put aside their differences and merged to form the Workers’ Rights team so that the AMWU could better combat the federal government’s anti-union laws.

New Directions fielded candidates for national and state positions in an attempt to deliver the Victorian branch of the AMWU to the conservative vehicle division national secretary Ian Jones.

The Workers’ Rights team stood Victorian metal division secretary Steve Dargavel for the state secretary position, the most hotly contested in the campaign. Dargavel was opposed by New Directions candidate and vehicle division organiser David Nunns.

Many in the Workers’ Rights campaign were initially doubtful they could win the state secretary position against the vehicle division’s solid block of support from the huge car plants. The possibility of losing the Victorian branch to a more right-wing ticket was a serious worry for Workers’ Rights campaigners and union members, resulting in a higher than usual return.

An indication that a victory for the New Directions team would have resulted in a right-wing shift in the union is the vehicle division’s campaign for unions to withdraw support for the activist group Union Solidarity and the community picket lines that it organises. In 2006, the vehicle division leadership instructed its members to cross a community picket line that was established in support of a shop steward at Toyota in Melbourne.

Jones was implicated in a court case that found a police officer guilty of misconduct for an illegal investigation of another AMWU metal division steward at Toyota, Tony Carvalho.

Carvalho and occupational health and safety representative Shane Blackney were sacked on trumped up charges the day that Carvalho nominated to stand for Victorian state secretary in the election. Carvalho challenged Nunns over the vehicle division’s victimisation of himself and directed preferences to Dargavel. Carvalho and Blackney are maintaining a protest outside Toyota to demand their jobs back.

Dargavel won the Victorian state secretary position with 55% of the vote, which means that a significant number of members of the vehicle and print divisions would have voted for the Workers’ Rights team.

Other positions fell more easily: Workers’ Rights candidate Gary Robb won assistant state secretary (metal division) with over 82% of the vote, metal division organiser Lou Malgeri won with over 79%, and Oliver won national secretary with over 60% of the vote against Victorian print division secretary Jim Reid.

The last hurdle was in the Victorian food division, where New Directions supporters challenged the legitimacy of the initial vote. While the allegations were not substantiated, the vote was conducted again and Workers’ Rights candidates Tom Hale and Angela McCarthy won the positions of food division secretary and food division organiser.

The Workers’ Rights team won with mail-outs of campaign material and leafleting by supporters outside factory gates. The Workers’ Rights team produced a poster with the names of more than 100 delegates and activists supporting the team, beneath a photo of a large crowd of supporters. By contrast, the New Directions’ material only included a photo of the candidates and the officials supporting them.

The incumbents who formed the Workers’ Rights team have led the Victorian AMWU in the most militant defence of workers’ rights of any union under the federal government’s anti-union Work Choices. The AMWU nationally has been responsible for 42% of protected strike action since Work Choices became law on March 27, 2006. The majority of AMWU industrial action has taken place in Victoria.

The Workers’ Rights team put forward a program for expanding the union, for active campaigns for members and against Howard’s Work Choices, and for developing the AMWU into a more active and involving union — through an apprenticeship officer, an expanded health and safety unit, and new structures for members’ participation.

The Victorian branch of the AMWU is one of a group of unions in Victoria that is pushing for a mass protest against Work Choices.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

In Princes’ Pockets by Tariq Ali

Tariq Ali

America’s Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier by Robert Vitalis · Stanford, 353 pp, £19.50

Contesting the Saudi State: Islamic Voices from a New Generation by Madawi Al-Rasheed · Cambridge, 308 pp, £19.99

The day after the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, a Saudi woman resident in London, a member of a wealthy family, rang her sister in Riyadh to discuss the crisis affecting the kingdom. Her niece answered the phone.
‘Where’s your mother?’
‘She’s here, dearest aunt, and I’ll get her in a minute, but is that all you have to say to me? No congratulations for yesterday?’
The dearest aunt, out of the country for far too long, was taken aback. She should not have been. The fervour that didn’t dare show itself in public was strong even at the upper levels of Saudi society. US intelligence agencies engaged in routine surveillance were, to their immense surprise, picking up unguarded cellphone talk in which excited Saudi princelings were heard revelling in bin Laden’s latest caper. Like the CIA, they had not thought it possible for him to reach such heights.

Washington had taken its oldest ally in the Arab world for granted. In the weeks that followed 9/11, the Saudi royal family was besieged by a storm of critical comment in the US media and its global subsidiaries. Publishers eager to make a quick dollar hurriedly produced a few bad books with even worse titles – Hatred’s Kingdom, Sleeping with the Devil – that set out to denounce the Saudis. The mini-industry had little medium-term impact, and normal business was soon resumed. On 14 February 2005 there was even a re-enactment of the meeting that had taken place sixty years before on the USS Quincy, moored in the Suez Canal, at which Roosevelt and Ibn Saud, the first king of Saudi Arabia, signed the concordat that would guarantee continued single-family rule. The interpreter was Colonel William Eddy, a senior US intelligence officer and much else besides. Considered too insecure during the ‘global war on terror’, Suez was rejected as a potential venue for the re-enactment: the grandsons of the two principals and Eddy’s nephew had to make do with the Ritz in Coconut Grove, Florida. A giant gold-plated Cadillac in the Arizona desert might have been more appropriate.

To look at the landscape today, you would think nothing had changed. Saudi princes, unaccustomed to exercising their inventive faculties, continue to distinguish themselves by the size of the commissions they procure from Western corporations. The competition here is restricted to fellow royals or nominated bagmen. It is usually friendly and always corrupt. Given that weaponry deals with the West cost billions rather than millions nobody begrudges the Saudis a token twenty million or so by way of a thank you. Meanwhile, Western PR firms get the regime’s message out. At a European airport several months ago I saw exactly the same handout regurgitated in the Guardian, El Pais, the International Herald Tribune, Le Monde, La Repubblica: the gist of it was that terrorists were handing in their weapons, renouncing their past and progressing well at re-education schools.

The US Justice Department is currently investigating allegations that the veteran Saudi fixer Prince Bandar claimed his share of the $86 billion deal with BAE Systems, a commission approved by Tony Blair and his attorney general. Few imagine that the investigation will lead anywhere, since US and other European companies do similar deals all the time. The mandarins in the Defence Ministry in Whitehall refuse to be bothered by the fuss, and the cuddly Bandar (the name means ‘monkey’ in most South Asian languages) continues to insist that he did nothing wrong, since it’s normal practice anyway and the money is all deposited in the State Treasury in Riyadh. This is true, but then the Treasury has always served as the royal trough, and the line between private wealth and state revenues was never very firmly fixed. Bandar could in any case have claimed, quite truthfully, that much of this cash has a way of finding its way back to the West through the trade in luxury items (not to mention tarts and courtesans) or through the numerous casinos that dot Mayfair and Monaco and the tips paid to waitresses (higher than the rates paid by the LRB).

The seamier side of princely life – is there another side? – formed the subject-matter of bin Laden’s powerful pre-9/11 samizdat videos, which continue to circulate in the kingdom, encouraging many young people to see their country through his eyes and share his disgust with its ruling family. The solution for them lies only in jihad. The most fearless account of Saudi society in recent years has been Abd al-Rahman Munif’s Cities of Salt quintet of novels; as with other contraband commodities circulated clandestinely in Saudi Arabia, there were reports of laughter emanating from the palaces as the princesses recognised the portraits of their spouses. Munif charts the break-up of the old desert societies that began with the arrival of Western oil prospectors, the resulting deformation of peninsular society, the birth of despotism, and of resistance to it.

He depicts the world he knew: traders, herdsmen, nouveau-riche sheikhs, and chancers from elsewhere in the Arab world arriving to offer their professional services. Munif’s savage and surreal satires of the suddenly rich royal family led to his Saudi nationality being revoked and to exile, first in Baghdad and then in Damascus. When he died in 2004, his widow rejected the posthumous honours (including loadsamoney) offered by Riyadh and defied tradition by refusing to permit the Saudi ambassador in Syria to offer his condolences in person.
Critical academic works on the Saudi kleptocracy are rare, however.

Many Arab Studies departments on Anglo-American campuses receive generous endowments from the Saudis and other Gulf states. Conferences on the region are often funded from the same source. The money arrives without fanfare and with no conditions explicitly attached, but the recipients are now well trained. Which is why America’s Kingdom comes as a pleasant surprise. Robert Vitalis, who teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania, has produced a scholarly and readable book on the interaction between Saudi society and Aramco, the US oil giant that had its beginnings when the Saudi government granted its first concessions to Standard Oil of California in 1933.

Combining history with political anthropology, Vitalis sheds a bright light on the origins and less savoury aspects of the Saudi-US relationship in its first phase, when oil production was accompanied by the manufacturing of myths that prettified the US presence. In 1955, Aramco funded Island of Allah, a ‘documentary’ about Saudi Arabia. It was a box-office flop. An American novelist, Wallace Stegner (who later founded the Stanford creative writing programme), was hired to write a history of Aramco to make up for the movie’s failure. Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil was written in a month, but was shelved for 12 years by Aramco executives before it was finally published. It was not uncritical enough: Stegner’s mild observations on racism inside the company went down badly.

America’s Kingdom took ten years to research and write and Vitalis has clearly enjoyed himself. He sees Aramco as a microcosm of the colonial order at home and abroad. His aim is to destroy the foundational myths of the company – which he does in style. Aramco’s treatment of the native workforce, he argues, was not unusual, and he describes US mining companies in the late 19th century dealing with indigenous tribes in Arizona and New Mexico in similar fashion. The work camps set up in Saudi Arabia were a replica of what had been tried out in Maracaibo in Venezuela after the discovery of oil there in the 1920s.

The story he tells, of the Aramco workforce’s struggle against the ‘racial wage’, has not been told in detail before: strikes from below, angry confrontations at management level, blatant racial discrimination against Saudi workers and managers and ‘divide and rule’ tactics on the part of Aramco. There were no ‘honorary Whites’ (as the Afrikaners labelled the Japanese) here. Bosses and engineers were exclusively white Americans, many from Texas, most imbued with prejudices which were the legacy of slavery, the Civil War and the institutionalised apartheid that followed the brief flowering of formal equality during Reconstruction. Vitalis mentions the prevalence of Ku Klux Klan membership in the industry (it’s worth remembering that by 1925 the Klan had four million members, making it the largest organised political movement in US history).

In 1944, Aramco imported 1700 Italian workers from Eritrea in an attempt to put an end to the troublemaking. Being made to share camps with Arabs, Pakistanis and Sudanese rather than with white Americans angered the Italians, but their protests came to nothing; they left or were sacked and non-Europeans soon replaced them. One of the symbols of petty privilege was the Aramco company cinema: entry was permitted to the better-educated Palestinians and Pakistanis but denied to Saudis. This led to a pitched battle on 14 June 1956: the Saudi workers stormed the camp and were confronted by the police and the private guards of the local emir. (The workers demanding equal rights chanted ‘Down with Pakistanis; they are Jews and friends of Jews,’ an instance of what in the old days we used to refer to as ‘false consciousness’.) The workers were brutalised; 100 of them, including a 13-year-old, were selected for public flogging, each receiving 100 lashes.

Local tribal leaders and the royals collaborated eagerly during the early years, becoming more critical only after the nationalisation of the Suez Canal in 1956 created a radical anti-imperialist fervour that swept the Middle East. Vitalis documents all this in great detail. The two Saudi figures he most respects are the former oil minister Abdullah Tariki and the veteran Saudi diplomat Ibn Muammar. Tariki, a shrewd, skilful, incorruptible technocrat, had defended Saudi interests against the oil giant from the very beginning. He argued for the state takeover of Saudi oil in the late 1950s, and was demonised by Aramco. He was always an irritant, and not just to them. He refused to tolerate corruption and in 1961 challenged the powerful Crown Prince Faisal in public. Together with the dissident Prince Talal, a supporter of Arab nationalism, Tariki accused Faisal of demanding and obtaining a permanent commission from the Japanese owned Arabian Oil Company (AOC). A Beirut newspaper published the story. An enraged Faisal issued a denial and demanded proof.

Tariki persevered. He uncovered evidence that proved beyond any doubt that 2 per cent of AOC profits had been guaranteed in perpetuity to Faisal’s rogue brother-in-law, Kamal Adham, who later became head of Saudi intelligence and a director of BCCI. The Council of Ministers cancelled the AOC contract. Four months later, Faisal removed Tariki from his post, replacing him with an able lawyer, Ahmed Zaki Yamani (later kidnapped with other colleagues at the OPEC building in Vienna by Carlos the Jackal and his gang), who immediately rushed off to tell Aramco that Tariki was being removed from its board of directors. Tariki never found employment in the oil industry again and ended up an exile in Beirut. An Aramco spy who met him during this time in Cairo reported back to his superiors: ‘I asked him how he would envisage a change in regime. He said that it would be very simple. A small army detachment can do the job by killing the king and Faisal. The rest of the royal family will run for cover like scared rabbits. Then the revolutionaries will call Nasser for help.’

It didn’t quite happen like that. The aged Ibn Saud was retired, and Crown Prince Faisal became king. It was only after his nephew Prince Faisal ibn Musa assassinated him for personal reasons in 1975 that Tariki and a few other dissidents could return home. Faisal is largely responsible for the Saudi Arabia that exists today, with its reliance on Wahhabism for social control. Even though his brother and father before him had sought to institutionalise Wahhabi beliefs, they were more relaxed about it. Faisal believed that the only way to defeat Nasser and the godless Communists was by making religion the central pillar of the Saudi social order and using it ruthlessly against the enemy. It was Islam that was under threat and had to be defended on all fronts. This pleased his allies in Washington, who were tolerant even of his decision to impose an oil embargo against the West after the 1973 war, something that has never been attempted since. Visiting Western politicians were surprised when the king gave them copies of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but his deeply felt anti-semitism was treated as an eccentricity. There is nothing on or off the record to indicate that a single US or European leader enlightened him by pointing out that the Protocols were forgeries.

Even after Saudi oil was fully nationalised in 1980, Washington’s politico-military elite maintained their pledge to defend the existing Saudi regime and its state whatever the cost. Why, some people asked, could the Saudi state not defend itself? Because the Saud clan, living in a state of permanent fear, was haunted by the spectre of the radical nationalists who had seized power in Egypt in 1952 and in Iraq six years later. The Sauds kept the size of the national army and air force to the barest minimum. Given that this is still the case, what happens to the vast quantity of armaments purchased to please the West? Most of them rust peacefully in desert warehouses.

For a decade and a half it was the Pakistan Army – paid for out of the Saudi Treasury – that sent in large contingents to protect the family in case of internal upheavals. Then, after the first Gulf War, the American military arrived. It is still there. US bases in Saudi Arabia and Qatar were used to launch the war against Iraq. All pretence of independence had gone. The only thing the Saudi princes could do was to plead with the US not to make public what was hardly a state secret, though there was virtually no TV coverage of planes taking off from Saudi Arabia bound for Iraq.

Foreign armies have historically provided one sort of protection; Wahhabi theology another. Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, a Koranic literalist born in the 18th century, preached a primitive but effective message to the peninsular Arabs. Laughed at by his own family and booted out of his village, he found a willing listener in the founder of the Saud dynasty and a concordat was signed and sealed. The Saud clan would embrace the Wahhabi interpretation of the Book, and al-Wahhab would work exclusively with the Saud tribe and refrain from trying to convert its rivals. Astonishingly, the preacher agreed, and the first Saudi-Wahhabi emirate lasted from 1744 to 1818. It was when they began to attack other Muslims and tear down the tombs of the Companions of the Prophet that the Sultan in Constantinople instructed his Albanian-born governor in Egypt to deal with the problem. An army was dispatched from Cairo to crush the emirate: it succeeded, and for good measure burnt the capital, Deriyyah, to the ground. Today, Wahhabism is again being used to keep the citizens under control in a country with a Sunni majority, many of whom are allergic to it, and a large Shia minority in the oil-producing Eastern province.

In Contesting the Saudi State, the London-based Saudi historian Madawi Al-Rasheed argues that the defeat of 1818 taught the Wahhabis the art of survival. This entailed the adoption of more pragmatic policies, i.e. straightforward political opportunism. For literalists this could not have been easy. One of Muhammad’s sterner injunctions left little room for misinterpretation: infidels had to be kept out of the peninsula. The Sauds fought with the British against the Ottoman Empire and later accepted US suzerainty without many qualms. Each twist and turn considered necessary to hang on to power was justified by senior Wahhabi clerics. Pandering to power made the clerics ultra-dogmatic on other questions: the denial of equal rights for women, for example, or the refusal to ‘encourage idolatry’ by restricting the number of visitors to the tombs of the Prophet and his wives in Mecca. Some of the tombs have now been destroyed (one replaced with a public urinal); there have been no angry campaigns by Islamic extremists.

Religion is the ideological backbone of the regime and it penetrates every sphere:
Nothing exemplifies the enchantment of Saudi society like a local television programme called Fatwa on Air, a special performance normally hosting a religious scholar who responds to questions posed by the public. A woman wants to know whether menstruating for three weeks qualifies as menstruation, thus preventing her from performing prayers. A man asks whether it is permissible to borrow money to allow his mother to perform the pilgrimage. A third person asks whether high heels are permissible for women and . . . diamond rings . . . for men.
The repetitiveness and regularity of these shows reduce a world religion to a set of trivial rituals.

As Wahhabism was the only permissible discourse, Al-Rasheed goes on to argue, differences of interpretation and state policy were bound to erupt. One outcome was al-Qaida, but there is also fierce opposition to al-Qaida within the Wahhabi movement. In an article entitled ‘The Raging Wolf and the Buried Snake’, Khalid al-Ghannami, a cleric who has since changed his views, writes that there are two trends within the jihadi camp: ‘One prefers to kill openly while the other remains hidden until it is safe to emerge from its hole.’ As in China, the internet has become the site for heated debates, where the notion of ‘unconditional obedience’ to the ruler is under daily attack. Some are even bold enough to write that ‘our main aim must be to drive the Wahhabis out of the peninsula.’ Would Washington ever permit that?

Tariq Ali’s Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope, about Latin America, is published by Verso.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Paul Kelly’s 2007 National Australian Tour

Tickets for Paul Kelly’s National Australian tour are on sale from July the 7th, also marks the highly anticipated release of his new album ‘Stolen Apples’, which Rolling Stone has rewarded with four stars and said that the "eleven new tracks each hold their own against anything he's ever done."

Paul will kick off his 36 date tour on the west coast on August the 7th, making his way across the country, to finish in QLD on September the 23rd. Paul will perform his new album “Stolen Apples” in its entirety from start to finish, followed by a ramble through his back catalogue. Joining Paul on the road are band mates Peter Luscombe, Bill McDonald, Ashley Naylor, Dan Kelly and Cameron Bruce as well as special guests Katy Steele (Little Birdy) and Sally Seltmann (New Buffalo) taking it in turns as support act.

Tickets can be purchased through Ticketmaster, who are running an exclusive offer which entitles you to a free download via the iTunes store of 'God Told Me To', a song taken from the new album Stolen Apples. Once there, you can follow the iTunes link and purchase the remaining album tracks. (www.apple.com/au/itunes)

Tuesday 7th August - Civic Centre, Derby


The Point Restaurant (08) 9191 1195

Record Mania (08) 9191 1924

Ticket Master - 136100


Wednesday 8th August - Roebuck Hotel, Broome

Available over the counter at the venue and China Town Music


Ticket Master - 136100


Friday 10th August - Tambrey Centre, Karratha

Available over the counter at the venue


Ticket Master - 136100


Sunday 12th August - Civic Centre, Carnarvon

Camel Lane Box office – (08) 9941 4200

Ticket Master - 136100


Monday 13th August - Queens Park Theatre, Geraldton

Venue box office – (08) 9956 6662

Ticket Master - 136100


Wednesday 15th August - Performing Arts Centre, Mandurah

Venue box office – (08) 9550 3900


Ticket Master - 136100


Thursday 16th August – 3 Bears Bar, Dunsborough


Venue (08) 9755 3657

Ticket Master - 136100


Friday 17th August - Regional Entertainment Centre, Bunbury


venue box office – (08) 9791 1133

Ticket Master - 136100


Saturday 18th August - Regal Theatre, Subiaco, Perth

Ticketek – 132 849


Ticket Master - 136100


Sunday 19th August - Regal Theatre, Subiaco, Perth

Ticketek – 132 849


Ticket Master - 136100


Wednesday 22nd August – Station Resort, Jindabyne

Venue - (02) 6451 4800

Ticket Master - 136100


Thursday 23rd August – Regent Theatre, Wollongong

Ticket Master – 136 100


Friday 24th August – Civic Theatre, Newcastle

Ticketek – 132 849


Saturday 25th August – State Theatre, Sydney

Ticket Master – 136100


Sunday 26th August – Canberra Theatre, Canberra

Canberra Ticketing - (02) 6275 2700


Ticket Master - 136100


Wednesday 29th August – Albury Convention & Performing Arts Centre

Venue Box Office – (02) 6051 3051

Ticket Master - 136100


Thursday 30th August – Horsham Town Hall

Ticket Master - 136100


Leading Edge Music – (03) 5381 1782

Friday 31st August – Hamer Hall, Melbourne

Ticket Master - 136100


Saturday 1st September – GPAC (Ford Theatre), Geelong

Venue Box Office - (03) 5225 1200


Sunday 2nd September – Woolshed, Ballarat

Ticket Master – 136100


Re-Discovery CDs – (03) 5331 5153

Wednesday 5th September – Shepparton Eastbank Centre

Ticket Master - 136100


Riverlinks Box Office - 58329 511


Thursday 6th September – Wrestpoint Entertainment Centre, Hobart

Venue – (03) 62211700

Ticket Master – 136100


Friday 7th September – Launceston Country Club

Venue – (03) 6335 5777

Ticket Master – 136100


Saturday 8th September – Her Majesty’s Theatre

Bass Ticketing – 131 246


Sunday 9th September – Keith Micthell Theatre

Box Office – (08) 8633 8500

Ticket Master - 136100


Tuesday 11th September – Cairns Civic Theatre

Ticket Link - (07) 4031 9555


Wednesday 12th September – Townsville Civic Theatre

Ticket Shop - (07) 4727 9797

Thursday 13th September – Mackay Entertainment Centre

Venue - (07) 4957 1777


Friday 14th September – Pilbeam Theatre, Rockhampton

Venue - (07) 4927 4111


Saturday 15th September – Moncrieff Theatre, Bundaberg

Venue - (07) 4153 1985


Sunday 16th September – Brolga Theatre, Maryborough

Venue - (07) 4122 6060


Wednesday 19th September – QPAC, Brisbane

Q Tix -136 246


Thursday 20th September – Empire Theatre, Toowoomba

Venue -1300 655 299


Friday 21st September – Seagulls Tweed Heads

Venue - (07) 5536 0833


Saturday 22nd September – Nambour Civic Centre

Venue - (07) 5475 7777


Sunday 23rd September – Ipswich Civic Hall

Venue - (07) 3810 6100


Indigenous communities reject Howard’s racist hypocrisy by Peter Robson

PM John Howard’s decision to “take control” of 60 to 70 Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory began to be implemented on June 27 when the first Australian Federal Police (AFP) officers flew into the Aboriginal township of Mutitjulu, near Uluru. The police officers were met by a large community delegation demanding answers.

Howard’s announcement on June 20 that the federal government would use police and military personnel to take control of Indigenous communities followed the release the previous week of an NT government report titled Little Children are Sacred. The report documented instances of severe child sexual and physical abuse in the NT and identified Indigenous children as being at particular risk. It made 97 recommendations to the NT and federal governments to deal with the crisis, and identified poverty and dispossession as key causes of abuse.

Howard’s response, however, has focused on a punitive “law and order” push within the Indigenous communities. The measures that will be imposed on the communities include: six-month bans on alcohol and x-rated pornography; compulsory health checks of all Indigenous children under 16; the “quarantining” of 50% of welfare payments to ensure the money is spent on food and children are sent to school; a federal government takeover of Indigenous townships, which will be put on a five-year lease, supposedly so that emergency repairs can be made; and the scrapping of the permit system that gives Indigenous people the right to restrict entry into Indigenous lands.

To enforce the measures, the Howard government has called for 10 police officers from each state to back up the AFP officers, and is deploying Australian Defence Force personnel to provide “logistical” support.

The June 27 Sydney Morning Herald reported families in the NT fleeing to the desert in fear that the government was coming to take their children. Indigenous NT minister for natural resources, environment and heritage Marion Scrymgour said: “There’s a lot of fear, particularly among elder woman. Not so long ago — 30 to 40 years — children were being taken out of the arms of Aboriginal mothers.”

One of the authors of Little Children are Sacred, Rex Wild QC, has strongly criticised the Howard government plan. The report begins by exhorting governments to work with the communities in question, not against them. It documents examples of community programs that have managed to reduce alcohol abuse and, with this, child abuse, by empowering local townships.

According to Wild, the Howard government is doing the opposite. On the June 27 edition of ABC TV’s Lateline Business he said, “We didn’t arrive with a battleship. We came gently … Now … we’re just having the gunship sent in.”

Wild also criticised the removal of the permit system, which he said was neither part of his report nor a logical way to tackle alcohol or child abuse in Indigenous communities. The permit system was a vital part of some of the successful programs referred to in the NT government report because it allowed Indigenous community leaders to remove people from townships who were smuggling in alcohol or pornography.

Howard’s measures also ignore two other aspects of sexual abuse in the NT. First, child sexual abuse is not limited to Indigenous people. The NT report notes that non-Aboriginal people in mining settlements often procure sexual favours from minors in exchange for cigarettes, alcohol or petrol for sniffing. The Minerals Council has been consulted about this, but it denies any knowledge of the problem and there is no suggestion that the lives of non-Indigenous people in the mining towns be regulated in the same way as those of Indigenous people in these communities.

In addition, while sexual abuse of minors is also a serious problem within NT prisons and juvenile detention centres, no new measures for NT prisons have been announced.

The people of Mutitjulu are deeply sceptical about the government’s measures. In a June 28 statement, they point out that a lack of medical services and overcrowding have been problems in their community for at least a decade, yet all requests for government assistance have been denied (see the full statement on page 3). The community has asked for street lights to help reduce crime at night and alcohol counsellors to help people trying to end addiction, but they have been given nothing.

Mutitjulu’s land council was taken over by the government a year ago amid claims of mismanagement, yet no evidence of mismanagement has been found.

The Mutitjulu statement questions the need for a “military occupation of their small country”, and elders meeting with government and AFP officers on June 28 declared that the government’s action had more to do with winning the next federal election than helping Indigenous people. “The Commonwealth needs to work with us to put health and social services, housing and education in place rather than treating Mutitjulu as a political football”, they said.

The removal of the permit system could force Indigenous people permanently off their land. By law, if Indigenous people leave their land for any reason, they forfeit their right to have a say over mining and development on the land. Mining companies are currently attempting to expand uranium mining on Indigenous land in the NT, and are seeking a site for an international nuclear waste dump. The permit system, which requires companies to get permission to explore potential dump sites on Indigenous land, is a major obstacle for the companies.

Jennifer Martiniello, a member of the advisory board of the Australian Centre for Indigenous History at the Australian National University, argued in a public statement on June 27 that the main motive behind Howard’s intervention is to attack native title. She said: “We have a long history of deaths and illness from radiation, from the atomic tests at Woomera in the 1950s to the current high incidences of carcinomas in the community at Kakadu near the Jabiluka site. The main obstacle to the Federal Government’s desired expansion of mining operations in the Northern Territory and nuclear waste dumping is, of course, the Aboriginal people who have occupancy of, and rights under the common law to, their traditional lands.”