The Power of the Press – to reorder reality By William Bowles

8 April 2004

“[The] CIA’s report to top officials on day two of the crisis identified the “Presidential Guard, gendarmerie, and military” as killers of “several government officials-including the Prime Minister”; State Department intelligence informed policymakers the morning after the shoot-down of the plane that “rogue Hutu elements of the military-possibly the elite presidential guard” were probable culprits; The U.S. defense attaché in Rwanda, who reported to State Department, defense intelligence and U.S. European Command officials, on the second day forwarded “reports that the Presidential Guard is “out of control” on the streets of Kigali while all other military units remain in their barracks”” – William Ferroggiaro, National Security Archive

Well you wouldn’t know it from all the tributes to the tenth anniversary in the media, that within two days of the Rwandan tragedy, the US knew not only what was going on but who did it and where and when they did it.

The report from the invaluable National Security Archive released via a Freedom of Information request belies all the bullshit and crocodile tears we’ve been reading about Rwanda over the past couple of weeks.

The one aspect of the reportage that stands out above all else is the total lack of context and the omission of the real history leading up to the events of 1994, with the emphasis on the ‘humanitarian’ element to the exclusion of the history and the involvement of the French and US governments in contributing to the massacres. The establishment media has not made a single reference to US knowledge (and hence its implicit complicity) in the events of 1994. Instead, as per usual, Africans are presented to us as helpless victims, deserving of our sympathy (and the odd pound or two of conscience money) but are denied the reality of their own history as a colonised people.

Fergal Keane, the BBC’s ‘roving’ reporter, who was in Rwanda in 1994 has received enormous media exposure both on BBC Radio 4, BBC World Service and in the Independent, managed to speak and write tens of thousands of words but without a single reference to the events that led up to 1994. Keane agonised ad nauseum about the plight of the Rwandans, in a remarkable display of breast-beating about the lack of conscience on the part of the developed world, yet failed to identify a single cause of the events aside from the predictable ‘ethnic rivalries’ of Hutu and Tutsi, that we are led to believe, extends back to the dim and distant past. We are left, therefore, with the impression, that before the arrival and colonisation of the ‘civilised’ white man, Hutu and Tutsi were at each others throats for generations. We merely ‘stumbled’ into a tragedy.

So too, as the (predictable) meltdown of the colonial ‘adventure’ in Iraq grinds on to its inevitable and bloody conclusion, we still read (as I write) and hear on radio and television about “anarchy” and how the two ‘ethnic’ groups are all of a sudden “uniting” to fight the occupiers. Since when I’d like to know, have two strands of a single religion qualified as “ethnic groups” (that’s how the Independent’s editorial of 05/04/04 described the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam)?

And so too, the hired gunmen from Blackwater Consulting [sic] who died in Fallujah last week, are still described without exception by every corporate/state media outlet variously as “civilian contractors”, “contractors”, “civilian workers” or just plain ol’ “civilians”. That they were guns for hire is never, ever alluded to. Nor is the fact that the employment of a mercenary army numbering at least 10,000 (and in all likelyhood, a lot more), neatly sidesteps the negative effects of a stream of military body bags on their loved ones back in the ‘homeland’. It also has the added advantage of distorting the military death count by keeping it in the ‘low’ 600s (although total casualties now approach the 20,000 mark. See GI Special for the real deal).

And, as I’ve reported here on innumerable occasions, the followers of the Shia arm of Islam are identified as the “majority” and the Sunni as the “minority”, yet not a single piece of evidence is offered to substantiate this claim. This is ‘received opinion’ in action, repeated over and over again in all the ‘news’ reports to the exclusion of any other reality.

Nor do we see anywhere in the media, Iraqis described as actual, real Iraqis, as citizens of a country called Iraq. Instead, they must conform to the propaganda machine’s description of tribes, ethnic groups or better still, as an ‘ethnic minority’ and hence vulnerable to the predations of the ‘majority’ _____ (insert applicable description here).

Some headlines from the past few days illustrate the point:

“IRAQ Falls Apart”, “IRAQ nightmare unfolds”, “US Military Vows To Destroy Shia Cleric Militia In Iraq”, “INSURGENCY Threatens US Stability in Iraq”, “SHIITE uprising propels coalition partners into Iraq’s front”, “IRAQ Descends into Chaos”, “US senators warn of Iraq civil war”. Even Hans Blix throws in his two-pennyworth, “IRAQ on verge of civil war: Blix”.

What is clear is that at all costs these headlines avoid the obvious reality, especially the references to “chaos” “anarchy” and “civil war”. Once more, the decades-old adage, ‘repeat a lie often enough…’ rings true. Dig a little deeper and the headlines reveal a coherent ideological mission on the part of the capitalist media to misrepresent the fundamental truth of the events of the past few days: Civil war occurs between factions inside a country, not between the occupied and the occupier. Anarchy or chaos refers to the breakdown of the social order, not a revolt of the occupied. The word ‘revolt’ or ‘insurrection’ doesn’t occur once in the corporate/state media’s description of the past few days although the BBC’s recent use of the word “insurgent” (rebellious, rebel, rising, uprising, insurrectionary) at least gets closer to the truth of the situation.

The idea that Iraq is a real country with a sense of its own identity must not be allowed to penetrate the consciousness of the populace. Instead, as with Rwanda, its people must be presented as warring ‘tribes’ or ‘ethnic’ groups, who, without Western ‘leadership’ to guide them toward ‘civilisation’, once left to their own devices descend into barbarity (as with Rwanda).

And as I write, plucked at random from the various news reports on the situation in Iraq, on BBC Radio 4’s “World at One” (08/04/04) we hear the following (from this so-called objective source of news):

“a rising tide of violence” (BBC reporter in Iraq).

“Rising tide of violence” or increasing resistance to occupation? In every report carried by the ‘World at One’, there was not a single reference to rising resistance (with the exception of the single word, “insurgent”) to an occupying army that has spread to virtually every part of the country. Instead, we hear:

“What’s more menacing about this situation [is that] it’s very easy in that part of the world [sic] to stir up enmity, especially with the [US] using helicopter gunships [my emph. WB]”, (BBC reporter in Iraq).

Pre-conceptions about “that part of the world” are once more reinforced with all that that entails. It’s only “in that part of the world” that people feel “enmity” in opposition to the occupiers’ use of 500lb bombs and guided missiles (with a reported 300-plus dead in Fallujah as a result). What would the inhabitants of New York or London feel I wonder, if a five hundred pound, laser-guided bomb was dropped on them? Would ‘enmity’ be used to describe the resulting reaction? The arrogance of superiority is revealed with all its assumptions about ‘us’ and ‘them’ and its inbuilt racist ideology that sickens (and angers) me to the core.

God’s rep on earth
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s ‘special envoy’ to Iraq when asked by the BBC anchor how he justified his description of the ‘rivalry’ between Shia and Sunni a few weeks ago with the events of the past few days, replied thus:

“If your enemy is my enemy, then we’re friends.’

So all of a sudden, Shia and Sunni unite (when were they warring?) to expel the occupier but there is no explanation as to why these former so-called enemies should decide to ‘unite’. Who is is this arrogant son-of-of-a-bitch ‘representative of God on earth’, who has the audacity to be part of an invading army in a foreign country and describe its occupied inhabitants thus?

And predictably, the same BBC programme interviews only those who spread the official line, so an American ‘representative’ of the Coalition Provisional Authority (the supposed Iraqi structure) is allowed to propagandize the view that it’s only a bunch of “thugs” who are fighting the occupiers.

So too the coincidental? use of words in the various establishment media outlets is amazing in its congruency. So we read in the Independent’s editorial of 05/04/04 the following:

“The bloody consequences of the demonstrations in Najef yesterday should greatly concern Iraq’s American administrator, Paul Bremer, for two reasons. The first is that it shows most of the Shia section of the population has become restive. [my emph. WB.]”

“Restive” (restless, fidgety, twitchy, agitated, edgy, impatient, on edge, uneasy)? Strange choice of words to describe events, for what it reveals is the inbuilt assumptions of the former ‘administrators’ of the erstwhile British Empire (who now edit their propaganda vehicles) and their attitudes toward the ‘natives’, who were known on occasion, from the Khyber Pass to Kenya to ‘be restive’ under the yoke of colonial rule.

Moreover, the splitting off of the Shia from the rest of population is a pernicious distortion of the reality that is Iraq, that any investigation of the history of the country (not even one hundred years old, following its overnight invention by the British colonisers), reveals the project of nation-building that took the European powers several hundred years to (almost and bloodily) complete, compressed into a few decades, and all the while subject to colonisation, intervention and interference. Interference that reveals Saddam as a client of US imperialism and before him, various and sundry Hashemite ‘kings’ propelled into leadership by a colonial Britain, anxious to retain control of all that oil.

When we will see this reality as underpinning (let alone explaining) the events of the past few days, presented in the press?


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