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John Pilger 3 June 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Helping the oppressor and the oppressed..., The 'Zionist Entity'.
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There is an interesting introduction to John Pilger's latest book, Freedom Next Time, in the Guardian today. For those who don't know this man, here is Mark Curtis' two-line intro:

John Pilger is a very unusual journalist. He writes about people on the receiving end of grisly western policies – whether bombs or economic "advice" – and then exposes the motivations of those who are responsible. One might think Pilger is just doing his job. In fact, it is an indictment of western journalism that this way of working is rather unusual and Pilger unique.

Indeed. Not many mainstream Western journalists print books with accounts such as the one from Liana Badr; she was the director of the Palestinian Cultural Centre, and was interviewed by Pilger just after it had been "hideously destroyed by Israeli soldiers". In her words:

"We have been raped; and all the while, the perpetrators are crying that they are the victims, demanding the world's sorrow and perpetual silence about us while their powerful army demolishes our culture, our lives"

Read the whole thing.. at the very least, you will find out who the Chagossians are – and don't ever say that this blog is unafraid to explore new and exotic geographies :-)

And while you are at it, also check out Pilger's website – its cool too. For an Aussie, he is remarkably level-headed, and even clear-headed ;-)

The world’s most savage war 30 May 2006

Posted by TwentyTwoYards in Helping the oppressor and the oppressed....
2 comments

A few weeks ago, I read Johann Hari's deeply troubling account of his trip to the Congo – it is moving, shocking, and to be honest, does not make for pleasant reading. However, read it we must – and then ponder upon man's oppression and his sheer callous disregard for other men. A conflict where 4 million people have died since 1998, many in truly horrific manner, and yet we know so litle of it. Some excerpts follow…

This is the story of the deadliest war since Adolf Hitler’s armies marched across Europe. It is a war that has not ended. But is also the story of a trail of blood that leads directly to you: to your remote control, to your mobile phone, to your laptop and to your diamond necklace.

I think Hari does overplay "our" culpability for this oppression; most people, if given a choice between a cheap mobile phone that is cheap because someone was killed for it, and a slightly more expensive model that is not thus tainted, would go for the latter. Or am I too optimistic about human nature? The following would suggest that I am. Warning – graphic, and very shocking…

He [Dr Mukwege] describes the cases that made him go public in a fast get-it-over-with voice. One morning he was brought a raped three year-old by her broken father. “Everything had been shot away. There was nothing I could do for her,” he says. “The father started smashing his own head against the wall, screaming that he had not been able to protect his baby daughter. We heard later he committed suicide.” That same day, he saw a seventy-two year old who had been raped in front of her sons-in-law, the relations considered sacred in Congolese culture. She said, “Don’t cure me. Don’t feed me. I can never go back and look my sons-in-law in the face.”

And there are many other similar stories in the article. I find it shocking that a truly savage, barbaric and devastating war, in fact, series of wars, have destroyed a country that is one-fourth the size of the US, and we have barely heard about it. Blacks killing other blacks is just not a story, is it? Now, if that had been Arabs killing blacks, or even the myth of Arabs killing blacks, we would heard about it morning, noon and night.

This still does not address my key question though – is this issue not of greater significance than any trivial budget deficit, silly Kyoto target or pointless foreign policy junket? Yet, its relegated to the fringes of popular conscienceness, if that. What about us Muslims – just because Muslims are not being killed (for once), we can ignore the oppression? Or should we be as concerned and worried about the Congolese as we (rightly) are about the Iraqis, the Palestinians and the Kashmiris being killed in their respective countries.

What possesses human beings to behave like animals? Can we glibly blame Imperialism and Western multinationals, as Hari seems to have done? He believes that the horrific rapes of thousands of Congolese women is 'merely part of a larger rape – the rape of Congo' by its erstwhile Belgian colonists in the past, and by Western multinationals now. He even meets the token Belgian ex-colonist; her views do appear somewhat blinkered, and even nauseating:

As we sit over lunch, Tina Van Malderen says, skimming the menu, “I don’t drink water – only wine.” Her hair is greying but her smile is warm. “I first came to Bukavu as a little girl in 1951 when my father came to work for the Belgian administration,” she explains. “It was Paradise. There were only European then. No Africans. Black people lived in the surrounding areas. It wasn’t like South Africa, they weren’t forced. They didn’t want to live with us, they wanted to be with their own. They came into the town to work. They didn’t use our shops, they had their own market.” She speaks of the days of Belgian empire with a soft-focus sepia longing. “I have four sisters, and we would swim in the lake all day. It was like a non-stop holiday.”

I am sure it was. Am less sure that the blacks shared that view… The reality was somewhat different:

The Belgians unified Congo in the first great holocaust of the twentieth century, a programme of slavery and tyranny that killed 13 million people. King Leopold II – bragging about his humanitarian goals, of course – seized Congo and turned it into a slave-colony geared to extracting rubber, the coltan and cassiterite of its day. The ‘natives’ who failed to gather enough rubber would have their hands chopped off, with the Belgian administrators receiving and carefully counting hundreds of baskets of hands a day.

Things did not improve after independence – according to Hari:

the CIA decided he [Patrice Lumumba, the first and only elected leader of Congo] was a “mad dog” who had to be put down. Before long, one of their agents was driving around Kinshasa with the elected leader’s tortured corpse in the boot looking for a place to dump him, and the CIA’s man – Mobutu Sese Seko – was in power and in the money.

And the same cycle was repeated when Mobutu no longer met his masters' needs and was replaced by Kabila in the late 1990s. Zaire (as it was then, Congo as it is now) is a country endowed with vast potential wealth – so this is what its all about:

If you want to glimpse what all this death has been for, you drive four hours out of the town of Goma, on pocked and broken roller-coaster roads that melt into mud with the rain, until you reach a place called Kalehe. Scarring the lush green hills, there are what seem to be large red scabs that glisten in the sun. The technical term for these open wounds in the earth is ‘artisinal mines’, but this dry terminology conjures up images of technical digs with machines and lights and helmets. In reality, they are immense holes in the ground, in which men, women and children – lots of children – pick desperately with makeshift hammers or their bare hands at the red earth, hoping to find some coltan or cassiterite to set on the long conveyor belt to your house or mine. Coltan is a metal that conducts heat unusually brilliantly. It is contained in your mobile, your lap-top, your son’s Playstation – and 80 percent of the world’s supplies sit beneath the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The mad fighting to control, extract and market this mineral wealth has not covered anyone in glory – from Congo's neighbours, such as Rwanda and Uganda (whose armies and militias are behind most of the violence), to Western mining and banking companies, including Anglo American, Barclay's Bank, Standard Chartered Bank and De Beers – the same list of 'usual suspects' that helped prop up the apartheid regime in SA. Three weeks after Hari in The Independent (London), the US based newsmagazine "Time" has led with this war as its cover story, which is where it belongs. Read it all here.

I will end though with Hari. What is the most 'piercing image of pain' Hari saw in his travels?

… it is the women carrying more than their own body-weight in wood or coal or sand, all day, every day. By every Congolese roadside, there are women with ropes tearing into their foreheads as they bind a massive load onto their backs. With so few horses, so few cars and so few roads, starving women are used here as pack-horses, transporting anything that needs to be moved on their backs for fifty pence a day. They are given the quaint title of ‘porters’.

Francine Chacopawa is 30 years old but she looks much older, her faced lined and cratered in a complex topography of grief and pain. Her spine is curved, her skin is rough and broken, her hands are calloused. When she laboriously, painfully puts down the wood she is carrying, she has a red canyon in her forehead where the rope was, rimmed with sores that weep from the rubbing. “This is the rope that keeps my household alive,” she says. It is the war that has reduced her to this state. “Since the war started in Congo, you can’t farm in peace, you can’t raise animals, and the children are starving, so I prefer to die in this work… My husband cannot get a job since the fighting began, so this is what I have to do. I leave at five o’clock in the morning and get back at seven o’clock at night. I am worried my children are running away to look for food, because we only get to eat once a day and they are so hungry. When I get home, my husband gets angry and asks why I have been away so long. We have suffered so much. The children we bring into the world are forced to be porters as well. We are the most unhappy people in the world.”

She tells me the pack she is carrying weighs two hundred pounds, and I write this off as understandable hyperbole. Then my translator and the UN driver load her pack onto my back (with great difficulty). I immediately fall to my knees. I stagger up and manage to stumble a few feet before falling over again. I am almost crying in pain; my back aches for weeks. This is Francine’s life. She does not even stop on Sundays. “How can I? We must eat,” she says. Portering has made her miscarry twice, and Francine says she has seen women die by the side of the road, buckled under their loads. I ask her when she will stop portering. She shrugs, and says nothing. Her eyes say, ‘When I die.’

There is a lot more in Hari's article, and I recommend all of us to read it whenever we have a spare 20 minutes – there are discussions with the government, review of the armies and militias, comments on rampant Shirk in the form of witchcraft and Christianity, but really, does anything need to be said after Francine's account above?