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Can’t Truss It

This is a guest post by Ben Cohen of Z Word

A gray-haired, white-skinned, male journalist is savaging the first black President of the United States as an unreconstructed warmonger, under a headline lifted from the title of a Public Enemy track released back in 1988. Yes, it’s John Pilger.

Pilger’s latest column is a wonderful example of how churlishness, bitterness and a rather chilling openness towards conspiracy theories still pervade influential parts of the European left. “Don’t believe the hype,” he exhorts us, before delivering a solemn lecture about the dangers of “corporate journalism.” Pilger, you see, is one of that brave yet dwindling band of truth-speakers-to-power-worshippers.

Of what truths does he speak? Well, there’s the matter of the “brainwashing placed on most Americans from a tender age: that theirs is the most superior society in the world, and all means are justified, including the spilling of copious blood, in maintaining that superiority.”

No, actually – America is not the reincarnation of the Third Reich. It is an infinitely more complex place than Pilger dares allow for. On both the left and the right, there are powerful isolationist tendencies. Only the most pig-headed ideologue could not perceive the differences between Woodrow Wilson and Richard Nixon, say, or FDR and the younger Bush. American foreign policy has never been informed by a single principle and has never aimed for territorial aggrandizement. Hyperpower status is the object of decidedly mixed feelings.

As for the notion that America’s youth are schooled in the doctrine of their own superiority, that is just preposterous. Yet it appears in the pages of the New Statesman without question (one reason why, incidentally, I think Jonathan Freedland should pause before claiming that European anti-Americanism is largely about a loathing of the Bush Administration.)

Then we come to Pilger’s problem with Obama. Basically, he’s not black enough. Black, Pilger seems to believe, is a state of mind as well as a skin color. Increasingly, the black mindset is insufficiently radical, with the result that, as Pilger says, “the American elite has grown adept at using the black middle and management class.” Obama belongs to that class. So do Colin Powell and Condaleezza (sic) Rice.

On the other hand, Martin Luther King, praised for his linkage of the civil rights struggle with the Vietnam War, is depicted as healthily authentic. If Pilger was aware that Dr. King also equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism, he’d no doubt revise that assessment.

Some of you might have already concluded that this is all a bit, well….patronizing? Racist, even? At the very least reminiscent of the foul headline, “Uncle Barack’s Cabin,” which was emblazoned on the front page of the leftist German newspaper Die Tageszeitung?

As is often the case with Pilger, it gets worse.

“The vice-president-elect, Joe Biden, is a proud warmaker and Zionist,” he thunders. “Rahm Emanuel, who is to be the all-important White House chief of staff, is a fervent ‘neoliberal’ devoted to the doctrine that led to the present economic collapse and impoverishment of millions. He is also an ‘Israel-first’ Zionist who served in the Israeli army and opposes meaningful justice for the Palestinians – an injustice that is at the root of Muslim people’s loathing of the US and the spawning of jihadism.”

Finally, we get to the nub of the complaint! Obama’s Administration may not have been installed in the White House yet, but it’s already in the grip of Zionists and aggressors.

Joe Biden is reliably reported to have called himself a “Zionist” – no shame in that unless you believe, as Pilger does, that Zionism leads inexorably to war and racism and other ills. Remember, as well, that Pilger has an axe to grind with Biden over the Balkans; while Pilger was offering words of comfort to Milosevic, Biden was courageously supporting Bosnia and Kosovo against Serbia’s onslaught.

As for Rahm Emanuel, he has trangressed against the anti-Zionist catechism beyond any hope of redemption. His loyalties are dual, and he prioritizes Israel over America. He wants to crush the Palestinians. Because of him, and like-minded people who share power with him, we have been propelled into a conflict with the Muslim world. The prospect of a black president igniting “a new war in Pakistan, killing yet more brown-skinned people,” is what awaits us.

Again and again, Pilger trots out innunendo and hearsay as fact. Utterly convinced of his own righteousness, he walks straight into the analytical trap of portraying the Muslim world as a unified bloc facing a hostile America. With each passing day, there are different examples – uppermost in my mind today is the horrific story of the 13 year old girl in Somalia stoned to death by the Shabab Islamist militia for the crime of being raped – all of which make the same essential point: we are not dealing with a clash of civilizations stoked by Washington, but with a struggle against a form of Islamist radicalism which threatens Muslims first and foremost. In that sense, to echo the frankly antisemitic claim that Israel lies at the heart of Al Qaeda’s jihad against democracy and reason endangers not just Jews, but Muslim reformers too.

When all is said and done, I can’t help thinking that Pilger’s venting against the US, slavishly repeated in many of the comments on his piece, is a rather clumsy attempt to avoid another issue. Namely, why western Europe, which elevates commentators like Pilger to heights they could never hope to occupy in the US, is not going to have a black leader at the helm any time soon.

I know, I know: that last point does sound a tad conspiratorial. I guess it’s infectious.

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