By Aijaz Zaka Syed
13 June 2014
Thomas Jefferson, the third US president, argued that the only truths in a newspaper are to be found in its advertisements. I wonder how the great man, who lived and died nearly two centuries ago, would have viewed journalism and journalists of our times with their paid news and sponsored views.
We have a surfeit of news; information and opinion everywhere today live as we do in the age of communication. With the latest computers and tablets and ubiquitous mobile phones now being within the reach of just about everyone, there has been an unprecedented explosion of information. Statistics and facts are at everyone’s fingertips. Truth, however, remains in short supply.
Thomas L Friedman, the old Middle East hand of the New York Times and its most followed columnist, had been one of the most passionate champions of George W Bush’s mission to “liberate” the Middle East. Short of ‘embedding’ and triumphantly driving into Baghdad atop a US tank, Friedman did everything to cheer for the US-Western invasion of Iraq.
He led the brigade of influential Western journalists and opinion makers who, using the power and political clout at their disposal, helped the Neocons build the case for war on a country already down and out after years of Western sanctions.
From possessing weapons of mass destruction to planning 9/11 attacks, Saddam Hussain had been accused of virtually every plausible crime in Western lexicon. And from promoting freedom and democracy to standing up for Iraq’s long persecuted multitudes, what epic lies hadn’t been invented and fed to global public opinion?
It was journalists and intellectuals like Friedman who provided the fig leaves of excuses and justifications to the coalition of the willing, paving the way for the war that has claimed more than a million lives.
Iraq, one of the richest and oldest countries in the world, has been decimated beyond recognition. Not to mention the other inestimable costs the country and the region at large have paid in terms of political and economic strife, extremism and sectarian warfare that now threatens to consume the whole of Middle East.
It has been 11 years since the Iraq invasion and all the lies spread as part of the new American century project have been exposed for what they are — plain, white, barefaced lies. Yet one hasn’t heard a single word of remorse or by way of apology from Bush and Blair or their apologists and spinmeisters like Friedman.
Indeed, far from being repentant, Blair is pitching for more Iraq-like adventures across the Muslim world. That pretence of promoting democracy and freedom is dispensed with too.
I haven’t come across anything remotely resembling an apology or admission of guilt from Friedman either. In his latest piece titled, The real war of ideas (New York Times, June 10) he blames everyone but the empire for the mind-numbing mess that is today’s Iraq.
Friedman bemoans the loss of Iraq’s famous Marshes, Kurdistan’s depleting forest cover and oak and loss of Megafauna that threatens species like Persian leopard. Talking of a ‘real war of ideas’ between the religious extremists and committed environmentalists (“the only one worth taking sides”), he voices grave concern over the ecological disaster that threatens Iraq.
“If the extremists win — and right now they are winning — this region will become a human and ecological disaster zone. If the environmentalists win, it will be because enough people realize that if they don’t learn to share this space, either they will destroy each other or Mother Nature will soon destroy them all,” Friedman postulates.
This profound concern for Iraq and its environment is touching. But how did the fabled land of Euphrates and Tigris, end up here?
It was on the bank of river Tigris that the idea of agriculture and human civilization as we know it was born some 7,000 years ago. Today, in the words of Christian Science Monitor, “it is dammed, dirty and drained by war.” Much like the rest of the country.
Surely, what Iraq confronts is nothing short of an environment disaster. But it is nothing compared to the catastrophe and general breakdown and misery the country faces on all fronts. More than a decade after Bush declared ‘Mission Accomplished,’ Iraq remains a virtual battle zone.
There is no peace, no security and no law and order anywhere, let alone the much promised democracy and freedom. Year 2014 has been the deadliest so far in terms of loss of life. Iraq continues to bleed, day after day, from a million wounds.
Friedman’s lamentations over Iraq’s dying marshes and its flora and fauna at a time when its people are fighting for survival aren’t therefore just hypocritical, they are downright criminal. Those responsible for this mindless destruction of an entire civilization not just remain totally blasé; they are pushing for more ‘shock and awe.’
In a keynote speech on the Middle East in April, Blair virtually declared an all-out war on Islam describing the Muslim world as a “vast unfathomable mess with no end in sight and no one worthy of our support.” (The choice of words reminds one of Friedman!)
It had easily been the most vitriolic and damning speech by a Western politician in a long time. Yet it was largely missed and ignored by its targeted victims. Admonishing a “wilfully blind West” for its increasing reluctance to “engage the Middle East”(read, “bomb the Middle East,” in Steven Poole’s words), the former Labor PM urged it to “take sides” and join hands with Russia and China to build a common front against “Islamic extremism” (read Islam).
“It still represents the biggest threat to global security in the 21st century,” he declared. "The threat of this radical Islam is not abating. It is growing. It is spreading across the world. It is destabilizing communities and even nations. It is undermining the possibility of peaceful co-existence in an era of globalization. And in the face of this threat we seem curiously reluctant to acknowledge it and powerless to counter it effectively."
And this is the man tasked with promoting peace in the Middle East by the UN and world powers!
Imagine a Muslim leader fulminating thus against Western civilization or calling for a global front to fight Christianity or Zionism. There would have been blood and all hell would have been broken loose. Notwithstanding all the wars and destruction visited by Western powers on humanity, not to mention the recent ones in the Middle East.
Who invaded, pillaged and colonized nearly the whole world in the past few centuries? Not Muslims. Who nuked and killed millions and millions of people in the last century alone? Not Muslims again. Who polices the globe and runs military bases in virtually every part of the planet? Not us.
Yet no one in the West, except for some liberals, bothered to censure Blair’s rants against Islam and Muslims. There had been few protesting voices in the Muslim world either. No wonder the Blairs of this world get away with murder, again and again.
Aijaz Zaka Syed is a Gulf-based writer.