Children of Darkness – Killing “them” (Part 2)


al-qaida_hunt3

by David Edwards

   To be fair to the BBC, Rageh Omaar’s observation generalises: the whole of British journalism is a “white man’s club” dominated by the “class thing”. In March, media magnate Rupert Murdoch received the American Jewish Committee’s National Human Relations Award. The plaudits heaped on Murdoch recalled the words of the 4th century Buddhist poet, Aryasura:

“When virtue is given as a name to one devoid of virtue, it has a harsh and grating sound, as if it were contempt instead of praise.” (Aryasura, The Marvelous Companion, Dharma Publishing, 1983, p.127)

The man with so much influence over what the world knows and thinks gave an idea of his contribution to “human relations”:

“Hamas has been raining down rockets on Israeli civilians. Like all terrorist attacks, the aim is to spread fear within free societies, and to paralyze its leaders. This Israel cannot afford. I do not need to tell anyone in this room that no sovereign nation can sit by while its civilian population is attacked.” (http://www.ajc.org/site/c.ijITI2PHKoG/b.5018279/ k.7184/AJC_Honors_Rupert_Murdoch.htm)

David Bromwich, professor of literature at Yale university, puts the argument in perspective: “We are offered an analogy: what would Americans do if rockets were fired from Canada or Cuba?… [But] the rockets are assumed to come suddenly without cause. The choking of the Gaza Strip by land, sea, and air, the rejection by the US of the Palestinian Unity Government, the coup launched by Fatah and bankrolled by the US, which ended in the seizure of power by Hamas — all of this happened before the rockets fell from the sky. It is as if it belonged to a pre-historic time.” (http://www.zmag.org/zmag /viewArticle/20746) The idea that Israel’s massacre of 1,400 Palestinians was intended to stop rocket attacks is hard to reconcile with the fact that Israel deliberately provoked those attacks when it broke the ceasefire with its November 4, 2008 attack killing six people in Gaza. As we have discussed (http://www.medialens.org/alerts/ 09/090204_the_bbc_impartiality.php), darker motives are hidden beneath the declared need to act in self-defence.  The Los Angeles Times reported last week:

“The winter assault on the Gaza Strip was officially portrayed in Israel as an attempt to quell rocket fire by militants of Hamas. But some soldiers say they also were lectured about a more ambitious aim: to banish non-Jews from the biblical land of Israel. “‘This rabbi comes to us and says the fight is between the children of light and the children of darkness,’ a reserve sergeant said, recalling a training camp encounter. ‘His message was clear: “This is a war against an entire people, not against specific terrorists.” The whole thing was turned into something very religious and messianic.’” (Richard Boudreaux, ‘Israeli army rabbis criticized for stance on Gaza assault – Some Israeli soldiers say military rabbis cast the offensive against Hamas rockets as a fight to expel non-Jews,’ Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2009;http://www.latimes.com/news/la-fg-israel-holywar25- 2009mar25,0,3336606.story?track=ntothtml)

The LA Times added:

“In testimony reported by Israeli news media and in interviews with The Times, Gaza veterans said rabbis advised army units to show the enemy no mercy and called for resettlement of the Palestinian enclave by Jews. “‘The rabbis were all over, in every unit,’ said Yehuda Shaul, a retired army officer whose human rights group, Breaking the Silence, has taken testimony from dozens of Gaza veterans. ‘It was quite well organized.’”

Little or none of this exists for the “white man’s club,” Murdoch included. He warned, instead, against the notion that Israel was in any way in the ascendancy:

“It’s true that Israel’s conventional superiority means it could flatten Gaza if it wanted. But the Israeli Defense Forces – unlike Hamas – are accountable to a democratically chosen government.  “No matter which party is in the majority, every Israeli government knows it will be held accountable by its people and by the world for the lives that are lost because of its decisions.”

And yet “the world”, notably the United States, allowed Israel to continue its massacre with impunity. He continued:

“Hamas knows that in some ways, dead Palestinians serve their purposes even better than dead Israelis. In the West we look at this and say, ‘It makes no sense.’ But it does make sense.  “If you are committed to Israel’s destruction, and if you believe that dead Palestinians help you score a propaganda victory, you do things like launch rockets from a Palestinian schoolyard. This ensures that when the Israelis do respond, it will likely lead to the death of an innocent Palestinian – no matter how many precautions Israeli soldiers take.”

As discussed in Part 1, “that’s what makes us different to them”. The Financial Times provided a reality check for Murdoch’s commentary, citing a “string of damning reports” published last week in Israeli newspapers of soldiers’ testimonies, including evidence that troops shot at unarmed civilians. Some reported that they had been issued with “lax rules of engagement that placed little value on the safety of Gazan civilians.” The FT reported:

“Among the incidents which the Israeli army said it would investigate were the shootings of a mother and her two children, who were ordered to leave their house but, misunderstanding the soldiers’ instructions, strayed into a ‘no-go’ zone where they were killed by sniper fire. A separate shooting of another Gaza woman was described by one soldier as “cold-blooded murder”.  “On Monday, a report by a UN human rights panel made fresh allegations, including the claim that Israeli soldiers used Palestinian civilians as human shields during the fighting. ‘Violations were committed on a daily basis, too numerous to list,’ said one of the report’s authors.” (Tobias Buck, ‘Israel dismissive as fury mounts,’ Financial Times, March 24, 2009)

This was reported in the same week that Israel’s Haaretz newspaper published details of the images Israeli soldiers are having printed on the shirts they order to mark the end of training, or of duty in the field:

“A T-shirt for infantry snipers bears the inscription ‘Better use Durex,’ next to a picture of a dead Palestinian baby, with his weeping mother and a teddy bear beside him. A sharpshooter’s T-shirt from the Givati Brigade’s Shaked battalion shows a pregnant Palestinian woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, with the slogan, in English, ‘1 shot, 2 kills.’ A ‘graduation’ shirt for those who have completed another snipers course depicts a Palestinian baby, who grows into a combative boy and then an armed adult, with the inscription, ‘No matter how it begins, we’ll put an end to it.’” (http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1072466.html)

Sociologist Dr. Orna Sasson-Levy, of Bar-Ilan University, commented:

“This tendency is most strikingly evident among soldiers who encounter various situations in the territories on a daily basis. There is less meticulousness than in the past, and increasing callousness. There is a perception that the Palestinian is not a person, a human being entitled to basic rights, and therefore anything may be done to him.” (Ibid)

Readers may feel it is unfair to focus on Murdoch. He is of the hard-right and, after all, there is a spectrum. As Murdoch’s employee, Rod Liddle, commented in the Times:

“Proper western liberal democracy is about accommodating all forms of fabulous stupidity, even the sort of stuff which comes from people who, if we’re honest, might feel more at home hunkering down in a cave somewhere in the Afghan-Pakistani borderlands. They hate us, implacably. It is a visceral loathing…”  (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/ columnists/rod_liddle/article5908258.ece)

Again, “that’s what makes us different to them”. We can easily take the Spectrum Test by turning once more to the Guardian’s Madeleine Bunting, who comments from the more fragrant end of “proper western liberal democracy”. What is her take on the beasts in human form that are the Taliban?

“What is clear is that this is an easy war for the Taliban. They may lack military technology but they don’t need it; all they need is patience, men and weapons, and they have plenty of all three. They have none of the constraints imposed by European electorates on body counts; careless of their own men’s lives, they can use the deaths of opponents and civilians to their advantage.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/ 2009/mar/23/afghanistan-military-terrorism)

The Murdoch view, in other words. This has been the one saving grace for all Third World opponents of high-tech Western firepower through the ages – they do not value life as highly as we do. We might think they are not having an “easy war” – we are blowing many thousands of them to kingdom come, after all – but this is merely to project our own human sensitivities onto the “children of darkness”. In truth, their indifference to the fate of their own people is probably beyond our powers of conception. In 2006, novelist Martin Amis described how Iran, “our natural enemy,” would be willing to accept a nuclear attack in order to realise its dark dreams:

“They feel they can absorb this hit and destroy Israel.” (Amis, This Week, October 12, 2006)

After all, what would a few million incinerated men, women and children mean to an “enemy” so “careless of their men’s lives”? They have no feeling for the people we currently slaughter in the thousands and hundreds of thousands – they would be unmoved by the addition of a few zeros. One does not need to be a highly paid therapist to perceive the actual projection: “They” could not care less for the lives of the people +we+ slaughter so casually. And so “they”, rather than we, are to blame. Corporal Matthew ‘Des’ Desmond of the UK’s 2nd Parachute Regiment described how he shot a Taliban fighter from two metres:

“There is no emotional attachment, you’d feel more anguish shooting a bunny rabbit.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008 /oct/26/military-afghanistan)

The comment was made, the Guardian noted, with a rueful smile.  How ironic – utterly unlike our “natural enemy”, we are united by a common indifference to their destruction.  Of course, “at the end of the day” he “could have been a normal person”. The British soldier, that is.

Iraq Epidemiologist Body Count

If there is a democratic constraint, it is on our body counts. Honest attempts to count the bodies of the “different” ones, the “children of darkness”, are perceived as threats to be attacked, smeared, denigrated and dismissed by “proper western liberal democracy”. Thus, some of the world’s greatest experts in the field of epidemiology find their careers joining a casualty count of hardball propaganda.  A BBC whistleblower wrote to us (asking to remain anonymous) quoting from one of our media alerts:

Dear Davids,  “Have journalists learnt nothing from recent history?”  The answer, I fear, is nothing.  I work at BBC World Service and this email was recently sent as a group to everyone.  “Chris Booth, Baghdad bureau chief, tells me the following two websites are a good point of reference for casualty figures in Iraq (classified by time period, nationality etc). Useful for graphics and cues (with attribution):  “www.icasualties.org for military casualties (also deals with Afghanistan)  “www.iraqbodycount.org for civilian casualties (NB this is not a definitive count, but a trusted estimate, so needs to be qualified).” It was from a producer. Unsurprising, unfortunately, that there is no mention of the ORB survey. Even given the recent update of the survey.  Anyway, I thought you’d find it interesting, depressing and perhaps useful.  Appreciate if you don’t mention my name.  best wishes  Name Withheld (Email to Media Lens, March 20, 2009)

No mention of the Opinion Research Business [ORB] survey reporting 1,033,000 deaths (January 2008, http://www.opinion.co.uk/ Newsroom_details.aspx?NewsId=88), nor of the 2004 and 2006 Lancet studies. That the BBC’s Baghdad Bureau Chief can believe that Iraq Body Count offers an “estimate” of the death toll in Iraq is staggering. In fact, it offers a figure based on media reports of violent civilian deaths in a country where journalists, who have been targeted and killed in large numbers, have been unable to function during the awesome violence that has accompanied the occupation (data from morgues and government records have been added in recent years).  The IBC website team – which is as qualified to act as a primary source on the Iraqi death toll as we are – is “trusted” by the mainstream media because it offers an extremely low number, has a superficial veneer of academic rigour, and has not been subjected to the unrelenting attacks mounted on studies offering higher numbers.  Stephen Soldz, Director of the Center for Research, Evaluation, and Program Development at the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, notes:

“We have recently learned that Gilbert Burnham, the lead author of second Lancet study, has been sanctioned by Johns Hopkins for deviating from the approved IRB protocol and collecting the names of many survey respondents, a fact that was implicitly denied in numerous public pronouncements.” (http://www.zcommunications.org/ znet/viewArticle/20890)

This collecting of names potentially placed lives at risk, although it is thought that no one was in fact harmed. But Soldz argues that Burnham’s lapse means Lancet II’s estimate can no longer be trusted:

“If one major methodological detail was distorted, we simply cannot know whether other aspects of the study were carried out as stated.”

It is a bold leap of doubt to take on such an important issue. After all, a key finding of Johns Hopkins’ internal investigation, unmentioned by Soldz, took a different view:

“Inclusion of identifiers did not affect the results of the study.” (http://www.jhsph.edu/publichealthnews/ press_releases/2009/iraq_review.html)

We asked John Tirman, Executive Director of MIT’s Center for International Studies, for his opinion on March 18:

Hi John Hope you’re well. We exchanged some emails last year. I wonder if you agree with Stephen Soldz’s comments on the findings of the internal investigation by Johns Hopkins into the 2006 Lancet study on mortality in Iraq: “This error, and its possible coverup in subsequent public statements means that, in my opinion, we can no longer rely upon the Lancet II mortality estimates. If one major methodological detail was distorted, we simply cannot know whether other aspects of the study were carried out as stated. “Until and unless there is far greater detail on these methods, I do not feel that their estimate of 650,000 post-invasion surplus deaths can be trusted.” (http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/20890) Isn’t that an irrational response, unless the misbehaviour affected the results? There’s no indication that it did. Gilbert Burnham was censured personally. The study wasn’t impugned.  What are your views (for quoting please)? Best wishes David

Tirman replied on March 19:

David, Yes, I agree with you, and the Hopkins statement makes clear that the confusion about identifiers (in Arabic) has nothing to do with the integrity of the methods and their implementation. In fact, the Hopkins review verified that the data was collected and entered properly, something several critics have harped on for 30 months. It’s now clear that the data and the analysis are solid. Of course, there could have been a sampling error, but that is always a risk; I don’t believe we can see one, and the main-street-bias folks are simply off kilter on this, as I’ve explained before. It is interesting how this small cadre of harpies persists the argue [sic] on diminishing grounds, when the IBC and DoD numbers, and the MoH/WHO survey, goes without critical comment. This tells us what they’re up to.  My own estimate, for what it’s worth, of the current figures, using the earlier surveys and the IBC trend line, is between 800,000 and 1.3 million dead as of January. The numbers of displaced, widows, etc., is supporting evidence.  Thanks for keeping up with this. Best, John

As Noam Chomsky has often noted, the propaganda system will embrace any level of idiocy and error, if it is in the best interests of power. Describe all attacks in Iraq as the result of “al-Qaeda”, for example, and no-one even notices. On the other hand, contributions that harm powerful interests trigger the most exhausting and exacting standards of scrutiny.  The two Lancet studies have been faced with exactly that, endlessly, and still their results and basic methodology have not been found wanting. We wonder how many similar studies, if subjected to a similar level of hostility and examination, would emerge spotless. The effect is powerful, particularly in the academic world, where any hint of political controversy is damaging. Perhaps because such conflagrations are quite rare, there is a tendency to assume that there must surely be +some+ fire amidst all that smoke. But that is often not the case in politics, where propaganda may well be unrelieved, cynical deceit.  The reality of the US-UK catastrophe in Iraq is, or could be, a major catastrophe for US-UK propaganda – for the lie of benevolence that gives policy free rein. And so an absolute torrent of mud has been directed at the Lancet studies. A clear cut victory has never been sought – the goal is simply increased confusion, additional doubt. The technical term: mud sticks! This is the power of flak, and one result, at least, is very clear – the courageous, compassionate, sincere and highly qualified lead authors of the Lancet reports have been, for the moment at least, silenced.

Suggested Action

The goal of Media Lens is to promote rationality, compassion and respect for others. If you do write to journalists, we strongly urge you to maintain a polite, non-aggressive and non-abusive tone. Write to Hugh Sykes at the BBC Email: hugh.sykes@bbc.co.uk Write to Steve Herrmann, BBC online editor Email: steve.herrmann@bbc.co.uk Write to Madeleine Bunting at the Guardian Email: m.bunting@guardian.co.uk Write to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian  Email: alan.rusbridger@guardian.co.uk Please send a copy of your emails to us  Email: editor@medialens.org

This media alert will shortly be archived here:  http://www.medialens.org/alerts/09/090330_children_of_darkness.php A new Media Lens book, ‘Newspeak in the 21st Century,’ by David Edwards and David Cromwell will be published by Pluto Press in the autumn. John Pilger writes of the book: “Not since Orwell and Chomsky has perceived reality been so skilfully revealed in the cause of truth.” Please visit the Media Lens website: http://www.medialens.org

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