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Lies and Shameless Pretence

Orwell’s Bastards

by PABLO MUKHERJEE

We ordinary earthlings, were informed by George Bush Senior in his 1991 State of union Address, are living under a new world order. Over the past decade, from the highway of death between Kuwait and Iraq, in Kosovo, in Jallalabad and the hills of Afghanistan, in the alleys of West bank and cafes of Tel Aviv, and the ruins of the twin towers of New York, the face of this new order has become more and more evident. We are caught in a terrible and twisted Groundhog’s day, standing on the eve of yet another war in the Iraqi desert presided over by another George Bush. Pentagon spokespeople assure us that they have prepared a shower of missiles on Baghdad that will rival Hiroshima. The U.N. estimates up to half a million Iraqi civilian casualties will occur, and up to 1.5 million civilians will be rendered refugees, in a war that will ‘liberate’ them. This is a war that the majority of British, European, Arab, African, Asian and Latin American people are opposed to. There is growing evidence that a remarkable number of U.S. citizens are also opposed to this war about to be fought allegedly for both their security and the ‘liberation’ of Iraq. As governments take the lead in spinning and counter spinning propaganda and lies with literally mass murderous consequences, this is the hour we desperately needed a clear, searching, analytical voice like that of George Orwell (1903-1950). What we have instead are Orwell’s bastards, pretending to offer objective, ‘no-bullshit’ defence of democracy, sullying instead their master’s name with lies and half-truths in feeble parodies of his voice.

How does one recognise Orwell’s bastards? Whereas Orwell himself was acutely aware of historical complexities and constantly tested himself with searching criticism (perhaps most painfully in Homage to Catalonia), our new Orwellians deliberately twist facts, maintain selective silences, resort to outright lies, and are generally marked by a shameless pretence of piety and moral high-handedness. Take their chief, Christopher Hitchens’s recent rant in the British Daily Mirror against the historic peace march in London (15.2.03) as an example. Lamenting the fact that it did not rain on this parade, Hitchens sees two kinds of people in the largest ever political rally in Britain ? those belonging to the sinister Marxist-Muslim Fundamentalist cabal (leading), and the generally deluded well meaning middle Englanders (the herd). He says it was a shame that even half this number wouldn’t bother to turn up in a rally in favour of the Kurds who have been fighters for democracy in Iraq and basically accuses the peace marchers as fifth columnist appeasers working to keep the Iraqi dictator in power. Hitchens is a self-confessed disciple of Orwell (he has recently published a book on him) and takes pride in his alleged ability to speak unpopular truths to lift the gloom of mass ignorance. What is wrong with this analysis of the current peace movement? In short, everything. Worse, his own position is compromised by his deliberately dishonest interpretation of facts.

First, peace movement is not a political party, there are no leaders who hand down programmes to the led. It is a network. There are organisers who take feedback from the widest coalition in Britain, and help them come together for demonstrations, discussions, rallies and in near future, if need be ? direct action. Debate, dissent, even open derision of some of the speakers marked the crowd’s behaviour in the rally. But all were united in a powerful expression of democratic will ? enough of this game of death played by Bush-Blair and Bin-Laden/Saddam, purveyors of two kinds of fundamentalist evil that threatens to give us the gift of never-ending war. We will fight them with weapons of peace.

Second, had the British government been preparing troops and armaments to massacre the Kurds in Iraq, we can assure Mr Hitchens that there would be the same number of people on the streets. The hypocrisy of this would be Orwell of our age on the Kurdish problem is breath-taking. Where is Hitchens when the USA supplies Turkey with well over ?2 billions in arms, much of which is used to kill Kurds who are fighting there for the democratic rights to their language and regional autonomy? Or perhaps the democracy of Kurds being repressed by a key US ally is not as important as the ones in Iraq? Where was Hitchens when the Iraqi Kurds and Shias were encouraged to rise up against Saddam Hussein after 1991 by George Bush (snr) and then left to be butchered? Does he take note of Kurdish activists and exiles who are voicing their sense of betrayal and concern at the U.S. plans of post-Saddam Iraq which involves establishing military protectorate under General Tommy Franks assisted by Ba’athists? He would have us believe that the US-British aggression is based on moral concern for Kurds. If he had the minimum decency and honesty, not to mention the salutary self critical edge of his master, he would not dare propose this in public. This is not just the peddling of partial truths. It is the silencing of facts that is about to have murderous consequences.

Orwell’s writings were marked by a refreshingly critical reception of power, especially the way in which power in democracies as well as totalitarian regimes can be captured by the elites. Animal Farm and 1984 are as useful in the critique of the increasingly surveillant, ‘big brother’ societies in the West today as they were of east European Stalinist societies. Indeed, the recent drama production of 1984 by Northern Stage in Britain reinforces this point. His bastards however, are willing slaves of the new world order. They have surrendered their critical integrity by refusing to criticise those propagandas and myths coming out of the circuits of power in the west (like the ‘clash of civilisations’, for instance) that are designed to impose the military, technological and political might of the Atlantic bloc (USA and Britain) over the global ‘south’ as well as over Europe. Hitchens, Thomas Friedman, David Aaronovitch have all accepted that the contemporary world is marked by a struggle between the Bush doctrine and the bin-Laden doctrine, and have thrown in their critical might behind the fundamentalist from Texas (I use the word fundamentalist not only in its religious sense, but also the political sense which is summed by the current George Bush’s formula ? ‘You are either with us, or against us’ and the elevation of conflict/war as a political strategy by Washington). They attempt to mask this by promoting the vision of a war for democracy. This flimsy lie is of course knit with telling silences. Where are the new Orwellians when Saudi Arabia, Israel, China, Turkey, Russia and India commit massive human rights violations on a regular basis on their own citizens? Each of these is current or prospective U.S. allies in Washington’s quest for geo-political ‘Full Spectrum Domination’, and thus exempt from the moral crusader’s wrath. We do not hear from these columnists about the human rights abuse going on in Guantanamo Bay prison camps, where the U.S. military is holding innocent civilians along with suspected Taliban and al-Qaida militants without any charges and frequently subjecting them to ‘soft’ torture (continuous interrogation, sleep deprivation etc). They do not talk about the leaked Pentagon document that hit the media less than a week ago about the U.S. disregard for nuclear proliferation and intention of developing a new generation of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. With the history of using depleted uranium shells in Gulf war one, ‘bunker busters’ and ‘daisy cutters’ in Afghanistan and Kosovo, the USA should be a prime candidate for weapons inspection. At least, its murderous hypocrisy of conducting the war in the name of controlling WMDs should be noticed by our new Orwellians, but their silence on this is resounding and telling. They are unmoved when Washington, under pressure from the Pharmaceutical lobbies, maintain the merciless licensing and patent laws that prevent life-saving drugs reaching millions of AIDS patients in Africa and across the world ? condemning them to painful deaths. Many more people are dying, will die to protect the interests of companies that finance the Republican Party campaigns. Many more than Saddam Hussein’s victims in Iraq. But Orwell’s bastards have chosen their side, and it is not the one where millions of people across the world belong to.

We charge Orwell’s bastards of not merely of inconsistencies. We charge them with deliberate attempts to mislead, to silence, to confuse the millions who are combining against the new world order. We charge them with slandering the peace movement as appeasers and non-interventionists. We have been saying no to war, not to action. We have been arguing to lift the sanctions regime that murders Iraqi civilians and strengthens the hand of Saddam Hussein. We have been backing weapons as well as human rights inspections. Further, we call for these to be carried out in states other than Iraq ? Israel, China, North Korea, Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Russia, USA, Turkey, to name a few. We reject the idea that the ‘blowback’ of the Cold war – when the USA financed and armed Islamic fundamentalist groups against the Soviet Union- must now be contained by further conflicts that have already claimed thousands of lives and will claim many more. We charge them with sabotaging political and diplomatic structures for peaceful resolutions of conflicts. Where Orwell would have lent his sharp critical faculties to build and support the movement of the masses, they act surreptitiously to inject doubt into them. When millions are yearning for courageous voices to be raised for a genuinely democratic world, we charge them with serving the interests of a hyper power and the elites who have dedicated themselves to a unipolar world and a war without end.

In his fine review of Hitchens’s latest homage to Orwell in the recent London Review of Books, Stefan Collini ends with this unforgettable image ? “The sight of Hitchens view-hallooing across the fields in pursuit of some particularly dislikeable quarry has been among the most exhilarating experiences of literary journalism during the last two decades. He’s courageous, fast, tireless and certainly not squeamish about being in at the kill. But after reading this and some of his other recent writings, I begin to imagine that, encountering him, still glowing and red-faced from the pleasures of the chase, in the tap-room of the local inn afterwards, one might begin to see a resemblance not to Trotsky and other members of the European revolutionary intelligentsia whom he once admired, nor to the sophisticated columnists and political commentators of the East Coast among whom he now practises his trade, but to other red-coated, red-faced riders increasingly comfortable in their prejudices and their Englishness – to Kingsley Amis, pop-eyed, spluttering and splenetic; to Philip Larkin, farcing away at the expense of all bien pensants; to Robert Conquest and a hundred other ‘I told you so’s. They would be good company, up to a point, but their brand of saloon-bar finality is only a quick sharpener away from philistinism, and I would be sorry to think of one of the essayists I have most enjoyed reading in recent decades turning into a no-two-ways-about-it-let’s-face-it bore. I just hope he doesn’t go on one hunt too many and find himself, as twilight gathers and the fields fall silent, lying face down in his own bullshit.” The twilight has come but the fields are far from silent. Smeared with their own bullshit, Hitchens and other Orwell’s bastards find themselves, in Hitchens’s own words, with no one left to lie to.

PABLO MUKHERJEE teaches at the University of Newcastle. He can be reached at: Pablo.mukherjee@ncl.ac.uk