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Whatever Happened to "Democracy Now?"

It is with some alarm and dismay that I watched Amy Goodman’s “Democracy Now” provide platform to right-wing Paksitani journalist Ahmad Rashid, long an apologist for Bush’s war-on-terror, to recycle propaganda from British tabloid press and other discredited sources. His tale about al-Qa’ida recruiting white converts for terrorist acts in Europe originated with the British security services as part of their fearmongering campaign to build support for the 42-day detention without charge plan. No shred of evidence was ever offered.

Equally bogus are his claims of organized al-Qa’ida ‘training camps’, where recruits are offered foreign language training etc. Once again, these claims are the products of the vivid imaginations of the terrorologists proliferating in the war on terror fear factory. I suggest Goodman ask Rashid to substantiate claims, or issue a retraction. (When he claims ‘Iraq is an Arab problem’ and that it would be resolved when its neighbours ‘stop interfering’, I would have liked Goodman  to at least ask if he was aware the country is under U.S. occupation.)

He suggests the truce negotiated by the Pakistani government is tantamount to ‘supporting the Taliban’. Quoting U.S. military officials in Kabul he alleges that Pakistan is ‘funding’ the ‘resurgence’ of the Taliban. He faults Pakistan for not cooperating more enthusiastically in Bush’s war on terror. Rashid appears to be living in a timeless world where the realities of 10 years past substitute for the present. Pakistani military’s intervention in the FATA region has been brutal, now extending to the frontier heartland of Swat. Tactics have included Israeli-style collective punishment; wholesale demolition of recalcitrant villages; disappearing of opponents (mostly of the tribal homines sacri, not wealthy media figures of Rashid’s stripe); bombing raids; extrajudicial killings. The response of the tribesmen — all swept under the handy label of ‘the Taliban’ by the government and hacks like Rashid — is as brutal as it is predictable. Only a few months back three rockets landed in the very safe neighborhood where my sister resides in the frontier city of Peshawar.

Kidnapping for ransom has become a common phenomenon. Suicide attacks on the military have been frequent. The Pakistani military death toll now numbers in the hundreds. So when a guest on Goodman’s show starts claiming that the Pakistani government is funding and encouraging the slaughter of its own soldiers I am forced to demur despite my disdain for the regime. When I hear Goodman’s guest fault Pakistan for not allowing US forces on its territory, and refusing CIA a base in the tribal regions, its your judgment I must question Goodman for letting this pass without challenge.

The government for some time has shown a preference for a negotiated political settlement, only to be thwarted every time by unauthorized US assaults renewing the conflict. Other times the government has caved under pressure and resumed the assaults itself to fend off accusations that it is ‘not doing enough’ in the fight against the Taliban. This is the same twaddle Goodman has allowed Rashid to recycle on her show.

There is no reason why Pakistan should be cooperating with the US “war on terror”. Under this rubric, the Musharraf regime has already devastated much of the tribal belt and created enemies where there were none. Contrary to Rashid’s claim that the new government is ‘willing to follow the US agenda’, it has promised to open dialogue with the tribals in order to end hostilities. This is a positive development that makes the US apprehensive, as it does Uncle Toms like Rashid who have wedded their careers to the ‘war on terror’ as its sanctioned cheer leaders.

I hope Goodman shows more care in the future in vetting her guests. She certainly could not have been unaware of the political leanings of this guest as on her very show he had declared his preferred outcome for the region’s conflicts: a NATO ‘victory’ in Afghanistan.

This is the second time in a week where Goodman’s editorial judgment has left me deeply disappointed. First was the refusal to cover — yet again — the AIPAC conference, with all its implications for US politics and the Middle East. In a year when even the mainstream media was finally forced to take notice (with Jon Stewart of the Daily Show going so far as to refer to the lobby group as the ‘Elders of Zion’, Democracy Now appeared alone in missing the irony of three presidential candidates pledging to fight the domination of lobbyists in Washington genuflect to the most powerful of them all.

Amy, what happened to Democracy Now’s promise to speak truth to power? Did you not say once that your aim was to go where the silence is? How is it that the Washington Post was able to break the silence even as Democracy Now remained AWOL? Why did Democracy Now join MSM in denying Mearsheimer and Walt a voice, instead allowing their views to be misrepresented by critics without a chance of rebuttal? How well placed are you to criticize the mainstream for refusing to stand up to power when you can yourself be considered guilty of the same?

MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD is at the Department of Geography and Sociology, University of Strathclyde. He can be reached at m.idrees@gmail.com

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MUHAMMAD IDREES AHMAD is the co-founder of Pulsemedia.org

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