Whither British Journalism?

t appears that pundits long considered “left-leaning” in the UK press, have recently taken a sharp turn to the right, or rather, embarked upon a path to nowhere. Close on the footsteps of George Monbiot whose divorce from Lady Reason became public through a series of articles on incredibly diverse issues, from nuclear safety to alleged “genocide denial” by Edward Herman and David Peterson (1), Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has come out in the Independent with a piece (2) on the guilt the wives of “murderous” dictators supposedly share in the crimes perpetrated by their vicious spouses (from Idi Amin to Tony Blair, stopping by Milosevic, although, bizarrely, with no mention of the likes of Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, or any other American!).

The ladies, it appears, must all bear joint and several liability for their husbands’ misdeeds – never mind that under English criminal law, no spouse or civil partner may be compelled to incriminate his or her conjugal counterpart (save in exceptional circumstances (3)), much less, be held accountable for the latter’s crimes! Moreover, in its final judgment of 26 February 2007, the ICJ (4) concluded that Serbia, as a State, had no hand in any genocide in Croatia during the Milosevic years, with the result that Mirjana Milosevic may in no way be counted “a ferocious denier of the genocides [sic] committed by Serbs loyal to her husband”. (On the issue of genocide in the former Yugoslavia, in general, see, amongst others, the eminent work by Edward Herman and David Peterson (5), which was unduly criticized by Monbiot).

After righteously singling out Asma al-Assad for not lifting a finger to contain the dictatorial excesses of her presidential spouse despite having enjoyed an upper middle-class upbringing in democratic Acton, Alibhai-Brown accuses Safia Farkash for remaining married to Ghaddafi for 40 years only for the love of expensive handbags and luxury. Alibhai-Brown is also personally convinced that  Imelda Marcos’s marriage survived as long as it did, thanks solely to hubby Ferdinand’s ability to keep her well stocked in fancy shoes and other goodies. Similar treatment is meted out to Grace Mugabe and Leila Trebelsi, until recently First Lady of Tunisia.

In the midst of all this finger-wagging, Alibhai-Brown does drop a tear of compassion for the ill-treated spouses of Idi Amin and other brutes. She even mentions how some may fade into obscure retirement, such as Rachele Mussolini, “who ran a small pasta house in her family village”. She fails to mention, on the other hand, that Benito Mussolini’s mistress, Clara Petacci was captured with him, executed by Communist-leaning partigiani, and hanged upside-down, post-mortem, at an Esso service station at Piazzale Loreto in Milan. Alibhai-Brown may, indeed, feel this an appropriate end for the likes of Eva Peron and Mao’s widow Jiang Quing, in light of their active role in their respective spouses’ crimes.

Be that as it may, not a word is spent on Denis Thatcher who watched approvingly as his wife launched the Falklands war and destroyed the UK’s industrial and manufacturing base. Nor can one find the barest whisper of condemnation for Clementine Churchill who is not known to have criticized her husband’s bloodthirsty bombing of civilians that eventually provoked the Germans to launch the Blitz. Nor even a passing remark about Bess Truman’s guilt for her spouse’s disastrous decision to nuke Japan twice in three days! How about Hilary Clinton who stood by while her husband oversaw the dismantling of Glass-Steagall and now, as Secretary of State, personally presides over the disastrous diplomatic and military stalemate in Afghanistan and the bombing campaign in Libya. Or even Jacqueline Kennedy, the grande dame of American aristocracy who beamed beside her man despite his bellicosity which led to the Bay of Pigs fiasco, a nuclear stand-off with the Soviets, and not least, the Vietnam war.

What is most revealing, in the end, is Alibhai-Brown’s apparently inadvertent self-indictment at the very beginning of her piece which starts off with an account of how Suzanne Mubarak supposedly attempted/succeeded to bribe/thank Alibhai-Brown herself with an expensive watch, some five years ago in Geneva. Alibhai-Brown admits to keeping the watch to this day, and now declares herself ready and willing to return it to the new Egyptian government upon request. Since Ms. Alibhai-Brown was certainly not married to the Egyptian president or anyone in power in Egypt at the time, and therefore could not claim “spousal immunity”, why did she not immediately report the attempted bribe/gift in the press when she received it, or otherwise, return it to the Egyptian embassy in the UK, with an indignant note? She seems to have had no qualms about returning her OBE in protest against crimes committed against people of color during the British colonial era! Did she perhaps feel that taking a similar course in respect of the watch would have been somehow more undiplomatic than returning an OBE? Yet, the wives of these faithful servants of the West, including, one imagines, Farah Diba, the widow of the former Shah of Iran, amongst many others, are to not only “share the blame, the punishment and public opprobrium”, but also face “a special tribunal in hell for such intimate collusion”?

All said and done, however, the most astonishing feature of Alibhai-Brown’s opinion piece is the telling absence of American names. It leaves the reader with the quaint impression that in the author’s world, Tony Blair, Alistair Campbell, Jonathan Powell and Rupert Murdoch, somehow concocted the nightmarish brew of Iraq, Afghanistan, et al., all by themselves (or more precisely, with a little help from their wives!).

Kevin Maciel is a translator/interpreter, specializing in the legal and financial domains, based in Italy. He can be contacted at k.maciel@tin.it.