An Interview with Diana Johnstone

I read the article you co-authored with Jean Bricmont regarding the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s declaring EU the Nobel Peace Prize laureate of 2012. Why do you think they have made such a decision? I think they already knew that their choice will lead to widespread controversy, but they apparently selected the EU to help the European nations get out of the current economic crisis and depression. What’s your perspective on that?

DJ: The Norwegian Nobel Committee is made up of five or six Norwegian politicians, with a narrow, conformist Eurocentric view of the world.  They completely ignore the instructions in the will of Alfred Nobel that the prize should go to an individual who has done most in the past year to reduce armaments and promote peace conferences.  An Irish laureate has suggested that the choice should be turned over to international peace activists themselves. They would be qualified to select candidates who have actually worked for peace. That might save the prize from being the laughing stock it has become.

It is possible that the Norwegians thought their choice would avoid controversy rather than stirring it.  The world is so polarized now that any choice is likely to be seen as propaganda in the new Cold War between the US-led West and its adversaries – Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, and so on. This year, the most prominent, and probably most deserving candidate was Bradley Manning, who really did do something against war, by releasing military film showing a flagrant US war crime in Iraq.  That choice would have pleased much of the world, but would have infuriated the United States government. Perhaps by choosing the European Union, the Norwegians were in fact running away from controversy.  In their milieu, cut off from the reality of the greater world, honoring the European Union could seem like a kind-hearted gesture to a troubled institution.

Of course, this gesture can have absolutely no effect on the deepening crisis of the European Union.

One of the important news coming out of Europe these days is that the EU Commission has ordered the satellite provider Eutelsat SA to take Press TV and 18 other Iranian television stations off the Hot Bird frequencies, and now more than 200 million viewers across the world are denied access to Iranian channels. What do you think about this hypocrisy on the freedom of speech?

Of course this is outrageous, like all the sanctions against Iran.  This is beyond hypocrisy about freedom of speech.  The West is waging economic war against Iran, and respects none of the rights of the Iranian people.  And although this is significant news, most Europeans are not aware of it.

What’s your viewpoint on the release anti-Islam movie “Innocence of Muslims” and the Western governments’ reaction to it? They refused to condemn it and demand Google and Youtube to remove it from internet, citing freedom of expression as an excuse. Is insulting the sacred beliefs of more than 1.5 billion people really equivalent to freedom of speech?

Western governments did not refuse to condemn that movie.  They condemned it quite strongly.  Everyone has condemned it, except the obscure individual who says he made it. I don’t think anyone has even seen the whole movie, only short fragments on the internet, and nobody would have even heard of that without the uproar of protests.  Nobody, not even the actors themselves, would guess that those scenes were meant to show the life of the Prophet, except that words were apparently dubbed in later to make it seem that way, as a provocation.

To provoke what? Perhaps exactly the reactions we saw in Muslim countries.  Why? Because that exacerbates the “conflict of civilizations”.  The incident brought out a contrast in sensibilities.

That stupid movie could not turn one single person against Islam. Nobody thought it really portrayed the life of the Prophet or had anything to do with Islam, and the fact that it attempted to slander their religion could even arouse sympathy for Muslims. However, the mass demonstrations against the film did indeed give a very bad impression of Muslims in the West.  It is hard for people in the West to understand how a religion of more than 1.5 billion people can have so little self-confidence as to be upset by something as trivial as that bit of trashy film.  In the West, the riots were seen as a sign of weakness, not of strength.

Faced with such a deliberate provocation, some Muslim leaders realized that it is wiser to ignore it than to act precisely as the provocateur wanted and called for calm.  The rioters were only a small minority of Muslims, after all.

There are so many better reasons for Muslims to be angry with the West – drone attacks that wipe out whole families, to start with. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya, the interference in Syria, the sanctions against Iran.

The internet is full of very offensive material, but it can be ignored.  It is not politically wise for Muslims to demand that the United States ban material that offends them, because even if Muslims are over a billion in the world, they are a minority in the United States.  They need to support the rule of free speech for their own sake.  Freedom of speech is a protection of those in weak positions from those in power, because if censorship is allowed, it is the powerful who will decide what is censored.

What’s your perspective on the NATO’s plans for going into war with Syria and the role Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey are playing in the fomentation of unrest in the country? What about Israel’s aggressive war rhetoric against Iran and its incitement of the United States to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities? Will these new wars take place after the horrendous wars on Afghanistan and Iraq?

Clearly there are divisions in Washington about getting involved in new wars.  There are leading politicians who want war, and high ranking military officers who are against it. The politicians decide, but they have to pay attention to what the military consider possible.  So far, the United States prefers to let Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey do the dirty work in Syria, with help from the CIA.  This at least weakens Iran’s ally and is thus part of the undeclared war against Iran.  I cannot predict the course of a policy which seems to me completely irrational.  The world should be grateful to Russia for its statesmanlike efforts to stop the drift toward World War III.

You have extensively written on the idea of humanitarian intervention. What do you think about the humanitarian impacts of the economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and EU? The sanctions are making it difficult for medicine, foodstuff and other humanitarian goods to find their way to Iranian markets. Aren’t these sanctions contrary to human rights principles?

Those humanitarian impacts are deliberate. Sanctions are indeed a form of warfare used by the United States and its European satellites.  The very purpose is to make the population suffer, so that the people will turn against their own leaders, throw them out, and accept leaders more acceptable to Washington.  That has been the purpose of sanctions against Cuba for decades.  It was the purpose of sanctions against Serbia and against Iraq. Sometimes sanctions are a prelude to bombing, as in Serbia and Iraq.  Sometimes not, as with Cuba.  Some analysts believe that Israel and the West count on economic warfare alone to ruin Iran and drive the population to overthrow the government.

One of the main effects of the pretense of “humanitarian intervention” has been to cripple the left’s traditional opposition to war.  For much of the Western left, especially certain of its “revolutionary” strains, traditional international solidarity with the liberation struggles of colonized peoples has been replaced by solidarity with people ostensibly revolting against their own “dictators” – and Western propaganda tends to label anyone it doesn’t like as a “dictator”, such as the democratically elected Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. As a result, today much of the left, instead of criticizing NATO intervention, criticizes the Western powers for not intervening enough.  And what little opposition to war there is comes from the right.  It is the world upside down.

In one of your articles about the U.S. strategy for NATO, you mentioned Washington’s plans for weakening China through fomenting internal dissent and unrest by supporting the Uighurs, Dalai Lama, LiXiaobo and other jailed dissidents. Why is the United States so adamant in derailing China’s economic and political power? Why does Washington fear of the emergence and upheaval of a new power? They can coexist with each other peacefully. Can’t they?

Since the failure in Vietnam, the United States has turned to subversion as a safer way than outright war to combat governments it dislikes– except for small and weak countries.  China is neither small nor weak, but it has ethnic minorities that the United States can hope to incite against the central government.  Divide and conquer is the eternal law of imperialism.

The American people could perfectly well coexist with the Chinese and with the rest of the world.  The source of the problem is what President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address in 1961: the military-industrial complex.  The U.S. economy has been militarized, every activity depends on military contracts, including university research.  “Threats” have to be found or invented to justify this monstrosity.  The very fact that the U.S. has such dominant power leads to fear of losing it, and anything that might challenge U.S. hegemony is automatically a “threat”.  The Chinese have done nothing to threaten the United States.  But the mere fact that they are returning to their status as a major power – as they have been throughout most of recorded history – is treated in some U.S. policy circles as an intolerable affront.  The current generation of American politicians, such as Hillary Clinton, appears to think that it is natural and possible for the United States to dictate to the world how it should behave, and to use U.S. military power to preserve what is in reality only a momentary superiority, destined to decline.  There are signs that more and more Americans are waking up to the dangers of such leadership.  But as this year’s presidential election has clearly shown, the system of two parties, both financed by the same economic interests, blocks political change.  One must hope that failures of U.S. policy in the Middle East may hasten the necessary awakening.

In 2005, you wrote an article about the limitations on freedom of speech in the United States and Europe. The problem persists to this day, and those who courageously criticize the policies of the Israeli regime and its mistreatment of the Palestinian people are vilified and stigmatized as anti-Semitist. What do you think about this libel of “anti-Semitism?” Why should there be a sanction on the public criticism of Israel?

Especially during the last thirty years, the Israeli lobby has succeeded in convincing much of Western public opinion that the Jews and their state, Israel, are uniquely threatened by “genocide” and therefore require exceptional measures of self-defense. The Holocaust is really a dominant religion in the West.  It is taught in schools, it is the subject of a constant stream of books, articles, movies.  Western guilt over the treatment of Jews by Nazi Germany has served to silence criticism of Israel.

I observe that this is beginning to wear off in the United States.  More and more prominent figures are openly criticizing the unquestioning U.S. support to Israel. This support depends mainly on the power of the Israeli lobby in the United States to intimidate members of Congress, who depend on Jewish campaign contributions and media support to win elections.  In Europe, especially in France, the fear of being accused of anti-Semitism remains very strong.  That is because a whole generation has been brought up to feel guilty because Jewish children were deported from France under the German occupation.  It is more easily forgotten that French people concealed and saved many more Jews than were deported, more than in any other Western European country occupied by Nazi Germany.

Over the past years, western mainstream media have been relentlessly endeavoring to portray Iran and its nuclear program an international threat, ignoring the fact that Israel is the Middle East’s sole possessor of nuclear weapons. What do you think? Why do they overlook Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal while exaggerating Iran’s nuclear program?

This is due to what I just mentioned, the fact that Israel is considered uniquely threatened. Repeated quotation of remarks by President Ahmadinejad, which I understand are deliberately distorted, serve to keep alive the idea that enemies of Israel are just waiting for the chance to destroy the country and kill all the Jews. This constant reference to the Holocaust keeps Israel’s nuclear arsenal from being seen as just another example of nuclear proliferation.

Informed people may know that Iran’s nuclear program is not a threat, but it is politically risky to say so. When President Chirac tried to explain that Iran’s nuclear program could not be a threat, he was immediately attacked by the media as mentally deranged.

And finally, do you see any remarkable change in France’s foreign policy under President Hollande? Is he in one way or another different from Nicolas Sarkozy who maintained a rather aggressive foreign policy, especially with regards to Iran, and supported Israel unconditionally?

Hollande may be less aggressive in his manner, but there is no substantive change.  The pro-Israel lobby is extremely influential in France, regardless of who is President.  Sarkozy took France back into the NATO command, and following NATO fits the traditional Atlanticist leanings of the French Socialist Party. For the moment at least, there is no popular anti-war movement on the left to put pressure on the French government to change its aggressive stance toward Syria and Iran.

Diana Johnstone is the author of Fools Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions. She can be reached at  diana.josto@yahoo.fr

Kourosh Ziabari is an Iranian journalist, media correspondent and peace activist. He is a member of World Student Community for Sustainable Development. He can be reached at kziabari@gmail.com

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