By Dr. Prem Singh
The contemporaneity of present day politics in India, as far as both the government and the opposition is concerned, is characterized by an absence of any real difference of policy vision across the political spectrum. The trend actually has been of gradual diminishing of difference between various political parties.
Defection from one party to the other has become a matter of common occurrence because ideology no longer remains the pivot around which most political parties and leaders revolve. The occupancy of power has come to solely depend upon the victory in elections. Events around elections are informed by changing coalitions and leaders defecting from their parent political parties. This trend has attained such a level of normalcy that no eyebrows are raised on it. It is not without reason. At the time when the Congress implemented the New Economic Policies in 1991, the senior BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee had said that the Congress has now taken over the BJP’s task. Perhaps only then he had assessed that he could become the Prime Minister of the country in the near future. Otherwise it had been a general perception in the 80’s that Vajpayee, being associated with the RSS/Jana Sangh, could never become the Prime Minister of India despite his personal popularity. Vajpayee became prime minister of coalition governments – two times for a short term, and then for a full term. Now Narendra Modi is the prime minister of the country with BJP in absolute majority in the Lower House.
Since 1991, almost all mainstream political parties have acclimatized themselves in favour of New Economic Policies, a policy decision which was blatantly against the socialist ideology of country’s Constitution. As a result it has become an overt fact that corporate capitalism has been guiding the political parties and leaders of India for the last three decades. When the Directive Principles, as mentioned in the Constitution, were replaced by the dictates of the global institutions of the corporate capitalism such as World Bank, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, World Economic Forum etc. and domestic and foreign multinational companies/corporate houses, it became obvious that the basic values of the Constitution like socialism, secularism and democracy would face a crisis. We have almost lost socialism and secularism and do not even have a true regret for this loss/damage. Post 1991 generations in India were automatically habituated with this paradigm shift. The skeleton of democracy is still there. Until this skeleton will last, elections will continue to take place in the country.
In any country’s politics it would be considered a grave situation if the decision of a government or opposition relies solely on an immediate victory or defeat in the elections. Ideally a government or opposition should be tested on the basis of effective implementation of polices on the lines of the Constitutional principles and by better utilization and growth of the constitutional institutions. But political parties and leaders are not ready to commit to any ideology, regrettably not even to the ideology of the Constitution, other than the ideology of corporate capitalism. In such a situation voters are left with no real options. The Congress and the BJP are open advocates of neo-liberal policies which operate under the dicta of corporate capitalism. Apart from these two, the other big-small political parties, most intellectuals, civil society organizations and activists of the country also play their role in the realm of neo-liberal policies. The mainstream media is the product of this very milieu/environment and it incessantly serves the same to the people. Which is said to be the counterpart of the ‘godi media’, also appears to be working mostly within the purview of neo-liberalism. In the meantime, the icons of the Freedom Struggle are dragged into the cesspool of neo-liberalism by these leaders, on the other hand, apart from the dynastic political heirs, the new faces who come up in the power-politics, are marked by caste, religion and region.
Kishan Patnaik, in the 90s, had called this phenomenon the beginning of counter-revolution in India. Since the past two decades, the counter-revolution has matured. The maturity of counter-revolution is evidenced by the fact that some NGO activists, religious brokers, ex-government officials and professionals first create the anti-corruption agitation, and the country’s whole left-right intelligentsia and the media becomes united in its favor and propaganda. A new party of ‘aam admi‘emerged from the ‘ashes’ of the movement, which brings the RSS/BJP and the socialists/communists together! This is corporate capitalism’s own political party which now flexes its muscles to put the Congress on knees! In such a situation, it is almost impossible to make way for the politics that directly opposes corporate capitalism, which is the second name of neo-imperialism, through elections.
But in spite of this reality seeped in pessimism, the election remains the only basis where the positive avenues for change can be explored. For this purpose, I wrote an essay titled ‘Lok Sabha Elections 2019: A Perspective for Opposition Unity’ in June last year. In view of the formation of a formidable coalition of the opposition, the essay was written in some detail. In Hindi, it was published in the hastakshep.com and in English in the ‘Counter Current’, ‘Mainstream Weekly’, ‘Janata Weekly’ and in some other online and printed journals. While presenting the multi-dimensional role of elections in our democracy, mainly four suggestions were made in the essay : A national coalition, apart from BJP and Congress, comprising third force political parties and the Left parties should be formed under the name of National Front for Social Justice; One of the leaders of the opposition parties should lead that coalition at the national level; the Congress should support the National Front government, if formed, for five years from outside; and intellectuals of the country should play a proactive role in the formation, realization and success of the National Front. These four things could not be materialized. The Lok Sabha elections have been announced and the first phase voting will be held on 11 April 2019. In this case, the writing of the second part of the essay may not be justified. But in the context of the miscellaneous election-alliances and the strategies chalked out by the opposition, a little discussion can be followed.
It is clear that neither the proposed ‘National Front for Social Judicial’ nor the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) exists in the field to fight the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Phrases like Maha Gathbandhan are heard, but in comparison to the NDA, the opposition, including the Congress, has formed only state-wise miscellaneous alliances. Whatever the strength and limitations of these alliances in the elections, speculations have started arising regarding their credibility and stability post the elections. It is believed that whatever the miscellaneous alliances have come into existence, their character is unreliable and will not endure. Some parties/leaders involved in these alliances may align with the NDA in the event of BJP’s edge in the elections. Modi, who runs an alliance of around 35 parties, calls opposition alliances – ‘Mahamilavata‘! The Congress also accuses the alliances other than its own, of creating a situation of instability.
However the situation could have been altogether different from the present one. The recent assembly elections of five states were termed as the semi-finals to the Lok Sabhaelections. In those elections, the Congress formed governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh by defeating the BJP. It can be noted that this victory of the Congress happened due to the peasants’ agitation. On 5 June 2017, six farmers were killed in police firing in Mandsaur town of Madhya Pradesh. The incident triggered a spontaneous peasants’ agitation in the state. All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti was formed to organize the movement. Aligning with the ongoing peasant movements in other states including Maharashtra, the movement triggered from Mandsaur incident, reached Delhi. The Congress did not have any role in that movement. But it reaped the benefits and won the election in three states.
After the BJP’s defeat in five states, it should have been obvious for the opposition to effectively sustain and maintain the movement till the Lok Sabha elections by linking the upsurge of the peasants’ movement with the labour movement, student-youth movement and the movement of the small traders. The truth of the Modi government’s anti-farmer-labourer-youth-small traders policies should have been constantly kept alive in the public domain. With this, the solid issues such as the decision of demonetization that broke the backbone of country’s economy, unprecedented inflation and unemployment, failure of law and order, loot by the monopoly houses, aiding economic offenders to flee the country, scam in the Rafale deal, selling of the public assets-institutions-units to the private hands, destroying the constitutional and democratic institutions should have been issues of persistent discussions. If this would have happened the BJP and Modi would have found it difficult to bounce back riding on emotional issues. But the opposition could not prepare its own pitch. They mostly played on Modi’s pitch. The Congress decided to legitimize RSS/BJP’s communal politics by deciding to itself do the politics of the caste and religion.
The opposition did not show maturity as far as the Lok Sabha elections are concerned. The communal fascism is at its peak in Modi-Shah rule; Amit Shah has declared that they are there to hold on power for the next 50 years. And after this Lok Sabha election, there will never be elections in the country as one of the BJP leaders has threatened. The possibility of no further election can arise only when the people of the country get totally disillusioned with the electoral process. Today’s RSS/BJP will like it to happen and will not leave any stone unturned in that direction. Therefore, preserving the sanctity and dignity of the election process becomes the sole responsibility of the opposition. But it seems that most of the opposition, including the Congress, has decided to demolish whatever dignity of elections is remained instead of taking the task seriously. The practice of procurement of tickets and launching of candidates from criminals to celebrities in the elections is going on rampantly. This whole corrupt practice is not hidden from the watchful eyes of the public. Of course, the opposition is not concerned about breaking the confidence of the public in the election process.
Let consider the role of intellectuals in this regard. The essay mentioned above ends with these lines: “The intellectuals and activists of the country, who are worried about the basic values of the Constitution – socialism, secularism and democracy – and the erosion of constitutional institutions, should play a positive role in the formation and acceptance of the National Front. In India, leaders have often inspired intellectuals and artists. Now it is a turn of the intellectuals, artists and conscious representatives of the civil society to extend their guidance and co-operation to the leaders in the times of crisis.” In spite of being the most vocal opponents of fascism, the intellectuals could not play a meaningful role in the direction of opposition unity. They are more interested in securing benefits in the non-BJP governments, but do not want to criticize the leaders in the interest of socialism, secularism and democracy. In common parlance, the (mis)use of religion for politics is called communalism. Such intellectuals have gone to the extent of describing and praising Rahul Gandhi’s politics of religion and brahmanatva to be different from the RSS/BJP. They even shamelessly argued that Rahul Gandhi’s politics of religion is good for the country. The remaining intellectuals found it prudent (for their self-interests) to observe silence on this matter. This is one example. Actually, the RSS/BJP’s Hindu-Rashtra is envisioned in the thieves’ market of secularism!
In conclusion, it can be said that in the present Lok Sabha elections there is ample discontent in the people against the Modi government, but even the opposition and the intellectual have grossly failed in fulfilling their responsibilities. Whatever the case, elections, like politics, are also a game of possibilities. It would be interesting to see if in spite of all the constraints of the corporate-communal nexus and media’s support to it, voters overthrow the existing anti-constitutional government. It may also happen that the fruits of defeat of the government are reaped by the third force, and not the Congress. In such a situation, the leaders of the third force should seriously consider their historic role in handling the country’s power for the next five years. If it doesn’t become a reality this time, then strong attempts towards its realization should be made for the Lok Sabha elections of 2024.
Balakot strike: just for bragging rights?
By Manini Chatterjee
We, the people of India, must collectively thank NarendraModi, the chief campaigner of the BharatiyaJanata Party, for making it clear to us why NarendraModi, the prime minister of the country, ordered the air strikes on Balakot deep inside Pakistan in the last week of February.
The ostensible reason for the air strikes was to avenge the massacre that took place in Kashmir’s Pulwama on February 14, which left 40 uniformed personnel of the CRPF dead. The deaths were not a result of an encounter between security forces and militants that have long become routine in the Kashmir Valley. They happened when a lone Kashmiri youth, allegedly belonging to the Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad, rammed his vehicle — laden with over 300 kilograms of explosives — into a CRPF convoy inching its way along the highway.
Less than two weeks later, we woke up to the news that Indian Air Force jets had struck the biggest training camp of the JeM in Balakot. The government officially claimed that “a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated.” The unofficial claims, conveyed to the media by “sources”, went further: 325 terrorists and 25 commanders had been killed in the strike. Pakistan had been taught a lesson it would not forget. The “New India” under the muscular leadership of NarendraModi would enter the country and take out the terrorists at will if they dared attack India again.
The rhetoric was so powerful and the hyper-nationalist cheering in the media so shrill that no one dared ask for evidence. But when one or two intrepid skeptics did wonder what exactly was achieved at Balakot, the ruling party and its army of supporters became menacing. Anyone who dared asked for proof was talking the language of Pakistan; was questioning the valour of the armed forces; was guilty of sedition and treason.
With the election campaign now under way, the Balakot strikes are becoming a central theme of the ruling party. Even though the Opposition has steered clear of national security issues and focused on jobs, farm distress and broken promises, the BJP is repeatedly bringing Balakot to the fore — and muddying the narrative even more.
Take, for instance, a recent interview given by the prime minister to an English TV channel. Asked whether he would eventually give proof that hundreds of terrorists had been killed in the strike, Modi retorted: “As far as proof is concerned, Pakistan itself has given proof. Why should they wake up at 5 a.m. and tweet? We were quiet. It is not as if the Indian government claimed the attacks first.”
That was a clever answer — but it was too clever by half. It is true that it was Pakistan’s director-general of the Inter-Services Public Relations, Major General Asif Ghafoor, who first tweeted that the Indian Air Force had “violated Line of Control”. But Pakistan also claimed that the Indian jets “released payloads in haste” and there were “no casualties or damage”.
By citing Pakistan’s tweet as proof of the success of the air strike, Modi has — embarrassingly for the country — brought attention to Pakistan’s version as a whole.
More embarrassing has been Pakistan’s subsequent response. If India wanted to teach Pakistan a lesson and left the country with a bloody nose, Islamabad’s response has been very curious indeed.
In a recent chat with foreign correspondents, Pakistan’s prime minister, Imran Khan, appeared to take the whole Balakot offensive much too lightly. According to The New York Times report on the chat, Imran Khan said that on learning that the Indian bombs had fallen into an empty ravine near Balakot, Pakistan opted for “a measured response and bombed an empty area just across the Indian border.” It went on to quote Imran Khan as saying: “They hit our trees; so we thought we’d hit their stones.”
Imran Khan went further — batting for the return of NarendraModi to power and seeing it as the best possible option of settling the Kashmir conflict. If Balakot was a slap on the face of Pakistan, it is baffling — to put it mildly — why the country’s prime minister should want another term for his hostile counterpart across the border.
But with each passing day that mystery is receding; with every BJP speech, it is becoming clearer that the Indian forces were made to strike Balakot not to teach Pakistan a lesson but to provide bragging rights to NarendraModi as a saviour of the nation and provide him a handy tool for his re-election bid.
If NarendraModi was indeed the supreme patriot that he claims to be and if he truly valued the courage and competence of our armed forces, he should have been the first person to reprimand the Uttar Pradesh chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, for referring to India’s professional army as “Modijikisena”. He did nothing of the kind — his silence serving as encouragement to other BJP leaders who repeated the epithet before the Election Commission, belatedly, stepped in.
In fact, he went further than his acolytes. In a speech that shocked retired and serving members of the defence services, NarendraModi asked first-time voters “to dedicate” their first vote to the “valiant soldiers who carried out the air strike in Pakistan’s Balakot” and to the “brave martyrs of Pulwama.” Never before has any Indian leader so brazenly sought to politicize the military for electoral gains.
Perhaps Modi was addressing his appeal to first-time voters because he is confident that the youth — subjected to the relentless propaganda of the last five years — have no knowledge of history and will be easily swayed by claims that Modi has achieved what no other Indian leader has in the past 70 years.
But not every Indian is a first-time voter. And even first time voters have parents and grandparents, teachers and tutors, people around them with longer memories. And many of them will still remember the grit and the glory of 1971 — the only time India decisively won a war. They will also recall that in complete contrast to the faux war-mongering of today, the prime minister of that time showed a grace and courage that was so much more powerful since it was entirely bereft of bombast.
Some BJP apologists, defending Modi’s electoral use of Balakot, erroneously claim that Indira Gandhi too capitalized on the 1971 victory to win by a landslide in the elections that year. The truth, though, is that India won the war after, not before, the elections.
Mrs Gandhi won her famous “GaribiHatao” election in March 1971, a couple of weeks before the Pakistan army went on a brutal rampage in what was then East Pakistan. In the following months, there was a massive influx of East Pakistanis into India. We may have been a lot poorer back then but unlike today we kept our borders — and our hearts — open to those fleeing genocide. More than 10 million refugees found shelter in India.
Indira Gandhi went across the world, campaigning against the suppression of democracy by West Pakistan in its eastern wing and the mass killings and rapes that followed. The American president, Richard Nixon, was famously hostile to her and blatantly backed Pakistan. But Mrs Gandhi combined diplomatic outreach with a quiet military preparation — executed by able military men untrammelled by considerations of electoral expediency — that eventually resulted in unequivocal victory. On December 16, 1971, less than two weeks after Pakistan bombed Indian air bases, its commander in Dhaka, Lieutenant-General A.A.K. Niazi, signed the instrument of surrender in Dhaka before Lieutenant-General J.S. Aurora of the Indian Army. No proof of India’s achievement was needed. No claims were made.
Two days later, Mrs Gandhi’s victory speech in the LokSabha was equally shorn of rhetoric. It lasted barely a minute. “All the world,” she said, “admires a deed well done. And I think, with all modesty, we can say that we have done this action well.” India’s most successful war prime minister went on to say: “But let us not forget that the road ahead is still long and very steep and we have many peaks to scale. Let us hope that we can do this with the same spirit in which we have faced this challenge. And that we will go ahead from peak to peak raising our nation to new heights of quality and of excellence…”
Watch that speech on YouTube. Even first-time voters will be able to tell the difference between the élan of true victory and its 56-inch, tawdry alternative…
(The Telegraph, Kolkata)
Don’t blame Sharia for Islamic extremism – blame colonialism
By Mark Fathi
Warning that Islamic extremists want to impose fundamentalist religious rule in American communities, right-wing lawmakers in dozens of U.S. states have tried banning Sharia, an Arabic term often understood to mean Islamic law.
These political debates – which cite terrorism and political violence in the Middle East to argue that Islam is incompatible with modern society – reinforce stereotypes that the Muslim world is uncivilized.
They also reflect ignorance of Sharia, which is not a strict legal code. Sharia means “path” or “way”: It is a broad set of values and ethical principles drawn from the Quran – Islam’s holy book – and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. As such, different people and governments may interpret Sharia differently.
Still, this is not the first time that the world has tried to figure out where Sharia fits into the global order.
In the 1950s and 1960s, when Great Britain, France and other European powers relinquished their colonies in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, leaders of newly sovereign Muslim-majority countries faced a decision of enormous consequence: Should they build their governments on Islamic religious values or embrace the European laws inherited from colonial rule?
Invariably, my historical research shows, political leaders of these young countries chose to keep their colonial justice systems rather than impose religious law.
Newly independent Sudan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Somalia, among other places, all confined the application of Sharia to marital and inheritance disputes within Muslim families, just as their colonial administrators had done. The remainder of their legal systems would continue to be based on European law.
France, Italy and the United Kingdom imposed their legal systems onto Muslim-majority territories they colonized. CIA Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, CC BY
To understand why they chose this course, I researched the decision-making process in Sudan, the first sub-Saharan African country to gain independence from the British, in 1956.
In the national archives and libraries of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, and in interviews with Sudanese lawyers and officials, I discovered that leading judges, politicians and intellectuals actually pushed for Sudan to become a democratic Islamic state.
They envisioned a progressive legal system consistent with Islamic faith principles, one where all citizens – irrespective of religion, race or ethnicity – could practice their religious beliefs freely and openly.
“The People are equal like the teeth of a comb,” wrote Sudan’s soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Hassan Muddathir in 1956, quoting the Prophet Muhammad, in an official memorandum I found archived in Khartoum’s Sudan Library. “An Arab is no better than a Persian, and the White is no better than the Black.”
Sudan’s post-colonial leadership, however, rejected those calls. They chose to keep the English common law tradition as the law of the land.
Why keep the laws of the oppressor?
My research identifies three reasons why early Sudan sidelined Sharia: politics, pragmatism and demography.
Rivalries between political parties in post-colonial Sudan led to parliamentary stalemate, which made it difficult to pass meaningful legislation. So Sudan simply maintained the colonial laws already on the books.
There were practical reasons for maintaining English common law, too.
Sudanese judges had been trained by British colonial officials. So they continued to apply English common law principles to the disputes they heard in their courtrooms.
Sudan’s founding fathers faced urgent challenges, such as creating the economy, establishing foreign trade and ending civil war. They felt it was simply not sensible to overhaul the rather smooth-running governance system in Khartoum.
The continued use of colonial law after independence also reflected Sudan’s ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity.
Then, as now, Sudanese citizens spoke many languages and belonged to dozens of ethnic groups. At the time of Sudan’s independence, people practicing Sunni and Sufi traditions of Islam lived largely in northern Sudan. Christianity was an important faith in southern Sudan.
Sudan’s diversity of faith communities meant that maintaining a foreign legal system – English common law – was less controversial than choosing whose version of Sharia to adopt.
My research uncovers how today’s instability across the Middle East and North Africa is, in part, a consequence of these post-colonial decisions to reject Sharia.
In maintaining colonial legal systems, Sudan and other Muslim-majority countries that followed a similar path appeased Western world powers, which were pushing their former colonies toward secularism.
But they avoided resolving tough questions about religious identity and the law. That created a disconnect between the people and their governments.
In the long run, that disconnect helped fuel unrest among some citizens of deep faith, leading to sectarian calls to unite religion and the state once and for all. In Iran, Saudi Arabia and parts of Somalia and Nigeria, these interpretations triumphed, imposing extremist versions of Sharia over millions of people.
In other words, Muslim-majority countries stunted the democratic potential of Sharia by rejecting it as a mainstream legal concept in the 1950s and 1960s, leaving Sharia in the hands of extremists.
But there is no inherent tension between Sharia, human rights and the rule of law. Like any use of religion in politics, Sharia’s application depends on who is using it – and why.
Leaders of places like Saudi Arabia and Brunei have chosen to restrict women’s freedom and minority rights. But many scholars of Islam and grassroots organizations interpret Sharia as a flexible, rights-oriented and equality-minded ethical order.
Religion is woven into the legal fabric of many post-colonial nations, with varying consequences for democracy and stability.
After its 1948 founding, Israel debated the role of Jewish law in Israeli society. Ultimately, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his allies opted for a mixed legal system that combined Jewish law with English common law.
In Latin America, the Catholicism imposed by Spanish conquistadors underpins laws restricting abortion, divorce and gay rights.
And throughout the 19th century, judges in the U.S. regularly invoked the legal maxim that “Christianity is part of the common law.” Legislators still routinely invoke their Christian faith when supporting or opposing a given law.
Political extremism and human rights abuses that occur in those places are rarely understood as inherent flaws of these religions.
When it comes to Muslim-majority countries, however, Sharia takes the blame for regressive laws – not the people who pass those policies in the name of religion.
Fundamentalism and violence, in other words, are a post-colonial problem – not a religious inevitability.
For the Muslim world, finding a system of government that reflects Islamic values while promoting democracy will not be easy after more than 50 years of failed secular rule. But building peace may demand it.
The Assange Arrest is a Warning from History
By John Pilger
The glimpse of Julian Assange being dragged from the Ecuadorean embassy in London is an emblem of the times. Might against right. Muscle against the law. Indecency against courage. Six policemen manhandled a sick journalist, his eyes wincing against his first natural light in almost seven years.
That this outrage happened in the heart of London, in the land of Magna Carta, ought to shame and anger all who fear for “democratic” societies. Assange is a political refugee protected by international law, the recipient of asylum under a strict covenant to which Britain is a signatory. The United Nations made this clear in the legal ruling of its Working Party on Arbitrary Detention.
But to hell with that. Let the thugs go in. Directed by the quasi fascists in Trump’s Washington, in league with Ecuador’s Lenin Moreno, a Latin American Judas and liar seeking to disguise his rancid regime, the British elite abandoned its last imperial myth: that of fairness and justice.
Imagine Tony Blair dragged from his multi-million pound Georgian home in Connaught Square, London, in handcuffs, for onward dispatch to the dock in The Hague. By the standard of Nuremberg, Blair’s “paramount crime” is the deaths of a million Iraqis. Assange’s crime is journalism: holding the rapacious to account, exposing their lies and empowering people all over the world with truth.
The shocking arrest of Assange carries a warning for all who, as Oscar Wilde wrote, “sow the seeds of discontent [without which] there would be no advance towards civilisation”. The warning is explicit towards journalists. What happened to the founder and editor of WikiLeaks can happen to you on a newspaper, you in a TV studio, you on radio, you running a podcast.
Assange’s principal media tormentor, the Guardian, a collaborator with the secret state, displayed its nervousness this week with an editorial that scaled new weasel heights. The Guardian has exploited the work of Assange and WikiLeaks in what its previous editor called “the greatest scoop of the last 30 years”. The paper creamed off WikiLeaks’ revelations and claimed the accolades and riches that came with them.
With not a penny going to Julian Assange or to WikiLeaks, a hyped Guardian book led to a lucrative Hollywood movie. The book’s authors, Luke Harding and David Leigh, turned on their source, abused him and disclosed the secret password Assange had given the paper in confidence, which was designed to protect a digital file containing leaked US embassy cables.
With Assange now trapped in the Ecuadorean embassy, Harding joined the police outside and gloated on his blog that “Scotland Yard may get the last laugh”. The Guardian has since published a series of falsehoods about Assange, not least a discredited claim that a group of Russians and Trump’s man, Paul Manafort, had visited Assange in the embassy. The meetings never happened; it was fake.
But the tone has now changed. “The Assange case is a morally tangled web,” the paper opined. “He (Assange) believes in publishing things that should not be published…. But he has always shone a light on things that should never have been hidden.”
These “things” are the truth about the homicidal way America conducts its colonial wars, the lies of the British Foreign Office in its denial of rights to vulnerable people, such as the Chagos Islanders, the expose of Hillary Clinton as a backer and beneficiary of jihadism in the Middle East, the detailed description of American ambassadors of how the governments in Syria and Venezuela might be overthrown, and much more. It all available on the WikiLeaks site.
The Guardian is understandably nervous. Secret policemen have already visited the newspaper and demanded and got the ritual destruction of a hard drive. On this, the paper has form. In 1983, a Foreign Office clerk, Sarah Tisdall, leaked British Government documents showing when American cruise nuclear weapons would arrive in Europe. The Guardian was showered with praise.
When a court order demanded to know the source, instead of the editor going to prison on a fundamental principle of protecting a source, Tisdall was betrayed, prosecuted and served six months.
If Assange is extradited to America for publishing what the Guardian calls truthful “things”, what is to stop the current editor, Katherine Viner, following him, or the previous editor, Alan Rusbridger, or the prolific propagandist Luke Harding?
What is to stop the editors of the New York Times and the Washington Post, who also published morsels of the truth that originated with WikiLeaks, and the editor of El Pais in Spain, and Der Spiegel in Germany and the Sydney Morning Herald in Australia. The list is long.
David McCraw, lead lawyer of the New York Times, wrote: “I think the prosecution [of Assange] would be a very, very bad precedent for publishers… from everything I know, he’s sort of in a classic publisher’s position and the law would have a very hard time distinguishing between the New York Times and WilLeaks.”
Even if journalists who published WikiLeaks’ leaks are not summoned by an American grand jury, the intimidation of Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning will be enough. Real journalism is being criminalised by thugs in plain sight. Dissent has become an indulgence.
In Australia, the current America-besotted government is prosecuting two whistle-blowers who revealed that Canberra’s spooks bugged the cabinet meetings of the new government of East Timor for the express purpose of cheating the tiny, impoverished nation out of its proper share of the oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. Their trial will be held in secret. The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, is infamous for his part in setting up concentration camps for refugees on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus, where children self harm and suicide. In 2014, Morrison proposed mass detention camps for 30,000 people.
Real journalism is the enemy of these disgraces. A decade ago, the Ministry of Defence in London produced a secret document which described the “principal threats” to public order as threefold: terrorists, Russian spies and investigative journalists. The latter was designated the major threat.
The document was duly leaked to WikiLeaks, which published it. “We had no choice,” Assange told me. “It’s very simple. People have a right to know and a right to question and challenge power. That’s true democracy.”
What if Assange and Manning and others in their wake – if there are others – are silenced and “the right to know and question and challenge” is taken away?
In the 1970s, I met LeniReifenstahl, close friend of Adolf Hitler, whose films helped cast the Nazi spell over Germany.
She told me that the message in her films, the propaganda, was dependent not on “orders from above” but on what she called the “submissive void” of the public.
“Did this submissive void include the liberal, educated bourgeoisie?” I asked her.
“Of course,” she said, “especially the intelligentsia…. When people no longer ask serious questions, they are submissive and malleable. Anything can happen.”
The rest, she might have added, is history.