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Riveting encounters

The Kashmir Monitor





By Ammar Ali Qureshi

India, after independence, has produced many renowned public figures who belong to Punjab. Barring celebrities, Inder Kumar Gujral and Manmohan Singh, both ex-Prime Ministers, along with Khushwant Singh and KuldipNayar, both veteran journalists, are ranked among the most prominent Punjabis in India. All four were born in cities now located in Pakistan — Khushwant in Sargodha, Kuldip in Sialkot, Manmohan in Chakwal and Gujral in Jhelum — and went through the harrowing experience of migration during partition.

Khushwant’s father, an affluent construction contractor, was a neighbour of Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah in Delhi. At the time of partition, Khushwant, a lawyer based in Lahore, received a message from Jinnah to keep living in the city but when the situation became quite tense a few days before partition, Khushwant decided to move to India. Gujral’s father was a member of legislative assembly from Punjab at the time of partition and was among nineteen Hindu members who automatically became members of Pakistan’s first Constituent Assembly but he soon migrated to India.


Despite their personal experiences during partition, none of them nursed anti-Pakistan feeling as they were all fond of Pakistani Punjab, where they were born, bred, educated and were deeply immersed in its cultural milieu. Gujral restarted the process of diplomatic dialogue to improve strained relations with Pakistan during his brief tenure as Prime Minister; Manmohan exercised restraint in the wake of Mumbai terrorism incident; Khushwant was decried, by his detractors, as the last Pakistani on Indian soil.Ammar-1

KuldipNayar — journalist, author, diplomat, parliamentarian and peace activist — started the tradition of observing a candle-lit vigil which is still held by peace activists on both sides of the Wagah-Attari border at midnight on 14/15 August, the hour that marks the end of Pakistan’s independence day (and Kuldip’s birthday) and the beginning of India’s.

Although he served briefly as India’s High Commissioner in London during VP Singh’s government and later, in 1997, as a single term member of the upper house of the Indian parliament, Kuldip is primarily known as an intrepid journalist whose syndicated column titled Between the Lines appeared in a number of newspapers across South Asia. He also authored fifteen books including his lengthy autobiography Beyond the Lines, which was written over twenty-two years.

His last book On Leaders and Icons — From Jinnah to Modi was completed just two weeks before his death last year at the age of ninety-five. A slim volume, it is a narrative of his memories and impressions, based on his interactions with nineteen top-notch leaders and icons of South Asia — ranging from leaders such as Jinnah, Gandhi, Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Shastri, Manmohan Singh, Modi, Ghaffar Khan, Sheikh Abdullah, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Mujib-ur-Rehman, Koirala, Jayaprakash Narayan, and Vajpayee to icons such as Faiz, Khushwant, JRD Tata, MeenaKumari and Noor Jehan.

Kuldip was a life-long supporter of peaceful relations between India and Pakistan. He had been part of Track-II diplomacy as well as an active member of the civil society which promoted peace between the two neighbours. After his death in 2018, his ashes were scattered in River Ravi in Lahore, where he had studied at Forman Christian College and Law College before partition. He was of the view that Indo-Pakistan relations would have assumed a different trajectory, despite Kashmir issue, if both Gandhi and Jinnah had lived longer.

After partition, he went to Birla House in Delhi where Gandhi was staying and participated in his prayer meetings, including one in which an unsuccessful assassination attempt was made at Gandhi. In 1945, Jinnah came to address students at Law College in Lahore and Kuldip, as a student, asked him two question: first what will be the shape of future relations between India and Pakistan given the animosity between Hindus and Muslims and secondly how would Pakistan respond in case India was attacked by a third country.

Jinnah responded by citing the example of good relations between France and Germany as a model for India and Pakistan and further remarked about the second question that Pakistan will fight along with Indians if India was attacked by a third country. This response, it should be noted, was made before the violence witnessed during partition or before Kashmir issue poisoned relations between the two newly independent countries. Interestingly, even after 1947, Jinnah had advised Nehru to keep his beloved Malabar Hill House in Bombay intact as he planned to spend some time there during his retirement years.

Kuldip served in the government’s information department in the 1950s and 1960s and was briefly press officer to Nehru, whom he found promoting a dynasty as he wanted Indira to be his successor. The author was very close to Lal Bahadur Shastri, first as his press officer when he was Nehru’s home minister and continued to serve in that position when he became India’s Prime Minister. He went to Tashkent with Shastri and was the first person to enter his room after he was pronounced dead.

In his journalistic career, he served with India’s news agency UNI and newspapers such as The Statesman and Indian Express. Kuldip’s finest hour was when he fearlessly defied Indira Gandhi’s Emergency from 1975-77. L.K.Advani had famously remarked that Indira had asked the press to bend but it began to crawl. When most caved into the Emergency, it was Kuldip who persuaded around hundred journalists to sign a protest letter and send it to Indira, who jailed him for three months. He was released only when the government realised that the judge hearing the case would most likely decide in his favour.

He was a political reporter par excellence and made his name as India’s greatest ‘scoop-man’. His news report thwarted Morarji Desai’s bid for leadership following Nehru’s death in 1964 and inadvertently tilted the balance in favour of Shastri. In 1977, he broke the news that Indira intended to call early elections after lifting the emergency soon. Most believed that Indira would extend the emergency instead of holding early elections. Head of the government’s information service even called Kuldip and threatened him with arrest if he did not withdraw his story. He refused to budge and Indira did call early elections.

Indira lost 1977 elections as she had been misguided by Intelligence Bureau about her electoral strength as her son Sanjay Gandhi later told Kuldip and remarked that he wanted to extend emergency for even decades. The author admired opposition leader Jayaprakash Narayan for his heroic defiance of Indira before and during the Emergency years. He also admired Ghaffar Khan whom he met in Kabul but found him bitter towards Nehru for failing to support Pashtunistan cause. He was put off when Ghaffar Khan used the term Baniyas for Hindus.

Bhutto came across as brilliant but ambitious and arrogant who did not accept the second position in a united Pakistan under Mujib. He also admitted his role in the 1965 Indo-Pakistan war as he believed that Pakistan’s military superiority then could have settled Kashmir issue in Islamabad’s favour but was quick to point out that he had learnt his lesson.

On Kashmir, Bhutto, according to Kuldip, had a Trieste-like solution in mind, referring to an agreement signed between Italy and Yugoslavia in 1954 in which the disputed land of Trieste, after the World War II, was divided between the two countries along the existing demarcation lines with minor changes. Apparently, Bhutto discussed this idea with Indira during Simla talks but candidly told her that he could not sell this idea to his countrymen soon after the loss of East Pakistan.

Although a connoisseur of Urdu poetry and a fan of Faiz, Kuldip failed to recognise him when they met for the first time in Moscow in a restaurant near Kremlin. Noted Indian journalist Inder Malhotra was the first to place him, stood up and excitedly announced to his Indian colleagues: Gentlemen, let us honour the greatest living poet in the sub-continent. Kuldip was also a fan of Pakistan’s melody queen Noor Jehan, whom he met during one of the trips to Lahore and she graciously arranged an exclusive viewing of a movie, featuring Heer, for him in a cinema.

He accompanied Vajpayee during the bus trip to Lahore for his meeting with Nawaz Sharif in 1999. At one of the banquets, he had an insightful conversation with SahabzadaYaqub Khan, Pakistan’s famous ex-foreign minister, who was sharing the table with the author along with other guests. Sahabzada turned towards his Pakistani colleagues, from NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan, seated on the table and asked them about the Kashmir issue. All of them more or less replied that Kashmir was quite distant from their province. Sahabzada then turned towards Kuldip and remarked: “This (Kashmir) is your problem (meaning of the Punjabis, on both sides), you should settle it. Why get others from both countries involved?”.

Modi is the only figure, included in the book, whom the author did not meet in person. A staunch believer in secularism and pluralism, he was opposed to Modi and his intolerant policies. The rising tide of bigotry and communalism, after the Babri Mosque incident, and the increasing saffronization of India under BJP points towards a gloomy future for India under Modi. Worried about the creeping Hindu extremism, Kuldip wrote that a diluted form of Hindutva has spread throughout the country.

The book is an interesting read but it is riddled with mistakes, as written at a very advanced age of ninety-five, and deserved better editing. Jinnah called Maulana Azad, not Ghaffar Khan, Muslim show-boy of Congress; Delhi’s Khan Market is not named after Ghaffar Khan but his elder brother Dr Khan Sahib for his role as Chief Minister NWFP in protecting Hindus during violence in 1947; Khushwant sought refuge at the residence of a Swedish diplomat, his friend, not in Swiss embassy during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi. Surprisingly, KuldipNayar repeatedly mentions the first name of Nayyara Noor, which is so similar to his own name, wrongly in the chapter on Faiz, who told him that he enjoyed Nayyara’s rendering of his own poetry the most.

On Leaders and Icons-From Jinnah to Modi
Author: KuldipNayar
Publisher: Speaking Tiger, 2019
Pages: 183 (Hardback)
Price: Rs995

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Balakot strike: just for bragging rights?

The Kashmir Monitor



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)

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Don’t blame Sharia for Islamic extremism – blame colonialism

The Kashmir Monitor



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.


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The Assange Arrest is a Warning from History

The Kashmir Monitor



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.”
And did.

The rest, she might have added, is history.

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