Rima Karaki is a Lebanese TV host who isn’t afraid of a fight.
Things got heated Monday when Karaki was interviewing Hani Al-Seba’i about the phenomenon of Christians joining Islamic groups like ISIS. Al-Seba’i is a Sunni scholar who fled to London after he was sentenced in an Egyptian court to 15 years in prison for being a part of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. The United Nations considers the group to be an affiliate of al Qaeda.
But despite Al-Seba’i’s extreme ties, Karaki didn’t back down when he disrespected her on Al-Jadeed TV after she politely tried to redirect his historical tangent. Instead of taking his guff, she cut off his microphone when she decided she’d had enough.
The video was shared by MEMRI, a Middle East media watchdog [sometimes accused of being unreliable because of its pro-Israeli stance – JD].
To give you some context, here is a comment Al-Siba’i made on Al Jazeera TV in the wake of Osama Bin Laden’s death.
“Let me tell you: I love Sheikh Osama bin Laden as a Muslim. I am not glorifying or extolling anything. I am simply telling it as it is – Sheikh Osama is loved by millions of Muslims. Sheikh Osama is a hymn in the hearts of the downtrodden – from Jakarta to the Hindu Kush Mountains, to the villages and rural areas of Egypt… Ask those downtrodden and poor people, and they will tell you that they are grieving for Sheikh Osama bin Laden.
Sheikh Osama bin Laden fought occupation forces. He never killed civilians, and he never said he did. On the contrary, he extended his hand in peace to Europe and the West, and they were the ones who rejected it.”
Karaki, for her part, is a strong female figure in a country where women’s rights are still commonly ignored. Human Rights Watch released a 114-page report in January called “Women’s Rights under Lebanese Personal Status Laws” that found that women were not considered equals, especially when it came to divorce.
“Not only are Lebanese citizens of various religions treated unequally under the law, but women are treated unfairly across the board, and their rights and security go unprotected. Passage of an optional civil marriage code, alongside badly needed reforms to existing personal status laws and religious courts, are long overdue.” -Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director
It’s quite surprising that Karaki is not more of a household name. Before she made it in TV, she held a successful position at Lebanon’s central bank. In a recent interview with Fit’n Style magazine, she said her family considered her move to media “an irrational act.”
Her ethos seems to be one of power and strength, as demonstrated in the Al-Seba’i interview.
Some accuse me of being “disrespectful,” since I was the only one to omit my guests’ titles and address them with their first names no matter who they were; I see it as more respectful in fact because we don’t need all the poetry to introduce them.
Others say that I have no limits in my questions; I see this as an added value. Some say that I am not objective; I call it honesty. For those who describe me as “Not being loyal to or not following any political group,” I see it as cleanness.
Karaki is setting an example not only for Lebanese women, but for everyone in the media who could use a refresher on practicing what they preach.
Zineb El Rhazoui, a surviving columnist at Charlie Hebdo magazine who worked on the new issue, said the cover was a call to forgive the terrorists who murdered her colleagues last week, saying she did not feel hate towards Chérif and Saïd Kouachi despite their deadly attack on the magazine, and urged Muslims to accept humour.
“We don’t feel any hate to them. We know that the struggle is not with them as people, but the struggle is with an ideology,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
It should not need saying, but it does: people can be as angry as they like at the Israeli government, but to attack a synagogue, threaten children at a Jewish school, or throw a brick through the window of a Jewish grocery store is vile and contemptible racism. It cannot be excused by reference to Israeli military behaviour. The two are and should be kept utterly distinct.
Some may counter that that is impossible, given the strong attachment of most Jews to Israel. But this is less complicated than it looks. Yes, Jews feel bound up with Israel, they believe in its right to survive and thrive. But that does not mean they should be held responsible for its policy, on which some may disagree and over which they have no control.
Nor should they be required to declare their distance from Israel as a condition for admission into polite society. We opposed such a question being put to all Muslims after 9/11 and, though the cases are not equivalent, the same logic applies here. This is a test for those who take a strong stance in support of the Palestinians, but in truth it is a test for all of us.
The Guardian has recently carried a number of pieces denouncing antisemitism, including the editorial quoted from above, a powerful piece by Jon Henley on the rise in antisemitic attacks in Europe, a polemic entitled ‘Please don’t tell me what I should think about Israel’ by self-described “liberal American Jew” Hadley Freeman, and a confused but well-intentioned ramble by Owen Jones, who makes some good points but still seems to think that (often) “the charge of antisemitism is concocted” to silence critics of Israeli policy. Still, whatever its weaknesses, Jones’ s piece is further evidence of the Guardian taking antisemitism seriously.
Why the Guardian‘s recent concern with antisemitism comes as something of a surprise is because the paper itself has, in the past, been accused of downplaying the dangers of antisemitism, and even of promoting it, due to its often extremely simplistic Middle Eastern coverage, its promotion of ‘one-state’ (sic) propaganda and crude ‘anti-Zionism,’ due in large part to the the influence of the paper’s Stalinist associate editor Seumas Milne and its middle east editor Ian Black. The criticisms have not only come from the right. At the time of the last Gaza war (2009), Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers Liberty wrote the following open letter to editor Alan Rusbridger. It’s worth republishing now because the underlying political problems it identifies are still commonplace on the liberal-left, including – as Owen Jones’s piece arguably demonstrates – the Guardian itself:
Dear Alan Rusbridger,
The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.
On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).
Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue.
“Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’. There is no ‘Jewish lobby’ in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist”.
Indeed. The editorial records the Government’s statement that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.”
And the left? “Some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism…. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London”.
The editorial adds that such things as “kill Arabs” graffiti in Gaza are “chilling”. And? “The style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling ‘kill Jews’ on synagogues in Manchester”. The style….
The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported (www.workersliberty.org/gazademos) the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.
All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.
The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.
Mr Rusbridger, the root and core of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.
Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?
The “demand” that the self-proclaimed left has made on British Jews — very aggressively on university campuses, for example – has been that they repudiate Israel, that they not be Zionists, that they accept that Israel is “racist” in essence and has no right to exist.
The denial of Israel’s right to exist, predominant on the self-proclaimed left, is the precondition for the bizarre alliance of so much of the left with political Islam (to give it its proper name, Islamic clerical fascism). It is what allows the self-proclaimed left, political Islam, and Islamic communalists to merge and meld almost indistinguishably on occasions like the Gaza demonstrations.
Inevitably that radical political hostility to most Jews alive taps into the great half-buried septic reservoirs of old anti-semitism — into old racist, religious, and nondescript crank anti-semitism.
The Guardian Editorial writes of Nazi and Stalinist anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The worst Stalinist anti-semitism – from which come such things as the Stalinist-typical lunacy of equating Zionism and Nazism – erupted in the late 1940s and early 50s. The poisonous account of modern Jewish and Zionist history in the 20th century, which is dominant on the “left”, originates there, in Stalinism.
These old ideas of High Stalinist “anti-Zionism”/ anti-Semitism are rampant in the pro-Palestinian movement because they have conquered so much of the Trotskyism-rooted “left”. Young people who, to their credit, want to do something about such things as Gaza, come under the sway of the “smash Israel”, supposedly “pro-Palestinian” campaigns. The are taught ro reject a “Two State” settlement.
For the Guardian editorial to say that the difficulty lies in “the style” in which specific Israeli actions are criticised and condemned is simply preposterous! Whatever the “style” — and it varies from the seemingly reasonable to froth-at-the-mouth, open anti-semitism — the proposal to put an end to Israel leads inexorably to the things which the Guardian condemns, and to far worse.
The Guardian Editorial talks of the anti-semitism of the “jihadists”. The point is that the politics dominant in the Gaza demonstrations were entirely in line with the jihadists and their anti-semitism.
The Guardian has influence within the broad left. It is a pity you do not use that influence to tell the left the unpalatable truth about the state it’s in, that you don’t hold the mirror up, force people who should know better to see what they have let themselves become.
Below: different faces of contemporary antisemitism:
We must all register our protests, as best we can. Staff at Channel 4 (including Jon Snow, below) made their feelings known this evening:
Excerpted from Press Gazette: National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet described the sentences as “outrageous” and called for the British Government to condemn the verdicts.”The NUJ condemns in the strongest terms these sentences meted on journalists who were merely doing their job,” she said. “This is an outrageous decision and travesty of justice made by a kangaroo court.”Al Jazeera has rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence. This is a brutal regime which is attacking and arresting many journalists to attempt to silence them and prevent them from reporting events.
“The British Government must immediately signal its opposition to this verdict and do all it can to have the sentences overturned. The NUJ is calling on all media organisations to register their protest in support of colleagues at Al Jazeera and all the Egyptian journalists who have been attacked and arrested by their country’s authorities.
“Governments must not be allowed to deny journalists, wherever they are, the right to be able to report independently and in safety. The freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process.”
Free speech campaign group Index on Censorship said the verdicts sent a message that journalists “simply doing their job” was considered a crime in Egypt.
Chief executive Jodie Ginsberg condemned the verdicts as “disgraceful” adding: “We call on the international community to join us in condemning this verdict and ask governments to apply political and financial pressure on a country that is rapidly unwinding recently won freedoms, including freedom of the press.
“The government of newly elected president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi must build on the country’s democratic aspirations and halt curbs on the media and the silencing of voices of dissent.”
Ginsberg said at least 14 journalists remained in detention in Egypt and some 200 members of the press were in jails around the world, and that concerns are growing over the safety of media representatives across the globe.
“Index is deeply concerned at the growing number of imprisoned journalists in Egypt and around the world,” she said. “We reiterate our support to journalists to report freely and safely and call on Egyptian authorities to drop charges against journalists and ensure they are set free from jail.
“And we ask governments to maintain pressure on Egypt to ensure freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights are protected. Index joined the global #FreeAJStaff campaign along with other human rights, press freedom groups and journalists.”
The hashtags #journalismisnotacrime and #FreeAJStaff were trending on Twitter this morning after the verdicts came through.
LBC: “In an interview that has been described in the media as “car-crash radio”, “brutal” and “forensic”, Mr Farage looked rattled before his Director of Communications Patrick O’Flynn interrupted and called an end to the debate.”
The bourgeois media finally does its job re UKIP; about bloody time too.
Congrats to forensic, dead-pan interviewer James O’Brien, who refuses to be deflected by Farage’s bullshit and bluster:
Yesterday’s Guardian G2 carried a lead story claiming that “In Britain, there is now a cycle of Islamic scare stories so regular that it is almost comforting, like the changing of the seasons. Sadly, this rotation is not as natural, or as benign, although it is beginning to feel just as inevitable.”
The piece, by one Nesrine Malik, goes on to cite stories about gender segregation “in UK universities and Muslim schools”, complaints about Channel 4’s Ramadan coverage, “the niqab debate” the media coverage of “Muslim grooming gangs”, sharia courts and what the author describes as “the … “parallel Islamic law” scare story”, a report (source unspecified) that Lloyds TSB had reduced or eliminated overdraft fees on its Islamic bank accounts, and the present row over halal meat in supermarkets and fast food chains.
Malik lists these stories together, she promises, with “the facts that discredit them” … but, as anyone who reads the piece for themselves will soon discover, she doesn’t provide those facts. In most cases she doesn’t even cite any specific examples or sources.
The section on the sharia law “scare story”, for instance, does not refute or deny the fact that sharia courts operate in the UK, or that the Law Society recently drew up guidelines for sharia wills. The “facts that discredit” this “scare story” turn out to be the following statement from the author:
“On closer inspection, it is clear sharia courts only have jurisdiction on civil matters and everyone must opt in to a sharia court. They only have an advisory capacity and address mainly property and civil matters, and rulings are then only enforceable by civil courts.”
That apologia begs many more questions than it answers. Note that it doesn’t deny that sharia courts operate in the UK, but seems to suggest that it’s OK because they “mainly” have jurisdiction on “property and financial matters.” Which is really no answer to the alleged “scare story” at all, is it? The author also fails to mention that the campaign against sharia law is not a right-wing or racist initiative, but is, in fact, led by the left-wingers and feminists (many of them of Muslim origin) of the One Law For All campaign.
The author complains about how these stories amount to a “constant blurring of facts”, but her own piece is a classic example of just such “blurring”: she conflates the serious concerns (expressed by parents, teachers and MPs) about ultra-conservative Islam/Islamism being promoted in Birmingham non-faith state schools (not “Muslim schools”) and legitimate concerns about gender segregation guidelines issued (though later withdrawn) by Universities UK, with much more contentious issues like grooming gangs and halal food – issues that have in some instances been exploited by racists.
The clear intention of this shoddy, dishonest and poorly-researched (almost no sources are given, for instance) article, is that any and all concern about Islamism (ie political Islam) and/or ultra-conservative Islamic activity, must be racist scare-mongering. Malik should try telling that to Khalid Mahmood, the Birmingham Labour MP, and the teachers who have expressed concerns about what’s going on in some schools, or to the left-wing feminists of One Law For All.
But Nesrine Malik has form when it comes to this sort of thing. Back in 2008 Max Dunbar (then a regular Shirazer) did an excellent “fisking” of her that is worth revisiting in the light of her latest Guardian piece. Dunbar’s 2008 conclusion applies just as well today:
“I used to get outraged about people like Nesrine Malik. Here we have an independent woman working in finance in secular London, telling women in the developing world that theocracy really isn’t so bad as they make out. Isn’t this an imperialist attitude?
“But in the end, the appropriate response isn’t outrage: it’s a dark and riotous laughter at the arrant stupidity of it all.”
Above, from the left: Charles Glass (freelance journalist), Seymour Hersh (‘investigative’ ‘journalist’), Robert Fisk (Middle East ‘correspondent’ for The Independent), and John Pilger (conspiracy theorist). A panel discussion on “Reporting War” at Low Library Rotunda of Columbia University, April 14, 2006
In the West, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh are considered critical journalists. They occupy dissident positions in the English-speaking press. Among Syrians, however, they are viewed very differently.
The problem with their writings on Syria is that it is deeply centered on the West. The purported focus of their analysis – Syria, its people and the current conflict – serves only as backdrop to their commentary where ordinary Syrians are often invisible. For Fisk and Hersh the struggle in Syria is about ancient sects engaged in primordial battle. What really matters for them are the geopolitics of the conflict, specifically where the US fits into this picture.
On the topic of chemical weapons, Fisk and Hersh, completely ignore the antecedents of last summer’s attack on Ghouta .
A reader who relies exclusively on Fisk/Hersh for their understanding of Syria would never know that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons several times before the August 21, 2013 massacre in Ghouta. I was there at the time. I saw victims of sarin gas on two occasions in Eastern Ghouta and I met doctors treating them. The victims were from Jobar, which was hit with chemical weapons in April 2013 and from Harasta, which was hit in May 2013.
It is shocking that investigative journalists such as Fisk and Hersh know nothing about these attacks. They write as if Ghouta was the first time chemical weapons were used in Syria. Their credibility and objectivity is compromised by these omissions.
For these renowned commentators, the entire Middle East is reducible to geopolitical intrigue. There are no people; there is only the White House, the CIA, the British Government, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the Emir of Qatar, the Iranian regime and of course Bashar Assad and the jihadis.
In Fisk’s myriad articles, one rarely reads about ordinary Syrians (the observation also applies to the late Patrick Seale).
Robert Fisk was once a scourge of American reporters embedding with US forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he saw no irony in himself embedding with Syria regime forces as they entered Daraya in August 2012.
More than 500 people were killed in a massacre at that time (245 according to Fisk). Who killed them? The rebels, determined Fisk based solely on interviews with regime detainees. Why should local fighters kill hundreds from their own community? Robert Fisk does not provide an answer. Had he spoken to a single citizen without his minders present, he would have learned that they had no doubts about the regime’s responsibility. Indeed, it was an American journalist, Janine di Giovanni, who established that fact shortly thereafter by visiting Daraya on her own.
At the same time when this was happening Human Rights Watch documented ten attacks on bread queues around Aleppo. Fisk did not mention a single one.
During this time Fisk visited a security center in Damascus where he was welcomed by a security official. He was given access to four jihadi fighters, two Syrians and two foreigners. Fisk made a point of mentioning that the prisoners were allowed family visits. As someone who spent 16 years in Assad’s jails and who has firsthand knowledge of these factories of death, I find this claim highly improbable. Fisk’s credulity is risible; he is assisting a shameful attempt to beautify the ugly polices of the House of Assad.
Why has Robert Fisk never attempted to contact people of Eastern Ghouta to ask them what happened there last August? It would have been easy for a person as well-connected as he to convince his friends in the regime, such as Assad’s media adviser Buthaina Shaaban, to facilitate his entrance to the besieged town. He could have met ordinary people for a change without the intimidating presence of regime minders and found out for himself who used the chemical weapons that killed 1466 people, including more than 400 children.
Ignoring local sources of information on the conflict in Syria seems to be a standard practice among many in the West, especially among left wing and liberal commentators. This speaks volumes about their ideological bias. Their dogmatic self-assurance with its veneer of professionalism is not substantively different than the obscurantist self-righteousness of the jihadis.
The Hersh/Fisk narrative unfolds in a historical vacuum: it tells you nothing about the history and character of the regime. You will not learn that the regime has used collective punishment as a policy since the very beginning of the Syrian revolt. That it has used fighter jets, barrel bombs and scud missiles against civilians to cow them; that it has invited foreigners from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and other countries to assist in the slaughter.
Nor will you learn about a flourishing death industry in the very places to which Fisk is a welcome visitor. Three months ago he penned an article about Assad’s systematic killing of the detainees in his dungeons, but Fisk reported on this topic in a way that gives us a biopsy of his professional conscience.
Fisk prefaces his report on the regime’s atrocities by warning readers about the horrors that may soon exist “if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds.” For most, the significant fact about the photos was the industrial scale killings inside Assad’s jails that they evidenced. But Fisk appeared more obsessed with the timing of the photos, as they appeared a day before the Geneva 2 Conference. Fisk may have been reminded of Nazi Germany by the horrific fate of the 11,000 prisoners, but he still found occasion to expatiate at length about Qatar, whose “royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad”, for funding the investigation. For Fisk, the atrocities were a mere detail in a larger conspiracy whose real victim was Assad’s regime.
To the uninitiated, Fisk’s article might convey the impression that those 11,000 were all that were killed by Assad’s regime and the 20,000 killed in Hama in 1982 were all that that were killed by his father’s. The actual number of victims is eleven times as many for Assad and twice as many for his father. Moreover, these figures ignore the tens of thousands arrested, tortured, and jailed, and the millions who have been humiliated by this regime
By methodically ignoring the Syrian people and by focusing on Al Qaeda, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh have done us all a huge disservice. The perspective on Syria portrayed by these writers is exactly the view of Syria that Bashaar Assad wants the rest of the world to see.
– Yassin al-Haj Saleh (born in Raqqa in 1961) is one of Syria’s most prominent political dissidents. In 1980, when he was studying medicine in Aleppo, he was imprisoned for his membership in a pro-democracy group and remained behind bars until 1996. He writes on political, social and cultural subjects relating to Syria and the Arab world for several Arab newspapers and journals outside of Syria, and regularly contributes to the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, the Egyptian leftist magazine Al-Bosla, and the Syrian online periodical The Republic. Among Saleh’s books (all in Arabic) are Syria in the Shadow: Glimpses Inside the Black Box (2009), Walking on One Foot (2011), a collection of 52 essays written between 2006 and 2010, Salvation O Boys: 16 Years in Syrian Prisons (2012), The Myths of the Others: A Critique of Contemporary Islam and a Critique of the Critique (2012), andDeliverance or Destruction? Syria at a Crossroads(2014). In 2012 he was granted the Prince Claus Award as “a tribute to the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution”. He was not able to collect the award, as he was living in hiding in the underground in Damascus.
The National Union of Journalism voted against a motion to support a boycott of all Israeli goods and support the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Delegates at Eastbourne were told by Michelle Stanistreet that journalists working in the Middle East, Palestine and occupied territories would be put in jeopardy if the motion was passed. She stressed that the boycott motion would be decided by the NUJ conference and not by outside bodies, but it was a decision which must reflect the interests and safety of our own members.
She pointed out that the NUJ’s colleagues in Palestine had not asked the union to introduce a boycott.
Simon Vaughan, representing BBC London said that his branch and the group representing Mothers and Fathers of Chapel of all BBC branches had been mandated to oppose the motion because they believe it will make the lives of their colleagues covering events in that part of the world very difficult.
Alan Gibson, of London Magazine branch, who proposed the motion, said he wanted to join Stephen Hawkins [sic -JD] and Noam Chomsky, as well as other unions and MPs who supported the BDS movement. He said the union needed to show that it was standing up against the biggest bully in the world, the Israeli state.
Conference did pass a motion condemning the Israeli authorities for preventing the movement of Palestine journalists between the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the refusal to accredit journalists with press cards, so they can do their job.
The motion committed the union to renew the campaign led by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) to convince the Israeli authorities to recognise its press cards in the occupied territories of Palestine. The NUJ agreed that it would continue to work with its sister union in Palestine.
Jim Boumelha, president of the IFJ, and Paul Holleran, NUJ Scottish organiser, are due to go Palestine as part of this campaign.
Jim Boumelha said:
“For the past 25 years, we have campaigned in solidarity with Palestine and their journalists who face day after day of humiliation from the Israeli authorities, even if they have the right papers. They face constant harassment and arrest and that is why the union must continue to campaign for the recognition of the press card.”
Here’s something you haven’t read here before: well done to the Guardian !
Anyone wanting honest, factual reporting of events in Ukraine over the past month, could not have done better than to have relied upon the Guardian – mainly because of the on-the-spot reports from the excellent Luke Harding.
While theMorning Starhas been spouting Putin’s propaganda about a “fascist” “coup” in Kiev, Harding gave us the facts: yes there were (and are) some very unpleasant extreme nationalists involved in the Kiev revolution, but they do not define that movement and Putin’s constant reference to them is crude, but effective, propaganda, coming as it does, from a regime that is itself only too happy to utilise extreme right-wing forces at home.
The Graun‘s resident public school Stalinist and Assistant Editor, Seamas Milne, predictably sides with Putin and Russian imperialism (with a minimal amount of embarrassment), but for once he and his friends were not able to annexe the editorial line, and the usually-craven Rusbridger seems to have stood his ground. As a result the paper has firmly denounced Putin throughout, and on the day after the Russian annexation of Crimea, the editorial was a memorable, no-holds-barred denunciation of this “illegal, neo-imperialist act” – a denunciation so powerful and true (especially with regard to the supposed Kosova analogy so beloved of Putin and his apologists) that it deserves to be reproduced in full:
Crimea: Mr Putin’s imperial act
The historic atrocities in Crimea were committed by Moscow, which slaughtered tens of thousands of Tatars.
So it has happened. Crimea has been annexed. A strutting Russian president sealed the fate of the once-autonomous Ukrainian republic with a speech to parliament yesterday in which he sought to wrap himself and the Black Sea peninsula together in the flag of his country. It was a bravura performance from Mr Putin, largely free of the ad hoc ramblings he indulged in at his press conference on 4 March, but nevertheless filled with purple rhetoric.
Without apparent irony he invoked his namesake St Vladimir in Russia‘s cause. It was in Crimea, Mr Putin said, that Vladimir, the Grand Duke of Kieff and All Russia, acquired the Orthodox Christian roots that would spread throughout Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. It was in Crimea that the noble Russian soldiers lay in graves dating back to the 1700s. It was Crimea that had given birth to Russia’s Black Sea navy, a symbol of Moscow’s glory. In his people’s hearts and minds, he said, Crimea had always been a part of Russia.
Quite how, then, his dimwitted predecessor Nikita Khrushchev had managed to hand it to Ukraine in 1954 was unclear, but that act had been a “breach of any constitutional norm” and could thereby be ignored. And by the way, Mr Putin intimated, Moscow had only failed to raise the issue of Crimea’s sovereignty during previous negotiations with Ukraine because it hadn’t wanted to offend its friendly neighbour. Now the west had cheated on a range of issues – Nato‘s expansion into eastern Europe, the “coup” in Kiev, the unnecessary prolonging of discussions over visa waivers for Europe – Russia felt inclined to accept a willing Crimea back into the fold.
So the self-justifications went on. There have been few clearer-eyed critics of Soviet-era propaganda than Milan Kundera, who once wrote that “The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” Watching members of the Duma wildly applaud Mr Putin, the phrase felt newly appropriate. In the modern struggle of memory, we should recall that when Mr Putin was asked two weeks ago if he considered that Crimea might join Russia, he replied “No, we do not.” We should recall his assertion that the troops without insignia on Crimea’s streets could have bought their Russian uniforms in local shops. And we should remember Kosovo.
Mr Putin made much of the parallel between Kosovo’s secession from Serbia and Russian actions in Crimea. In fact the differences between the two cases are stark. In Kosovo in the 1990s, a majority ethnic Albanian population was being persecuted by the government of Slobodan Milosevic. The region’s autonomy had been revoked, ethnic Albanians had been ousted from government jobs, their language had been repressed, their newspapers shut, and they had been excluded from schools and universities. By late 1998, Mr Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing was reaching a climax: Serbian army and police units were terrorising and massacring groups of Albanians in an outright attempt to drive them out. The Kosovans’ plight was the subject of intense diplomacy, which was rebuffed by Mr Milosevic’s government.
In Crimea, by contrast, despite Mr Putin’s characterisation of the emergency government in Kiev as “anti-Semites, fascists and Russophobes” whose tools are “terror, killings and pogroms”, there have been no pogroms, little terror, no persecutions of Russian-speaking citizens bar a bid, now dropped, to rescind Russian’s status as an official language. The historic atrocities in Crimea were committed by Moscow, which starved and slaughtered tens of thousands Crimean Tatars in the 1920s, before deporting them en masse in 1944. Almost half the deportees died from malnutrition and disease.
As Moscow takes a historic bite of Ukraine, Mr Putin would rather the world misremember Kosovo, or discuss the legality of the US-led invasions of Iraq or Afghanistan. The world has debated those wars before and should do so again. Today, let us see Russia’s move for what it is: an illegal, neo-imperialist act.
NB: Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty dissects Milne’s “shoddy arguments for Putin”, here.