John Pilger is an ill-considered but prolific social commentator fuelled by intense anti-imperialism. Although he’s louder than he is important, I was excited to acquire my first John Pilger book, 2007’s ‘Freedom Next Time’, as I was trawling the train at Cannon St looking for a copy of The Sun for some budget aftermath. Somebody had abandoned it (I surmise) in despair of learning anything of use. I found it on the floor with its cover bent back and a footprint on it.
It’s incredibly wide-ranging and systemic criticism of, from what I can gather Western, ‘domination’ and ‘betrayal’ of ‘invisible’ communities (although he also gives a lot of ink to Palestinians who are dominated but very visible indeed) and the suffering they experience at the hands of the architects and props of America, which he considers a ‘pre-fascist state’.
I opened it on several random pages and found only demagogic cavilling, achieved through selective quoting, heavy use of inverted commas and badly-cited references which discourage readers from checking his sources.
On example concerning the West Bank refugee camp of Jenin, Pilger recounts a challenge from Ha’aretz’ London Correspondent to The Guardian over its description of Operation Defensive Shield, the 2002 Israeli incursion into Jenin and one of the bloodiest episodes of the 2nd Intifada, as a ‘massacre’. With ostentatious incredulity Pilger points to the cold-blooded killing of children and a disabled man, implying that to question the way these were reported was nothing more than a diversion. As well as dealing very lightly with the circumstances of the incursion, he ignores, in the light of the myriad ways the emotive term ‘massacre’ has been invoked to delegitimise Israel or to foment hatred against Israel, the generally acknowledged irresponsibility and, for some, the political expediency, of referring to the strikes in this way. A few weeks ago at Jewish Book Week Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger apologised for writing in an editorial that “Israel’s actions in Jenin were every bit as repellent as Osama Bin Laden’s attack on New York on September 11”. It’s big of him but it did an immense amount of damage at the time. Pilger doesn’t discuss this.
Regarding his support for Hamas and Chavez (I’m not familiar with his writing on Africa – maybe it’s better) this is just more underdoggism disguised as a defense of the weak. The weakest people of all in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians are those who wish to resist the fear-mongering, to avoid the knee-jerk retaliation and counter-retaliation and to accommodate each other as far as possible in a two-state solution. People like Yossi Beilin and Saeb Erekat. Pilger won’t extend his support to them.
The trouble is that, in the case of Israel and Palestine, Pilger’s pet resistance isn’t simply”courageous people battling to free themselves” from occupation. It’s adulterated by incitement to hate Jews and by external – and in the case of Iran imperialist, incidentally – forces against Israel’s very existence. In this book Pilger doesn’t ask us to think, only to gulp down the sour, curdled Pilgerism.