Q&A with John Pilger

Q: What has been the reaction to your front-page article for The Mirror on July 4?

To understand that front-page article and that piece, you have to understand the history of The Mirror. When I worked there in the 1960s and the 1970s, it was a popular and genuine left-of-center tabloid with a very powerful tradition of standing up to governments. There was no equivalent of it anywhere.

The Mirror lost its character when Rupert Murdoch competed with it, and it slid down to approaching the level of his tabloid, The Sun. But under this new editor, Piers Morgan, the paper seems to have found a new life following September 11. The Mirror has found much of its old politics and its old populism.

On July 4, The Mirror did what it used to do 30 years ago. And the impact was enormous. The reaction reminded me of the response I used to get when I first wrote for The Mirror. It’s a paper I haven’t written for in years and that I have often criticized. In fact, I made a film attacking it. But last October I wrote an article for The Mirror that analyzed the so-called war on terrorism for the fraud it is, and it had a very positive one.

Piers Morgan said that the “Mourn on the Fourth of July” had 90 percent approval from Mirror readers, and received a lot of attention. For the first time since September 11, a section of the popular media is turning the discussion round, and calling the United States a rogue state.

I was delighted to have this opportunity to write for The Mirror because I have always felt that it’s all too easy to stray into the margins. Getting some space in the so-called mainstream media is very important.

Q: You recently traveled to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to speak at a tribute to the independent radio journalist John Pilger. What were your impressions?

My feeling is that the progressive forces in the United States appear to be stirring again. It’s always been the problem that people don’t know each other is stirring. And that’s a wonderful thing about new communication technology. It allows to find out more about what others are doing. Howard Zinn has made this point: if you look, there are political meetings happening in very small towns around the United States.

The impression I have is that the people who care about these issues — human rights and civil rights — never stopped caring about these issues, but now they are starting to organize again. It’s certainly true in England. It’s certainly true in Europe. But it needs to accelerate, because it appears that the United States is going to attack Iraq, with Tony Blair’s complicity, and all that can stop them is public opinion, mass movements, direct action, and all those old methods of organizing.

Q: The harshest response to your July 4 article came from the U.S. media.

In this country, as The Mirror episode shows, there is much more open debate. People like myself are given space, and that doesn’t seem to be happening in the United States. There is no doubt that the media in the United States has reinforced the position it has always held as a protector of the establishment. Since people depend on the media as their main source of information, this is a very bad situation. But the people working to control our political minds can only control them for so long. They know that. And, after a while, as happened in the 1960s and in the 1970s, people have too much common sense, and they see through the lies.

A worrying issue, though, is the new mechanisms of control that are being put in place, such as the USA PATRIOT Act. In the United States we have seen the disappearance of a thousand people, many simply because they have Muslim names, disappeared as if they were in a Latin American dictatorship. At the same time, the Bush administration has established this concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, which seems to me to embody the whole arrogance of U.S. imperialism and power. In the first place, the base is on Cuba. And, second, the treatment of the detainees is in contravention of just about every article of international law about detention of prisoners of war that has ever been written.

These are all disturbing developments. They have to be opposed at the grassroots. And it is beginning to be. I think certainly the overwhelming majority of people are against Britain joining in on the planned U.S. attack against Iraq. This is not to say that they can stop it, but if Blair commits troops to this war, he’s aware of what an unpopular act that will be.

It seems to me that one of the byproducts of September 11 is that people have an opportunity to really see clearly the nature of the enemy. That’s why that letter signed by 100 artists, academics, and writers that came from the United States was so eloquent. They identified the enemy as the unelected clique, the plutocracy that is running Washington. And the letter called on all of us to resist. I found that a very moving document.

I think people are now beginning to understand that it is not just a matter of opposing a policy, it is a matter of resisting the enemy of the most fundamental human rights, an enemy that has cried crocodile tears over the many victims of September 11, and that has appropriated our grief and shock about the tragic events of that day to go on killing other people in other countries. I do believe that many people understand that, and the distance that resistance has to travel between understanding this and being effective in making change is not all that far.

Although the United States has a formidable arsenal of weapons and power, so does public opinion, and I think resistance can push it over. We have seen that in countries all over the world where people have overthrown oppressive regimes. With the assault on Iraq looming, I think the task of building this resistance is especially urgent.

John Pilger writes for the New Statesman, The Guardian, and The Mirror, where his July 4 article, “Mourn on the Fourth of July,” created international debate. In that article, Pilger accused the United States of being the world’s leading “rogue state” and described a visit to the U.S. southwest in which he found doubts about the war that are “seldom reported in the American mainstream media, which is self-censored and controlled, perhaps as never before.” (In response, The New York Post described The Mirror as a “terrorist-loving London tabloid.”) That article, and others by Pilger, are available on his web site: www.johnpilger.com. His documentary “Palestine Is Still The Issue” will air in the United Kingdom on September 16 and will be available in the United States from Bullfrog Films. His latest book is New Rulers of the World (Verso). South End Press has also just reissued Pilger’s classic book Heroes.

Anthony Arnove, a ZNet commentator and a contributor to The Struggle for Palestine (Haymarket Books), interviewed Pilger on July 23 about the response to his Mirror essay and the growing opposition to the “war on terrorism.”

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