The title of activist-historian Mark Curtis’s recent book tells it all: “Web of Deceit. Britain’s Real Role in the World”. It is worth quoting immediately from the foreword by journalist John Pilger: “Mark Curtis’s brilliant, exciting and deeply disturbing book unwraps the whole package, layer by layer, piece by piece. Not since Noam Chomsky’s Deterring Democracy, has there been such a disclosure, whose publication could not be more timely.”
That comparison to Chomsky is not made lightly. Curtis powerfully demolishes the rhetoric behind the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, revealing how they fit a pattern, not of humanitarian intervention, but of control of ‘Third World’ natural resources and markets through the installation of US-friendly ‘democratic structures’. Drawing on formerly secret UK government files, Curtis also reveals the complicity of successive British governments, whether Labour or Conservative, in supporting the US in its role as number one rogue state, as well as pursuing its own repressive policies in Kenya, Malaya, Oman and the now depopulated island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Curtis maps all of this out with clarity, impeccable research and an admirable forthrightness.
The ongoing furore over the failure to find so-called ‘weapons of mass destruction’ in Iraq, and the deceptions underpinning the various dossiers published by the UK government, just might – finally – give the lie to Tony Blair’s ‘sincerity’. No one who reads ‘Web of Deceit’ can doubt that Tony Blair has long been duping the British public, with the usual assistance of the ‘free press’. At the Labour party conference in 2001, Blair declared: “I tell you, if Rwanda happened again today as it did in 1994, when a million people were slaughtered in cold blood, we would have a moral duty to act.”
The mainstream media reported those words without challenge, omitting to mention that the British government had contributed to genocide in Rwanda. As Curtis points out: “Britain used its diplomatic weight to reduce severely a UN force that, according to military officers on the ground, could have prevented the killings. It then helped ensure the delay of other plans for intervention, which sent a direct green light to the murderers in Rwanda to continue. Britain also refused to provide the capability for other states to intervene, while blaming the lack of such capability on the UN.”
This information is publicly available, but mainstream media and the academic community have simply chosen to look the other way.
Similar subservience to power can be seen in reporting the murderous war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), at the cost of more than three million lives. Curtis writes: “Britain sold arms to Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, who intervened to support the DRC regime, at the same time as supplying Uganda and Rwanda, who were fighting the DRC and its allies.” The International Institute for Security Studies in South Africa has commented on the impact of British greed: “Britain is inflaming the situation by arming both sides.”
Such awful examples of British foreign policy – which represent the norm, not exceptions – do not fit the exalted self-image of benign western states wielding power in the defence of “all who believe in progress and pluralism, tolerance and freedom” (Bush), or in order to uphold “values of justice, tolerance and respect for all regardless of race, religion or creed” (Blair).
Britain’s Labour government has claimed that it wants to be a ‘force for good in the world’. As Curtis demonstrates so convincingly, from the immorality of British foreign policy in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Indonesia to its support for repressive governments in Israel, Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, the “reality is that Britain under New Labour is a systematic violator of international law and ethical standards in its foreign policy – in effect, an outlaw state. It is a key ally of some of the world’s most repressive regimes that is consistently condoning, and sometimes actively aiding, human rights abuses.” Curtis highlights the unmentionable fact that Britain is “one of the world’s leading apologists for, and supporters of, state terrorism by allies responsible for far more serious crimes than Al Qaida or other official threats.”
How is this state of affairs possible in a modern, democratic country where we have perhaps the finest public broadcaster in the BBC, and where we supposedly have at least one, if not two, ‘progressive’ daily newspapers, namely The Guardian and The Independent? In perhaps the book’s most important section, titled “The Mass Production of Ignorance”, Curtis explains that “the media definition of ‘objective’ . in reality means working within the consensus among the elite.” He continues: “The liberal intelligentsia in Britain is in my view guilty of helping to weave a collective web of deceit.. To read many mainstream commentators’ writings on Britain’s role in the world is to enter a surreal, Kafkaesque world where the reality is often the direct opposite of what is contended and where the startling assumptions are frighteningly supportive of state power.”
Curtis gives several examples of liberal commentators providing a fig-leaf of respectability for Blair’s crimes. A faithful member of this retinue is The Guardian’s Polly Toynbee who opined that Blair’s speech at the October 2001 Labour party conference “will stand as a moment British politics became vigorously, unashamedly, social democratic. The day it became missionary and almost Swedish in pursuit of universal justice”. Toynbee noted Blair’s “noble sentiments for a new world order”, and that he declared “war on poverty, tyranny and injustice while barely using the word ‘war’ at all”. The article was entitled: “He promised to take on the world. And I believed him”.
Thus, in the prelude to the US-led invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, a largely uncritical mass media has relayed great swaths of US and UK government rhetoric, distortions and lies, while consigning great chunks of history and relevant context to Orwell’s infamous ‘memory hole’. As Curtis observes, “the British public has been subject to a [propaganda] campaign of perhaps unprecedented heights in the post-war world.”
Curtis’s book is an essential tool in helping to counter such propaganda by boosting public understanding of how elite state-corporate power is shaping the world along lines of injustice, cruelty and suffering. ‘Web of Deceit’ deserves a very wide readership indeed.
David Cromwell is co-editor of Media Lens. Sign up for free media alerts at http://www.medialens.org. “Web of Deceit” by Mark Curtis is published by Vintage (London, 2003).