We are on the train from Cologne to Brussels to cover Mr. Bush’s visit to the European Union for Indymedia UK. Newsstands and websites display pictures of happy European statesmen – Jacques Chirac looking aggressively relaxed during the handshake – and the talk is of rapprochement, a new partnership between America and Europe. Like a bad song or an awkward lover, Mr. Bush declares to the assembled notables that “no power on Earth could ever divide us.”
An old friend of mine once talked about the collision between the real world of human experience and a virtual world. This virtual world of corporate media is inhabited by the Very Important People, he said, and it is what they say, who they sleep with, what they wear, and what they take off that is important in the virtual world. Ordinary people, unpeople, the ones that you and I know, never show up in this world, except when they die, or when they commit a crime and are punished. It is the task of the independent media to map out the vast gap between the virtual and the real worlds – one might say, the gap between Bono and Africa. Another old friend once said “don’t piss down my back and tell me it’s raining,” which is a simpler way of saying the same thing.
In light of these words of wisdom, what is actually going on in Europe today?
Probably the most interesting thing is the way in which Mr. Bush is being shielded from the mob by his gracious hosts and handlers. Although we might have expected a triumphant mini-trip to London so soon after the elections in Iraq, this was not on the table. Hundreds of thousands of people shut down London the last time Bush visited, but as I have already noted in the corporate media ordinary people do not exist…the media coverage at the time was like a set of spotlights playing around the edges of a black hole. Here, in the independent media, we can give a name to the unmentionable darkness that reared its head in November of 2003: it was the citizenry of London.
Tomorrow, Mr. Bush will visit the small city of Mainz, in Germany. Meaning no offense to the residents of these fine towns, it should be pointed out that the World-Emperor, unable to visit Berlin due to the massive disruptions that security will cause in the German capital, is on the equivalent of a state visit to Dundee, or in American terms, maybe Duluth, Minnesota. The fact that he will be visiting US military bases in the area should at least assure a polite audience.
This is nothing new, of course, and it’s unfair to single out Mr. Bush. Since the late 1990s, it has been a certainty that any attempt by heads of governments, industrial leaders, or financial wizards to meet and discuss the business of running the “Free World”, will be met by a vast and unmentionable conspiracy. People who do not normally show up on the evening news organize themselves in novel ways that are increasingly difficult not to notice; the police use batons and gas grenades. Things get tricky. So, as the real world gets moving against the wars, environmental destruction, and the political and economic system, government and corporate leaders withdraw further into the virtual world, visiting small provincial towns under heavy guard. If this process continues, the most powerful men in the world will be forced to drop the pretense that they have any freedom of motion and hold meetings on specially-designed film sets providing the illusion that they are out-of-doors. This is very nearly the case already.
By chance, a group of British teenagers are sitting on the train next to me, taking the piss out of dumb Americans and Tony Blair, and hoping that they will not be “blamed for America” while in Europe because they speak English. In their conversation, they are uniformly against the Iraq war, which they seem to view as an American war, as if Britain were not involved (Mr. Blair seems to count as an honourary American). This view of things is common in Britain, where the corporate media routinely reports details of American atrocities next to tear-jerking accounts of the deaths of British “heroes”, who were presumably standing around innocently, busily not enforcing a colonial occupation. The attitude is echoed in the American media, where the atrocities are generally glossed over, but the “terrible cost of the war in Iraq” is measured in the lost lives of US soldiers. Now, it may be the case that 1,000 dead American soldiers weigh more than 10,000 dead Iraqi children, but it is poor form for anyone to base their moral calculations on this fact, and someone needs to interrupt the news anchors and point this out.
The Europeans have their own peculiar way of reconciling the real and virtual worlds: the statesmen of Europe, according to the press here, “oppose” the war, despite the fact that US aircraft, troops, and supplies move uninterrupted across European territory on their way to the conflict zones in Iraq and also to Afghanistan, the Occupation That Time Forgot. As I finish this in the Brussels indymedia center before heading off to cover the demonstrations, Mr. Bush is asking his fellow NATO members to take a more fundamental role in fostering Iraq’s new “democracy.” He is proposing that the Europeans train some Iraqi prison wardens and police, and afterwards maybe contribute more troops in Afghanistan, still not fully under control after three years of occupation.
What we are seeing in the corporate media today is an attempt at a normalization of the world situation, a normalization that has been denied to Mr. Bush by the unpeople of Fallujah and Baghdad, who are executed in their own neighbourhoods by western helicopter gunships and pilotless drones. How the unpeople of Brussels responded yesterday: with demonstrations at the Bourse (stock exchange). They will respond again at a large demonstration a few hours from now. Indymedia will be mapping things out as the situation unfolds. Stay tuned… http://www.indymedia.be