First they ignore you, then they silence you

Last week I read a highly interesting and thought-provoking essay on Al-Jazeera, albeit not the most interesting of stories I have ever shared with readers. I will elaborate a little further to make clear why my reading last week should be of interest to anyone on earth other than because, well I said so.  The article in question was a piece written by Joseph Massad for the Al Jazeera English service and was titled “The Last of the Semites”, in his article Massad discussed the racist nature of Zionism and demonstrated how as an ideology it is based on many of the  very same racist presumptions made by the most virulent anti-Semitists. This however, while explaining my own interesting in the article, is still not why this story is of interest to the reader. The reason I have discussed this story is that not long after the article was posted it was also pulled in a bizarre move by the senior editors to seemingly sate Israel’s baying hounds despite AJE’s reputation as being one of the few media sources which can be relied upon for a balanced discussion of Israel compared to many of the other leading sources of news outside of the region.

As one commentator, Ali Abunimah at Electronic Intifada highlighted in the wake of this event the decision seems even more bizarre considering that of the channels few red lines as far as the owner, the Emir of Qatar, is concerned – Massad has crossed all of these previously by previously publishing articles critical of both Qatari Foreign policy and the the Emir without once being censured. That the straw that broke the camels back in this case was pressure from Israel will come as no great surprise to anyone who has seen figureheads of world opinion operate against other dissenting voices on the countries policies in the past. Take for example Ali Abunimah, one of the editors in chief if not THE editor in chief at Electronic Intifada who is regularly slandered with every term that forms the varied spectrum of insults that Israel’s defenders will use to try through a policy of attrition to make something stick in the hope of rendering the victims opinions null and void. This policy is so school yard it is at times hard to believe that a country with perhaps the worlds most effective PR team (our of necessity rather than skill) is its chief user. If for example – I became engaged in an argument as to whether apples are better than oranges with my arch enemy and instead of offering evidence I simply shouted swear words at my enemy at the top of my voice until people in the audience began to agree with my shouted opinion – have I really won the argument ? or simply stopped myself from losing by being unable to present any relevant facts that backup my opinions. Much as this has been in the policy used against Abunimah and various other voices in the past, it was also the policy used by the attack dogs against Massad in the wake of this articles publication on the AJE website. Here are two choice examples in tweet form from just two of Israel’s most prominent public defenders:

“Congratulations, al Jazeera: You’ve just posted one of the most anti-Jewish screeds in recent memory”

and

“Congratulations, donors to Columbia University, for paying this monstrous fuckhead’s salary!”

what we can see here is fairly typical of this approach in that there is no balance attempted (granted its twitter and characters are limited but the point stands as balance on twitter can appear in tweets that follow an original) and there’s an appeal to a third party rather than directly to Massad himself asking him to clarify what his post meant which I presume aims at raising hackles over criticism in the press in an attempt to get third parties to self censor so to speak.

Since writing these paragraphs AJE have made a rather humiliating about face on the Massad article and restored it to its rightful place on the website. While this makes some of the statements above mildly irrelevant the overall theme of this post has remained unchanged and so I will continue without drastically altering the piece itself.

However unique this story is in many ways, it is also fairly atypical of the media’s relations with Israel as a whole which is problematic only in the sense that the representations that the lions share of the media present of Israel are utterly false in their one-sidedness. Take for example the discussion of any forces that are involved in the conflict as a clear demonstration of the media’s cognitive and seemingly inherent bias in Israel’s favour. It is true as the media should report that there is armed conflict between the Israeli army and Palestinians. Notice what words didn’t follow Palestinians then, here are a few that spring to mind as notable for their lack of an appearance “Army, Units, Regiments, Squads, Forces”. The media chooses, seemingly through omission, to neglect to inform the audience of the massive disparity in the forces involved in the conflict with “battles often consisting of whole armed brigades of the IDF on one side facing off against one or two Palestinians who may or may not be militants. When the Media chooses to neglect these details in its reportage of conflict between the two parties it presumably does so for two reasons:

  1. To actually reveal troop numbers to audiences around the world might finally put the final nail in the coffin of the deluded fantasy that the Israeli Defence Force is anything of the sort.
  2. Again, to reveal troop numbers to audiences around the world might also put paid to the Zionist myths that Israel is surrounded by hordes of rabid enemies, just waiting to pounce on the innocent jews, that has helped them to achieve so much support and recognition in the wider world.

What we can see in these justifications above are just two possible examples that the Western media might have for self-censoring their content in favour of Israel, although I am not saying that these are the concrete reasons behind every bizarre editorial decision that is made that seems to support Israel. No, I won’t suggest that as I know there is an equally pressing force which defines a worrying amount of what is and isn’t reported in the worlds media and that is… money.

The whole money aspect was something I was going to touch on anyway as it does define a lot of what is covered or not covered in the case of Israel but, after the Massad article was reposted on AJE, as if to prove my point Electronic Intifada did some digging and found financial reasons to be behind the original censorship of the article. According to research conducted by EI, the manager of the new US branch of Al Jazeera was concerned about the impact that such an article would have in US markets which are extremely sensitive to criticisms of the Zionist state. While these concerns perhaps warrant some thought they certainly do not in any way validate the decision to remove the article as to do simply demonstrates that the US market for information (amongst many others) is dictated by Zionists and that truly no source is free of the immense stifling effect Israeli power has on free speech. As a parting thought I would simply ask the reader to think about the veracity of any information they have ever received from the mass media about Israel when it has proven powerful enough to censor the one network that has prided itself in the past on providing a counter argument to the usual points made in the countries defence.

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A market for culture supplanted by a dictatorship of the dumb

It  might not be too much of a stretch of the truth to say that my generation may be the last where a common, perhaps even universal, experience shared by many, in the west at least, is a persons very first purchase of a physical media product such as an album, book or film.

This man having been my very first choice of CD, I wont pretend that im greatly saddened by the prospect of first album purchases dying out

This man’s debut album having been my own very first choice of CD, I wont pretend that I’m greatly saddened by the prospect of “first album” purchases dying out

That being true, the emphasis on the word physical in the previous sentence is key as instead of the market for such goods simply evaporating as many media conglomerates would have us believe it has simply involved into a digital marketplace. Regular readers of this blog will already have seen in a previous post my positive feelings about the potential of new technologies to democratise existing institutions and I believe that the migration of media from a physical format to a more digitised existence again holds tremendous potential. Tremendous potential that is, if it can only be harnessed for positive ends rather than being left  to simply replicate the pre-existing physical market in a digital environment. In this post I will discuss briefly the reasons I feel the traditional market model is less desirable and then offer a blue sky analysis of why a shift to the digital would be preferable for all creative industries. In doing this however I will inevitably confront my somewhat wishful beliefs with the realities that exist in one of the most thriving digital exchange formats, peer to peer file-sharing websites which on paper hold so much promise yet in reality are little more than the bastard children of old media and new technology.

When I reflect on the traditional market model of media sales, specifically the sale of media products in a dedicated shopping environment the thought does cause me to reminisce with a great deal of fondness that perhaps does mask some of the inherent flaws of such a model. I remember quite vividly the sense of  youthful glee that would envelop me on a a Friday afternoon as I left school for home stopping briefly at the video rental shop to pick up something to watch over the weekend and if I didn’t stop here then it would be the local library later on that same evening. As I progressed in age and starting receiving money instead of noisy toys at Christmas and birthdays (I’m sure much to my parent’s delight) my media consumption shifted somewhat away from renting and borrowing and towards purchasing products for my own collection. It was probably at this juncture that I first became aware of one of the central drawbacks in the traditional model of media consumption, Price.

Now I know naysayers will offer arguments, such as “but the artist/author/director should be compensated for their hard work  which you so enjoyed” or that “but buying CDs/ DVDs/ books is an investment”, to defend the industry but I stand by my initial opinion that the pricing of traditional media is prohibitive. Yes the creator of any work deserves to be rewarded for their work but it is a little presumptuous to assume that the sales of physical copies of their work from retail outlets is a successful artists sole source of money when you consider the numerous other streams of revenue that are potentially available to them. A further problem with the above argument is that it doesn’t really make a mention of the industry which also takes a cut if not in some cases the lions share of my money when I hand it over to the cashiers in my local record shop. I’m fully in support of artists receiving their cut of the loot but it is a lot more difficult to accept paying the industry itself for my media purchases.

Especially when you can elect to mentally replace all record company executives with this particular buffoon in your mind.

Especially when you can elect to mentally replace all record company executives with this particular choice buffoon.

Similarly there is an element of logic in the argument that purchasing media for ones own private consumption is an investment which therefore justifies the price  but I fear those offering this as a counter argument are over playing the strength of their hand. Whether the supposed investment in media is a matter of investing in a persons education or investing in cultural capital or investing in a strictly financial sense it still does not justify the drastically inflated costs that traditional media outlets historically charged for their goods. Making an investment of any sort justifies a price yes, this is something I believe none of us can deny, just not the prices that were and still are in many cases charged by the big players in the media industry. Taking the investment idea and running with it little longer, one way in which I might have maintained some of the value of my investment in the media against the massive decreases in pricing across the board for their products on the whole is by diversifying my portfolio which leads me on to my other main qualm with the industry. When I was younger it is true that like many young people I wanted to fit it in with other idiots just like me and as one could expect my media purchases at the time are a clear example of this behaviour in action. The number of CD’s I bought in this period of my childhood that demonstrate my crushing desire to be recognised as cool is quite staggering and is probably replicated exactly give or take one odd choice in the CD collections of many other people who happen to be the same age as me. As I started to become a little more comfortable with my own identity I felt more comfortable in moving away from buying only the most popular bands CDs and last summers biggest blockbusters on video or DVD and consequently I started to look around for things a little less mainstream and it is this juncture in my life that the sheer lack of choice available in the large majority of shops dawned on me.

Again there are justifications for this lack of choice that do explain in principle why the choice was so poor in so many of the shops I frequented but they hardly mollify the disappointed and disillusioned who dreamed of buying Tom Waits’ entire back catalogue or a film that happened to be Uzbek in origin rather than from the studios of Hollywood. A lack of physical space and a record of what sells the most effectively combined to shut out those who visited mainstream outlets for media in the hope and unlike the pricing issue I mention above there isn’t a great deal of room for manoeuvre on this issue.  Physical space, even in the best of shops will always be limited and it is extremely hard to get hold of some more obscure products from wholesalers let lone justify filling the limited space with them rather than with products that proven best sellers. And so based on this we can arguably see that a lack of choice or to temper this slightly, limited choice is an inherent flaw of the traditional media outlets format. However, despair not as there is an alternative in the form of the internet to these traditional outlets that we would do well to utilise.

In offering the internet as an alternative medium for the exchange of media products I do not refer to the simple digitisation of shops that sell physical media products as well, I refer specifically to mediums of exchange that are arguably only possibly as a result of the internet, primarily peer-to-peer exchange networks. I won’t pretend to understand in any great detail how bit torrent protocols work and so will simply redirect anyone interested to this website for a significantly better summary than I could ever offer. While my knowledge of how the technology itself works is rather lacking my hopes for what may be achieved by the use of this particular technology are almost exponential in nature.

I’ll start off my analysis of why peer-to-peer services are in my opinion preferable with the most unsubtle approach possible, a direct appeal to the wallets of the common man and woman. By utilising such technologies, someone could save endless amounts of money on the purchases of media products that they might have made in physical old fashioned retailers. Naysayers will no doubt say “but then the artists would receive nothing in return for their hard work” when actually research seems to show that there is a positive correlation between people downloading content for free using peer-to-peer sites and then based on their enjoyment of that very same content they then go out and buy physical copies. So what we have in this technology is not quite the free for all that the media industry would like us to believe exists and also not quite a library or rental service which would drive further interest in ones products but a large grey area with the potential to go either way. I suppose the overall thrust of my argument is that if the industry decides to engage with the real world rather than trying to subpoena threats to its monopoly into non-existence that it could easily utilise the existing framework of peer-to-peer sites to create new streams of revenue. I would on reflection happily accept a reasonably priced service that allowed me unlimited downloads of media content that I could access for a limited time operating on the assumption that in the case of the content I downloaded and accessed for a week which I really enjoyed I would most likely buy it fully at a later date. Perhaps the key here is that the industry as a whole tends to view peer-to-peer services like they view their store fronts as the culmination of the purchasing process, when what is needed is for them to view peer-to-peer technologies as the cheapest marketing method possible. Forget spending hundreds of thousands of pounds filling my browser with adverts I ignore, or putting up adverts at bus-shelters which only ever get vandalised – let the content speak for itself in a voice louder than you ever could. In saying all of this I accept that some aspects of the industry would suffer as a result of the utilisation of such methods but all that would in essence be needed is for those parts of the industry to, in the true spirit of capitalism, adapt to changes in the market to survive or falter out – no great loss if my opinion on the matter were to be asked.

As well as the way in which they could revolutionise the pricing of media, peer-to-peer technologies could thoroughly improve on the other inherent failing of the current method of selling media, lack of choice. As I said above I completely understand that due to limitations most physical shopping environments where media happens to be sold will never be able to stock a full selection of products that represents any communities diverse interests when it comes to films, music or books. So surely on the matter of choice the internet is the solution that has always been sought with a seemingly endless amount of storage potential while being comparatively inexpensive to maintain compared to any physical shop larger than a storage closet. By ending the lack of choice that confines the inventories of physical shops, peer-to-peer technologies would in principle also do away with one of the cultural/philosophical side effects of the current way in which media is purchased. The side effect I allude to is that the culture on offer in shops is more often than not a rather ethnically homogeneous culture which stifles those who wish to truly broaden their horizons. In the age of the internet through the use of peer-to-peer technologies is should be as easy to listen to the funk of Fela Kuti of Nigeria as it is to listen to Britney Spears VERY MASCULINE MUSIC.

I'm compensating....

I’m compensating….

All of the above being true this is not to deny that as they stand, peer-to-peer websites are an ugly beast (much like two gentlemen pictured somewhere in this article – leaving that call very much up to the readers own prejudices). Yes they do drive business for physical retail outlets and yes they aren’t anywhere near as detrimental to sales as the industry would have us believe but they have their flaws, by the bucket load. First off, they seem to replicate exactly the old methods of media distribution’s inclination towards only making massively popular items readily available therefore destroying the inherent benefit in principle that the internet should be able to stock anything a man could desire. Further compounding the issue is the way in which peer-to-peer technologies work in that items that are popular will download far faster as more people will be available to seed the files, meaning that even if well meaning people upload the rare files you are looking for, it could take you literally all of fucking eternity to download them if the interest in those files, alongside your own interest, is not very high.

And then suppose you do find what your looking for after many hours of trawling through the internet, then your problems really have only just begun. Seriously, take a look at the top 100 lists on most peer-to-peer websites, specifically ebooks and “movies”, and prepare to see the ugly face of the abyss staring back. How could so many people need advice in the bedroom, it might not be satisfying  for you but you are mostly doing it right for heavens sake – the human race has increased by a billion just in my very short lifetime. And if its not sexual help you seek it seems to be pathetic self help books aimed at teaching you to be confident or how to make friends. Really, if you find what your looking for on peer-to-peer websites there is a high chance your some sort of deviant whose abusing this incredible technology that is the internet, capable of holding in effect all recorded knowledge, to gets your rocks off.

a prime example of both the content and the users of much of the internet.

a prime example of both the  seedy content and the seedy users of much of the internet.

I’d like to one day look back on the way I just summarised the internet and its users and think I was wrong but I don’t think that will happen any time soon. Much the same as I highly doubt the record labels will listen to my logic that they should surrender their monopolies but the least a man can do is try.

“We did not immediately call these crimes by their rightful name…”

In a now famous speech that he delivered in 1998 in the city of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, William Jefferson Clinton uttered the words that I have chosen to use as the title for this week’s post. He used these words in a section of a speech where he apologised to the Rwandan people for the failings of the world political system to prevent the most intensive killing of human beings to take place within the 20th century. The 20th century no less that saw the building of Auschwitz, and therefore barring events that history had no way to accurately record the Rwandan genocide was the most intensive slaughter of human life ever to take place.

Before he did not have sexual intercourse with that woman, Bill Clinton went to Rwanda to apologise for never sending aid in the countries moment of need

Before he did not have sexual intercourse with that woman, Bill Clinton went to Rwanda to apologise for not sending aid in the countries moment of need.

The reason that I have decided to highlight these choice words from that speech and to discuss that speech at all is that I, and many other commentators besides me are concerned that we are seeing a pattern of disregard for human suffering emerge, in both the discourse of governments and the media, which is almost identical in nature to that which preceded the crisis in East Africa. The crisis I refer to in this case is that of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar who are currently the victims of what can only be termed ethnic cleansing and it is my lasting concern that without a greater deal of awareness in the wider world that they will in time face the same fate as the Armenians, Jews, Romani and Tutsis who survived the early attempts at persecuting them only to die in the more systematic slaughters visited upon their houses. I will start by discussing the Rwandan genocide and the reasons that I believe it was widely ignored at the time despite the scale of the loss of life. I will then compare this to situation that is currently emerging in Myanmar and in all likelihood show that for many of the same reasons this story is being consistently under-reported in the media and left unspoken in political debate despite attempts to increase awareness of these massacres by online movement, Anonymous.

It really does come to something when a hacktivist group is doing more for human rights than the entire UN.

It really does come to something when a hacktivist group is doing more for human rights than the entire UN.

The year is 1994, the world is in the throes of post cold war uncertainty and it is in the climate that the travesty that was the worlds response to the genocide in Rwanda takes place. In light of the worlds hideous failure to respond, many politicians who might have been implicated as having in some way and in some cases knowingly abetted the crime of mass murder rushed to offer justifications for their governments lack of involvement. I will now list some of the common ideas (I have taken my initial cues for some of these from Black Star Journal who can be found here) that were bandied about in the aftermath as justification for sitting on the side lines watching mass murder take place, and then I will separately argue that every justification offers is based upon false premises and therefore demonstrates the clear responsibility of the international community in failing to prevent the genocide:

  •  The war that preceded the genocide and the genocide itself were based on “ancient ethnic rivalries” meaning that intervention was pointless as the violence would only flare up again in the future.
  • The genocide was spontaneous so that even if we had intervened nothing could have been done to prevent the killings.
  • The US administration at the time did not know fully what was going on in Rwanda.
  • Atrocities were committed by both sides in the conflict.
  • The UN was present and failed to prevent events from taking place.

Each one of these attempts to cover the tracks of those who neglected to involve themselves is a flawed reason which does not hold up to any great degree of scrutiny and I will now demonstrate statement by statement where the flaws in reasoning lie.

The first statement that was also the primary excuse offered for non-intervention during this crisis is seemingly a go-to statement for western nations to dismiss crises in the third world that were not directly related to their strategic interests. There are several inherent flaws with the argument that what we saw in Rwanda was the culmination of centuries of ethnic hatred. Perhaps most troubling is that this excuse had already been used to try and justify the lack of western intervention in the Balkans crisis that also saw ethnic cleansing and war crimes committed, but in time the pro-intervention camp gained some traction and UN forces intervened in an attempt to prevent wider scale genocide from taking place in spite of the “ancient” nature of the hatred that was being acted upon. In this case that the charge can be ignored in a European case but is the main reason for not intervening in Africa which speaks volumes about the the racist double standards of western geopolitics.  Another issue with this contention is also that it is patently false. While it is true that during the genocide Rwanda was polarised along ethnic lines, the notion that such divisions in the country were centuries old carries about as much weight in educated circles as the notion that the Turin Shroud is anything other than a hoax. The divisions between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda and neighbouring Burundi were much more issues of class than they ever were issues of race or ethnicity. This idea however was bound to be hidden in plain sight amongst coverage as the truth would have revealed that the root cause of this division of Rwanda along ethnic lines was actually Belgian colonists who had used this idea as a tactic of divide and rule 100 years previously.

The second statement that the genocide was a spontaneous act and that nothing could’ve been done to prevent the killings is a weak attempt at covering ones tracks at best as there is actually a wealth of evidence that demonstrates the level of premeditation that was involved in these genocidal massacres. Take for example the fact that certain state owned newspapers were openly advocating the killing of Tutsis for years prior the events of 1994. In fact the merchants of such anti-Tutsi propaganda were so well prepared that they even had time to switch their messages of hatred for the Tutsi to the radio in an attempt to negate the illiteracy in the country. Further evidence of the premeditated nature of the massacres would include the handing out of ID cards to identify who was a Hutu and who was a Tutsi, the importation from China of over 500,000 machetes  (the main weapon of mobs during the genocide) after a peace deal had been signed in 1993 and perhaps mostly clearly of all the open discussion by members of the Rwandan cabinet government of an idea to get rid of all Tutsis in an attempt to rid Rwanda of its problems.

Rwandan victim of machete attack. From an order placed by a military general for over 500,000 such implements. The scale of such an order hardly spells out impulse buy.

Rwandan victim of machete attack. The weapons used likely from an order placed by a Rwandan general for over 500,000 such implements. The scale of such an order hardly spells out impulse buy.

The next statement that was offered as an excuse for the lack of western intervention was that the US administration (as the worlds lasting superpower at the time) did not know what was going on in Rwanda at the time which is to infer that therefore the administration can hardly be blamed for not intervening as it did not know such events were taking place. Were this actually the case then we would have to begrudgingly accept this excuse. Its not the case though, there is documented evidence that was reported by elements within the media that the US administration WAS in possession of clear evidence of the events taking place in Rwanda and simply chose to do nothing. As Brian at the Black Star Journal points out one Australian newspaper has shown that elements within the US government knew enough to use the G word within 16 days of the start of the crisis in Rwanda and also evidence exists that all members of Clinton’s administration were briefed on the situation daily so the charge that they did not know what was going on in the country is absolutely farcical.

The penultimate reason that I want to discuss that was genuinely offered for the lack of intervention in the Rwandan crisis was that both sides had committed atrocities. Also true, but then so what ? Am I genuinely supposed to believe that if I kill one person and my neighbour kills one hundred people that because we both committed the crime of murder that we both are unworthy of prosecution as we are as bad as each other? I wouldn’t expect leniency if I was to ever find myself in such a situation but I would expect a far greater effort to be expending in stopping the greater criminal than the lesser one. What is true in instances of petty crime arguably also holds true in the case of genocide when the scale of the atrocities is comparable to the hypothetical I just presented the reader with. This same type of moral equivalence had been used to try and justify inaction in the Balkans but rightfully had been ignored so why should such a pathetic excuse be acceptable the second time round when again there was clear evidence that one party was disproportionately responsible for atrocities. unless of course those advocating for action felt that the lives of Europeans held a greater intrinsic value

Listed last but by no means any less important than the other justifications is the idea that because the UN had failed so would anyone else have failed to protect Rwandans in their place. The key flaw with such a concept is the assumption that the UN forces were in a place, politically or militarily to prevent the genocide when the peace keeping force in the country had been reduced drastically despite the request of  their commander Romeo Dallaire to double the existing force. The truth of the matter is that the UN forces were in a position to do something but due to the machinations of the Security Council were prevented from their duties which puts the lie to the notion that if the UN were unable then no-one could have prevented the genocide when the truth of the matter is that it is precisely because of its international character that the UN could not intervene and that a somewhat disinterested party such as the US was much better suited for the same job.

We can see then at this juncture then that every justification that was offered for the shameful indifference of both western governments and western media was based on falsehoods and arguably mask far more sinister truths. That the governments of the west, primarily the US but also France and the UK chose to not do anything to help is a troubling fact. The fact that these powers chose not to help in an African conflict which ultimately claimed far more lives but deployed forces to prevent smaller scale massacres in Europe as I have already suggested demonstrates a callous disregard for the lives of non-Europeans which I believe cuts to the heart of why the world sat by and watched Rwanda burn. Another worrying connection between both Rwanda and the Balkans and also an earlier US intervention in Somalia which many cite as part of the reason that Clinton decided to not involve the US in Rwanda was that the public’s sympathies for the people of Rwanda had been exhausted by the crisis in the former Yugoslavia and Somalia and so the impetus to intervene in Rwanda was sufficiently drained.

The current situation in Myanmar bears a striking similarity to that which emerged in Rwanda all those years ago for the two reasons I have highlighted above. Firstly I believe an aspect that has caused a significant lack of interest in and the under-reporting of the Rohingya crisis is the ongoing crisis in the wider Middle East region. the media and governments are locked into discussing the crisis which has slowly unfolded over the course of the last two years and it is because of this I feel that, willingly or unwillingly I am not sure, there is a subsequent lack of interest in regaling famously fickle TV audiences with yet another story of an impending humanitarian disaster. In saying this, I am not for one single moment suggesting that the lives of Syrians, Libyans and Egyptians dying on daily basis are any less worthy that those of the Rohingya Muslims being slaughtered on a daily basis in Myanmar. All I intend in highlighting this is to draw attention to another atrocity taking place, as if Rwanda has taught me anything it is what governments can get up to in the shadows when the glare of the media and the world is trained elsewhere.

The other way in which there is a noticeable similarity between the cases of Rwanda in 1994 and Myanmar in 2013 is that as I have already pointed out above is that I believe there is a greater urge on the part of governments and the media to intervene in humanitarian crises when the victims are fortunate enough in this case to have been born with an ideal amount of melanin in their skin, finding them similar in looks to westerners. In the case of Rwanda in sub-Saharan Africa the lack of ethnic similarity between audiences for the potential messages of intervention and the the black African victims was striking and I believe that this same dynamic is part of the reason why, some might say morally compromised, audiences are more receptive now to images of suffering Syrian children than they are to identical images of Rohingya children whose facial features are decidedly more Asiatic than they are Caucasoid. While this bias may prove to be a deeply held unconscious view it is still worth highlighting as it does clearly affect the way in which we view the world.

Also problematic is that anyone of the excuses that were offered for the lack of intervention in Rwanda 19 years ago could quite conceivably be used again in the case of Myanmar to cover the backs of those who have a responsibility as our elected leaders to deal with issues we as constituents feel matter and yet are declining to discuss said issues. If the world continues to ignore the slowly unfolding crisis in Myanmar, which as things stand it is perfectly equipped to do, it would cause no surprise for me to find out that events similar to Rwanda are taking place in the current day and age.

In highlighting the striking similarities between the cases of Rwandan Tutsis and Myanmar’s Rohingya I hope if nothing else that I along with Anonymous have helped to illuminate that the situation is critical right now and that every effort to raise awareness and provoke action is important as otherwise there is a serious risk of this crisis escalating while the media and governments fiddle and say that they didn’t know what was going on in the country or that intervening in pointless as the conflict is the result of ancient hatreds and means that the conflict is inevitable. I hope that we will not see such a day ever happen but it is our responsibility to do all in power to prevent it if we are able, as Desmond Tutu once said when discussing such matters If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”. It is the awareness and actions of concerned citizens that will help us to fulfil the promise of never again that is often uttered when discussing genocide.

Disclaimer – Throughout this article I have chosen to use the name Myanmar (pronounced ‘mee-an-ma’) for the country that many others have chosen to call Burma in their respective discussions of this topic. My reason for choosing to continue using the name Myanmar instead is firstly that the name Burma itself is a troubling relic of the colonial history of the country. Secondly the reason many have chosen to continue using the name Burma is that Aung San Suu Kyi, a famous Burmese politician who has long opposed the military dictatorship that rules the country does not recognise the legitimacy of those who changed the countries name to Myanmar, however I am unwilling to hold Suu Kyi’s opinions as the legitimate source on the issue when she has consistently weaselled around the issue of the continuing slaughter of Muslim minority groups in the country now that she has been removed from house arrest. Hardly the doyenne of South-East Asian political reform that see is often portrayed as in the same media that sees no moral issues in promoting for military intervention in Syria or Libya to save lives but is unwilling when it comes to somewhere where the people look more Asiatic or African.

A master class in the practice of diversion

What was the big story of the last few weeks in Britain ? For those who aren’t British and don’t read any international news  and consequently think the top news is some guff about the royal family then you’re wrong on this occasion but in all seriousness if you’d said that on any other of the 51 weeks of the year give or take a handful of exceptions, then yes the top story in the news would likely be about our serial divorcee, costume-enthusiast royal family. If you’re a British citizen then the likelihood the story that is centre of your mind due to intense saturation coverage in recent weeks is one of two stories. In any case the two stories that I’m referencing are the ongoing saga that is horse-meat-gate and the second is the recent passing of laws that make gay marriage legal in the UK. My argument against these is that while both stories are news worthy, that the media’s preoccupation with interesting or “historic” stories such as these is often a politically safe option which effectively serves the same purpose as any form of censorship which however well intended serves to distract public attention from far greater issues that exist at the same time.

First off then is the still unfolding story of how several supermarkets in the UK, starting with Tesco and Iceland but continuing to envelope more big-name supermarkets, have discovered that beef products in their range contained horse meat. Again no-one is denying that this whole debacle is a news worthy story being as there are regulators for ensuring this type of thing doesn’t happen who have the princely budget of £100 million . Alongside revelations about the failings of the FSA’s testing capabilities, another reason that this story is undoubtedly newsworthy is that one of the central companies embroiled in this scandal likely knew about the presence of horse meat in their products up to a week before  the story emerged in the press as discussed here and here . These reasons aside however, I believe that this “scandal” has been exaggerated and inflated into a much bigger issue than it ever needed to be by the media. Central among my reasons for disparaging this coverage is that ultimately the main products affected by the inclusion of horse meat were ultimately budget, supermarket own-brand items which are hardly the products you purchase expecting to be exemplars of good quality. My point here is not a classist “if they will eat that shit then let them suffer” one, but that ultimately own-brand products often consist of equally bad, if not far worse chemical additives used to treat meat and is often made of reconstituted meat stock and so frankly the inclusion of more meat, whatever the source, should probably could as more of pleasant surprise than it has thus far.

Budget meat product that probably doesn't even contain meat. Michelin star nowhere in sight.

Budget meat product that probably doesn’t even contain horse meat. This establishments Michelin star nowhere to be seen.

Even without harsh industrial chemicals being added into the mix then if nothing else this whole story should at least lead us to look more closely at the constitution of industrial produced food which is often ridiculously high in fat and salt content.  Applying logic thus should ultimately lead us to realise that whereas so far there has only been a “maybe” drawn between consuming horse meat and negative health effects, research on the other hand has repeatedly proven a range of negative health effects stemming from diets high in fat and salt, so which is the bigger issue ?

Another reason that I believe this issue has been blown out of all proportion is the fact that ultimately our aversion to horse meat does not stem from any reasonable reason just out of sentimentally viewing the horse as a pet and work animal but not one for slaughter. This being the case you might then believe that at least some of the coverage might have addressed the reasoning behind said aversion to horse meat in the Anglophone world or the history of the consumption of horse in the UK in an attempt to at least pay lip service to the notion of balance. In any case those hoping that coverage in both the print and broadcast media might have attempted to be more objective or detailed are likely to be sorely disappointed with what has been a rather one-sided explanation of the story which has consequently inflated the story into something far bigger than it needed to be.

Another reason that this story has been given undue special significance in the media relates directly to the last point in that due to our cultural sensitivities regarding the horse we baulk at the the thought of our beloved horses treated in the poor manner in which we treat other animals sent to slaughter. I am not being  callous in suggesting that I am ok with Horses being treated poorly in abattoirs, I am simply suggesting that the story is not specifically the poor treatment of horse but the frequent mistreatment of all animals sent to slaughter. For those who doubt that a culture of cruelty towards animals reared for their meat still exists then please watch this video although I will warn that it is unpleasant. But this being said I do not pretend to claim that it would somehow be more unpleasant for me objectively to watch if the animals being mistreated were horses as opposed to sheep, cows and pigs.

I defy anyone to not want to murder anyone who hurts this particular animal

I defy anyone to not want to murder anyone who hurts this particular animal.

All of the above reasons for why I do not believe horse-meat-gate worthy of the level of coverage it has received being true, that is not to say that there aren’t any reasons that this issue should be discussed in the media. Amongst the reasons I believe this story is worthy of press coverage which has yet to really surface (at time of writing) are the need for frank discussions about the global food industry and as well as this perhaps the central issue that also has been neglected to a degree is the failure of self-regulation as a mechanism to protect consumers from corporate crimes. My hopes that either of these two issues would gain some airtime or column inches have repeatedly been dashed against the rocks as instead the press focus on which supermarkets and fast food chains are recalling their stock. Oh how I would have delighted to see the BBC or Sky News take a in-depth look at the way in which basic food products often travel many miles across the surface of the earth before even reaching the supermarket, let alone to the table of this middle class family eating burgers indoors because the rain delayed their barbecue.

Which one contains more than trace elements of black beauty ?

Which one contains more than trace elements of Black Beauty ?

And to think, if I was content with the news studying the global production of food, just how happy I might have been to read in my favourite high-circulation middle-class news paper that there had  been a discussion in the houses of parliament that very same day about the need to do away with the practice of self-regulation in private businesses which time and time again has proven to be a wholly ineffective mechanism for prevention of crimes. I’m not keeping my fingers crossed that either of these issues is going to get much time devoted to it, certainly not as much as horror stories about how Eastern Europeans are not only to blame for the reckless and persistent theft of jobs but are also up to their elbows in butchered horses that are no longer able to till the fields.

The next issue as I highlighted in my opening statement that recently caught my ire due to saturation coverage in the lead up to the event and on the day itself was when the UK government voted on whether to legalise gay marriage. The vote was a success, proof that apparently some Tories have a heart, although looking at this prick’s smug gurn I doubt that the ones with heart get let out of their cages much. Ok, so the vote passed through meaning that gay couples can now legally marry which I am actually very happy about as I do whole-heartedly support equality for all. The thing that started my annoyance off was the inappropriate use of “Historic” as an adjective to describe the day, like any other moment in the past by definition also doesn’t qualify as worthy of the term. Hitler’s decision to annex the Sudetenland was historic, so too was the rape of Baghdad by the Mongols and the US army after them and I’d hazard a guess that in someone’s world the rebuilding of Hiroshima was a pretty historic moment too, so why this infuriating and bizarre use of the word to describe moments that are always positive when the whole back catalogue of human existence and the entirety of the universe is equally “historic” ? The roots of this hatred stem beyond the gay marriage story which circulated recently in the British press I feel I must clarify, it began with the election of Barack Obama, the “Historic” first black president of the USA, like being black and totally devoid of morals as it turned out, was something to congratulate in and of itself.

This man was the first and no less ONLY LBJ to be president

This man was the first and, no less, ONLY LBJ to be president

After much jaw clenching and many exasperated sighs, I noticed other things about the gay marriage story which annoyed me almost as much as the afore mentioned improper use of the English language.  To start with the way in which this story was used by many in the media as a means simply to pat themselves and the MPs who voted for legalisation on the back in congratulations over their excellent liberalness and sneer at all the doddering old grumps who voted against this measure troubled me. Despite what some schools of liberal politics teach, people are allowed to have differing opinions and all have a right to be heard, while you, I or the journalists may not agree with their views which they espouse we have NO right to tell them that their views are “wrong” only the right to discuss with them why we disagree based on evidence we have seen.

Another issue that surfaced when learning about this from the media that wasn’t really discussed was how close Britain came that day to a complete breakdown of government as the majority party, of a coalition government albeit, split down the middle over whether to pass the legislature. while this would have been  mightily entertaining to watch happen on the news and to read about for days after the event it would have crippled the country further than we already are. In pointing this out I am not saying that I believe the media could have prevented the vote happening when it did, only that there was missed opportunity for a voice to suggest that this vote could have been better timed so the chances of political destabilisation were far less great than on that “historic” day.

Time may be a great healer as the saying goes, but it’s not one for change. Given complete control of the media for the last few weeks during which these two moments occurred  here are a small selection of stories that the media might have considered which are equally deserving of  the same level of coverage yet got buried under the weight of it all. I accept that these were all covered in some way, but consideration the wider implication they received barely any relative to the implications of eating horse meat or being allowed to marry regardless of sexual orientation.

First up was the continuing fiasco around the fixing of the Libor rate which reached a head when, on the same day that the news began to report that horse meat had been found in processed beef products on sale in several supermarkets, fines levelled against RBS chiefly by US regulators were announced. In itself perhaps not the most breaking of news stories as people have known for weeks that these fines were coming. However on the very same day that every broadcaster and newspaper was swamped with features about horse meat The Independent, the only paper to discuss this issue to my knowledge, printed this article which tells us that the British taxpayer is likely to cover the majority of the £500m fine levelled against the banks being as the British government bailed out the bank to the tune of £45bn in the economic crisis of 2008. After this story emerged, British chancellor Osborne made something of a big deal of telling people in the media that he would insist that the bankers themselves covered the costs of this fine. That being said, another thing the media failed to point out is that even if the bankers themselves pay the fine, it is likely to come out of the benefits they have accrued from not paying out interest on pensions and savings as a direct result of the Bank of England’s farcical quantitative easing process. I imagine any senior editor or producer who was faced with the option of reporting on this story over horse-meat-gate decided that based on the complexity of this story to not cover it in the same way despite its profound implications. That being the case, they are guilty twice, first for under-reporting a highly important story for anyone who lives in the UK and secondly for pandering the stupidity of the public in all matters financial and for not making concerted enough efforts to explain these type of stories in a way that makes them palatable to the public.

I fear the punishment for bankers he has in mind is very different to what you and I were thinking

I fear the “punishment” for bankers he has in mind is  of a very different nature and far more deviant to what you and I were thinking.

The next story which didn’t really make the UK news in the last few weeks despite the far-reaching political impact it is likely to have on the wider world was the discovery by NBC News of a confidential US Department of Justice memo which revealed what has only been hinted at and alluded to previously, that the US government has the legal capability to order the killing of American citizens. The article above summarises brilliantly the most troubling aspect of the memo in question when it says “the U.S. government can order the killing of American citizens if they are believed to be “senior operational leaders” of Al-Qaida or “an associated force” — even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the U.S”. Freaky right ? Well you might argue that actually this only opens up this potential in theory. Well you would be wrong as the US government, as Glen Greenwald at The Guardian points out, has already exercised this power in practice to kill Anwar Awlaki in 2011 in Yemen.  Say what you will about the inherent guilt of terrorists, but as far as I am concerned the sane approach for dealing with crime is to punish those guilty of committing them, not those that one day may go on to commit them. This story should have received a greater level of coverage as ultimately it demonstrates two things which are of concern to British citizens, that if the US government can treat its own citizenry with such contempt that it will undoubtedly over time display an even greater level of callousness towards other nations citizens, including those of the UK.  Secondly this also arguably demonstrates the willingness of the US government to violate the sovereignty of other nations without offering any reason that the people of Britain should expect to be treated any better. Yes the UK isn’t a Muslim nation, but that’s not to say that there isn’t evidence that the policies of previous UK governments have alienated Muslims in this country to the point where they might one day feature on Obama’s kill list.

That Nobel peace prize I mentioned earlier is looking less and less worthy by the day.

That Nobel peace prize I mentioned earlier is looking less and less worthy by the day.

The third and final story which again in light of its far-reaching implications was woefully unreported was the publication of a report by a New York based NGO Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) which detailed the involvement of 54 nations worldwide, the UK included, in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition operations after 9/11. This story did surface quite prominently on the day the report was published, but considering as an upshot of the revelations contained within the report the fact that the UK could, and in all reality should, face being summoned before the European Court of Human Rights over its involvement, the level of coverage dropped back to almost zero a day later.

After looking at some of the other stories which surfaced in the same time scale as the horse meat and gay marriage legalisation stories I hope that if nothing else the reader is convinced of the need to regularly check alternate source of news as opposed to relying on main stream sources as often they will focus on the easiest of stories distracting attention away from the far more profound and far reaching of issues. I do not suggest for one moment that this is a conscious decision on the part of editors and producers but the lasting effect is still the mass diversion of the public’s attention towards far less important issues leaving the important stuff slip past us under the radar. You have been warned.