Orwellian Inversion,
Or Just Another Day At The New York Times?

by Stephen Gowans

April 22, 2002


A lie so bold that it turns truth on its head is more likely to be believed than a little lie. Hitler said it, George Orwell explored it in his novel 1984 (whence comes the eponymous "Orwellian inversion"), and The New York Times -- and congeries of New York Times wanna-be's -- practice it.

So it was that when Venezuela's military high command told the country's elected president, Hugo Chavez, that he would have to step down for the intolerable crime of supposing his countrymen, 80 percent of whom live below the poverty line, should share in the country's immense oil wealth, the Western world's newspaper of record cheered the coup as a victory for democracy. "With yesterday's resignation of President Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan democracy is no longer threatened by a would-be-dictator," the venerable newspaper intoned, matched only for boldness in mendacity by the White House's, "Now the situation will be one of tranquility and democracy."

Of course, the situation was neither one of tranquility nor democracy. Pedro Carmona Estanga, a former oil executive and head of the country's largest business organization, committed a series of monumentally authoritarian acts. With the stroke of a pen, without a mandate from the public, backed only by the authority vested in him by the country's generals, he dissolved the congress, disbanded the Supreme Court, closed the Attorney-General's and comptroller's offices, repealed 48 laws that shifted some of the country's wealth from the elite and oligarchs to the country's poor, ripped up the constitution, and then announced a cabinet whose members comprised the country's most conservative elements. That, apparently, is democracy.

Carmona, however, did a quick volte-face when the poor of the country poured into the streets and demanded Chavez's return. Dozens were killed in clashes with the police, a point the country's television stations, almost all controlled by the oligarchs, failed to mention. Unmentioned, too, was the fact that all was not well, and that the situation was neither one of tranquility nor democracy.

As for The New York Times' reassurance that Chavez's ouster meant that no one could threaten Venezuela's democracy anymore, the absurdities were so rich, one hardly knew where to start.

Since Carmona had cancelled democracy, exactly what democracy Chavez no longer threatened was never clear. Someone at the Times must have been reading Lady Thatcher's memoirs. "Pinochet restored democracy to Chile." Yes, after having cancelled it and making sure that everyone knew what would happen the next time democracy was carried too far to mean something for the majority. Chile's current "socialist" president, who would never dream of being as "socialist" as Salvador Allende (in some ways, an earlier version of Chavez), makes clear Pinochet's point sunk in. For that, Lady Thatcher, champion of that rhetorical form of democracy that reduces to the right of the wealthy to pile up profits unimpeded, and damn the consequences for everyone else, will be forever pleased.

And what exactly is a "would-be" dictator, anyway? Something different, I imagine, than Pinochet, the Shah of Iran, Diem, Samoza, Saddam Hussein (when he was still in Washington's good books and before he became a convenient excuse to keep American troops stationed in Saudi Arabia long after their welcome had expired) and a dozen other actually existing dictators that Washington has been all too pleased to cozy up to, if not hand-pick. Carmona, unfortunately for him, only got a fleeting taste of what it is to be one of Washington's client autocrats.

And then there's the assorted oil monarchies, all with atrocious human rights records, which the United States, the world's self-proclaimed guardian of human rights and democracy, prop up in return for secure access to oil. With Carmona at the helm, Venezuela could have been an oil dictatorship, offering Washington secure access (Venezuela is the third largest exporter of oil to the United States) and more co-operation than the vexatiously insubordinate Chavez offered in keeping Cuba isolated and Colombia's guerillas on the run. All the while The New York Times would have played its part, touting the new Venezuela as one rescued from the grips of a would-be dictator, where the situation had turned to "tranquility and democracy." Instead, democracy intervened.

The chances of democracy intervening in Saudi Arabia, supremely critical to slaking America's Herculean thirst for oil, are distant, which is why the Saudis are such well thought of allies, while Chavez, reviled by the wealthy few for elevating the interest of impoverished many, is "a concern." Exporter of the harsh Wahhabi brand of Islam much favored by the Taliban, Saudi Arabia, more a rich and absolutist family's chattel than a country, has no elections, no parliament, no independent judiciary, no civil liberties, but it does have oil, lots of it, and hey, when oil -- and oil profits -- are at stake, who's going to complain? You'll read a lot about electoral irregularities in Mugabe's Zimbabwe on the pages of The New York Times, but when was the last time you read anything about the human rights monstrosities that Washington calls its allies in the Middle East? And when was the last time you read anything negative about Washington's nuclear-equipped pit bull in the region, Israel?

For those brave enough to be calumniated as anti-Jewish for daring to criticize Israel, it's clear, once you wade through the PR mush that passes for coverage of the "Middle East crisis," that Israel is a special case: a nation so supremely indifferent to international law and the rights of others, that it is more deserving of the obloquy "rogue" than any of the countries Washington routinely bestows the invidious title upon. But this, it will be said, is an "extreme" statement, for "Israel must defend herself," and less jingoistically, "both sides are to blame for the violence." This is an odd defense, for Nazi Germany claimed it too had to defend herself after invading France, and did, striking back at French resistance fighters (terrorists, they were called), though no one ever said, "both sides were to blame for the violence." It was clear who was to blame.

On April 8th, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation interviewed American linguist and dissident Noam Chomsky. Tony Jones, the interviewer, typical of many Anglo-American journalists, sees, and therefore presents, the conflict in the Middle East, from an Israeli perspective.

At one point, Jones said:

"If you accept that the (suicide) bombers are not justified, the argument then shifts to whether or not the victims of those terrorist bombings have the right to take whatever action they deem necessary to put an end to this, which has been Ariel Sharon's justification of his assault from the beginning."

This is a fair summing up of the Israeli position, and too Washington's, and predictably, much of the Western media's, as well. But it's a highly tendentious position, as is clear if you change some of Jones's words.

"If you accept that the occupation is not justified, the argument then shifts to whether or not the victims of the occupation have the right to take whatever action they deem necessary to put an end to this, which has been the Palestinian's justification of the suicide bombings from the beginning."

Looked at this way, the occupation, not suicide bombings, become the crux on which all else revolves. Other occupations -- Iraq of Kuwait, Nazi Germany of France, of Serbia, and a dozen other countries -- are almost always perceived to be unjust, the right of the occupied people to resist inviolable, and the necessity of international intervention to reverse the occupation universally agreed upon. So why not in this instance?

UN Security Council Resolution 242 ordered Israel to return territory it captured in the 1967 war. Israel has resisted, and remains in breach of international law. Today, it formally occupies 83 percent of the West Bank, all of East Jerusalem and 20 percent of Gaza. The Security Council has repeatedly declared Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem illegal. That hasn't fazed Israel in the least, nor its major Western supporters, who perhaps have been too busy destroying Iraq for the crime of occupying Kuwaiti territory conquered in war to have noticed that Israel has been occupying territory conquered in war for the last 35 years.

The fourth Geneva Convention requires an occupying power to treat the occupied civilian population humanely and to respect their property. Torture, extrajudicial assassination, excessive use of force, bulldozing homes, blockading towns, sacking refugee camps, detaining boys and men in concentration camps, doesn't amount to treating the civilian population humanely, no matter how necessary pro-Israeli commentators say these tactics are. And nor is the use of F-16s, tanks, and Apache helicopters against civilians, paid for courtesy of US taxpayers, consistent with international humanitarian law (but then Israel's protector, the United States, with the blood of countless civilians on its hands, has never been that enamoured of international humanitarian law, either.)

Article 49 of the same Geneva Convention prohibits "an occupying power from transferring parts of its own civilian population into the territories it occupies." Israel has established settlements in the Jordan Valley and Golan Heights, in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. During eight years of the Oslo "peace process," a period during which Israel was to cease settlement construction, the number of settlers in the occupied territories, including east Jerusalem, nearly doubled, to 410,000. And since Ariel Sharon became prime minister, 34 new settlements have been established, according to the Israeli Peace Now organization.

And then there's the issue of the diaspora Palestinians' right of return, which strikes at the heart of what Israel is all about: a nationalist state, created by chasing people of the wrong tribe from their homes, and keeping the state nationalist by ensuring the previous occupants -- demonized as lice, scum, anti-Semitic and terrorists -- never return. International law says refugees from a conflict must be able to choose among three options: to return to their homeland; to settle in the country in which they've been granted asylum; to resettle in a willing third country. When Albanian Kosovars fled Kosovo in 1999, the international community insisted they be allowed to return, and that right was respected. Likewise, the international community, in over 140 UN Resolutions since 1948, has insisted that Palestinians be allowed to return to the homes they fled, or were driven from, in 1948 and later in 1967. Those demands have been resolutely ignored. Commentators, writing in The New York Times and its North American epigones, insist the "right of return" is just not on -- it would change the racial face of Israel, they say. At the same time, they adamantly deny Zionism -- the basis of the Israeli state -- is racist. And neither was the Confederacy.

How Israel gets away with this is mind boggling, though Washington's repeated willingness to press its Security Council veto into service as a shelter behind which Israel can run roughshod over the rights -- and lives -- of Palestinians, supplies the answer. And equally critical to the ongoing commission of crimes are the Orwellian inversions of The New York Times and its partners in practising Hitler's "lie big, they'll never suspect it" dictum, a shelter behind which Israel can practice the politics of territorial conquest by increment, without the American public ever knowing.



Stephen Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

Please, DO NOT steal, scavenge or repost this work without the expressed written authorization of Swans, which will seek permission from the author. This material is copyrighted, © Stephen Gowans 2002. All rights reserved.


This Week's Internal Links

SCENES OF WAR, A Glimpse Behind The Curtain Of Silence - by Gregory Elich

Make A Sign - by Michael Stowell

Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering, Pinky? - by Deck Deckert

Democracy Ver. 7.2 - by Lance Bauscher

The Immigrant Nation (Part II): Around My Heart - by Alma Hromic

The American "Dream" - by Stevan Konstantinovic

A Whispered Light - Poem by Sandy Lulay

War Is Peace - by George Orwell (Book Excerpt)


Published April 22, 2002
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