The moral voice of John Pilger

July 20, 2007

Freedom Next Time

By John Pilger

Bantam Press, 2006

356 pages, $35.00(pb)

Available from

An abiding myth perpetrated by the corporate media is that as Western capitalism strengthens its grip on the world through globalisation, the world's poor become less poor and more free, and as economic growth continues apace it carries peace and democracy in its wake. Few writers have done more than John Pilger to shatter this prevailing myth and to show globalisation for what it is: bloody imperialism by any other name. His previous books — including Heroes, Distant Voices, Hidden Agendas, and The New Rulers of the World — are classics of radical writing. Indeed, Pilger tells us in the introduction to this, his latest book, that Hidden Agendas has received the distinction of being issued with a "denied" stamp by the censors of Guantanamo Bay.

It's easy to appreciate why the rich and powerful elites that stand behind the Guantanamo torture camp should so fear Pilger's formidable writings. In the Introduction to Freedom Next Time, Pilger quotes Richard Falk's description of Western policies and actions as having been formulated "through a self-righteous, one-way, legal/moral screen with positive images of Western values and innocence portrayed as threatened, validating a campaign of unrestricted political violence".

Pilger is clear about the aims of this book: "Freedom Next Time pushes back this one-way moral screen to demonstrate that imperialism, in whatever guise, is the antithesis of the benevolent and moralistic." This is more necessary than ever, as a small army of establishment historians claim to rediscover the true "moral purpose" at the heart of the imperialist project and as British PM Gordon Brown, Tony Blair's former paymaster and moral cretin extraordinaire, asserts: "The days of Britain having to apologise for the British empire are over. We should celebrate."

The book achieves its aim in five self-contained essays pushing back the one-way moral screen to give a stark picture of the reality on the other side.

"Stealing a Nation" describes how successive British governments, from the 1960s onwards "tricked, coerced and finally expelled the entire population of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean to give the principle island, Diego Garcia, a paradise, to the Americans for a military base". In "The Last Taboo" Pilger begins with his arrival in Palestine as a young correspondent and takes us through "the systematic continuity of Israel's 52-year oppression and maltreatment of the Palestinians".

In "Shining India", the shortest but perhaps most moving of the book's essays, Pilger takes the gleam off the picture of contemporary India as one of globalisation's great success stories. Pilger's description of the Bombay (Mumbai) we are not usually allowed to see from this side of the one-way moral screen is truly shocking, and a stringent antidote to claims that the Bushite "new empire" of free trade is any better than the tyranny of the Raj.

In "Apartheid Did Not Die", Pilger returns to South Africa, a country from which he was banned in 1967, and outlines the betrayal by President Thabo Mbeki's ANC government of the "struggle, goodwill and optimism" of the Black South Africans "who queued patiently to vote for the first time in their lives" after the downfall of official Apartheid. As Pilger demonstrates, the current unofficial version is no better, perhaps even worse.

The final essay, "Liberating Afghanistan", covers the first great "victory" of the "war on terror", and shows how, in Donald Rumsfeld's "model democracy", "as the Taliban melted away, the country was taken over by some of the world's most brutal men, the same warlords America had nurtured during the Soviet occupation, who had reduced Kabul, the capital, to rubble".

Perhaps surprisingly, the book is not depressing: the voices of the oppressed, seldom heard this side of the one-way screen, are inspiring rather than dispiriting. And the book strikes an optimistic note: as Pilger reminds us, "a worldwide movement against poverty and war and misinformation has arisen in less than a decade, and is more diverse, internationalist and tolerant of difference than anything known in our lifetimes". And "just as the conquest of Iraq is unravelling, so a whole system of domination and impoverishment can unravel, too".

Pilger's is one of the most effective moral voices of our generation. If you read only one book on current affairs and contemporary history this year, it should be Freedom Next Time.

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