Imperialism – which today is usually referred to by the euphemism ‘liberal interventionism’ – went on Trial at the Waterside Theatre in Derry, Northern Ireland this week.
Five passionate and well-informed speakers, who included the former British Ambassador to Syria Peter Ford, detailed the carnage and chaos that has been unleashed around the globe by the aggressive, warmongering policies of the US and its closest allies.
The event could have been called ‘War on Trial.’ It might have been called ‘Regime Change on Trial.’ Or ‘Economic Sanctions on Trial.’ But it was – thanks to organizer Gregory Sharkey – called ‘Imperialism on Trial’ and, as the first speaker, the writer and broadcaster John Wight declared, that in itself was highly significant.
For the truth is the ‘I’ word is the elephant in the room in contemporary discourse. We’re not supposed to acknowledge its existence. Imperialism, according to the dominant Establishment narrative, ended when the European empires gave their colonies independence in the 1950s and 60s. In fact, the ‘old’ imperialism was only replaced by a new variant which is even more destructive, and certainly more dishonest. At least the British Empire admitted it was an empire.
Today’s US-led neoliberal empire, which has Britain as its junior partner, does no such thing. Entire countries have been destroyed, with millions killed, and it’s been done under a ‘progressive’ banner trumpeting concern for ‘human rights’ and ‘enhancing freedoms.’
In an electrifying address, Wight lambasted the pro-imperial propaganda to which we are relentlessly subjected to in the West. How absurd is it, he asked, that NATO troops are on Russia’s borders, while Russian troops have been fighting in Syria the same ISIS/Al-Qaeda terrorist groups who have been killing British citizens back home? Citing Marx, Wight reminded the audience of how the ideas of the ruling class become the dominant ideas, and the demonization of Russia is a classic example of this. Ordinary Britons don’t regard Putin as a ‘threat’ as they go about their daily business, but they do – rightly – regard the terrorist groups that Russia has been fighting as a danger to them. But the ruling class hate Russia because it has thwarted its imperial ambitions.
Wight said that opponents of imperialism should never go on the back foot when confronted by supporters of criminal wars of aggression, such as the Iraq War – which has led to the deaths of around 1 million people and the rise of ISIS. He mentioned that these people hate the fact that there are now alternative media channels such as RT which challenge the dominant neocon/neoliberal narrative.
“Alternative media and those who go on it are under attack because they have the temerity to ask the most subversive question in the English language which is: Why? Why did we go to war in Iraq? Why are there sanctions on Cuba? Why are we going after Iran but are close friends with the Saudis? This question is so powerful. We are attacked because we ask the question, why? I am reminded of the African proverb that until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. Now with the alternative media, the lions have their historians. We can put the case for the Syrian people; we can put the case for the Venezuelan people; we can put the case why Russia should not be our enemy.”
Speaking next, Peter Ford, the former British Ambassador to Syria and Bahrain, drew on his firsthand experience of many years as a diplomat and UN official based in the Middle East, to explain the current geopolitical situation.
“People who are not regular readers of the Morning Star might be forgiven for thinking that imperialism ended when the colonies became free. Nothing could be further from the truth. We now have a new more insidious but more powerful form of imperialism – one which hides behinds words in order to extend its hegemony. Expressions like ‘protecting our allies,’ ‘countering weapons of mass destruction’ or ‘defending human rights’ – and this one applies as much to the left as the right.”
“We on the left have to be particularly alert to ‘liberal interventionism’: this is actually the new version of ‘carrying the white man’s burden,” Ford continued. “In each case we are intervening in less developed parts of the world which are generally not able to strike back. Consider the appalling war in Yemen – one of the poorest and weakest countries in the world. It used to be a British colony but independence has not made it free. When the Yemenis dared to get rid of their pro-Saudi government, the Saudis, with British and American backing, started bombing and blockading Yemen. Conditions under siege and bombardment have led to a terrible epidemic of cholera.”
Any genuine humanitarians would be greatly concerned with the dire situation in Yemen, but guess what? The ‘liberal interventionists’ who egged on ‘humanitarian interventions’ elsewhere have been silent.
Looking at the global picture, Ford described how the US Empire operates.
“The Americans have nearly 800 bases around the world, spread over about 70 countries and territories. You show me a country with an American base and I’ll show you a de facto colony or vassal state. It’s almost mediaeval: You have to pay homage to the sovereign – America. That is our (the British) condition today. We are equivalent to a vassal state,” he said.
In my address, I stressed how important it was to see the US-led attacks, interventions and destabilization campaigns against sovereign states of the past 20 years as part of the same war, one waged for total global domination. Independent, resource-rich countries usually with socialist/socialistic governments and economies which weren’t controlled by global corporations, have been targeted, one-by-one. In each case, the leaders of the countries concerned were relentlessly demonized. They were called dictators, even though in the case of Hugo Chavez and Slobodan Milosevic they had won numerous democratic elections and operated in countries where opposition parties freely operated.
The ‘target states’ were subject to draconian sanctions which created economic hardship and a ‘pressure cooker’ environment, which usually resulted in street protests against the government, egged on by the US. The governments were then told ‘the world is watching you’ and ordered not to respond, even when violence was used by protestors. The same strategy was deployed in Yugoslavia in 2000, Ukraine in 2014, and Venezuela in 2017. In Afghanistan and Iraq, we had a full-scale invasion (based on the ‘fake news’ that Saddam possessed WMDs) and in Libya (and Yugoslavia) a NATO bombing campaign.
There has been endless war for the past twenty years and it won’t end until we understand what’s been going on and demand a new foreign policy in place of the current racist one which holds that the US and its closest allies have the right to say who should or shouldn’t be in charge of other countries, but denies the same rights to the ‘inferior’ countries targeted.
Intrepid journalist Eva Bartlett, who had travelled all the way from Canada, came next and began by describing her experiences in the DPRK, another country that’s under threat of attack from the US.
“Many people believe that what is happening in North Korea is about a madman with a bad haircut and an itchy finger on the nuclear button. But no, it’s not about Trump,” she said to laughter from the hall.
Bartlett told how we’re encouraged to see North Korea as a threat but no context is usually given, nor is there mention of the utter devastation caused by US bombing back in the 1950s. Down the decades, there have been regular threats from leading US figures to obliterate North Korea.
“What the North Koreans are doing is defending themselves,” Bartlett said.
Having seen what has happened to Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and other countries targeted by the US in recent years, who can possibly blame them?
In addition to visiting the DPRK in 2017, Bartlett has also been to Syria seven times since the conflict started there in 2011. She described her experiences in the country and explained how the situation on the ground was often very different from the dominant imperialist narrative which holds the Syrian government and President Assad responsible for every evil. She gave as an example the liberation of eastern Aleppo from terrorists in December 2016, which was portrayed as a terrible thing by much of the Western media and the political establishment.
“Corporate media described Aleppo as falling, while Syrians were celebrating the full liberation of the city and Christians were able to celebrate Christmas for the first time in years,” she said.
The final speaker of the evening was the legendary George Galloway who dazzled us with his oratory, humor, and sheer bloody brilliance. Galloway quoted Dr. Samuel Johnson, saying that “the grimmest dictatorship of them all is the dictatorship of the prevailing orthodoxy. And that’s the dictatorship under which we live. We can argue about the color of the paint on the walls of Westminster, but on the things that really matter the parameters are very narrow. Neoliberal economics and neoconservative imperialist politics abroad – that’s the prevailing orthodoxy. So anyone who challenges it must by definition be portrayed as – and turned into – an outlaw. Isn’t that the world in which we live?”
Reminding people on the pivotal role the Soviet Red Army had played in the defeat of the Nazis, he declared “we live in an era where we’re encouraged to hate and fear Russia. But I will never, ever hate Russia and remain silent while others generate hate against her.”
At time of writing the video of Imperialism on Trial on the RTUK Facebook page
has had 35K views. The event was such a success that a ‘Roadshow’ is already being planned. The ‘I word’ needs to be openly discussed. Because if we don’t speak out forcefully and fearlessly against modern imperialism, and call it out for what it is, we could well be heading for Armageddon.
By Neil Clark