Tag Archives: Peace News

Don’t mention Western intervention! Yemen, Somalia and the Guardian

Don’t mention Western intervention! Yemen, Somalia and the Guardian
by Ian Sinclair

Morning Star
29 March 2017

Earlier this month Stephen O’Brien, the United Nations Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, warned the world was facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War. Speaking to the UN Security Council, O’Brien said more than 20 million people in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and Nigeria were facing starvation and famine.

Following up on this, on 17 March 2017 the Guardian published a report on Yemen, noting that aid agencies have warned the country is “at the point of no return”. UN figures show 17 million people facing severe food insecurity, the Guardian noted, including nearly seven million people deemed to be in a state of emergency. With the article relegated to page 29 of the newspaper, there was just one oblique mention of the US and UK, which the report explained “have influence over the Saudi-led coalition” currently attacking Yemen and blocking aid entering the country.

Here are the basic facts the Guardian chose not to highlight. Since March 2015 Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of countries in a bombing campaign to overthrow the Houthi government in Yemen (which itself overthrew the previous government). According to the United Nations there have been over 10,000 civilian casualties, with the Saudi-led coalition’s airstrikes responsible for the majority of casualties. In 2016 the Yemen Data Project – a group of academics, human rights organisers and activists – reported that one third of Saudi-led air raids have hit civilian sites such as school buildings, hospitals, markets and mosques. Martha Mundy, emeritus professor at the London School of Economics, believes “that in some regions, the Saudis are deliberately striking at agricultural infrastructure in order to destroy the civil society.”

The US and UK have been closely collaborating with Saudi Arabia in Yemen. “We’ll support the Saudis in every practical way short of engaging in combat… political support, of course, logistical and technical support”, the then UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond announced a month into the bombardment. Speaking to me last year, activist Medea Benjamin, author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the US-Saudi Connection, explained Saudi Arabia is “getting munitions from the West… The US is even refuelling their planes in the air”. President Obama – described as “the reluctant interventionist” by senior Guardian columnist Jonathan Freedland – sold $115bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia during his eight years in office. This makes the 44th president of the United States “the most enthusiastic arms salesman to Saudi Arabia in American history”, according to Senior Brookings Institution Fellow Bruce Riedel.

Speaking in January 2017, O’Brien was crystal clear about the main cause of the ongoing humanitarian crisis: “The conflict in Yemen is now the primary driver of the largest food security emergency in the world.”

The Guardian has form when it comes to (not) reporting the causes of the deepening humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Surveying the newspaper’s coverage of Yemen between June 2016 and mid-January 2017, Peace News Editor Milan Rai concluded “The critical role of the Saudi blockade in creating these conditions in Yemen has been effectively suppressed by the British media, including Britain’s most liberal mainstream newspaper, the Guardian.” According to Rai there were 70 stories or editorials about Yemen on the Guardian website during this period: “Most of those 70 items (42 stories, 60 per cent of the total) do not mention the humanitarian crisis – or the role of the Saudi blockade – in any way at all.” And though the other 28 articles did refer to the humanitarian crisis “most did so only in a way that effectively suppressed the information”, Rai notes.

Unsurprisingly a recent YouGov/Independent poll found more than half of British people were unaware of the war in Yemen, with just 37 percent of 18-24 year olds aware of the conflict.

Turning to Somalia, on 13 March 2017 the Guardian published a full page article on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in east Africa. “As many as 6.2 million Somalis – more than half the population – need urgent food assistance”, noted the Guardian, including “some districts… under the control of Islamist rebels al-Shahaab, making [aid] access complicated.” There is one mention of the US – “The US government says it has spent more than $110m on humanitarian assistance in Somalia in 2017.”

In reality, the US has been heavily involved in Somali affairs since the 1990s. These interventions, noted BBC journalist Mary Harper in her 2012 book Getting Somalia Wrong?, are viewed by “a growing number of experts” as having “contributed towards [Somalia’s] destruction as a viable nation-state.”

Speaking to Democracy Now! in 2013, journalist Jeremy Scahill explained that in the early years of the ‘war on terror’ the Bush Administration “made a disastrous decision to put [Somali] warlords on the CIA payroll” and “basically had them acting as an assassination squad.” A relative stability was created for a brief period when the Islamic Courts Union took control in 2006 – quickly shattered by the December 2006 US-supported Ethiopian invasion and occupation. The occupation, as occupations often tend to do, energised extremists, with Somali journalist Jamal Osman explaining “al-Shabaab was born when Ethiopia invaded Somalia in 2006 and some still see the group as a resistance movement.”

Since then the US has been trying to destroy the group its actions helped create. In 2012 the Los Angeles Times reported “The US has been quietly equipping and training thousands of African soldiers to wage a widening proxy war against the Shabaab”.

“Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union”, the report explained. “But in truth, according to interviews by US and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon”. The US government “is trying to achieve US military goals with minimal risk of American deaths and scant public debate”, the Los Angeles Times noted. Since then the US has intensified its clandestine war in Somalia “using Special Operations troops, airstrikes, private contractors and African allies in an escalating campaign against Islamist militants”, according to the New York Times last year.

Like Yemen, the US military involvement in Somalia has negatively affected the country’s ability to deal with humanitarian crises. For example, though the Financial Times explains the looming famine in Somalia is primarily the result of regional drought, it goes on to note “The lack of effective government and an insurgency by al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda linked jihadi group, have not helped.”

This quick survey of the Guardian’s recent coverage of Yemen and Somalia puts the lie to Guardian regular Polly Toynbee’s claim the newspaper is “always free to hold power to account: to take on politicians, global corporations, the secret security state or great vested interests.” The Guardian may well be free to hold power to account but it’s currently missing some huge open goals when it comes to Western foreign policy.

To be clear, I’m not saying the Guardian never mentions Western interference in Yemen and Somalia or links this to the growing humanitarian crises – I’m arguing the newspaper’s coverage does not match the importance of the issue. As Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky argue in their 1988 book Manufacturing Consent “That the media provide some information about an issue… proves absolutely nothing about the adequacy or accuracy of media coverage… More important is the way they present a particular fact – its placement, tone, and frequency of repetition – and the framework of analysis in which it is placed.”

Indeed, by downplaying of US intervention in Yemen and Somalia the Guardian have helped to keep the large swatches of the general public ignorant of Western foreign policy (see the YouGov/Independent poll) – a state of affairs that suits the US government’s interests, as the Los Angeles Times report above makes clear.

My favourite non-fiction books of 2015

My favourite non-fiction books of 2015
by Ian Sinclair
Morning Star
21 December 2015

A polemical, first-hand expose of the corporate elites who rule and ruin the world for the rest of us, ex-Financial Times journalist Matt Kennard’s The Racket is investigative journalism at its best. “A class war is being fought and the poor are losing”, he notes. Covering the Turkish repression of the Kurds, the continuing US-led plunder of South America and the downtrodden of the US itself, the book makes a good case for Kennard being a true heir to John Pilger and the older generation of muckrakers.

Like Kennard, as a long-time advocate for nonviolent revolution, Peace News provides an alternative way of viewing and understanding world events. Their latest book, The World Is My Country by Emily Johns and Gabriel Carlyle, continues this non-conformist tradition by remembering and celebrating the people and movements that opposed the mass slaughter of the First World War. Inspired by To End All Wars, Adam Hochschild’s majestic 2011 book about the British anti-war movement, the short booklet is comprised of Carlyle’s well researched accounts of the war resisters and ten original posters painted by Johns. The global perspective they provide is particularly impressive. “The very term ‘The First World War’ is highly ideological”, the authors note. “Viewed from the Global South there was already a ‘world war’ in progress on 27 July 1914: namely, a war by the European (and American) empires against much of the rest of the world.”

David Rosenberg’s Rebel Footprints: A Guide To Uncovering London’s Radical History is also concerned with resistance and rebellion. Interwoven with practical walking guides, Rosenberg tells the story of the capital’s radical history from the 1830s to the 1930s. From the massive Chartist demonstration on Kennington Common in 1848, to the middle-class dissidents of the Bloomsbury set and the class-conscious Suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst these accounts will no doubt inspire readers to agitate against today’s Tory Government and the corporations who cast such a long shadow over our democratic institutions.

Interview with Emily Johns about The World Is My Country

Interview with Emily Johns about The World Is My Country
by Ian Sinclair
Camden Review
March 2015

Since last year we have been in the midst of the centenary commemorations of the First World War.

Emily Johns, co-editor of the monthly newspaper Peace News, believes the often nationalistic tone of the public discourse has been a continuation of pro-military campaigns like Armed Forces Day and Help For Heroes. These have been “created as a response to people’s dissatisfaction with war and various governments commitment to going to war”, the 51-year old peace activist argues as she speaks to me in Peace News’s Caledonian Road office.

“I think the government has been putting a lot of effort into trying to counter that shift”, she says about the public opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “And where you put that concentration is cultural.”

Realising the commemorations would focus on the idea of military sacrifice, Johns teamed up with her Peace News colleague Gabriel Carlyle to create The World Is My Country, a 100-page alternative history of the First World War that celebrates the people and movements opposed to the conflict.

With Carlyle’s lively prose interspersed with ten posters painted by Johns, the booklet is populated by many fascinating characters and stories – from philosopher Bertrand Russell being banned from a third of Britain to the setting up of The Women’s Peace Crusade, a countrywide socialist movement pressing for peace negotiations. Johns’s favourite tale of resistance is of Tribunal, the newspaper of the No-Conscription Fellowship, an organisation which supported Conscientious Objectors. With the male members of the group in prison, the paper was run by women who had gained organisational experience as Suffragettes before the war. Under police surveillance, proof copies were secretly delivered by an old woman with a pram. “Whenever their printer ran out of type for producing their paper they would go round to the Daily Mail’s printers and borrow type from them”, Johns laughs. “The Daily Mail didn’t realise it!”

Taking a view I haven’t seen in any of the media coverage of the 1914-18 conflict, the booklet begins by noting “The very term ‘The First World War’ is highly ideological.” Johns explains: “It’s a way of eradicating the past several hundred years of a continuous world war which was being waged by the colonising European nations against the rest of the world. At the end of the nineteenth century European countries are having these brutal wars of suppression and colonisation against people of the Global South.”

What does she hope readers will take from the book? “Recognising that anti-war movements have been very, very strong for the past 100 years and that political action against militarism was deeply embedded in Britain and Europe and other parts of the world when the First World War started”, she replies. “It was a very serious objection to how the elites were governing and creating the world.”

Making links between the past and present, she also hopes the book will encourage people to expand their understanding of “honourable sacrifice” beyond the idea it “is solely about a military sacrifice”.

“A lot of Conscientious Objectors died in prison in Britain because they refused to go and fight people”, she notes. “That level of commitment and sacrifice is something to measure up to in a time now when we are engaged or about to engage in wars around the world.”

The World Is My Country is published by Peace News Press, priced £5. To purchase the book or to invite Emily or Gabriel to speak visit http://theworldismycountry.info/