Tonight Matthew, I’m going to be Alan in Belfast, and write on a political event at a local arts festival.
It was an interview of crusading journalist John Pilger, by BBC NI’s William Crawley, which was meant to happen a few weeks ago but was delayed because he had a bout of pneumonia. St George’s Parish church was well filled, with a pretty enthusiastic audience. The acoustics weren’t fantastic, but I was near the front, so it wasn’t a problem for me.
Pilger has been writing and making documentaries for a long time (about 50 years), so he has a wealth of experiences from all over the world, and the evening reflected that. His view on Barack Obama was perhaps the most interesting of the evening. To paraphrase, he felt that
Barack Obama is a brand… American foreign policy, like British foreign policy, has continued in a straight line since 1945… Going by the first 250 days, Obama is continuing what Bush had done before…
I thought that was quite interesting. Also interesting, though I guess not surprising, were his views on Israel. He stated that because Israel is a special case in so many elements of international law (nuclear weapons, the continued occupation of Palestine), that resolving that one single issue is a precondition to the resolution of conflicts all over the world, because until justice is seen to be done there, there will be an excuse for it in other places. When challenged on how this could happen, he advocated boycotts, but acknowledged that the UN as it is now wouldn’t do that.
There was also a fascinating question from one member of the audience who asked “How can you, an Australian, sit here in Northern Ireland, and talk about ‘we the British people'”. I don’t think anyone was entirely sure whether he was being funny or provocative.
Pilger is scathing on the modern media, which he believes simply reports whatever is in the best interests of the news corporations and governments which own them. He believes that the kind of journalism that made his name just doesn’t happen in the mainstream media any more.
But he does have hope for the future. Not necessarily in the western governments (especially our MPs with their snouts in the trough), but he sees the people-led movements in South America as being a sign of progress.
It was an interesting evening. He is someone who is very well-informed about the world, and although some of his views are challenging, they can’t be dismissed.