Archive for June 2008
The most heart-wrenching account of brutality that I’ve ever heard was the testimony given by Janvier Mudagiri at the August 2006 commemoration of the attack that had taken place at the Gatumba refugee camp in Burundi two years earlier. Janvier recounted how, after the initial onslaught, in which the attackers hunted down and killed every Banyamulenge Tutsi they could find, everything went quiet. A little while later, a group of men returned, calling out that they had come to rescue whoever was still alive. Janvier, who was hiding in the ruins of the camp with a group of children, realised quickly that these were not rescuers, but killers, bent on finishing off what they had started. But amid the chaotic situation, he was unable to stop a number of the children from running out towards their pretended rescuers – and could do nothing but watch as they were gunned down.
This year’s commemoration event, which is being organised by Ubuntu, the international peacebuilding group founded by those who lost loved ones at Gatumba, will take place at the office of Amnesty International UK, on:
Saturday 16th August, from 1.30pm.
The full address is:
The Human Rights Action Centre, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA.
A number of the survivors will be joining the commemoration, and Ubuntu campaigners will be discussing both the ongoing struggle for justice, and the measures that need to be taken to stem the flood of lethal weapons into Central Africa.
Lisa Gee is great – and I’m not just saying that because we share an agent. She’s one of these writers who runs directly counter to the grumpy-oddball stereotype – positive, upbeat, outgoing; all those things that an author isn’t supposed to be. Every once in a while a group of us gets together to compare notes. The last time around I was intrigued to learn that Dora, Lisa’s six-year old daughter, had landed a part in the “Sound of Music”, and was playing to packed-out audiences in the West End. Not only this, but Lisa, having found herself immersed in a world of auditions, late nights and the occasional tantrum, was already well on her way to writing a book about the experience of being a “Stage Mum”. Having been lucky enough to see some of the early notes, I’m very much looking forward to reading the final version, which comes out on July 3rd.
My friend Paul just sent me a link to an amusing new collaborative project which aims to come up with a comprehensive roster of “every brilliant thing”. The resulting list will then be used to help create an innovative, yet-to-be-revealed, installation art exhibit. Examples range from “People falling over (but not hurting themselves)” to “Aromatic duck pancakes with hoi sin sauce” and “The word ‘haberdashery'”. Anyone can contribute, so I added a couple of my own, including “Absurd place-names” and “The Flemish word ‘kwiestenbiebel'”. More details here.
I’m currently re-reading Nick Davies’s excellent book, “Flat Earth News“, a detailed investigation of distortion, manipulation and in some cases corruption within the media.
One acute issue is the extent to which TV and radio news channels routinely run interviews with people presented as an “analyst” or “consultant” on some issue or another, without any mention of the fact that this person has a direct vested interest. The classic example – and one that I look at in “Don’t Get Fooled Again” – would be the interviewing of a supposedly unbiased scientific expert about the health risks of smoking, without the public being told that he or she takes a regular “retainer” from the tobacco industry.
Since the early days of PR the use of this tactic has grown exponentially, most especially with the build-up to the Iraq war, and its aftermath. One mild example was the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme’s interview a few months back with the mysterious Canon Andrew White, an Anglican clergyman based in Iraq, who gave a rosy account of the situation there and bemoaned what he said was an overly negative view often presented in the media. No mention was made of the fact that the organisation Canon White founded – the “Foundation for Reconcilation and Relief in the Middle East” (FRRME) – has been heavily funded by the UK Ministry of Defence and various branches of the US government, along with the Orwellian “Iraqi Institute of Peace“, which the FRRME manages.
But this pales into insignificance alongside the exposé from the New York Times – highlighted on the Flat Earth News website – of the lengths the Pentagon has taken to co-opt retired US military officers as unofficial spokesmen for the administration, all the while presenting them as apparently neutral “military analysts” commenting on US policy in Iraq. A further corrupting factor was that many of these former high-ranking army officers had gone on to work for companies bidding for US government contracts for “reconstruction” in Iraq. Retired Lt Col Timur J Eads was one of a number who told the New York Times that they had often held their tongue when interviewed on air, fearing that “some four-star could call up and say ‘Kill that contract'”. Yet rarely, it seems, did the big US TV networks give the public any inkling that these “military analysts” had a clear financial stake in supporting the official US government line.