Thursday, November 04, 2010

(HERALD) Intellectual responsibility: The bane of writers

Intellectual responsibility: The bane of writers

HISTORY, public opinion, policy decisions, wars and other aspects of human life are in more than one way strongly influenced by the work of writers, and the perplexing question that is rarely answered pertains to the intellectual responsibility of these writers.

At a level of generality, the easy answer to the question of intellectual responsibility is that any writer, or any decent person, should tell the truth. Here, "truth" and "intellectual responsibility" are taken in their narrow sense of respect for moral values — putting aside philosophical and other aesthetic dimensions.

Qualifications and complexities that arise when one looks at the moral obligations expected of writers centre on the moral imperative to find out and tell the truth as best as one can; about things that really matter and to the right audience.

Finding and telling the truth is not only hard, but can be personally costly, particularly when one is vulnerable — and this writer knows from personal experience that the cost can really be severe, even in societies that pride themselves as civilised and free democracies.

Writers sometimes do not find it so easy to determine what really matters and this is because of a number of factors that influence intellectual interest.

It is always intriguing to establish the moral dimension behind the motivation of some writers — especially when one is confronted by politically affiliated and partisan intellectuals as John Makumbe of the University of Zimbabwe — a vibrant street political activist who doubles up as a lecturing university professor.

In explaining the responsibility of a writer Noam Chomsky had this to say, "The responsibility of the writer as a moral agent is to try to bring the truth about matters of human significance to an audience that can do something about them".

It is very easy for writers to transform from moral agents into ruthless monsters, sanitising brutalities and serving at the hands of mighty power centres, be these in the so-called totalitarian states or in the so-called developed democracies.

In fact, the standard practice of the intellectual communities to which we variously belong often rejects this elementary moral practice, most of the time with considerable fervour and passion.

Between 1975 and 1980, there were two major atrocities taking place at a scale warranting global attention, and these were in Cambodia and East Timor. From a point of view of basic rationality and integrity the two atrocities were similar in many ways, not least in their deplorability.

But reading about them as presented by writers from different intellectual communities they are made to look strikingly so different that history is even distorted.

The Cambodia Khmer Rougue atrocities were correctly reported as crimes against humanity, if the concept has meaning at all. In the West, these were attributable to an official enemy; they were ideologically serviceable, offering justification for US crimes against humanity in Indochina for 25 years.

So Pol Pot’s atrocities were then deliberately exploited for purposes of justifying the US’ own atrocities elsewhere — this as a way to reconstruct the faith of US citizens and as a weapon to implement further atrocities. The principle was that the US could torture and kill in other countries so as to prevent the rise of other Pol Pots across the world.

It is like the atrocity that was suffered by the United States on September 11, 2001, a terror attack that killed about 3000 people.

That atrocity has tragically and sadly been used to reconstruct jingoistic patriotism and a faith in the sabre-rattling foreign policy of Washington.

And the whole world must now come to understand that Barrack Obama’s "surge" in the Afghan war can torture, maim, mutilate and kill innocent civilians so as to prevent the possibility of another 9/11. It is all about fighting terrorism, and that we must never dispute, unless we support Osama bin Laden and his murderous goons.

There were no credible suggestions from right wing Western intellectuals and writers on how to halt or mitigate the Khmer Rouge crimes, focusing rather on sensationalising the stories so as to elicit a huge outcry and show of indignation, often deceitfully misinforming the audience with such artistry as would have courted the envy of Stalin.

Fabrications became uncorrectable, as is often the case with the reporting of events in the territories of the West’s official enemies.

When exposed, the authors of deceit only became more passionate in reiterating the exaggerations, however childish and absurd. The truth about Cambodia was awful enough, but any suggestions that Western writers had to stick to the truth were met with hostility, virtual hysteria and renewed deceit.

It is like telling the Western Press to stick to the truth about the political situation in Zimbabwe today — especially when one queries the gross statistical exaggerations often used to back up allegations of political violence and President Mugabe’s alleged brutality.

When a suggestion to keep to the truth is made — it is automatically met with repulsive attacks where those making such suggestions are labelled "Mugabe apologists" or "supporters of a despotic regime".

This writer is well aware of those whose position on Zimbabwe is based on fabrications and exaggerations, but are so resolute that they will criminalise any challenge to their entrenched views.

So the crimes of Pol Pot were elevated to the very symbol of evil, placed alongside those of Adolf Hitler and Stalin, where they remain in the officially approved list of the twentieth century horrors.

We will now turn to the atrocities carried out through the Indonesian occupation of East Timor at the same time.

Like those of Khmer Rouge, they were also crimes against humanity, but furthermore, crimes carried out in the process of outright aggression, war crimes, hence clearly within the purview of international law.

Just like the war crimes of Iraq and Afghanistan today, the war crimes of East Timor traced directly to Washington and its allies.

These were atrocities that were ideologically dysfunctional, if one were to look at the locus of responsibility. Washington was so directly responsible for these atrocities that all it took to terminate them was just turning off the tap — the weapons supply to Jakarta. There was not even a need to send troops, to bomb Jakarta, impose sanctions, or even issue warnings.

The reaction to the East Timor atrocities was almost total silence in the US, apart from routine reiteration of lies told by the Department of State and the Indonesian Generals — always reported as fact.

The Western backed atrocities in East Timor, just like those in Palestine, in Iraq, Afghanistan or those that happened in Vietnam; will never be a symbol of evil, and there is always no blot on the Western record.

The pattern is so striking that it takes outstanding talent not to recognise it, and to avoid drawing certain conclusions from it. All tribute must go to Western writers, journalists and intellectuals for conferring such extraordinary talent with so impressive a success.

When it became problematic to sustain the deceit and lies around the East Timor atrocities, Washington backtracked and started passing the blame on Indonesia — "the shaming of Indonesia", as The New York Times put it, never the shaming of the US.

At the very worst the US can accept to be blamed as having failed to attend closely enough to the unpleasant acts of people who lacked the West’s civilised standards, and may not have done enough to stop the acts for which Washington was so eagerly providing the decisive military and diplomatic support.

The West has this tradition of honouring dissidents from countries they consider as official enemies. There is no difficulty distinguishing the decency in the dissidents from enemy states, and this is why Liu Xiaobo of China was honoured as the winner of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. The commissars of the Chinese Communist Party are easily derided in the West.

But when we turn the truths that matter in the moral realm, looking at the record of the West, we see judgements dramatically reversing — this time Western commissars are greatly honoured, the dissidents berated for their iniquity — and this writer has a personal testimony to that.

The principles that Western writers apply with increasing facility as Western responsibility declines are the merest truisms — the noblest of intentions.

When the Soviet Union was committing crimes against humanity in Poland and Czechoslovakia, those crimes did not come within shouting distance of US crimes in Central America, and that was an obvious parallel at the time.

Then it was seen in the West as the moral duty of the Russian intellectuals to focus attention on the former, even to the exclusion of far worse crimes beyond the reach of Russian power.

If Soviet intellectuals told the truth about US crimes, well and good, but there were no prizes to be expected from the West. There are always more important things for lesser people to do than criticising Western powers.

This is why this writer is persecuted, harassed, stalked, detained at airports and flagged in data bases for daring criticising the West instead of being a dissident against the president of his homeland, Robert Mugabe. For someone coming from Zimbabwe, there must surely be better and more important things to write about than attacking Western imperialism and the atrocities that sustain it.

If a Soviet intellectual exaggerated or fabricated American crimes, then he became an object of utter contempt and equally that would be the case with any other writer doing the same.

However, if a Soviet intellectual ignored American crimes it was of no consequence. Western admiration for dissidents from enemy states is never diminished by the fact that these dissidents may choose to openly condone Western atrocities.

When Zimbabwean dissident intellectuals praise the US atrocities as John Makumbe does, it is of no significance, and such intellectuals can expect accolades for their efforts.

If Soviet intellectuals denied or minimised American atrocities, as many did, it was a matter of no consequence at all. Their responsibility lay at home, and they needed to reserve their energy attacking crimes carried out by their own government.

When Zimbabwean intellectuals and writers minimise or deny the ruinous and murderous nature of the atrocities caused by the illegally imposed Western sanctions — this is a matter of honour in as far as the West is concerned. This glaring irrationality is rewarded as objective intellectualism, and those that insist that the illegal sanctions are hurting the poor the most are derided as deplorable sidekicks of a "ruthless Mugabe regime".

If Soviet intellectuals ignored or justified Soviet crimes, that was criminal and unforgivable. It is the same thing one gets from the West today by being labelled a Zanu-PF supporter — something Western elites patently regard as a crime — despite the fact that Zanu-PF remains the majority party in Zimbabwe, by way of carrying a superior popular vote in the last elections held in March 2008.

There is no lack of information about Western atrocities. The world is well aware that civilians, including children, are routinely and frequently killed by Western occupation forces in Afghanistan and the brutal nature of the Western war in that country is a matter of common knowledge.

If Western intellectuals tell the truth about the crimes of the USSR, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein or any other declared official enemy, in the past or in the present, that is regarded as an act of high moral standing in the Western sense.

If they exaggerate or fabricate such crimes, that is of no significance at all. Yet if they ignore such crimes they become objects of utter contempt.

If they ignore or justify the crimes carried out by their own states then that is a matter of very little significance — if any at all. Many have even been honoured for this, while others have been silenced by bribes. Criticism of the Afghan war is acceptable for Western intellectuals if it is limited to critiquing the tactics of the war, as opposed to its justification.

These patterns shape most of the content in the reports made by Western sponsored civic organisations carrying out assignments authored in Western corridors of power. They often have very little, if anything at all — to say about atrocities carried out by Western allies, but they are too eager to portray negative images for states considered as official enemies of the West.

These organisations avail damning reports covering alleged crimes carried out in Africa and other non-Western countries to the ICC prosecutor — and calls for investigation are often quite loud. Witnesses have been bribed and reports of incentives to get witnesses to incriminate targeted persons are quite common.

There are no such calls for witnesses over atrocities carried out frequently by US soldiers and their allies in Afghanistan and in Iraq today.

This is why the ICC has so far indicted 13 people since its inception in 1998; and its subsequent establishment in July 2002 — and all the 13 are from one continent — Africa.

Recently the ICC was investigating the February 12, 2009 killing of two adults and four children by three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.

The ICC has since dropped the case after the Australian Director of Military Prosecutions announced that charges would be laid against the soldiers.

However, when Sudan says it wants to lay charges against its own alleged perpetrators of war crimes the ICC insists that the case be dealt with at The Hague. And Australia is one of the countries openly opposed to Sudan’s stance that it prosecutes its accused perpetrators of atrocities in Darfur.

Those who gave the orders for the war crimes carried out at Abu Ghraib, Iraq in 2004 will never be investigated by the ICC, not only because the US is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, but mainly because it is unthinkable for the ICC to drag US Generals to The Hague.

The low ranking soldiers who carried out these criminal acts were jailed for obeying orders — including those who were so appalled by these instructions that they helped in exposing them.

The true story of Zimbabwe is now shrouded in uncorrectable fabrications as can be found through the outrageous lies filed in thousands of pending applications by Zimbabwean asylum seekers in the UK — applications that are based on impressive and dramatic falsehoods designed to make President Mugabe a monster, and Zimbabwe a dreadful torture state.

The lies are legendary and so absolute that even the Devil is bound to dissociate himself from such crass dishonesty.

A teenage girl facing removal from the UK quickly claims that she faces a "firing squad" for having participated on a British TV singing competition and the writers at the Daily Mail just buy that apparently ludicrous fabrication with the zeal of novices, all because all anti-Mugabe hate will do in serving at the imperial shrine.

It is the duty of intellectuals, journalists and writers to stand for the truth and integrity as world affairs increasingly become a matter of power politics as shaped by the United States.

Writers have an intellectual responsibility to keep readers well informed by keeping in line with the truth.

Zimbabwe we are one and together we will overcome. It is homeland or death!

Reason Wafawarova is a political writer and can be contacted on wafawarova *** or reason@ rwafa or visit

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