What’s wrong with this picture: One plucky demonstrator, two an anarchist criminal

Protesters against the government of Syria set fire to offices of the ruling party today while hundreds of political prisoners were released in a bid to appease the rioters.

Syrian protestors torch officesThe Independent, 26 March 2011

Commander Bob Broadhurst, who led the police operation, said: “I wouldn’t call them protesters. They are engaging in criminal activities for their own ends.”

Activists attempt to hijack anti-cuts demoThe Independent, 26 March 2011

An interesting contrast in the way that anti-government protests are reported in the news media. Half a million demonstrate in London and the media focus is on a small group of anarchists (as identified by the media, btw); but in the Middle East the same small groups of militants are cheered and championed in the British press.

The top example here relates to those plucky, angry and totally-justified protestors who set fire to a building in Damascus – surely a criminal action

The second is how the UK’s top riot police officer describes British protestors who vent their anger by occupying an upmarket dairy (Fortnum and Mason) and smashing a few windows.

It’s OK for the British press to champion the cause of the Syrians because that doesn’t threaten privilege at home. But, of course, any action that does challenge the comfortable lives of the British ruling class is instantly dismissed as criminal behaviour.

Even the Guardian takes up this trope:

The generally good-natured mood was soured by violent and destructive attacks on symbols of wealth including the Ritz, banks and a luxury car dealer, and an occupation of the upmarket food store Fortnum & Mason.

Anti-cuts march  draws hundreds of thousansds as police battle rioters, The Guardian, 26 March 2011

Contrast this with the coverage of similar violent riots in Yemen and Bahrain which have left hundreds dead. The Independent and The Guardian can afford to be on the side of the Arab protestors and condemn the violent way that police handled those demonstrations.

Serried ranks of riot police advancing behind a cloud of tear gas and backed by armoured vehicles and helicopters cleared protesters from Pearl Square, which has been the gathering point for protesters.

Bahrain and Yemen declare war on protestors, The Independent, 20 March 2011

Wow, “serried ranks of riot police advancing behind a cloud of tear gas”, isn’t that exactly what’s just today happened in London too?

One Guardian columnist does make the explicit link between London and Cairo, and this is the real point that the news media can’t grasp.

Western elites are, instead, stressing the differences between east and west as they scramble to morph their longstanding support of north African dictatorships into sudden solidarity with rebels. This revisionist view holds that the uprisings are mainly about the desire of young people in the Middle East to live in western-style democracies.

Priyamvada Gopal, Trafalgar has much in common with Tahir, The Guardian, 25 March, 2011

Not only are ruling elites scrabbling to cover their burning arses on this one, they are also having to struggle with locals making the same connection between Trafalgar Square and Tahir Square. The news media – often a faithful mouthpiece for elite opinion – is also struggling with the complexity and contradictions in their position.

On one hand, supporting the dangerous, violent and often bloody protests in the souk and the Arab street is good for business, ‘we’ want these dictators to fall:

In eerie succession, one after another, autocrats and despots across the region are coming down with freedom flu.

Simon Tisdall, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad has been struck by freedom flu, The Guardian, 25 March, 2011

But they can’t help the knee-jerk reaction that condemns angry protestors who take matters into their own hands – at home; while simultaneously cheering the exact same actions in foreign lands.

Hey, guys, wake up and smell the revolution – this is global capitalism after all.

It’s not that hard to think clearly about this dialectic of the front-page,  as Priyamvada Gopal shows us:

It is simplistic to assume that protests in the west and the Middle East are fundamentally different because “they” are fighting “blood-soaked” despots while “we”, after all, live in liberal democracies…

Both capitalist democracies and dictatorships use political means to concentrate wealth, power and privilege. In Britain and the US, the right to fight corporate power collectively – and effectively – through unions is under ongoing attack. In Britain, the state uses demonisation, brute force and disproportionate punishment to contain mass demonstrations and talks of making some peaceful means illegal. In the US, Democratic legislators resisting anti-union measures, which were then forced through anyway, were threatened with arrest. Britain has seen policies destroying public services hastily enacted without a clear mandate while civil liberties are constantly eroded and inequalities expand. If Gaddafi screams “imperialism” when things get sticky, our politicians find it convenient to denounce “multiculturalism”. What unites the interdependent ruling elites of Britain and Bahrain is the priority they give to the entitlement of the few at the expense of the many, often embodied by dodgy business deals.

Thanks Priya, you show these numbnucks how it is done. Dodgy business deals are universal and the occupation of Fortnum and Mason is because the business owner, Lord Green, is a tax criminal. No, he’s not Mubarak, but I bet they exchange cards at Christmas, and that dear Hosni likes F&M tea very very much.

 

 

 

 

 

One Response to What’s wrong with this picture: One plucky demonstrator, two an anarchist criminal

  1. Mark Hayes says:

    Nice one, Ethical Martini.

    On the one hand, I agree with the British protesters and their campaign against the Tory – LibDem government’s ‘austerity’ cuts and plans. Been following developments on Open Democracy and elsewhere since last year’s elections.

    How come, when, as the GFC and its causes demonstrate, governments start preying on their own people with ‘austerity measures’ instead of coming for those who caused things like the GFC rather than thrashing them mercilessly with feathers. (Rhetorical question, of course; we both know the reasons.)

    But on the other hand, when I see usually a tiny minority in mass demonstrations, described or even demonized as ‘anarchists’ [insert whatever current term is used from the Official Grimoire or ‘Book of Approved Demons’; see Chomsky and Herman’s ‘propaganda model’ point five suitably updated]…

    I fail to see what’s to be tactically or strategically gained by trashing whatever those folks trash. It’s chiliastic violence over against seriously planned and executed violence. Were they to get really serious with their violence, of course, we, again, head down some appalling routes. You’re not going down there accompanied by people like me.

    As I’ve argued elsewhere on this august and erudite Blog – Nonviolence, Media Freedom, Egypt and Fiji – if you’re going to seriously take on a dominator and erode or even remove their power, it’s almost madness to do so in ways which play to their strengths when there are many demonstrated alternatives worth extremely serious consideration.

    Pushed to their limits, violent ‘anarchists’ (or neo-liberal ‘market rules’ fanatics too) often present as nihilists. Some even claim to be nihilists.

    Ask a nihilist if they cleaned their teeth recently and you’ll find how much of a nihilist they really are.

    Actually, we’re dealing with rather low grade narcissists.

    The foregoing said, I do agree with Ethical Martini’s main point about the, sometimes, rank hypocrisy, or simply bad, unreflective, ‘official’ frame driven journalism which condemns ‘local’ protesters, almost deliberately conflating a violent tiny minority with a far greater peaceful majority, while lauding protesters engaged in deadly struggle, nonviolent and violent, against awful regimes ‘somewhere else’.

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