Inauguration, From Above
Friday Ephemera

The Voice of Conscience

Is John Pilger necessary? Sunny Hundal thinks so:

Pilger is a voice of conscience I think the left still needs. Don’t get me wrong: I think he’s idealistic to the point of unrealistic. But commentators on the far-left are important as a voice that keep the centre-left on their toes, even if they are completely sectarian to a fault, unrealistic about how society should change, frequently illiberal and authoritarian and have no political punch. The point is you still need that voice of anger.

Here’s a taste of Mr Pilger’s idealistic anger, from the pages of the New Statesman:

Returning to Texas, I am struck again by those so unlike the redneck stereotype, in spite of the burden of a form of brainwashing placed on most Americans from a tender age: that theirs is the most superior society in the world, and all means are justified, including the spilling of copious blood, in maintaining that superiority.

No evidence is advanced to support this claim of “brainwashing” and no explanation is offered as to why so many actual Texans should have escaped its burdensome effects. Though the reader is left to presume that, however this brainwashing works, it leads inexorably to a presidential “blood fest” and the “killing [of] yet more brown-skinned people.” The same article also tells us that “Condoleezza Rice… has worked assiduously to deny the Palestinians justice” and states as fact “liberal democracy’s shift towards a corporate dictatorship.” Sadly, the particulars of such things are left to the reader’s wilder imaginings.

Wild imaginings are, of course, a signature of Mr Pilger’s rhetoric, along with the aforementioned anger and unrealism. As illustrated in December 2003 by his enthusiastic support of Ba’athist thugs and jihadist fantasists: “I think the resistance in Iraq is incredibly important for all of us. I think that we depend on the resistance to win so that other countries might not be attacked.” The precise nature of the “resistance” – its methods and lineage – didn’t seem to trouble Pilger; nor was he unduly concerned by the mismatch between that noble resistance and concepts of democracy, human rights, etc. One might, for instance, hesitate to champion the likes of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who in January 2005, a week before Iraq’s parliamentary election, said: “We have declared a bitter war against the principle of democracy and all those who seek to enact it.”

What mattered to Pilger, and mattered a great deal, was “deal[ing] a blow to the US Empire” – a point on which he was later happy to elaborate. Asked in January 2004 whether the “anti-war” movement should really be supporting al-Zarqawi and his associates, the Voice Of Conscience™ replied: “Yes, I do. We cannot afford to be choosy… We have no choice now but to support the resistance, for if the resistance fails, the Bush gang will attack another country. If they succeed, a grievous blow will be suffered by the Bush gang.” Two months later, Pilger described British, American and Australian troops as “legitimate targets” and revealed the true, fiendish scope of America’s ambitions: “Unless the United States is defeated [in Iraq], we’re likely to see an attack on Iran, we’re likely to see an attack on North Korea and all the way down the road it could be even an attack on China within a decade.”

China indeed. Based on the above, and muchmuch else besides, it isn’t clear how such a worldview could help those “brown-skinned people” who, reasonably enough, prefer democracy to despotism. One might, though, note that Mr Pilger is much more animated by the diabolical schemes he ascribes to America, with its designs on China and rampant “brainwashing,” than he is by, say, North Korea’s concentration camps and gas chambers.

Such is the voice of conscience. Hear it roar. 


Mr Eugenides

A necessary corrective to an ill-judged post from Sunny.

Brian H

"New Statesman magazine is ditching John Pilger as one of its regular columnists,"

It'll take more than that to save that smug and pointless rag.


The Guardian report is in error over that apparently - they've put a correction on the website column about John Pilger.


“liberal democracy’s shift towards a corporate dictatorship."


No cult of leadership now that Bush is gone thank god. Now that "The One"TM is in place I guess that's all behind us and demands that we abandon bi-partisanship and pull together are purely rational.


Pilger denies The One:

"Barack Obama is a glossy Uncle Tom who would bomb Pakistan."


"deal[ing] a blow to the US Empire"

We have an empire? Cool.


God, Pilger. I forget every now and then that he's still out there, still being an utterly stupid, nasty bastard. And still loved by all the usual suspects.

sackcloth and ashes

John Pilger is a fact-free zone. He's also a genocide denier when it comes to Kosovo:

He is proper scum in anyone's language.

Steve in San Diego


Pilger long ago became a nasty parody of the truth-telling crusader he imagines himself to be. I flicked through a few of his columns and they’re dense with boilerplate, lurid fantasy and hugely tendentious claims. So much is just asserted, as if every right-thinking person must agree and no explanation is necessary. I vaguely recall him claiming that BBC news editors should be charged with “war crimes” for acting as “propagandists” for Bush. I think Andrew Marr was named as complicit, which may amuse some of our regulars.

In the imaginings that Pilger conjures, there are few external agents and threats, few provocations or causes, either valid or debatable; merely an imperious American urge to do violence. (Or, as he describes it, America is “constantly waging war against much of humanity.”) Then there’s his infamous statement that London tube passengers were killed by “Blair’s bombs”. But as the links above show, Pilger is willing to distort history to further his “anti-imperialist” narrative. All in all, not the most obvious model of “a conscientious voice”.

carbon based lifeform

So the left needs more people that are angry, unrealistic, sectarian, illiberal and authoritarian?

Pure genius.


Cack like Pilger's might be entertaining as performance art. I actually would be entertained for a short while by listening to him rant, with suitable breaks for the audience to laugh. It reminds me of the PoMo poetry stylings featured on this blog.

Still, though, it *is* a bunch of cack.


No, no, Pilger's right, I have always believed that I and my compatriots are superior to all other peoples on the planet, and Lord knows I have spilled lots and lots of blood to protect our high place on the food chain. To think it was all a lie. All a lie!

Oh well, water under the bridge.

Mike H

Pilger wrote a lot about Cambodia during the early days of Pol Pot. While he (later) turned against "Project Year Zero" and blamed it all on Reagan and the US, I could only imagine what kind of hero worshiping gems that are surely amongst that body of work.

Bob Williams

Having lived in Texas most of my life, I must admit there's something to what he says. I really want to kick his ass.

sackcloth and ashes

I don't live in Texas, Bob, and I've only been to Austin once - but I want to kick his ass too.

Here's another of Pilger's finest moments - smearing anti-war activists who have the nerve to count civilian casualties in Iraq accurately, rather than just inflate figures for the sake of it:

Karen M

David, have you seen Mary Jackson's link?

"His very name, which means "pilgrim" is holier-than-thou. Of Chaucer's Canterbury pilgrims he is the Pardoner, cold-blooded and self-righteous. This self-styled "voice of conscience" inspired the late Auberon Waugh to coin a verb "to pilger", meaning to report in a sensationalist manner in order to reach a foregone conclusion."


Yes, thanks. The “foregone conclusion” bit is very apt. On beginning a Pilger article, there is an awful sense of predestination. It’s rather like reading the insufferable Seumas Milne, or Gary Younge, whose every article leads inexorably towards sightings of racism, real or imagined.

Horace Dunn

As a teenager I had a sense, rather as Sunny Hundal seems to have, that when extremists battle it out, some sort of accommodation – that is to say, a sensible middle ground – will be found. But even before I left my teenage years, I’d worked out that this was not so. Two reasonable arguers might well alight upon a workable middle ground, but when you have dogmatic interlocutors you cannot expect to find an accommodation. I can’t help thinking that there is a false paradigm in operation here: as if setting a leftist like Pilger against, say, a rightist like Anne Coulter will necessarily rub off the rough edges of our discourse and leave us with something smooth and workable. It’s a nice idea, but plainly unworkable. Putting Pilger and Coulter together in a room would likely result in coarse entertainment, but there would be little chance for intellectual involvement.

Whether you’re “left” or “right” – and I put those words in inverted commas precisely because this is seemingly where the false paradigm emerges – you must surely test the arguments being put to you and decide upon their merits. If someone like Pilger makes stupid statements then you shouldn’t indulge him simply because he’s notionally “on your side”. But isn't this obvious?



“Whether you’re ‘left’ or ‘right’ – and I put those words in inverted commas precisely because this is seemingly where the false paradigm emerges – you must surely test the arguments being put to you and decide upon their merits.”

One of the many things that puzzle me is how often I’ve been called “rightwing,” usually by people who aren’t quite able to explain why that is. They seem to use the term pejoratively to describe just about anything they happen to dislike, or feel they should be *seen* to dislike by others like themselves.

Horace Dunn


Quite so. Back when I was a teenager I remember a man who voted conservative, but who wanted to support the aims of CND (because he was in favour of nuclear disarmament - let's leave aside whether CND's policies at the time were likely to lead to such a goal). The two things didn't go together, culturally, at that time (and probably still don't) so he found that he was a bit of an anomaly. Why? And why should you, David, be pigeon-holed, and therefore, dismissed, as being right wing? As you suggest, it's become a simple pejorative term. Having hung around on this site for quite a while now I see that it's a pretty gay-friendly place to be, for example. So, maybe you're right wing, but you're gay-friendly and that don't make sense. You're also pretty nice to the ladies and have spotted that they're quite smart too. So you can't be right wing, then ... and yet...

You get the picture. As I said, the whole thing seems based on a false paradigm - the left/right thing. But this has been going on since I was a youngster. We realised that it was silly then, and we’re still talking about it now. And it still means that the likes of Sunny Hundal feel the need to embrace arse-wits like Pilger because, despite everything, the Pilgers of this world somehow are fighting the right (in the sense of correct) corner. For heaven’s sake.



It’s a strange feature of our times that if, for instance, you say people should be judged on the merits of their arguments rather than by the group they supposedly belong to, you’ll most often be attacked by people who say they’re on “the left”. If you argue that people aren’t interchangeable just because they share a particular pigmentation or sexual interest, grumbling is most likely to come from much the same direction. When I see attempts to control the terms of debate or to shut down thought before it can happen, ostensibly in the name of “sensitivity,” I most often find those attempts coming from people who say they’re on “the left”. And if a person doesn’t want an open debate to take place and wants to define in advance what kind of language is permissible and which subjects are off-limits, that usually indicates the weakness of their position. And, more to the point, an awareness of just how weak that position is.

It goes without saying there are plenty of honourable exceptions to the above, some of which have been noted here, and the situation will doubtless vary in emphasis from one country to another and from one generation to another. But here, right now, the most bizarre contortions I can see are among people who call themselves “progressive” or “on the left”. And not feeling much sympathy with those contortions is now apparently “rightwing” and thus, by default, a sign of wickedness.

sackcloth and ashes

'Private Eye' once did a piece in 1983 lampooning Pilger's 'The Truth Game', called 'Pilgerama'. Sadly, I can't find a copy of it anywhere.


Bush Derangement Syndrome, a fatal case. Extreme Leftists are more vulnerable to catching it as their immune systems have been undermined by decades of illiberal ranting.

He embodies that large group of people who define themselves by who they oppose.

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