Stop the War Coalition has been campaigning against government war policies for ten years, but a Daily Telegraph columnist says where Iran is concerned we need a Start the War Coalition.
9 December 2011
Don't Attack Iraq meeting organised by Stop the War 05.12.11
In a low-point for the Telegraph blogosphere earlier this week, Dan Hodges wrote that Britain needs a ‘Start the War Coalition’ to function as a response to the existing Stop the War Coalition (StW) which has been working to prevent and stop British wars since 2001.
Running with the Orwellian logic of ‘War is Peace’, Hodges argues that ‘peace demands’ a ‘Start the War Coalition’.
His primary arguments are, like so many other journalists advocating an attack on Iran, that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to ‘wipe Israel off the map’ – something the Iranian President did not actually say, but which is nonetheless repeated in antagonistic reports in UK news – and of course the fabled nuclear-threat, for which there is no concrete evidence.
Aside from being misinformed, the article is aggressive, referring to Tony Benn, George Galloway and Lindsey German (the President, Vice-President and Convener of StW respectively) as ‘jihadists of peace’. The caption of the article’s accompanying image of Ahmadinejad reads: ‘He really wants the bomb. What are we going to do about it?’ It beggars belief that with no evidence, such a caption can be justified. And the imperial assumption that ‘we’ have the moral authority to do something about it persists.
But getting caught-up about one aggressively pro-war article is of course futile. Hodges need not worry; the function of his proposed ‘Start the War Coalition’ is already provided for both in government and the mainstream media. It is a coalition which includes the BBC News, Sky News, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Mail, and many other media outlets.
For example, in a BBC report by John Simpson on 30 November, which provides a brief overview of relations between Britain and Iran since 1900, Simpson describes Iran as ‘a country that doesn't play by the rules - a country that seems close to having a nuclear bomb’.
In what can only be described as a flippant remark, Simpson claims that British involvement in Iran during the last century ‘may seem like ancient history’ to ‘us’. It seems he thinks that ‘we’ are unable to make a distinction between ancient history and that within living memory.
In an article for the BBC website, also on 30 November, Simpson writes: ‘Hard though it is for the British to understand, in Iran they are seen as a superpower which has intervened decisively in their affairs time and again over the past two centuries.’ This is posed as some kind of special Iranian perspective on events, one that the British might not for some reason comprehend, despite the fact that Britain has indeed intervened decisively in Iranian affairs time and again over the past two centuries. Simpson evasively implies that this is just one take on British-Iranian history rather than plain fact.
Simpson downplays Britain’s international role: ‘It is 60 years since the British regarded themselves as a superpower’. It is certainly true that the UK is no longer a superpower; it is, however, a nuclear armed state, and a strong ally of other nuclear armed states. Further, both the UK and France have stated they would use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, and the UK is planning the replacement of the Trident system.
In a recent article for the New Statesman, John Pilger explains: ‘The media war against Iran began in 1979 when the west's placeman Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, a tyrant, was overthrown in a popular Islamic revolution. The "loss" of Iran, which under the shah was regarded as the "fourth pillar" of western control of the Middle East, has never been forgiven in Washington and London.’
The overwhelming majority of journalists however, refuse to acknowledge that, in this instance, sanctions and the suspension of diplomatic relations are to do with anything more than nuclear weapons.
Many journalists will uncritically echo the viewpoints of western policymakers, perhaps unaware of how their work is misleading readers and viewers. Consider for example the response we received from Julian Borger, the diplomatic editor for the Guardian, to two questions we put to him early in November about his reporting in the run-up to the IAEA report:
Q: Do you not think that your headline that says ‘IAEA claims Tehran working on advanced warhead’ is misleading, perhaps educating readers incorrectly?
A: Not at all
Q: Why was an image of a US nuclear test used as the main image for an article about exposing an ‘Iranian nuclear weapons design and testing facility’ (which the IAEA report didn't do, incidentally)?
A: To illustrate the destructive power of nuclear weapons, and therefore the importance of the issue. There is no reason to suppose Israeli or Iranian bombs would look any different.
Whether he believes his own answers or not is another question. Such an attitude to a profession whose primary duty is to inform verges on negligent.
On 5 December, at the very StW meeting (entitled ‘Don’t Attack Iran’) that sent Hodges into a tizzy, Lindsey German described the BBC’s reporting: ‘you have the constant “drip, drip, drip” of what can only be called propaganda’. Indeed, BBC news about Iran hasn’t made calls for war or exaggerated the IAEA report to the same extent as other new organisations, but the cumulative effect of producing alarmist reports on the intentions of Iran’s nuclear programme, over a longer period of months or years, has a similar effect in creating public consent for the possibility of war.
With a compliant media, and journalists such as John Simpson claiming that ‘diplomatic relations alone will never be enough to keep the peace’, Dan Hodges should be able to rest assured that he has many influential people on side for his cause.