May 18, 2004

Bullshit aficionados -- meet your champion!

By Stephen Gowans

Who's more honest: Person A, who openly admits (among friends anyway) to producing bullshit, or person B, who produces bullshit, but wouldn't for a moment think to admit it? It doesn't really matter. The question just popped into my head as I thought about Bob, who's close to the archetype of what person A is.

I know about Bob because I once worked for him. He told me what kind of bullshit he wanted, and I produced it, and got a paycheck in return. Hardly what you'd call a rewarding job, but it was a good deal more tolerable than producing bullshit for people who expected you to believe the codswallop you were producing. And Bob turned out to be generous in his praise, which was another plus. "Wow, that's good bullshit!" he'd exclaim, whenever I'd produced a particularly deceptive piece of work. "Good job!"

So, when I read that Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch used the Abu Ghraib prison horror show to wallop countries the US government frequently takes sanctimonious swipes at, I wondered if Bob had read the same, and nodded his head in approval, exclaiming, "That's good bullshit!" Any aficionado of fine bullshit would. I did.

If you missed it, don't fret. I've reproduced it below. This is truly gifted.

"The biggest victims of this prison abuse scandal are the people in countries like China, Egypt, and Zimbabwe who depend on the United States for their rights. These governments will exploit this and have a ready-made argument to demoralize democracy advocates: 'Even the United States, your biggest champion, abuses people.' [1]"

Now that's fine, premium grade, dung. My dog, who has a bit of the coprophilic streak in her, would approve. Notice how Malinowksi has deftly made the real victims of the prison abuse scandal disappear. You'd think the Iraqis who were abused, humiliated, and tortured were the biggest victims, but under Malinowski's expert manipulations the victims of the US government vanish, to be replaced by victims of the Chinese, Egyptian, and Zimbabwean governments.

Of course, the Abu Ghraib horrors are almost picayune compared to the far larger horrors the US had already visited upon Iraq. There was the targeting of water treatment facilities during the first Gulf War, that led to an epidemic of water borne illness, one US commanders knew would ensue [2]. There was more than a decade of sanctions, that led to over a million deaths - a veritable genocide. There were years of bombing runs. There was an invasion, illegal, based on a lie about weapons of mass destruction, and hardly bloodless. And now there's an occupation. And yet these far larger horrors, with their millions of victims, seem to have slipped from public consciousness, if they were ever there in the first place, while the comparatively insignificant (though deeply disturbing) events at the Abu Ghraib prison bulk large.

But never fear. Malinowski's on the job.

And he doesn't disappoint either. He levels an accusatory finger at governments Washington would like to dominate as human rights abusers, not stepping falsely by mentioning the Palestinian victims of Israel's US-tolerated and supported campaigns of ethnic cleansing. With Israeli bulldozers rolling through a Palestinian refugee camp, crushing homes, and leaving thousands homeless, it would hardly due to mention the US ally, especially with Washington vigorously shoveling $3 billion to the country every year. Apparently the US government -- which Malinowski assures us cares a whole lot about people in China, Egypt and Zimbabwe -- doesn't really have the time of day for Palestinians, who've been dispossessed, shot at, bombed, locked up, assassinated, run over, subjected to collective punishment, and asked to forfeit rights guaranteed to others as a condition of being freed from continued exploitation and domination.

Notice too how the Human Right Watch advocacy director expertly slips in a contradiction without anyone noticing. People in China, Egypt and Zimbabwe depend on the US for their rights, he says. But at the same time he insists the rights of people in China, Egypt and Zimbabwe have been abridged. If that's the case, the US is hardly doing a very good job. Maybe it's the accursed prison scandal getting in the way again. But in the end, we can all rest soundly, knowing our rights depend on the US, even though the country's record going all the way back to the extermination of its aboriginal population is written in the blood of victims swept aside by the logic of imperialist expansion. Yet, Malinowski, a gifted practitioner, presents the US as a champion of human rights, not a serial abuser -- and gets away with it.

His cleverness is all the more evident against the inexpert bumbling of the anonymous writer at the State Department, who -- on the heels of US soldiers attaching electrodes to the penises of prisoners and the US occupation authority shutting down Muqtada al-Sadr's newspaper because they didn't like what it said -- pledged that the US would "continue to push for improved human rights, including halting torture and promoting freedom of the press [3]." That's like the Nazis proclaiming themselves to be champions of the sovereignty of states, and defenders of racial and religious minorities everywhere. The hypocrisy is far too evident, an amateurish job that would never earn squeals of delight from Bob. Still, you have to hand the State Department scribe full marks for chutzpah.

There's a whole lot more praise that could be heaped on Malinowski's fragrant pile, not only by comparison with the unconvincing State Department bilge, but on its own merits, but let me end with this: the bishop of bullshit doesn't let on for a second that Human Rights Watch is in the PR game, fronting for Uncle Sam. It's hard to disguise the reality, but Malinowksi, the gifted legerdemainist, pulls it off.

And that's something bullshit aficionados like me and Bob, truly admire.

1. "U.S. Releases Human Rights Report Delayed After Abuse Scandal," The Washington Post, May 18, 2004.

2. Thomas Nagy, "The secret behind the sanctions: How the US intentionally destroyed Iraq's water supply," The Progressive, September, 2001.

3. "U.S. Releases Human Rights Report...


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Stephen Gowans