Robert Fisk: Blair’s lies and linguistic manipulations
My Dad used to call people like Blair a ‘twerp’. But I fear he is a vicious little man
The Independant, 19 May 2007
By great good fortune, I studied linguistics at Lancaster University. Indeed, I read the books of Noam Chomsky, many years before he became a good friend of mine; to be honest, when I read his work, I thought Chomsky was dead. What a pleasure, therefore, to discover that he shared my world – and my views on Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara.
But I have to admit a moment of regret this weekend. Lord Blair is going from us. His self-serving memoirs will, of course, remind us of his God-like view of himself (and, heaven spare me, we share the same publishers) but I doubt if Chomsky’s « foregrounded elements » will save him. A « foregrounded element » was something unusual, a phrase placed in such a way that it warned us of a lie to come.
Take George Tenet, the CIA Ernest Borgnine lookalike who sat behind Colin Powell when the US Secretary of State was uttering all those lies about weapons of mass destruction in February of 2003. It now turns out that George is mightily upset with the White House. He didn’t refer to evidence of WMD as a « slam dunk », he says – a basketball phrase which I don’t need to explain. He was talking about the ability of the US government to persuade the American people to go to war based on these lies. In other words, he wasn’t lying to the American president. He was only lying to the American people.
I was struck by all this last month when I came across one of Blair’s lies in my local Beirut paper. Sandwiched beneath a headline which read « Saudi reforms lose momentum » – surely one of the more extraordinarily unnecessary stories in the Arab press – it quoted our dear Prime Minister as saying that he was very angry that a review committee had prevented him from deporting two Algerians home because their government represented a « different political system ». The « foregrounded » element, of course, is the word « different ». This is the word that contains the lie. For the reason why the committee declined to return these men to their country was not – as Blair well knew – because Algeria possesses a « different » political system but because the Algerian « system » allows it to torture to death its prisoners.
I have myself interviewed Algerian policemen and women who have become perverted by their witness of torture: one policewoman told me how she now loves horror films because they remind her of the repulsive torture she had to watch at the Chateauneuf police station in Algiers – where prisoners had water pumped into their anuses until they died. I still remember the spiteful and abusive letter that the Algerian ambassador to London wrote to The Independent, sneering at Saida Kheroui whose foot was broken under torture. She was a « terrorist », this man announced. This is the « different » political system that Blair was referring to. Ms Kheroui, by the way, never emerged from prison. She was murdered by her torturers.
Blair knows that the Algerian security forces rape women to death. He knows this. So how does he dare lie about the « different » political system which allows police officers to rape women? We Europeans now make a habit of lying about this. Take the Belgian government. It deported Bouasria Ben Othman to Algeria on 15 July 1996 on the grounds that he would not be in danger if he was returned to his country. He died in police custody at Moustaganem. A « different » political system indeed.
And now I have before me Blair’s repulsive « goodbye » speech to the British people, uttered at Sedgefield. Putting the country first didn’t mean « doing the right thing according to conventional wisdom » (Chomsky foregrounded element: conventional) or the « prevailing consensus: (Chomsky foregrounded element: prevailing). It meant « what you genuinely believe to be right » (Chomsky foregrounded element: genuinely). Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara wanted to stand « shoulder to shoulder » with Britain’s oldest ally, which he assumed to be the United States. (It is actually Portugal, but no matter.) « I did so out of belief, » he told us. Foregrounded element: belief.
Am I alone in being repulsed by this? « Politics may be the art of the possible (foregrounded element: may) but, at least in life, give the impossible a go. » What does this mean? Is Blair adopting sainthood as a means to an end? « Hand on heart, I did what I thought was right. » Excuse me? Is that Blair’s message to the families of all those dead soldiers – and to the families of all those thousands of dead Iraqis? It has been an « honour » to « serve » Britain, this man tells us. What gall.
Yes, I must acknowledge Northern Ireland. If only Blair had kept to this achievement. If only he had accepted that his role was to end 800 years of the Anglo-Irish conflict. But no. He wanted to be our Saviour – and he allowed George Bush to do such things as Oliver Cromwell would find quite normal. Torture. Murder. Rape.
My Dad used to call people like Blair a « twerp » which, I think, meant a pregnant earwig. But Blair is not a twerp. I very much fear he is a vicious little man. And I can only recall Cromwell’s statement to the Rump Parliament in 1653, repeated – with such wisdom – by Leo Amery to Chamberlain in 1940: « You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go. »