Ramzy Baroud – Remembering John Pilger, a Friend to Palestinians and All Oppressed Nations

John Pilger, who died on 30 December, inspired many young journalists across the world.

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of the Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books including: “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (2019), “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (2010) and “The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People’s Struggle” (2006). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net.

Cross-posted from Common Dreams

Picture by Colin Hurst

The first and the last time I met John Pilger in person was in 2018. 

I was invited to deliver a speech at the New South Wales Parliament in Sydney, Australia. Among the large crowd were many that I knew and respected—a former foreign minister, socially conscientious members of parliament, morally driven intellectuals and activists, and so on.

As I stood at the podium, glancing at the crowd, I saw John Pilger. He had a big smile on his face, as if he was in great anticipation to hear me talk.

The reality was entirely different. I would have rather listened to John than to lecture before him.

As I expressed my many “Thank yous,” I made a point of emphasizing that I have modeled my journalism around that of John Pilger.

The painful truth is that, growing up in a refugee camp in Gaza, we rarely affiliated Western media, intellect, or journalists with truth-telling, in general. Though, with time, I realized that this wholesale assumption was hardly fair, associating bias with everything Western had its own justification, if not logic.

Aside from the typical corporate biased media narrative on Palestine, the Middle East, the Arab and Muslim world—in fact, the entirety of the Global South—there were those who were identified as part of the “left.”

We were told that those supposed leftist are the exception to the norm. But experience has taught me that, aside from ideological nuances, even the so-called left still saw the non-Western world based on a different set of unique biases. They perceived the rest of the world through judgmental eyes, as if they, and they alone, had access to a moral code according to which the rest of us must be filtered.

Those “leftists” are only against certain kinds of wars, especially if they perceive military interventions to be channeled by imperialist agendas. For them, so-called humanitarian intervention is morally justified, although there is no evidence that Western interventions of that kind ever bode well for any country.

Ultimately, that reasoning tends to have little impact on the outcome of international conflicts. Worse, some leftists often find themselves siding with the very imperialist powers they supposedly loathe, whenever it is convenient.

And then, there are the John Pilgers of this world: Principled to the core, and able to understand, dissect, and convey the political, cultural, and historical complexities of conflicts to millions of people around the world.

“We are beckoned to see the world through a one-way mirror, as if we are threatened and innocent and the rest of humanity is threatening, or wretched, or expendable,” Pilger said at his Sydney Peace Prize acceptance speech in 2009.

For the Australian-born journalist, whose impact on our understanding of major global conflicts is arguably unparalleled in modern history, these were not mere words but principles to which he adhered to throughout his life, until his passing on December 30.

In his book and documentaryThe New Rulers of the World, Pilger brilliantly connects the dots of major global issues—social injustice, inequality, the so-called war on terror, and more—demonstrating the powerful maxim that “injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Pilger’s enemies were never a certain race, a nation, or even an ideology. He simply served as the sharp critic and, at times, the mobilizer against all sorts of government-orchestrated injustices, whether within national boundaries or internationally.

He challenged imperialism in all of its forms, colonialism wherever it may be. This put him on a crash course with Washington, Canberra, London, and other Western capitals.

His dedication to the causes of Indigenous people, from Australia to Palestine to Indonesia, were all reflected in great volumes and documentaries, such as UtopiaPalestine is Still the Issue, and The New Rulers of the World.

Pilger’s powerful texts as an academic, an author, and a journalist must not distract from his equally powerful and hard-hitting documentaries as a filmmaker. More important than the many awards he had achieved as a filmmaker, starting with The Quiet Mutiny, was the impact of these films on the way that millions of people around the world perceived issues, conflicts, and wars that had only been communicated through non-critical eyes.

“Many journalists now are no more than channelers and echoers of what George Orwell called the ‘official truth.’ They simply cipher and transmit lies,” he said during an interview with David Barsamian in 2007.

Though, at times, some intellectuals of Pilger’s caliber may have deviated from their commitment to the uncompromising moral code of principled journalism and intellect, Pilger’s legacy suggests otherwise.

He stood firmly on the side of oppressed people, spoke strongly against the injustices meted out by the powerful, and uncompromisingly defended free speech whenever it was threatened.

Indeed, Pilger was one of the most stalwart supporters of Julian Assange in his war against censorship in all of its forms.

“This is not about the survival of a free press. There is no longer a free press… The paramount issue is justice and our most precious human right: to be free,” Pilger wrote in an article in July 2023.

Before our meeting, I exchanged many messages with John. The first time he responded to my request for an endorsement of a book, I was truly thrilled. I was also moved by his kind response to a young author who was merely starting his own quest for a just world.

Many messages and years later, we finally met in person. I quickly made my way to him through the crowd to thank him for all that he has done for Palestine and for all the oppressed people of this world.

His death, especially during these difficult times, is a major loss for humanity. But I know that, deep down, John must have known that things would eventually get better. He did his part, and much more.

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