Civil Society: Peoples’ Movements or “DOLLAR CHASING DEMOCRACY VENDORS”?

First published by Gateway (Malaysia) in December 2012 and Re-published by Daily News (Sri Lanka) on 19 April 2013

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By Kalinga Seneviratne

The year 2011 was marked by the birth of the ‘Arab Spring’ where the long­repressed Arab masses, and youth in particular, rose up against aging dictators. At last it seems that freedom and democracy will dawn in the Arab world, but, when these uprisings moved to Libya and now to Syria, big question marks have come up whether these are really peoples’ movements or are they manipulated from outside with sinister motives?

The Anglo­American media – such as the BBC, CNN and a host of others including Al Jazeera (the English channel mainly staffed by Anglo­American journalists anyway) – have manipulated news feeds to cheer lead some “uprisings” such as in Libya and Syria, while quickly forgetting others such as in Bahrain and ramblings in Saudi Arabia. Thus, one wonders whether we are seeing a new era of colonialism through manipulated global news feeds instead of gunboats, where local civil society groups A Syrian man walks amid destruction in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo. AFP are becoming “democracy vendors” chasing the “donor” funds.

When youth uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt got rid of long­serving pro­Western dictators it seemed as if the youth of the Arab world were finally rising against dictators who had served Western capitalism well but not their own people. But, when the revolution spread to Libya and the haste at which the controversial ‘Responsibility To Protect ‘ (R2P) formula – for long espoused by the International Crisis Group led by former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans – was adopted by the EU and the U.S. to create a no­fly zone in Libya under the pretext of protecting civilians in Benghazi from a possible assault by pro­Gaddafi Forces, the Western powers’ manipulation of the Arab Spring uprisings soon became blatantly clear.

Once China and Russia were pressured into abstaining from vetoing the ‘no­fly zone’ resolution at the UN Security Council the path was paved for regime change. The NATO bombing campaign in Libya against civilian population centres under Gaddafi rule, made a mockery of the R2P formula. As many critics inside and outside the West have pointed out these NATO bombing campaigns and the way Gaddafi and his son were killed amounted to war crimes.

On November 1, 2011 Luis Moreno­Ocampo, the International Criminal Court ‘s chief prosecutor, told the United Nations that NATO troops would be investigated alongside rebel soldiers and regime forces for alleged breaches of the laws of war during the battle to overthrow Col Muammar Gaddafi. But, compared to the hounding of the Sri Lanka government after it crushed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to end the 30­year old civil war there, the Western media and the human rights organisations, which consistently accuse developing country governments of war crimes, have been silent on this one. Now a new battleground seems to be Syria, where the Western media, and BBC in particular, has been exposed for spreading propaganda against the Assad regime in Syria as news.

Rape and torture – weapons of democracy peddlers

Eric Draitser, a geopolitical analyst at Stopimperialism.com observed that rape and torture have become standard issue in the propaganda arsenal of Western media. “Reports from organizations such as Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that claim to document the systematic use of rape and torture by the ‘enemies’ of the West have become usual fair in the soft war against whomever the imperialists have chosen to attack”, he noted. “We have seen these claims used to legitimize aggression against Libya, Iraq, and now Syria”.

As a typical example he points out an article in UK’s The Telegraph under the heading ‘Syria using rape as weapon against opposition women and men’ published on May 29 this year. It quotes New York based HRW Deputy Director for the Middle East, Nadim Khoury at the beginning of the article as saying: “In detention facilities rape is clearly used as a form of torture to humiliate and degrade people, and to bring back the wall of fear.” There is no reference to Syria in this quote, but the rest of the article is a series of quotes by “refugees”, who have fled across the border from Syria and “activists”. They are all anonymous, because only a common first name is used. Draiter points out that there is no mention of actual Syrian Forces engaging in these actions. Instead, it is all chalked up to ‘militias loyal to the Assad regime’, without explanation who they are.

 

In the run­up to the attacks against Libya last year, the lie that Gaddafi Forces were using rape as a weapon was planted in the public mind, providing NATO the human rights cover they so desperately needed for their “intervention”. Of course, as is so often the case, the fact that these claims were later proven untrue went conveniently missing from the standard narrative. “But, by the time the myth was debunked, the PR damage was done: Gaddafi was a monster, the Benghazi ‘rebels’ and NTC (National Transition Council) were heroic freedom fighters, and Libya was in dire need of the benevolent bombs of NATO” argues Draiter.

Who makes these claims are also important in the propaganda war. The UNHRC, HRW, Amnesty International and countless other organizations which are dependent on funding from sources mainly within the US, lent credence to such charges. The fact that they are often quoted by the Western media and in turn relayed without criticism or questioning by the mainstream media around the world, gives legitimacy to Western interventions and ‘regime change’ campaigns such as in Libya.

Manipulation of imagery

In May, the Russian TV channel RT exposed a BBC news scam where they have posted on their website a picture of a small child jumping over dozens of white body bags under the heading “Syria massacre in Houla condemned as outrage grows”. The caption stated that the photograph was provided by an activist and cannot be independently verified, but said it is “believed to show the bodies of children in Houla awaiting burial”. The actual photograph was taken in March 2003 in Iraq by photographer Marco di Lauro, who works for the picture agency Getty Images. When he came forward and claimed its copyright the BBC quickly took it off their website.

A very useful tool the Western media has used, especially the BBC, CNN and Channel Four in Britain is the video clip provided by activists taken on mobile phones. Often they broadcast these without authentication and international human rights agencies including some UN agencies lap onto these to attack governments for human rights violations. Syria, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Libya, Iran, Russia and a host of other countries whose leaders are not subservient to Western interests have faced the wrath of this news manipulation in recent years.

The new face of colonialism

How Gaddafi was overthrown and a new government was set up is a very important lesson for countries of the South who are either rich in resources or is strategically important for Western powers. While demonizing Gaddafi with trivial stories, the Western media ignored facts, which would have shown that Gaddafi did look after his people well, even though they were not allowed to criticize him like the dictators in most pro­Western Arab regimes do.

For example, in Gaddafi’s Libya education was free to everyone from elementary school right up to university and post­graduate study, at home or abroad, Libyans enjoyed free health care, with a ratio of one doctor per 673 citizens. Libyans were given interest free housing loans, free land for farmers. In 2010, Libya had no external debt and its reserves amount to US$150 billion. Abdurrahim Abdulhafiz El­ Keib, who served as Libya’s Interim Prime Minister from November 24, 2011 to November 11, 2012 has spent decades in the United States teaching at Alabama University. He is also a former employee of the Petroleum Institute, based in Abu Dhabi, and sponsored by British Petroleum (BP), Shell and France’s Total. Current Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was a Geneva­based human rights lawyer, who is believed to have played a crucial role in persuading the French President Nicolas Sarkozy to support the anti­Gaddafi Forces.

It is interesting how the new form of colonialism works. First you get the so­called civil society groups who are funded and trained by the Western powers to provide a pro­democracy movement from within (or among exile groups in the West). When these attract violent reprisals from Security Forces (who are often provoked) it creates the excuse for “humanitarian intervention” the so­called ‘R2P’ gospel. Three hundred years ago it were the Christian missionaries who followed the gunboats, today international human rights groups like HRW and International Crisis Group have taken over that role to civilize the natives.

They would help to provide the cover of a new dawn of democracy with a sham election ­ which will be praised by the Western media as a reflection of new found freedom for the long repressed people ­ and this will pave the way for their choice, usually a technocrat who has been based in the West and a “native” just by name to take over the helms.

NGO funding under scrutiny

No wonder that recently, governments around the world have begun to look at such democracy movements with a high degree of suspicion. With the rapid escalation of “democracy movements” across the world, governments, local researchers and media, along with a number of independent websites modeled on ‘wikileaks’ have been uncovering mounting evidence of Western funded local NGOs acting as “content providers” to Western media outlets to discredit their own governments. Lately these pro­ democracy movements have even taken a new face as corruption campaigners and environmental activists.

Two of the biggest funders of such “pro­democracy” campaigners are the US­based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Open Society Foundation run by financial speculator George Soros.

The list of projects funded by the NED across the world in 2011 is available on their website and it makes interesting reading.

In Myanmar 56 projects have been funded to the tune of USD 3.4 million, in China 23 projects have received a sum of USD 5.16 million, while in Egypt 40 projects were funded for a sum of USD 2.5 million, Iraq had 51 projects at USD 3.4 million, while four projects in Syria were funded for a sum of USD 649,000 and Libya received USD 473,000 for five projects. No projects were funded in Bahrain (where the US’s 7th Fleet is based and pro­democracy uprisings by pro­Iranian Shia groups have been crushed) while only one project each in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states were funded, though these countries lack democracy, but are subservient to the West.

Most of the projects generally cover areas such as human rights, pro­democracy and alternative media, labour rights and good governance.

The Saudi project was for women’s voices in community affairs, in China most of the money were allocated for human rights groups, while in Myanmar most of the funding was for projects to strengthen civil society and promote human rights.

There are hardly any projects that address issues such as international trade justice, human rights of migrant workers, promotion of public funding for social welfare or promotion of the millennium development goals as a human rights issue. There are however, many projects that promote development of private enterprise. The fact that most of the projects are geared towards confronting governments on human rights issues such as freedom of expression and right to demonstrate should raise the question whether those NGOs are peddling democracy for dollars.

In the past year or so, a number of governments such as India, Russia, Sri Lanka, Venezuela, Bolivia, Egypt and Malaysia have taken action by legislating to monitor foreign funding to NGOs and make them accountable.

In February last year, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh blamed US­funded activists for the protests against a Russian­built nuclear plant in Kundankulam in Tamil Nadu state, and de­registered three local NGOs involved in the protest. India has also moved to tighten regulations on foreign funding of NGOs.

Egypt also began a crack­down on foreign­funded NGOs with 43 NGO workers including 19 Americans, charged in an Egyptian criminal court over illegally using foreign funds to encourage unrest in the country last year.

Egypt’s ruling military council vowed to investigate how pro­democracy and human rights organisations are funded, and has repeatedly said it will not tolerate foreign interference in the country’s affairs.

Last July, Russia passed new laws that require NGOs receiving foreign funds to register as “foreign agents”. President Putin accused Hillary Clinton of “sending signals” to the opposition to rise up in revolt and called Russians working for foreign­ funded NGOs “jackals”. The new law would force many NGOs to register as “foreign agents” and submit to stringent monitoring, facing crippling fines for failure to do so.

Recently, The Malaysian government has been worried about foreign funds flowing into the coffers of NGOs that are campaigning against corruption, but, are actually aligned with the election campaign of opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, a well­known pro­Western politician in the country.

Prof Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim the nation’s well­known historian, who also sits on the board of Integrity Institute of Malaysia said foreign funding for NGOs makes the public very uncomfortable and suspicious of the recipients.

“It also makes one to question whether the NGOs are in it for the money or for a cause,” he noted. “They claim to fight for justice and human rights, but foreign funding raises so many questions. It’s not morally right to receive such funding, but if you have to get it, please declare it publicly”.

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Author: lotuscommnet

Dr Kalinga Seneviratne, who was born and educated in Sri Lanka has spent 20 years in Australia and is currently based in Singapore. He is a journalist, a radio broadcaster, television documentary maker, media analyst and an international communications lecturer. Currently Kalinga teaches Asian regional media systems and journalism and news media at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. From 2004 to 2012 he was the Head of the Research division at the Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC) in Singapore. He has also taught international communications at the University of Technology Sydney and Macquarie University (Australia). He has authored and edited many books on media and communications issues. His expertise are in development communication, journalism and feature writing, community radio and alternative media, and international communications. He has won an United Nations Media Peace Award (1987) and the Inaugural Singapore Airlines Educational Award (1992) from the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia for services to the Australian community radio sector. He was the Australian and South Pacific correspondent for the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency from 1991-1997 and still writes for them IDN IN-Depth News on a freelance basis. He has done reporting assignments for IPS from a number of countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Kalinga was a member of a research team from 1991-1993 at the University of Technology Sydney looking at ‘Cultural Diversity and Racism in the Media’ in Australia. Kalinga is still a practicing journalists who writes for many publications across Asia and also produce radio and television documentaries.

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