“Arthur Li, the chair of @HKUniversity Executive Council told @BBCNewshour that he cannot call the Tiananmen “events” a massacre because he wasn’t there to verify it. I assume, by the same logic, that he cannot call the Nanjing “events” a massacre either? Beijing’s trumpet”
A tweet 23/12/2021 by an associate director of RUSI (UK’s Royal United Services Institute).
This short blog was written before Russia invaded China. It is prescient in the sense that it already warns us of the west’s sophistry and hypocrisy when it comes to manipulating reality in order to massage public sentiment with false but effective truths. It reveals the cycle of mutual antagonism caused by these lies, and the failure to acknowledge and value these as harmful to global (and therefore western) security. I am not an expert on geopolitics or international relations but I can see the lies covering the west’s imperial and criminal past and present in the way it supports regimes like Israel and Saudi Arabia. And I can see how these sustain the cycle of antagonism leading to more violence. The manipulation of historical realities to whitewash western crimes is in itself anti-democratic – it manipulates the representation of political values and deceives the meanings and sense held-in-common by the masses.
In short, a comment by a senior security think tank executive accused a politician of being deceitful about the truth of the massacre of Tianneman Square. And accused the politicians of being a trumpet for Beijing. Of course we should know the truth of the massacre. However, at the same time such think tank executives act as trumpets for, for example, Saudi Arabia and Israel, by covering up their massacres, by being silent about them and by encouraging them with the supply of money and arms. To point this out leads to accusations of ‘whataboutery’ as an attempt to point to a ‘as if’ disconnected observation to discredit the speaker as it were.
However I suggest that so-called ‘whataboutery’ is an important and relevant observation signaling the need to admit the anti-democratic and dangerous manipulations of truth being exercised by the Western powers and that these are in themselves a danger to global security.
So, to return to my response to the above tweet.
Subsequently, when I pointed out that similar criticisms could be made of other regimes that attempt to erase massacres or genocides from history, such as Turkey and the Armenian genocide, and Israel and the Nakba, for example see “Burying the Nakba: How Israel Systematically Hides Evidence of 1948 Expulsion of Arabs” this was effectively dismissed and characterized by Eyal as ‘whataboutery’.
But, I suggest, this point would only be ‘whataboutery’ if the original critic is also just as willing to critique these other revisionists. It seems pretty clear from the analyses I cite and arguments I produce below that my point is not ‘whataboutery’ because there is a political bias within the western establishment and its security advisors.
This isn’t a critique of RUSI in general, but explores the potential implications of Eyal’s tweet for the way it addresses “defense and security”.
The implication I draw from this is based upon the failure of Eyal to acknowledge the sophistry of, for example, Israeli-zionist deniers of the Nakba (catastrophe) inflicted upon the indigenous Palestinian population by Jewish-zionist terrorists in the 1950s (aided and abetted by the British). It is only an implication but has more weight when past analysis of RUSI’s output is considered.
For example see: “Why is the BBC presenting RUSI as objective analysts of the Middle East?” From 2015. This analysis points to the importance of sensitivity to the way security debates are framed, how this framing may ensure a partisan state-sponsored outlook at the expense of objectivity, and of the harms being caused by military interventions by western ‘Allies’.
The implication, then, not surprisingly, is this: that a self-identified independent think tank on British security in reality does analyses from the perspective of the western powers and NATO. But why does this matter?
On a softer, less certain note, it is important to ask whether this kind of manipulation works to reduce rather than increase global security.
This matters: a) because it shows how so-called facts are being manufactured (as effective truths) by so-called liberal democracies to manipulate the mood, ‘atmospherics’ and public sentiment in order to ensure policies are publicly acceptable; and b) because the manipulation of truth, and of so-called ‘public sentiment’ is essentially anti-democratic. For example, it ensures public opinion, on things like the decision to attack Iraq, or to support Saudi military attacks in Yemen, is based on an unrepresentative, narrow and ultimately misleading perspective.
For example, support of a so-called western ally such as the Israeli-State, may serve to stimulate military aggression to undermine democracies globally, because Israel, despite its relatively small physical size, is a disproportionately powerful global marketeer of military technologies, as described in detail by Halper in his book: “War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification”.
So, there is a potential domestic threat to domestic security and democracy in the name of promoting western and global security.
This raises the question of the basis of contemporary geopolitical alliances and antagonism.
To what extent are these based on, for example, a) perceived threats from (selective) ideologies of failed-states or tyrannical (Islamic) regimes (but, contradictorily, not some others); or on b) a perceived need to ensure things like energy (oil, gas, electric) security that depends on other nation-states, including perceived antagonists (threats to energy security) such as Russia and China. How valid are the accepted truths of western security regimes under the banner of organizations such as NATO?
To what extent are these manufactured effective-truths self-fulfilling, because the inherent antagonisms assumed by those truths, and the biased manipulation of public sentiment, actually aggravate backsliding anti-democratic tendencies, and provoke aggression from other global actors.
The problem, of course, is that other nation-states practice the same self-fulfilling anti-democratic manipulations, provoking the same transnational aggressions. So we seem to be stuck in a cycle.
One solution, ultimately appears if we view most nation-state policy as driven by corporatism and the pursuit of effectively unregulated (at transnational or infra national levels) capitalism. This solution may be found, in the longer term, in current anti-capitalist trends.
To finish off then,: what is the most plausible explanation for the “whataboutism” response to my observation that historical revisionism has been practiced by many nation-states, including Israel with respect to the Nakba and not just China with respect to Tianneman square?
I would argue that the “whataboutery” response stems from, a possibly unconscious, awareness that RUSI’s culture is inherently biased towards western imperial expansionist intentions and targets, and itself practices sophistry and manipulates public opinion in anti-democratic ways. And, that this is itself a threat to global security.