The death of a young Calgary journalist and four Canadian soldiers in the killing fields of Afghanistan has been unblushingly exploited by the country’s mainstream media to buttress its propaganda effort on behalf of Canada’s deadly and tragic role in the American-led imperialist project in the Hindu Kush. This, of course, is to be expected.
More unseemly has been the enthusiasm with which Canadian newspapers, especially those like the Calgary Herald (owned by the neoliberal, rabidly pro-Israel CanWest organization), have used this tragedy to make the deeply misleading case that brave Canadian journalists are “covering” the occupation of Afghanistan in the sense Western reporters covered, say, the War in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s.
This is a pretty picture, but completely fraudulent. Watching television coverage of the tragedy, one cannot escape the nauseating sense that certain senior CanWest executives are privately gleeful at the loss of these five young lives, especially that of their employee Michelle Lang, and are prepared to crassly take advantage of the tragedy to justify the cowardly, intellectually dishonest and jingoistic way they cover events involving the Canadian military in Afghanistan.
Literally tens of thousands of words have been written about this tragedy, far more than if only Canadian soldiers had lost their lives. This is not a criticism. It is natural that any group will react with an expression of solidarity when it has unexpectedly lost one of its own. This is why police officers turn out by the hundreds when one of their number falls on the job. Even taxi drivers can be counted on to do the same thing.
But it is troubling that not one of the words written or spoken in the mainstream media seems to have tried to examine in a critical way what this naive young woman was trying to do in Afghanistan, or the circumstances that led her to be there.
One senses that enthusiasm for the true Afghan “mission” lingers within the ranks of the Canadian Forces (CF). We are not speaking here of the bogus “reconstruction” effort within that country, which in reality is virtually meaningless and non-existent, but the actual fighting with the indigenous Pashtun Resistance that opposes the occupation of their country for economic and strategic reasons by the United States and its proxies. After all, although very little is said about this other than by the occasional grief-stricken family member, soldiers understand that the only way to meaningfully advance their military careers is by actually fighting wars, not participating in the disdainfully dismissed peace keeping efforts so beloved by the Canadian public.
So, as long as a sufficient percentage of soldiers have the reasonable prospect of surviving uninjured, a certain degree of enthusiasm for the fight, for any fight, will persist within their ranks. But one also senses that the CF are coming to respect the tenacity, skill and courage of the Pashtun Resistance, and so they enter the fray with due caution and a realistic sense of the risks they are taking when they deploy in Afghanistan.
Can the same thing be said of the “embedded” Canadian “journalists” accompanying our soldiers in their occupation duties? One thinks not. One suspects this is treated as a lark in Canadian newsrooms, a career advancer about as dangerous as a fast ride on the back of someone else’s motorcycle. Certainly, when they return to their newsrooms, a few weeks in Afghanistan is justification for testosterone-heavy macho braggadocio in the cause of serious career advancement.
So, will any Canadian journalist employed in the mainstream media write critically and knowingly about what led to the completely inappropriate assignment of a young woman reporter who hitherto had covered nothing more dangerous than a Alberta Health Services meeting to the job of war correspondent in a foreign killing field? It is doubtful.
Obviously, the CF “got it.” They tried to keep their journalistic charge well “behind the lines,” in a safe area. Unfortunately for them, and for her, there are no “lines” in Afghanistan other than those that separate the minority ethnic groups with which we have sided and the Pashtun majority of the country, with which we have foolishly gone to war. Moreover, the Pashtun Resistance is becoming bolder and more skilled. They may well have intelligence about who is going where with the CF soldiers. It is their country, after all.
Our forces take these tame journalists into the field, of course, on the instructions of our cynical government, because there is an opportunity for propaganda. The dead reporter’s naive coverage of Canada’s “reconstruction” efforts, examples of which have been proudly published by CanWest, clearly illustrates this. Similar examples have been produced by other reporters, who have had the good luck to survive their short tours of duty. In reality, the bulk of the “reconstruction” financed by Canadian taxpayers to the tune of billions of dollars a year consists of building what might be called “armoured roads,” highways with steel plate buried as deep as 30 feet on either side to hinder partisans from burying anti-tank bombs under the roadway.
The happy villagers interviewed by Canadian reporters provide window dressing. They are dangerous window dressing, we may assume, because readers can be certain that many of them change sides at night and join the Resistance, just as occupied people have done for all of history and will always do. The soldiers of the CF certainly know this, even if the innocent reporters sent on excursions by CanWest and companies of its ilk do not. Do you think the word doesn’t go back to Resistance leaders that a young woman journalist was in the region yesterday, and may be again tomorrow? Do you think the Resistance does not understand human nature, that the troops accompanying such a person will be distracted from their military duties when the morrow comes?
Likewise bogus is the continually repeated claim by their employers that Canadian reporters in Afghanistan are risking their lives to inform Canadians about what is going on there. They are risking their lives, alright, but to engage in a misleading propaganda effort to justify the continued occupation of Afghanistan. Of course, as innocent occupiers in a strange and dangerous landscape, they identify with their military protectors. This is the whole purpose of “embedding” reporters with their country’s troops. Fed a steady diet of government propaganda and suffering from a version of “Stockholm Syndrome,” they regurgitate the narrative of the military brass and Harper government point by misleading point.
Seriously, readers, have any of you ever read a single word from an embedded Canadian reporter in Afghanistan that even made mention of our role in the historical ethnic conflicts in that country, that included an accounting of what is being done with our “reconstruction” dollars, or that had more than a passing reference to the corruption of the government of Hamid Karzai?
Look at this from the perspective of the Pashtuns. Your country is occupied by foreign troops, who conduct themselves in violation of your fundamental religious principles. (Have you seen the “Infidel” T-shirts worn as a gesture of bravado by Canadian troopers? Not in a Canadian news report, you haven’t.) The foreigners have allied themselves with your minority ethnic enemies, who are lording it over you as if this were their country. A Canadian citizen of Afghan origin – a Quisling, in the language of another war of occupation and resistance – has been given absolute authority over you. A government of your ethnic enemies is looting the land and killing your compatriots and family members. What would you do? You would resist, as you always have, as has every generation of Pashtuns faced with the same thing in their tragic and strategic land. And you would succeed, as you have against every invader since Alexander the Great, including the mighty British Empire and the Red Army.
Do you think the Pashtuns distinguish between the soldiers occupying their country and the journalists “embedded” with the occupation forces? Would you in the same circumstances, if Canada were occupied by Muslim troops from abroad, accompanied by armoured and uniformed Muslim “reporters”? Not bloody likely. You would view them as a legitimate target.
And are those journalists anything but a functional part of the occupation force, and therefore from the Resistance perspective a completely legitimate target? As seen from the homes of the Pashtuns, they obviously are not. The flags on their coffins when they go home prove it.
Canada’s role in the occupation of Afghanistan is senseless, immoral and ultimately doomed. Our corporate media do us no favours by sending inexperienced reporters there to write jingoistic drivel in the company of armed minders, with whom they quickly come to identify. The owners of those media companies have no right to be surprised that their employees are targeted by the Resistance. Like the government of Canada, they knowingly contributed to the death of Michelle Lang. As Canadian citizens, we do ourselves no favours by assuming that the “news” reports created by these people, whether done cynically or naively, reflect the truth of the continuing Afghan tragedy.