It’s not often I praise the BBC for producing real journalism. Further, it is with some disbelief that I find myself applauding Jane Corbin, who I will struggle till my dying day to forgive for her despicable piece of Israeli propaganda parading as reportage a few years back on the Israeli navy’s attack on the Mavi Marmara aid ship to Gaza.
Nonetheless, Corbin has now fronted a truly disturbing revisionist documentary on Rwanda, called Rwanda’s Untold Story. The programme’s argument is that the official story about a straightforward genocide by the Hutu majority of Rwanda’s Tutsis 20 years ago is highly selective and entirely misleading. One scholar suggests that the narrative we have been fed is the equivalent of reducing the Second World War to the Holocaust and claiming nothing else of significance happened.
What the documentary demonstrates forcefully is that Paul Kagame, the hero of the official story of Rwanda’s genocide, was almost certainly the biggest war criminal to have emerged from those horrifying events. Kagame led the Tutsis’ main militia, the RPF. He almost certainly ordered the shooting down of the Rwandan president’s plane, the trigger for a civil war that quickly escalated into a genocide; on the best estimates, his RPF was responsible for killing 80% of the 1 million who died inside Rwanda, making the Hutus, not the Tutsis, the chief victims; and his subsequent decision to extend the civil war into neighbouring Congo, where many Hutu civilians had fled to escape the RPF, led to the deaths of up to 5 million more.
Not surprising then that Kagame is championed by Britain’s own biggest war criminal, Tony Blair. But the rot has spread much further. Rwanda, now praised as a model democracy under Kagame, is in truth a police state, where the president kills or locks up all opponents, fixes the elections, and has made any questioning of the official story he created – that the Tutsis were the exclusive victims of the genocide – a crime.
The BBC has not had to dig up any new information to make this programme. It’s all been available for years. But no one apart from a few experts – academics, UN military personnel who were there, UN investigators, and Kagame’s former, and disillusioned, inner circle – have dared to speak out.
The real criminals, as ever, it seems, have been the western powers and the UN. They have happily paraded their remorse at failing to intervene at the time of the genocide (presumably because their self-confessed error helped to justify the subsequent wave of bogus “humanitarian interventions” in the Middle East). But what the documentary makes clear is that Blair, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and many others have helped to whitewash Kagame’s crimes against humanity and provide a veneer of legitimacy to his current oppressive rule. Anyone who has threatened to blow the lid, like Carla del Ponte, the chief prosecutor at the UN’s international tribunal on Rwanda, has been forced out.
But as I watched the programme, one thing struck me forcefully in particular, though it was not referred to by Corbin: what were the journalists who crawled all over the Rwanda story for years doing? How were Blair, Clinton and Annan allowed to forge the myth of a simple Hutu genocide of Tutsis without serious challenge from serious reporters working for serious newspapers that were supposed to be making sense of these events for us?
From my own experience covering Israel-Palestine, I can guess what happened. The reporters on the ground feared straying too far from the consensus in their newsrooms. Rather than telling their editors what the story was (the model of news production most people assume to be the case), the editors were creating the framework of the story for the reporters, based on the official narrative being promoted in political and diplomatic circles. Correspondents who cared about their careers dared not challenge the party line too strongly, even when they knew it to be a lie.
Rwanda also offers a telling example of how such group-think works, and how a non-expert far from real events but schooled in a kind of London or Washington consensus on foreign affairs ends up policing the limits of possible thought in a way that strips us, his readers, of the right to hear a counter-narrative.
The guilty party in this case was George Monbiot, often seen as one of the most radical and original thinkers publishing in the British mainstream liberal media. Two years ago he wrote an ugly attack, entitled “Naming the Genocide Deniers“, on two scholars, one of them the renowned Ed Herman. Monbiot eventually dragged in a host of other thinkers, including Noam Chomsky, accusing them of being “genocide belittlers” for not turning on the pair at his instigation.
The crime committed by this tiny group was that they had raised the possibility that the official story of the genocide in Rwanda – as well as of some of the massacres in the Balkans – might not be entirely historically accurate, and that the accounts might have been distorted for political advantage. Monbiot, uninterested in assessing their claims or addressing the facts, abused them for straying from the official narrative. Monbiot might like to reconsider his behaviour, for which I and others criticised him at the time, and issue a long-overdue apology.
That aside, Monbiot’s disgraceful accusations are a useful illustration of how powerful is the emotional, imaginative and possibly financial grip of the mainstream media on journalists, even those feted for their independence.
It is with that context in mind too that one should tip one’s hat to the BBC and, reluctantly, to Jane Corbin for doing their jobs for once. Rwanda’s Untold Story reminds us how rarely journalists actually engage in the myth-busting, truth-telling work they claim to be bedrock of their craft.
Sadly, the Youtube link I watched this on was quickly removed, on copyright grounds. Those in the UK should be able to watch it on iPlayer for a while longer. Others will need to keep their eyes open online or hope it is shown on BBC World.
Jonathan Cook is an award-winning British journalist based in Nazareth, Israel, since 2001.
He is the author of three books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
- Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish State (2006)
- Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (2008)
- Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair (2008)
He has also contributed chapters and essays to several edited volumes on Israel-Palestine.
In 2011 Jonathan was awarded the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. The judges’ citation reads: “Jonathan Cook’s work on Palestine and Israel, especially his de-coding of official propaganda and his outstanding analysis of events often obfuscated in the mainstream, has made him one of the reliable truth-tellers in the Middle East.”
The same year, Project Censored voted a report by Jonathan, “Israel brings Gaza entry restrictions to West Bank”, one of the most important stories censored in 2009-10.
Jonathan’s reports and commentaries have appeared in the Guardian, the Observer, the Times and the New Statesman (London); The International Herald Tribune and Le Monde diplomatique (Paris); Al-Ahram Weekly (Cairo); The National (Abu Dhabi); The Daily Star (Beirut); The Middle East Report and Washington Report on Middle East Affairs (Washington); and The Irish Times (Dublin). He has contributed to many online sites, such as CounterPunch, Israeli Occupation Archive, Al-Jazeera.com and Electronic Intifada.
He has been a senior consultant and lead writer on two major reports by the International Crisis Group, a leading think-tank based in Washington and Brussels dealing with conflict resolution.
- Back to Basics: Israel’s Arab Minority and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
- Extreme Makeover? (II): The Withering of Arab Jerusalem
There is a Wikipedia page about Jonathan.
Jonathan is the only foreign correspondent to be based in Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel. He explains the significance of his choice of location:
“Most reporters covering the conflict live in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, with a handful of specialists based in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The range of stories readily available to reporters in these locations reinforces the assumption among editors back home that the conflict can only be understood in terms of the events that followed the West Bank and Gaza’s occupation in 1967. This has encouraged the media to give far too much weight to Israeli concerns about ‘security’ – a catch-all that offers Israel special dispensation to ignore its duties to the Palestinians under international law.
“Many topics central to the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians, including the plight of the refugees and the continuing dispossession of Palestinians living as Israeli citizens, do not register on most reporters’ radars.
“From Nazareth, the capital of the Palestinian minority in Israel, things look very different. There are striking, and disturbing, similarities between the experiences of Palestinians inside Israel and those inside the West Bank and Gaza. All have faced Zionism’s appetite for territory and domination, as well as repeated attempts at ethnic cleansing. These unifying themes suggest that the conflict is less about the specific circumstances thrown up by the 1967 war and more about the central tenets of Zionism as expressed in the war of 1948 that founded Israel and the war of 1967 that breathed new life into its settler colonial agenda.”
Experience and qualifications
Jonathan graduated from Southampton University in 1987 with a degree in philosophy and politics, and then earnt a postgraduate diploma in journalism from Cardiff University in 1989. He gained a masters degree in Middle Eastern studies, with distinction, from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University, in 2000.
He worked on regional newspapers before becoming a staff journalist at the Guardian in 1994. He later joined the Observer newspaper. He moved to Nazareth to become a freelance reporter in September 2001.