World Cup window on Russian realities and British hypocrisy

With an outstandingly successful World Cup in Russia now drawing to a close, the praise and enjoyment of so many global visitors contrasts with the awkward and hypocritical absence of British dignitaries.

Despite the England team lasting out till the semi-finals, neither Theresa May, her ministers or any member of the royal family attended the event.

Lamentably, nor did any member of the opposition – a perhaps more understandable avoidance by Jeremy Corbyn given the hateful media and political backlash he would have inevitably faced.

The official government reason for the boycott, we’re reminded, was the ‘Novichok attacks’.

May and Home Secretary Sajid Javid have placed Russia directly responsible for the poisoning of five individuals in and around Salisbury, including, now, the sad death of Dawn Sturgess.

With the police now treating this as a murder inquiry, linked to the original poisonings, Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson wasted no time in raising the political stakes, again pointing the finger at Russia: “The simple reality is that Russia has committed an attack on British soil which has seen the death of a British citizen. That is something that I think the world will unite with us in actually condemning.”

Yet, to date, not a single piece of substantive evidence has been provided to the public proving any such “simple reality”.

The actual truth behind this whole murky affair may be a long time emerging, But it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to see the propaganda opportunity for Britain in its efforts to vilify Putin and Russia. And what could have been more ‘timely’ than this latest tragic development right in the middle of Russia’s showcase World Cup?

Whatever one’s view of Putin, is there anyone in this situation less likely to order such ‘attacks’, or wish for such adverse publicity? One can only imagine Putin’s displeasure in discovering that some ‘in-house’ or errant element had carried out such actions ‘on his behalf’ or for ‘Russia’s benefit’.

One of the more facile variations put forward here is that Putin does these kind of things just to ‘sow confusion’, or to encourage ‘multi-conflicting’ narratives to keep the Western public ‘fixated on Russia’. All part of the ‘Putin playbook’, all-knowing liberals tell us. Again, the resort to slogan charges rather than evidence-based proof.

Beyond such limp conjecture, any half-savvy member of the public could come up with half-a-dozen more plausible scenarios and set of motivations.

Alongside the UK state’s unproven story of Russian culpability sits the vacuous conformity of British journalism. Any ‘quality’ media would be all over this story, seeking to mine the deeper truths. Instead, an effective silence prevails. Where are all the Pulitzer-spirited investigations?

This should be a golden moment for investigative journalism. Yet, there’s been little more than sheep-like repetition of government statements and, shamefully, obedient adherence to government D-Notice-type prohibitions on reporting about the Skripals.

It also now transpires that Newsnight’s senior diplomatic correspondent Mark Urban met with Sergei Skripal on several occasions in 2017, before he was poisoned. What, we may reasonably wonder, as Craig Murray does, was the ‘scope’ of Urban’s ‘research’, and why does his ‘understanding’ of the Salisbury events seem to fit so closely with the official line?

It’s remarkable how readily the BBC accept and amplify the standard narrative. Even while security correspondents like Frank Gardner mention competing explanations, there’s no serious scrutiny of the UK’s deeply suspect claims, silences and omissions.

British deceit and subterfuge over Salisbury is matched only by the hypocrisy of its selective support for other brutal states. Imagine if the World Cup finals, with English or other UK participants, were being played in Saudi Arabia or Israel. Would we be seeing such ‘moral’ non-attendance?

Unlike the unverified claims against Russia over Salisbury, here are two states with decisively proven records of murdering innocent civilians in Yemen and Gaza. Yet there’s been no major condemnation of the slaughter carried out by these regimes. Nor will our lofty media pursue and expose the dark part the UK plays in such killing, through arming, training and placating them.

Britain condemns Russia’s human rights record, but would never employ the same language or punishments against Israel or Saudi Arabia. What’s the likelihood of UK/Western sanctions being placed on these serial violators of international law?

In similar vein, Britain castigates leaders like Assad for ‘killing his own people’. Yet, why is the ill-treatment of one’s ‘own’ populace deemed so much more heinous than the bombing and killing of foreign ‘others’? Does this not count as abuse of human rights? Is this not part of any country’s human rights record?

Continuing its imperialist crimes, Britain has recently helped murder a million souls in Iraq, left Afghanistan in chaos, bombed Libya back to the dark ages, and fueled regime change catastrophe in Syria.

It’s not only the UK’s backing of sundry despots, it’s Britain’s own murderous conduct around the globe that renders it unfit to lecture anyone on human rights. And it’s a measure of the ever-assumed ‘but we’re the good guys’ mantra in the West that you will almost never see or hear that description of Britain as a criminally active rogue state even suggested by our deeply-conditioned media.

Citing the shrill UK media commentary and coy insinuations over Russia’s rights to host the event, Media Lens noted: “It would never occur to a Daily Mail/Guardian journalist that Britain and its leading allies might be considered ‘less enlightened corners of the world’, given their staggering record of selecting, installing, arming and otherwise supporting dictators in ‘less enlightened corners’, including Saudi Arabia as it devastates famine-stricken Yemen.”

While Russia is being isolated and boycotted, the perpetrators of vast Western war crimes are approved and celebrated.

The BBC’s Jeremy Vine and the Guardian’s Andrew Rawnsley have just conducted expansive interviews with Madeleine Albright, in which she warned about the dark forces of fascism, Putin and the ‘threat to Nato’. Yet, neither found time to challenge ‘Maddy’ on Nato’s own aggressive build up across the Balkans, or its criminality in places like Libya. Nor did Vine or Rawnsley think it appropriate to mention Albright’s own high criminal part in the elimination of half a million Iraqi children.

While such villains are feted, anyone questioning the prevailing anti-Russia narrative is deemed a ‘Putin apologist’. Such is the darkening climate of liberal McCarthyism. For Media Lens, the Guardian’s own gushing editorials on Nato suggests “a corporate newspaper that has now fallen under a kind of ideological military occupation.”

Following Russia’s elimination from the World Cup, Nato tweeted its own approval that the four remaining sides were all from Nato states.

In this ‘Manichean World Cup’, it’s ‘our’ team of ‘benign Nato protectors’ up against the ‘malign Russian menace’.

Inconveniently, while a posturing British establishment and Nato-friendly media have snubbed and demonised Russia, the World Cup has offered fans and observers much more positive insights on Russian life and society.

England manager Gareth Southgate also seemed averse to the pre-contest scaremongering, offering high praise to Russia over its well organised tournament and hospitable treatment of his team.

Bringing commendably balanced comment and illuminating images from Russia, Alex Thomson
offered this further key reminder over the poisoning story back home: “Worth noting at this point that the British Govt has yet to provide any evidence connecting Novichok poisoning of Skripals to the Russian Govt, still less the latest contamination.”

Thomson also tweeted a moving image of Volgograd (once Stalingrad), in commemoration of the millions of Russians sacrificed in the heroic battle against Nazi Germany: “And at the setting of the sun we might pause and remember Stalingrad. To no other place on earth does humanity owe such a debt.”

Here, at least, was a welcome window on the real complexities of Russia, past and present, rather than the ‘looming threat’ posed in David Dimbleby’s pre-World Cup propaganda piece,Putin’s Russia, in which he warned: “these are dangerous times for Russia, and dangerous times for Russia are dangerous times for us.”

As England prepared for their semi-final match against Croatia, a jingoistic Independent pondered the ‘diplomatic problem’ for the English players having to shake hands with Putin if they made it to the final.

Imagine the same media writing about the dilemma for those players having to meet with Theresa May on their return, a leader currently assisting in the annihilation of Yemen.

With England, rather than ‘football’, coming home, media-hyped ‘English expectation’ and ‘English entitlement’ has now given way to more reflective ‘English valiance’. England at play, it seems, is England at war, all part of the same metanarrative of an imperious, mystical and righteous nation, even in defeat: ‘our game’, ‘our bravery on foreign fields’, ‘our right’ to decide who is friend or foe.

Again, though, it’s worth remembering just how much a grandstanding elite and toxic media help feed such notions of ‘English exceptionalism’.

It’s good, and all too human, to get caught up in the passion of the ‘beautiful game’. Nor should we be in any doubt about the obvious connections between sport and politics, notably the ways in which they are most often used to serve powerful interests and ideas. The point is to understand how we are being played.

In a welcome tweet, Gary Lineker has taken Boris Johnson to task for jumping on the political bandwagon by hailing England as returning heroes, reminding us that, as Foreign Secretary, he had actually pushed for England’s withdrawal from the contest.

As this most memorable World Cup reaches its exciting end game, the ‘noble absence’ of the British establishment will have been no loss to the wider-watching world. Hopefully, it will have helped highlight their gross hypocrisy and the enduring crimes of the British state.

Originally published: John Hilley (Zen Politics)

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