BANTAM £17.99 (352pp) £16.99 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

Freedom Next Time, by John Pilger

A hero's blinded eye

John Pilger is the most polarising journalist in Britain. To his fans, he is a lank-haired Australian Messiah, the only man who cuts through the lies of the corporate media to bring The Truth. But his detractors despise him so much they even coined a verb - "to pilgerise" - in his honour: "to present information in a sensationalist manner to reach a foregone conclusion". Few people stand between these two positions, admiring his great skills and exposés but weeping over his occassional follies. I try to.

Freedom Next Time mostly showcases Pilger at his best. There are none of the wild statements that sometimes scar his New Statesman columns. In a long discussion of 9/11 here, he does not repeat his recent claim - based on a single source he has not met - that, unless there was an "extraordinary coincidence", the US government deliberately stood down their defences to let the massacre proceed. Nor does he repeat his statement that he has "seldom felt as safe in any country" as in Saddam's Iraq, a claim he usually follows up by presenting Blair's Britain in contrast as "a police state".

Instead, he writes up the superb investigative films he has made over the past five years. Two chapters in particular are world-class journalism, reaching the heights of Pilger's old friend and mentor Martha Gellhorn. "Stealing a Nation" tells the shamefully under-reported story of how the British government ethnically cleansed thousands of its own citizens - a "crime against humanity", according to the International Criminal Court. In secrecy, during the late 1960s and early 1970s, British governments "tricked, coerced and finally expelled the entire population" of the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean, "to give the principal island, Diego Garcia, a paradise, to the Americans for a military base".

Pilger brilliantly cuts from melancholic close-ups of islanders, dumped in distant countries, homeless and suicidal, to the high politics of Whitehall. After telling of dead babies and wrist-slashing mothers, he unearths memos in which civil servants declare they must present the islands as empty, "because to recognise that there are permanent inhabitants will imply there is a population whose democratic rights will have to be safeguarded". Pilger draws a subtle comparison with the response to a threat to the Falkland Islands a few years later, when the invasion by the Argentines was (rightly) depicted as a fascist monstrosity.

The chapter "Apartheid Did Not Die" is just as contrarian and just as true. Pilger returns to South Africa after 30 years, the ban imposed by the apartheid tyranny having dissolved into dust. He finds that the ultra-neoliberal policies imposed by the IMF and World Bank - with the complicity of the ANC elite - have pickled the racial divisions of the old regime and suffocated dreams of black freedom. More black farmers have been evicted under ANC democracy than under apartheid, and the World Bank is even lobbying the ANC to stop paying wages to whole sections of public sector workers, suggesting instead they offer "food for work".

He offers a blizzard of bleak human stories that lie behind the figures: while white average income has risen by 15 per cent under the ANC, average black household income has fallen by 19 per cent. Yet again, the promise of Thatcher-style trickle-down economics is a hallucination, and yet again racial divisions become stronger. This is an end to apartheid?

And yet... despite these hand-grenade passages, Pilger's flaws can be spotted elsewhere. His concluding chapter on Afghanistan declares "the liberation of women is a mirage", but Afghan women do not agree. A coalition of aid agencies including Oxfam and Save the Children - hardly stooges of the US government - conducted detailed polls that found a vast majority believe they are better off since the fall of the Taliban. Yet Pilger says "the plight of rural women is often more desperate now, because whereas the Taliban... punished crimes against women", the warlords do not. Talibanism was itself a crime against women, reducing them to chattels. The Taliban were the perpetrators of crimes against women; in what bizarre circumstances could they be presented as their protectors?

Worse still, Pilger praises the Taliban's eradication of heroin crops, approvingly quoting an aid worker who calls it a "modern miracle". How is this something for a left-winger to praise? This eradication was achieved by mass terror, with the Taliban slaying bitterly poor farmers dependent on the opium crop - a tactic the most hardline in the Bush administration now want to repeat by trashing the crops and leaving the farmers to die. The humane solution is legalisation of the heroin trade, not praise for the most vicious and insane drug eradication programme of all. This passage is a reminder that when Pilger is good, he is great, but when Pilger is bad, he reeks.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Arts and Entertainment
The singer, who herself is openly bisexual, praised the 19-year-old sportsman before launching into a tirade about the upcoming Winter Olympics

books
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Cryer and Ashton Kutcher in the eleventh season of Two and a Half Men

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn