Wednesday 23 January 2013

Statement of the Prosecution at the Trial of the Nursery Rhyme "Four and Twenty Blackbirds"

Your Honour, and the Court

I would like leave to state the case against the so-called nursery rhyme named “Four and Twenty Blackbirds”, which has been masquerading as a children’s ditty. You know the rhyme of course, and no doubt think it is quite innocent.

But that's not true, Your Honour and the Court!  In reality, this allegedly harmless rhyme masks racism, anti-Semitism, anti-feminism, cruelty towards animals, and also promotes social inequality and feudalism, not to speak of disdain for economic progress and the modern capitalistic society. It also tends to make kids into psychopaths, promotes the use of alcohol and insults the independence of the nation to boot.

You wish me to prove what I am saying, Your Honour and the Court? Nothing simpler. I shall at once proceed to do so.

Let us remind ourselves of the exact wording:

Sing a song of sixpence, a pocketful of rye
Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie
And when the pie was opened, the birds began to sing
Wasn’t this a tasty dish to place before the king?

The king was in his counting-house, counting out his money
The queen was in the parlour, eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden, hanging out the clothes
When along came a blackbird and pecked off her nose.

We'll begin with the title itself, “Four and Twenty Blackbirds.” Your Honour and the Court, please note that the particular species of bird mentioned is black. Why not, let’s say, bluebirds, or turtledoves, or something similar? Can it be for any reason other than racism?

No. It cannot.

Well, let us proceed further. What are the words of the first line of this infamous rhyme? “Sing a song of sixpence, a pocketful of rye.” Now, a sixpence is not a coin of the modern era, in any nation. Therefore, the rhyme orders us to sing of an obsolete coin of a foreign ruler – asking us, in other words, to head back to the despicable colonial era when the sixpence-using British overlords held the nation in a state of subservience. Can you imagine how the heroes of our freedom struggle would have reacted to this?

Not very well, Your Honour and the Court. Not very well at all.

As for the pocketful of rye, one immediately thinks of rye whisky – a terrible drink, full of the demon of alcohol, which causes so much suffering, and which our enlightened leaders have so often spoken against even though economic realities have constrained them from prohibiting its production and consumption. A pocketful of it must mean a hip flask – that instrument of the devil which allows the slaves of the drink to have it on their persons at all times. Can you imagine the depravity of a rhyme which asks children to sing of it?

But does this terrible ditty end its evil there? No, Your Honour and the Court, it does not. Have a look at the second line: “Four and twenty blackbirds, baked in a pie.” Can you, Your Honour and the Court, conceive the barbarity involved in baking a single bird in a pie, let alone twenty-four of them – all, while they are alive? For the very next line says, “When the pie was opened, the birds began to sing.” One can wonder whether the birds were singing or screaming in agony – probably the latter. But this rhyme, by encouraging children to think shrieks of suffering are the sound of music, directly condones and promotes sociopathy! Who knows how many Jack the Rippers or Bluebeards had their genesis in listening to this in childhood, Your Honour?

It’s not just the arrant cruelty in confining twenty-four innocent avians in a piece of pastry to be baked alive. Can you imagine, Your Honour, what those innocent birds must have done inside the pie in their pain and terror? Yes, you are right to look disgusted, Your Honour. So, on top of its other crimes, this alleged children’s rhyme throws hygiene right out of the window!

But, let us for the sake of argument take the line that the pie was a “dainty dish”, a gourmet creation. What, Your Honour, was done with this pie? Was it shared out among the common people or even those who had crafted it? No, it was “set before the king.” In such insidious ways does this rhyme promote royalty, social inequality, and the feudal system!

Now, where was the king when this pie was set before him? He was “in his counting house, counting out his money.” In other words, he was a miser, hoarding his gold instead of using it for the benefit of his subjects – and, since he had a “counting house”, he was a usurer as well, lending to the desperate at exorbitant rates of interest. Do you know, Your Honour, who in popular consciousness is supposed to have a “counting house”? The Jewish moneylender, that’s who. Yes, just look at it with any attention, and this monarchist, animal-cruelty-supporting, feudal rhyme is anti-Semitic as well.

But so far we’ve barely scratched the surface of its crimes. While the king was in his counting house with his blackbird pie and his money, what was the queen doing? Why, she was in her parlour, eating plain old bread and honey. Not a fragment of that pie for her, even though she is royalty too. Whatever happened to the equality of the sexes, Your Honour and the Court? Where have the feminist values gone?

Meanwhile, what of the underclass over which these decadent royals rule? The only representative of that underclass who finds any mention is a poor maid, who is “out in the garden, hanging out the clothes.” Not for her even a piece of bread or a drop of honey, let alone any of that blackbird pie. And, in an age when the economic downturn calls out desperately for increased consumer spending, what does this rhyme want us to do? Buy a washing machine? No, we are to “hang out the clothes” to have them dried by profitless, untaxable, sunlight and air. I ask you!

But, let us not forget this poor maid. Drudgery is not the sum of her misfortunes. As she is hanging out the clothes, a blackbird, no doubt enraged beyond tolerance by the screams of its relatives, comes along, and, not being able to reach the perpetrators of this horrible crime, “pecks off her nose”. Can you imagine the poor girl’s future? She has to go through life disfigured through no fault of her own. And the children end up laughing and clapping at her fate, as though it’s funny. How many psychopaths are we creating with this rhyme, Your Honour? How many?

I call for justice!

I don’t blame you for changing complexion with horror at the litany of this rhyme’s sins, Your Honour. In fact, I’d say you were justified in going white.

But then that would be racism too.

Copyright B Purkayastha 2013

El and the Big Roon

In this, as a mental exercise, I set out to write a deliberately kiddie story. It was surprisingly difficult.

The title is inspired by Jerry Pinto's book, Em and the Big Hoom, which I have not read.



El had just come home from music practice and was fishing for her keys when she met the Big Roon.

El had her own house key since her mum worked till nine at the hotel downtown. Her dad had left so long ago that El could scarcely remember him. She couldn’t have any friends either because of this, since she had to come straight back after school and the tuitions of the day. Tuesday was music class.

El hated music class. She hated every single moment of it, but her mum said she’d paid for six months’ lessons and she couldn’t afford the money to be wasted. Besides, El might grow to like it.

El did not like it. Two months had passed and she hated it more than ever each day. Nor was her music teacher happy with her, and said so, frequently. But they had to tolerate each other for four more months, and that was all there was to it.

Well, El thought, as she did every Tuesday evening, that was over for another week. Tomorrow was mathematics, and that was another dreaded subject, but at least it wasn’t quite as bad as music.

El was fumbling in her pockets as she climbed the narrow concrete steps, past the scraggly bushes growing by the wall, a frown on her face as she suddenly discovered that she couldn’t find the key. It should have been in her right pants pocket. She was almost certain she’d put it in her right pants pocket. And she was equally almost certain that she’d had it in her pocket when she’d got off the bus just now.

But she wasn’t completely certain, and she didn’t seem to have it in her pocket now, that was for sure.

“Damn,” she swore, a little self-consciously, and then with a rising sense of frustration. “Damn! Where is the damned key?”

Something rustled in the scraggly bushes by the wall, as if a large object had suddenly been frightened by the sound of cursing and tried to hide itself out of sight. El, who was still fumbling for the key, turned and peered suspiciously into the dusk.

Something was there, squeezed down into the space between the bushes and the wall, and trembling so that the scraggly twigs quivered and shook. El frowned, and, forgetting the key for the moment, jumped down from the steps. It might be a dog, lonely and scared, and she had a soft spot for dogs, She’d always wanted a dog, but of course her mum would have hit the roof if she ever had dared ask for one.

“Hey dog,” she called. “Here, boy. Something the matter? Are you lost?” Still speaking, she pulled back the twigs and peered into the bush.

Two eyes stared back at her, huge and pale and watery, set in a mass of tangled hair so thick she couldn’t make out any features at all. El wasn’t even frightened. How could anyone be frightened of a mop of hair and a pair of colourless eyes?

“Hey!” she said. “Who are you?”

The...creature...squealed with fear and tried to shrink away. “Don’t hurt me, please,” it begged in a high treble. “I’ll go right away. Just don’t hurt me.”

“I’m not going to hurt you.” El stood back and crossed her arms across her chest. “So you can come right out of there.”

“Cross your heart?” The creature blinked cautiously at her. “Cross your heart and hope to die?”

“All right, all right,” El said. “Cross my heart. Now come on out.”

There was a rustle behind the bush, and the creature came out. And it came out and came out and came out.

El broke all kinds of records in the standing backwards long jump when all that endless length of hairy creature came crawling out from behind the bush, like a caterpillar which had  somehow grown to the size of a respectable whale. But then it began to push itself together, until it was a rounded lump about half as high as El herself, which meant it wasn’t particularly large at all.

“You aren’t a dog,” El informed it, feeling foolish.

Of course I’m not a dog,” the creature said, shaking itself. “I am the Big Roon.”

“Glad to meet you, I’m sure,” El said unsurely. “I’m El.”

“El?” the creature asked. “What kind of a name is El?”

 “What kind of a name is Big Roon, then?” El replied, indignantly.

“It’s the Big Roon,” the Big Roon explained. “Not just Big Roon.” 

“Oh.” El thought about that for a moment. “You mean there are other Roons?”

“Of course there are – ever so many others. Just among my brothers and sisters I have the Huge Roon, the Large Roon, the Middling Roon, the –“

“I got the idea,” El said hastily. “You’ll have to excuse me though – I never read about any Roons in our textbooks in school.”

“That’s all right,” the Big Roon said magnanimously. “You’ll learn about us eventually, I suppose. Why, we’re famous. Everyone knows all about us.”

“If that’s so,” El challenged, “why aren’t you on TV?”

“But we are on TV,” the Big Roon said. “We’re on TV all over back in Dzschingiskhan. There’s hardly a day goes by that there isn’t a programme on us.”

“Dschingiskhan?” El asked. “What’s that, another country? Somewhere near Pakistan?”

“Pakistan?” the Big Roon asked right back. “I don’t know where that is. Is it somewhere they have green skies and three suns, like back at home?”

El’s mouth fell open. “Are you telling me you’re from another planet?” she demanded.

“Which planet is this?” the Big Roon asked, peering around. “I haven’t been here long enough to find out, so I can’t answer your question.”

“It’s Earth.” El stared at the Big Roon. It was getting very dark, so she had to stare hard. “Do  you know where that is?”

“Earth?” the Big Roon yelped in consternation. “Isn’t that the planet run by monkeys? Ugly, dirty, noisy place where everyone thinks he or she is better than everyone else?”

“What,” El replied. “You mean to tell me you don’t think you’re better than everyone else?”

“That’s different,” the Big Roon replied loftily. “I know I’m better than everyone else. It’s not a matter of opinion.”

El thought about that and decided not to follow down that particular track. “Just how did you get here anyway?”

“I don’t know.” The Big Roon was looking around, a dazed expression in its pale eyes. “I was scroobling home from my school, when all of a sudden there was this flash, and I found myself standing among these bushes while a horrible monster made noises at me and tried to murder me with its claws.”

“Horrible monster? What horrible monster?”

“It was orange and white, and it had a long tail. I hid in the bushes and it jumped over this wall and disappeared.”

El smothered a laugh. “That was Pooshee, the neighbours’ cat.”

“Is it likely to come back?” The Big Roon looked around apprehensively. “Because if it does, we’d better get away from here.”

“Pooshee won’t hurt you,” El said. “You just scared her, that’s all.”

“You weren’t there while it was snarling and clawing.” The Big Roon looked around. “Does it always get so dark round here? When is your second sun coming up?”

“Second sun? We only have the one.”

“You mean – you have to live half your life in complete darkness?” The Big Roon sounded terrified. “How can you find your way about? Don’t you fall off cliffs and things?”

“We have lights.” El looked around. “But now you mention it, it’s night already. We’d better go inside and – oh, damn.”

“What happened?” the Big Roon asked.

“My key. I lost the key. I was looking for it when I met you.”

“Key.” The Big Roon grew an arm from its midsection with which it rooted around at the foot of the stairs for a few seconds. “Is this it?”

El stared and took the key from its hand. “How did you do that? You knew just where it was!”

The Big Roon looked as surprised as it was possible for a mass of hair and a pair of eyes to look. “Of course I did,” it said. “That’s what we Roons do – we’re Finders. Everyone who ever loses anything on Dschingiskhan – and on Folleroo, too, and even on Ubgnair, though that’s a nasty place – comes to us. Why shouldn’t I be able to find it?”

“Um,,,I never heard of a Roon before, you see.” The Big Roon followed her up the stairs, humping itself along slowly like a ball trying to roll uphill. “Come in,” El said impatiently, holding the door open. “Quick, before someone sees you.”

When she looked at the Big Roon for the first time in the light, El realised that it looked rather better than she had thought. Its long, shaggy hair was a deep shade of purple, fading to mauve at the tips, and its eyes were a very, very light blue-green colour that was almost beautiful. “Won’t you sit down?” she said, remembering her mum’s politeness lessons.

“Thanks,” the Big Roon replied, equally politely, and promptly puddled itself into a conical mass on the floor. “Much obliged.”

El sat down opposite it. “So – you said you go to school, didn’t you?”

“Yes, of course I go to school.” The Bog Roon blinked a couple of times. “After all, I’m only three hundred and ninety-three years old.”

“Oh...right.” El tried to decide if the Big Roon was trying to make fun of her, and decided it didn’t have any idea of the concept. “Are you a boy or a girl, then?”

“I’m neither.” The Big Roon sounded shocked. “We Roons aren’t like Grils or Quorgs that we have boy and girl Roons. We’re Roons, and that’s all. Why do you ask?”

“It’s nothing,” El said hastily. “It’s just that, as I told you, I never heard of a Roon before, so I don’t know anything about you.”

“What about you – you said your name was El. I’m sorry if I sounded rude out there asking what kind of name it was.”

“That’s all right,” El responded magnanimously. “My real name is Lopamudra.”

“Then why in the name of the seven suns of Shnorkavagun do you call yourself El?”

“Why? Isn’t it obvious? Just try and go through life with a name like Lopamudra and see how you like it.”

“We have worse names than that,” the Big Roon replied morosely. “My birth name was Eslirukivimitmiznachitrukivimiti.”

“My word,” El replied, horrified. “No wonder you call yourself the Bog Roon.” She was struck by a thought. “Just how far is your...Dschingiskhan...from here? How are you ever going to get back?”

“As far as your first question goes,” the Big Roon replied, sighing so sadly that its hair drooped. “I have absolutely no idea. And the response to your second question is precisely the same.”

There was a brief silence, in which El suddenly recalled other maternal politeness lessons.

“Could I get you something to eat...” she looked the Big Roon over doubtfully. There was no sign of a mouth that she could see, though there must have been some kind of speaking aperture under all the hair. “Or something to drink?”

“I could just do with a nice slice of blenideyton,” the Big Roon said. “Do you have any?”

“Blenideyton? I don’t even know what that is.”

“It’s...a food. I don’t know how to explain it to you. We get it from the Super Duper Mega Astro Mart on Dschingiskhan. We all eat it.”

“Well,” El said firmly, “we don’t have any of it here.”

“Oh dear. And I’m hungry.”

“Well,” El said, “we’ll look in the fridge. There might be something there. At least,” she added to herself, “my dinner will be there.”

“Let’s see what this tastes like,” the Big Roon said, reaching out for a lettuce. The entire bottom half of its body seemed to suddenly split into two. El jumped at the sight of that gigantic mouth, so huge that without the slightest effort the Big Roon popped the entire lettuce in. A moment later it yawped miserably and the lettuce, somewhat the worse for wear, popped out again.

That was no good,” the Big Roon replied. “Maybe this?” It tried a carton of milk, with the same result, and then a frozen chicken leg, a raw egg, and a couple of potatoes, a box of biscuits, and a bottle of Pepsi. Everything was promptly deposited outside again. El began to watch the growing pile on the kitchen floor with alarm.

“Isn’t there anything here that I can eat?” the poor Big Roon sounded almost tearful. “I’m a growing Roon and I need food.”

“What do I tell my mum about the spoiled food?”

“Tell her a Roon from Dschingiskhan tried it, of course,” the Bog Roon said immediately. “Why lie when you can tell the truth?”

“You don’t know my mum,” El said. “Here. Have my dinner.” She watched as the creature emptied the entire bowl of noodles into its mouth. For a moment there was silence, and then the noodles came out again, covering the top of the pile of rejected food like an ice cap on a mountain.

That didn’t work,” the Big Roon pointed out.

“Now I don’t have anything to eat either,” El replied. “So we’ll starve together, because there’s nothing left. And when my mum comes home, I’m going to catch it.” She turned to the Big Roon with sudden alarm. “Whatever are we going to do when my mum comes home? She can’t find you here!”

“Why not?” The Big Roon looked ready to bolt. “Is she going to hurt me?”

“You don’t know the grown-ups. They’d probably think you’re a dangerous animal and put you in a cage for study or something.”

“Well, never mind,” the Big Roon muttered morosely. “Maybe by the time she comes back I’ll have starved to death anyway.”

“Don’t be silly,” El said. “There must be something you can eat, if we only look long enough. But we have to hide you when my mum comes home.” She thought a moment. “Let’s go to my room. Maybe you can hide under my bed or something.”

The Big Roon humped itself behind her along the corridor to her bedroom. At the door, however, it gasped with horror. “Don’t go in there! It’s the nest of a predatory Yrml bird from Groxthnorr.”

“What you talking about?”

“Look at all those things,” the Big Roon replied, gibbering with terror, nodding with an extruded arm at the piles of El’s clothes on the bed and chair. “It eats its prey and decorates its nest with their skins. It’s decorated this nest with the skins of earth creatures like you!”

“Those are just my clothes,” El replied impatiently. “My goodness, you make more of a fuss than my mum about them.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” The Big Roon entered the room cautiously, its huge eyes roving around. “Nothing’s going to eat us here?”

“I said so, didn’t I?” El threw her school bag on the bed. It hadn’t been very well-secured, and the flap dropped open, spilling her things on top of a pile of clothes. Her pencil box fell on to the floor and burst open. “Blast!”

“Is something wrong?” the Big Roon asked apprehensively.

“No, just stay where you are for a moment.” El knelt and began to scoop up the spilled things hastily, and jabbed herself in the finger with the tip of her divider. Blood welled up, running down her fingernail towards her palm. “Blast!” she repeated, deciding on the spot that she needed to increase her vocabulary. A repertoire of two swear words wasn’t nearly enough.

“Are you all right?” the Big Roon asked anxiously.

“No, I am not all right,” El wanted to say, but because she was busily sucking her bleeding finger like a vampire, the words came out too muffled to make any sense. “You wait though, I’ll be fine in a moment.”

The Big Roon was sniffing cautiously. “Are you quite sure you don’t have blenideyton here?” it asked. “I can smell it somewhere.”

“Feel free to check,” El replied, waving with her unwounded hand at the mess. “If you find it, have it and welcome.” She was about to add that she would go to the bathroom and put some disinfectant on her wound when there was a flash of light bright as lightning and the room suddenly seemed too small.

The gigantic Roon which had appeared in the middle of the floor glared at the Big Roon. “So there you are,” it thundered in a voice like thunder. “How long were you planning to hide from me?”

“I wasn’t hiding,” the Big Roon replied. “I was scroobling home from school when I suddenly came here to earth and I don’t know how.”

“A likely story,” the gigantic Roon rumbled. “After what your teacher said to me about your grades...” it paused. “I’ve been worried sick, looking up and down all over for you, even to the ninetweenth dimension. If I weren’t a Roon I wouldn’t ever have found you. And here you are eating blenideyeton without a care in all the worlds.”

“Blenideyeton?” the Big Roon squealed. “I haven’t had a morsel. I’ve been starving since I came here, I swear in the name of the High Roonmaster himself!

“No blenideyeton, huh?” the giant Roon stuck out an arm, pointing at El. “Then what do you call that?”

“That?” The Big Roon stared incredulously at El, whose mouth had gone dry with shock. “That’s...blenideyeton?”

“What else? Don’t tell me you didn’t know.” The giant Roon seemed to soften a little. “Well, if you’re that hungry, eat up and let’s go home.”

The Bog Roon cast another horrified glance at El. “No,” it said. “Suddenly I’m not so hungry any longer. Especially for blenideyeton. In fact, I’m never going to eat it again.”

“As you like,” the enormous Roon said. “But I warn you that all we have to eat at home is blenideyeton, so if you don’t want it, you’ll have to go to bed without your supper.”

“That’s all right,” the Big Roon said. “You did always tell me not to play with my food. Let’s go home, please.”

The giant Roon did something with an extruded finger, Bright light began to fill the room.

“Wait!” El called desperately. “Shall I see you again?”

“When the moons of Randor Six are in conjunction,” the Big Roon called back, from the middle of the light, which was now quite blinding. “That’s when I have my vacation. I’ll be back.”

“When –“ El began, but she was talking to an empty room.

Down below, she heard her mother turn her key in the door.

 Copyright B Purkayastha 2013

Sniper! On Embedded Journalism and the killing of an Al Jazeera Reporter

Journalism is a tough job. It’s a tough job, that is, if you aren’t one of the people who are content to sit in plush air-conditioned offices regurgitating material handed to you by various interested parties or randomly pulled off the internet and passed off as “news”.

No wonder most thinking people hold the “mainstream” media in complete contempt.

On the ground, though, when the going gets tough, it’s only the toughest journos, the ones who truly deserve respect, who get going. These are the men – and some women – who go into conflict zones, see and report on what is actually happening on the ground, and maintain a neutral perspective. It’s much, much easier, however, to “embed” oneself with one side, and become part of that side’s personnel, dependent on it for guidance, conveyance and protection in a combat zone.

Obviously, for such “embedded” journalists, neutrality isn’t an option, even if they were remotely neutral in the first place. Simply being dependent on the troops of one side means that you are going to be supporting the narrative of that side as a matter of course – you don’t have a choice. This fact was understood clearly by the Bush regime back in the attack on Iraq in 2003, where the only media people allowed were those “embedded” with the invading divisions, and the only reports that came out were those the invaders wanted. And independent reporters were ruthlessly attacked “by accident”, especially if they happened to belong to Al Jazeera.

But more on Al Jazeera in a moment.

Here's a fairly typical example of embedded media spin: an article written by a female British "reporter" with the "rebels" in Aleppo. It shows (possibly Photoshopped, going by the commentary) pictures depicting the obliteration of a "rebel" checkpoint by a Syrian army tank shell and the killing of three "rebels". 


Going by the way the article keeps talking about the "tragedy" of the mens' deaths, you'd think they were innocent civilians instead of armed combatants; just another day in the media lie industry.

As I said elsewhere, the media is, in the modern Imperial way, an integral part of the war machine. It has two functions:

First, to “manufacture consent” by directly or by implication peddling propaganda designed to suit a particular line of narrative, calling for armed intervention. Example: the run up to the Iraq invasion of 2003, where the Western media kept repeating that Saddam Hussein had been responsible for 11/9, that he was concealing weapons of mass destruction, that London was “45 minutes from devastation”, and that Iraqis would welcome the “liberators” with flowers. Or, for instance, what happened in Kosovo or Libya.

Secondly, by keeping the propaganda momentum going after things begin to go sour, by pretending that things are, in fact, not going sour, and then by channelling public interest elsewhere. Example: the alleged success of the so-called Iraq Surge, which these same media sources trumpeted; and now that Iraq has been evacuated by the invaders, the public attention is firmly directed elsewhere – such as Syria or Mali. We’ve seen the exact same thing in the destruction of Libya and how completely news of what is going on there was effaced afterwards – until the attack on the CIA station in Benghazi momentarily drew the cameras back again.

It can be in the shape of “neutral” propaganda purveyors like the British Bullshit Craporation British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) or the CNN, whose newsreaders peddle official propaganda as “’fact”, and systematically provide false information to back up this “fact”. In every single instance in recent times where there has been a dichotomy between the Western official media and targeted countries, when the truth finally leaked out, the Western media has been found to have been lying. But, because of cultural conditioning, people still try their best to believe in these lies as far as possible until the reality is so stark that it can no longer be denied.

But as much as the BBC and the CNN, and allied purveyors of Western propaganda, depend on “sources” – like “human rights organisations" based in London or Paris and “reporting” events allegedly occurring in Damascus or Aleppo – these don’t have the impact on public opinion, and the credibility, of reports from journalists actually on the ground. Therefore, to lend verisimilitude if nothing else, the placement of reporters on the ground is essential. That these reporters aren’t independent has nothing to do with it; in fact they shouldn’t be independent, because independent  reporters have a nasty way of leaking out the truth, and the truth generally goes directly against the line taken by Western imperial propaganda.

Therefore the embedded reporter becomes an essential part of the media propaganda campaign, which is itself an integral part of the Western imperial war machine. The embedded reporter is as much a combatant as the soldiers around him, on whom he depends and whose carefully sanitised tale he tells. His camera and microphone are weapons, whose targets aren’t the combatants on the other side, but the minds of the population back home. Since the Western neo-imperial war is never a war in defence of itself, but always in pursuit of global hegemony, public approval is difficult to maintain without a barrage of constant propaganda. The West does not want another Vietnam War fiasco, where the media told some part of the truth about what was happening on the ground, and the illusion of an inevitable victory evaporated like the morning mist in the light of the sun.

However, these media outlets, even with their own embedded reporters, end up acquiring a credibility problem. You can only get caught lying so often before a substantial part of your target audience moves away from swallowing whatever line you’re peddling and begins to look for fresh perspectives. That is when the War Industry uses a source which still has credibility instead of another. A lot of Americans who won’t trust CNN to give them the time of day will swallow whatever drivel the BBC pours out, for instance, which is why European media sources are preferred to American ones now as the Empire’s favourite manufacturers of martial consent.

Then there is Al Jazeera.

Most of us first heard of this news service back in 2003, when its reporters were in Baghdad during the invasion and with great courage kept on telling the truth about what was happening, even when under fire. As a consequence, Al Jazeera reporters kept on being “accidentally” killed by American and vassal helicopter strikes and shell fire; it was almost as though being a reporter for Al Jazeera made one a magnet for Western ordnance. But that was then.

Today, Al Jazeera is no longer an independent news channel. It is owned by the Emir of Qatar, the same nation which – along with Saudi Arabia – was instrumental in the destruction of Libya and is now, with the aid of Turkey, determinedly attempting to take over Syria. Al Jazeera still has a lot of cred among those who remember it from its Iraq War days and are ignorant of, or choose to overlook, the fact that it’s just a Qatari propaganda mouthpiece these days.

In Syria, Al Jazeera isn’t even attempting to pose as neutral; it’s openly taken sides with the “rebels”, if the collection of disparate foreign jihadists, defected soldiers, bought over politicians, common criminals and disaffected youth deserves such a name. And its embedded journalists are on the ground on the “rebel” side, telling the story those “rebels” want you to hear – even though it’s getting mighty difficult to pretend that those “rebels” are any more than assorted gangs of bloodthirsty sadists who spend their spare time looting and torturing, and who hate each other as much as they hate the “regime”.

So it wasn’t too surprising that an Al Jazeera man embedded with the so-called Free Syrian Army was killed “by a regime sniper” during fighting near Daraa, Syria on 18th January. This Al Jazeera person wasn’t even your typical journalist – he was, as Al Jazeera itself said in a statement, a former “anti-regime activist” (read, insurgent). In other words, he was an embedded reporter who happened to have fought on the same side as the men among whom he was embedded, and was in the employ of a news service openly committed to the cause for which these men were fighting.

Fair and neutral? I think not. Nor, as one can imagine, do I think that as an “embedded” journalist he had any immunity, since as I said such a journo is as much a combatant as a soldier with a gun.

The unusual thing about this particular killing – this happened shortly after another “embedded” journalist, a Belgian national was shot by a “regime sniper” in Northern Syria – was that it was on camera, the scene being videoed by (presumably) another Al Jazeera flunky. That video is extremely interesting due to what it says about the so-called Free Syrian Army and its operations to “liberate” Syria.

It opens with a scene of a group of armed men near a street crossing, loudly talking among themselves. In the left foreground one can see that one of the men – who is dressed identically with the others – holds a microphone with an Al Jazeera logo. One of the other men passes an AK series rifle with a folding stock to another, and this man takes off running across the street at high speed. After he gets to the other side, there’s a tiny pause and the man with the microphone begins running across the crossing too. There’s an immediate burst of firing, apparently from the right since the man who had handed the first to cross a gun leans around the corner and squeezes off a few shots. Meanwhile, the man with the Al Jazeera microphone lies on the ground, writhing in agony. The video ends at that point, though the man died, presumably soon afterwards, and his intestinal bacteria began dissolving him from the inside out.

First, let’s get the Big One out of the way – the idea that this Al Jazeera man was somehow deliberately killed as a war crime by the “regime forces”. That idea might have held some water if he had been in a situation where he’d been taken prisoner and murdered out of hand – as, in fact, the so-called Free Syrian Army terrorists have actually captured and killed journalists without their Western overlords taking much notice. But not only was he not in such a situation – he did not even have any helmet or body armour marked with PRESS stamps, as journalists routinely wear in combat situations these days. He was, as can be seen clearly in the video, dressed identically with his FSA comrades. If these people had not warned him to wear identifying clothing, they were guilty of criminal negligence at the very least, if not worse.

But that they were negligent is not in doubt. Lounging around and talking at the top of your voice isn’t the smartest thing to do in a battle where your enemies are literally round the corner. And even I (without any tactical combat experience whatever) know that if you have a situation where one or more snipers is covering a street, you do not run across that street one by one, with several seconds of gap between runners. If you do, the first person is highly likely to get across safely since the sniper won’t be expecting him, but he’ll draw attention, and the second or third man is almost guaranteed to get shot. And if you have a non-combatant among you, you do not send him across in that second position unless you wish to get rid of him for some reason.

So, the so-called Free Syrian Army is either staggeringly incompetent, or else it deliberately set up this Al Jazeera reporter to be killed. I can only speculate on the reason that might happen, but it’s not impossible that he became disillusioned with the whole so-called “revolution”, like many others, and was in danger of becoming a liability rather than a propaganda asset. Or else the FSA might have calculated that at a time when its support among the Syrian people is collapsing so dramatically that even the West now admits that it’s dropping, and foreign aid shows signs of drying up, sacrificing a “neutral media person” might help to draw some attention and sympathy. It could be a combination of both – or a third reason entirely.

I am hardly the only person to come to this conclusion – some of the online commentary on this video says that he might have been shot by FSA men to create an “incident” to blame the Syrian army. Some even say that the fact that several bullets were fired proves that it wasn’t a sniper.

Personally, I don’t think it was necessarily a deliberate action to have the man killed; it could just be the result of the FSA’s already undeniable stupidity and incompetence. But if they had decided to get him killed, making him run across a sniper alley was a good way of taking him out without directly bloodying their hands in the process. I wonder though just why they were running the video – was Al Jazeera interested in every single street crossing? Were the FSA men expecting something to happen? If so, and if it wasn’t the sniping of their pet journo, just what was it?

And let's not lose sight of the fact that sacrificing journalists for propaganda advantage is something the FSA has attempted before,  when they tried to send British journo Alex Thomson (not an embedded reporter) into a Syrian Army free fire zone. That link, in fact, is kind of interesting - the article says 

"(Thomson's) His account was not possible to verify amid the chaos gripping Syria, but he insisted that there was no other explanation for what happened. "

 But, of course, these same British media sources have no problem repeating, verbatim, claims by "Syrian human rights organisations" based in London about what's happening on the ground in Syria. 

Still, there's no proof that the "rebels" deliberately sacrificed that Al Jazeera man. Nor does the fact that multiple shots were fired rule out a sniper. There could have been several snipers, all of whom fired more or less at the same time. Also, both sides in the Syrian conflict use the SVD Dragunov as their main sniper rifle. The Dragunov is a semi-automatic weapon, unlike most Western sniper rifles which tend to be bolt action. This tends to make it slightly less accurate at distances over 800 metres, but does substantially speed up reloading time and rate of fire. So one sniper could have fired several times in very rapid succession.

Or it could simply have been that the sniper was using an area fire weapon like an AK series rifle. In city fighting, the distances are frequently less than 300 metres, and at those ranges an AK is as good as a dedicated sniper rifle, and besides has the advantage of firing bursts and so improving the chances of a hit and kill. Either way, there is no evidence that a “regime” sniper wasn’t responsible for firing the shots which killed this insurgent turned Al Jazeera reporter...or maybe he was killed by soldiers who weren’t snipers, but were simply in position at the time.

Of course, there’s a propaganda advantage to talk of “snipers”. To the militarily illiterate audience at whom media propaganda is pitched, the word “’sniper” conjures up visions of a super-marksman lying in wait and surveying the battlefield through scopes capable of showing grains of sand at ten thousand metres. How, goes the narrative, could a sniper have killed this Al Qaeda reporter without knowing he was a harmless reporter? He couldn’t. Chalk up another war crime at Assad’s door!

Oh, I meant Al Jazeera, of course, not Al Qaeda.

But, on second thoughts, there isn’t really a difference at all.

Syrian Army sniper with SVD Dragunov

Note: For those of you who doubt my prophetic powers, here are some predictions I made a fair long time ago, at the end of July 2012:

First, I’d said that Assad’s strategy would be to abandon indefensible countryside and concentrate his forces around towns, to draw the “rebels” into killing zones where they could be annihilated by aerial bombardment and artillery fire. Status: fulfilled.

Then, I’d said that the various “rebel” gangs would start fighting among themselves long before they managed to defeat the government. Status: fulfilled.

Third, I’d said that the Erdogan regime in Turkey can’t keep hosting the Al Qaeda gangs endlessly without suffering a backlash, and would be in trouble if the Syrian government did not speedily collapse. Status: fulfilled.

I’d also made a prediction that the Empire and its European vassals have their own compulsions and can’t keep waiting endlessly for their proxies on the ground to win. Now they’re getting into a new quagmire in Mali, and creating yet another mess in Algeria; both of which can be accurately called backlash for their unprincipled and murderous meddling in Libya. Now the jihadists have another front in their global war, and might begin to lose enthusiasm for Syria, which is proving a much harder nut to crack than they ever imagined. So, despite all the talk of his imminent fall, I'll stick out my neck and hazard that Assad is getting his break.

The oracle has spoken.