Last night’s Sydney Peace Prize speech by this year’s winner John Pilger was a powerful affair. The capacity crowd at the Sydney Opera Hose heard Pilger compare the reality of Aboriginal Australia to apartheid South Africa (more here). As it is announced this week that the University of Lincoln will establish a digital archive of Pilger’s work, his talk last night covered many areas, including global affairs and the need for journalists and the media to challenge the powerful in society rather than echo their lies. The world needs more public figures who upset the establishment:
One of my favourite Harold Pinter plays is Party Time. It is set in an apartment in a city like Sydney or Melbourne. A party is in progress. People are drinking good wine and eating canapes. They seem happy. They are chatting and affirming and smiling. They are very self-aware. But something is happening outside in the street, something terrible and oppressive and unjust, for which the people at the party share responsibility. There is a fleeting sense of discomfort, a silence, before the chatting and laughing resume. How many of us live in that apartment? A friend of mine is the very fine Israeli journalist Amira Hass. She went to Gaza to live and to report for her newspaper, Ha’aretz. She explained that her mother, Hannah, was being marched from a cattle train to the Nazi concentration camp at Bergen-Belsen when she saw a group of German women looking at the prisoners, just looking, saying nothing. Her mother never forgot what she called this despicable ”looking from the side”.
The suffering of the besieged people of Gaza, and of the ordinary people of Afghanistan, and of the people of Iraq, whose rapacious invader, General David Petraeus, was awarded one of Australia’s highest honours in Washington on Wednesday, all lead us to the question: are we to continue to ”look from the side”, in silence?