Saturday, 10 May 2014

Revisiting Jewish and Islamic Oppression during the Spanish Inquisition

Spanish Inquisition, source:

The Spanish Inquisition was a time when considerable horror was visited upon the Jewish people of Spain, which subsequently spread to Portugal, one for which the authorities of both nations wish to make amends, even if in a belatedly tokenistic fashion.

Commentators, such as Robert Fisk, have taken issue with this offer of citizenship. Rather than welcoming the development, and using it to recommend that this legislation be extended to Muslims, it is framed as a pretext to suggest that lack of inclusion for Muslims is in some respect Islamophobic.

Likewise, when word of the plan spread a decade ago, Islamic groups began to demand Spanish citizenship for millions of the Muslim descendants, of the 325,000 expelled by the Spanish authorities in the early 17th Century, despite the fact that expulsion played a central role in the rapid expansion of the Islamic world itself.

"Fisking" history

Notably, Fisk white-washes the Moorish “Golden Age”, in which Jews, Muslims and Christians supposedly lived in a tolerant environment. Fisk states:
“The year of darkness, of course, was 1492, when the Moorish kingdom of Granada surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabella. Christian power was restored to the lands in which Muslims and Jews had lived together for hundreds of years and had rescued some of the great works of classical literature — by way of Baghdad — for us to study. Save for those who converted to Christianity or died at the stake — at least 1,000 Jews, perhaps as many as 10,000, among them — the entire Muslim and Jewish communities were thrown out of Spain and Portugal by the early 17th century. They scattered, to Morocco, Algeria, Bosnia, Greece and Turkey.”
Such an astoundingly simplistic account of the history of the region usefully presents religious persecution as being instigated purely by Christian elements, and conflates the divergent treatment of the Jewish and Muslim communities. Whilst Christians were responsible for the acts of religious intolerance leading up to 1492, what, for example, of the straight-forward murder of four thousand Jews, in the 1066 Granada massacre, by Islamic hordes?

There are two narratives on the treatment of Christians and Jews under Moorish Spain. The stronger, and more popular, narrative praises the Moorish era as an exemplar of religious tolerance, whilst damning the successive Christian leaderships as barbaric. The opposing narrative criticises such a stance as a politically motivated whitewash, motivated by a propensity to apologise for Islamic extremism. In reality, there were some times of reasonable tolerance, by the relatively basic standards of the day, and some very bad times indeed.

Some of this tolerance continued well into the early Christian kingdoms, as Henry Kamen noted, when he forcefully argued that the Christian Spanish of the era were far from a group of uniformly fanatical Bible thumpers, but views rigidified latterly. Moreover, most Moorish territory was re-conquered over very long periods before the final defeat of the Moors in 1492.

Apologies and motivations

Fisk asserts that Spain has not made an apology for the Inquisition. Although far from sufficient, there was an apology by an official in 2011, and more recently Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón stated:
“In Spain, a clear majority realize we have committed a historical error and have an opportunity to repair it”
Fisk goes on to suggest that the Jewish citizenship law was passed for financial reasons, to inflate the weakened Spanish and Portuguese economies, even though he accepts few Jewish people are likely to take Spain and Portugal up on the offer. Does Fisk really believe that economies suffering from severe debt burdens, accrued over decades, could wheel in some Jewish folks, to generate the sort of cash that could reverse their immense fiscal problems? Perhaps Fisk believes the ‘Jews are good with money’ caricature is acceptable when he is speaking (from his perspective) in their favour. This is a startlingly absurd notion, even if he is only ascribing the belief to the Spanish and Portuguese authorities.

It is more likely that the Spanish announcement of the citizenship law, in 2012, was designed to deflect Israeli criticism, at a time when Spain had been upgrading its ties with the Palestinian Authority.

A historic representation of the Spanish Inquisition

The focus of the Spanish Inquisition

On the lack of a citizenship law for Muslims that equates with the provision for Jewish people, Jose Ribeiro e Castro, who drafted similar Portuguese legislation, notes
“Persecution of Jews was just that, while what happened with the Arabs was part of a conflict. There’s no basis for comparison.”
Some commentators ask why the treatment of Spanish Jews is highlighted more so than that of Spanish Muslims, since the Spanish Moriscos (Moorish Christian converts) were also tried by the Inquisition and expelled from Spain. The treatment of the Moriscos is indeed problematic but there would appear to be less interest in this issue for several reasons. The animus directed at the Moriscos evolved out of the savagery of several hundred years of barbaric warring, between the Moors and the Christians. Christians were persecuted to a notable extent, even by the poor standards of Medieval Europe.

Nonetheless, a historic oddity emerged. One would think the Moors would be the focus of hostility in emerging Spanish nationalism. Yet the violence and oppression visited by the Inquisition upon Jews was more substantive, and cruel in its torturous punishments. Jewish–Christian converts or 'conversos' were the focal point of these “investigations” from 1481/2, this being a time when the Christian re-conquest of Spain, from the Moors, was nearing the end of a lengthy process.

These Jewish conversos had been forced to convert to Christianity in the aftermath of numerous anti-Jewish massacres from the previous two centuries. In 1321, the Jews of Castile were forced to wear identifying yellow badges. In 1348 a large number of Jews were burned alive. Six years later thousands were slaughtered in Castille. More was to come in 1358, 1370, 1377 etc. ‘1391’, however, stands out in the historical record. 4,000 of Seville’s Jews were murdered and tens of thousands were sold as slaves. The rest of Spain rose up, leading to estimates of between fifty and one hundred thousand Jews being killed, one to two hundred thousand being forced to covert, and similar figures to have fled Spain.

This violence was driven by a multitude of uniquely Spanish anti-Semitic blood libels, such as the Martyr Boy, supposedly murdered ritualistically by Jews, who drank his blood. Some Church leaders still appear to advance this libel today.

1411 brought highly oppressive legislation against Jews. In 1435 there was the massacre, and forced conversion of Jews in Majorca. In 1449, Jewish Conversos were executed for defending themselves from mobs, and leading up to the Inquisition, there were a succession of pogroms and massacres, also largely aimed at Jewish Conversos, in 1467, 1468, 1474 and especially 1473. These violent uprisings suggest not only a growing climate of anti-Semitism, but a connection with the Inquisition’s near-exclusive focus on Jewish Conversos, just a few years later.

The Inquisition would be at its most active between 1480 and 1530. Between 91.6% and 99.3% of its victims were Jewish in the Spanish regions, whilst the number of brutal executions in this period is thought to be at least 2,000, with some estimates suggesting up to 10,000. These figures attest that the greatest harm was not visited upon the Jews by a political elite leading the Inquisition, but an endemic religiously themed anti-Semitism so savage that massacre was welcomed, one of its most nototious proponents, the Archdeacon of Ecija, being commended for his piety, and subsequently sanctified by the Church.

Sometimes the Jewish populace was caught in the middle of the wars between Christians and Muslims. Many Christians would subsequently justify their oppression of the Jewish populace by suggesting the Jews played a treacherous role in the defeat of Christian forces. However, many Jewish people fought on the side of the Christians, for example in the 1086 battle of Zalaca, and in such situations the Jews of the defeated side paid dearly.

Fisk references the year of 1492. However, he neglects to mention that some 200,000 Jews were ordered to leave Spain within a few months. The Battle of Grenada brought the defeat of the last Islamic kingdom in Spain. The 1491 Treaty of Granada, guaranteed the religious freedoms of Muslims and Jews. However, the Edict of Alhambra would soon rescind this ruling for Jews, compelling them to convert or be expelled. There followed a second Inquisitional wave from 1530, which targeted later Jewish Conversos, those who had subsequently opted to convert to Christianity.

By contrast, the Spanish authorities in some regions put a more unofficial pressure on the Muslims of the defeated Moorish kingdoms to convert. It led to an Islamic revolt from 1499 to 1501, causing the authorities to issue a decree demanding their conversion or expulsion. This policy was not uniform however, as the Kingdom of Aragon showed a greater degree of tolerance toward its Muslim subjects.

When the genuine nature of these conversions was suspected, some decades later, the Spanish authorities typically did not contend with the Moriscos in a fashion akin to the violence visited upon the Jewish victims of the Inquisition. Initially, Moriscos suspected of not being Christian, in their stated beliefs, were to be evangelised in a non-violent fashion. However, several events led to a worsening of the political climate.

The Moriscos were suspected of aiding the frequent raids by North African Islamic Barbary pirates, which led to the enslavement of a very considerable number of Spanish Christians. These acts of piracy appear to have been assisted by Spain’s great foe of the era, the Ottoman Empire.

A variety of intrigues, suspected by the Spanish Authorities, including the notion of Morisco involvement in the Ottoman Siege of Malta, at a time when there were considerable fears that Islamic combatants would return to Spain, would lead to the claim by some historians that expulsion was motivated by a desire to decolonise the region.

From a more domestic perspective, the Moriscos were behind two major revolts, particularly the Arabist 1568-71 Rebellion, the “Alpujarras Uprising”, which was the source of widespread violence against the Christian populace. The rebellion was driven by the banning of the Arabic language, due to fears over the veracity of Morisco conversions. The revolt was severely suppressed, and would lead to increasing prosecution under the Inquisition, and the eventual expulsion of the Moriscos, in waves, from 1609 to 1614.

Morisco prosecutions became a predominant feature of the Inquisition from 1570. However, according to Henry Kamen, the most renowned historian on the Spanish Inquisition, relatively fewer were tried by the Inquisition, and they did not have an equivalent harshness of punishment visited upon them, compared to that of Jewish populace, and the few Protestants living in Spain at that time. Thus, the level of Islamic persecution, under the Inquisition, would seem to have been rather limited. The reluctance on the part of the authorities to prosecute the Moors lay with their value in the trades.

Today there seems to be a consensus that Islamic conversions to Christianity were in name only, whilst in a supremely sad irony there appears to be little evidence that Jewish Conversos were typically insincere in their stated beliefs.

Both groups suffered significantly, during the phases of expulsion, but many Jews when fleeing were murdered in particularly barbaric circumstances, by Christians driven by a bizarre belief that fleeing Jews swallowed their most valuable possessions. This feature paralleled the conduct toward Jewish people during the Holocaust, where bodies were disembowelled in search of swallowed jewellery.

Sephardic = Spanish

From whence the Jews were expelled, a great number were persecuted elsewhere, including Italy, and especially Portugal. Some Jews went back to Spain, only to be subjected to further persecution. By contrast, the Muslim expulsions were sent to North Africa (sometimes by way of France) where they would settle with considerably less molestation by the surrounding populaces.

Spanish Jews, termed Sephardic, which translates as “Spanish”, are said to have emerged as a presence in Spain going back to the era of Christ, although other accounts argue that there was a Jewish presence in Spain going back some three thousand years. Sephardic culture emerged as a very distinctive cultural ethnicity, with its own language, a derivation of Old Spanish called Ladino.

Remarkably, the great majority of European Jewish people lived in Spain, estimated as being as high as 800,000, until the expulsions. For many of the less fortunate, this event would only herald a long history of further bloody persecution, and expulsion, in various parts of Europe and the Middle-East. Sephardic culture went into a long decline, a rehabilitation of which is only emerging. Yet, despite the bitterness of the past, Sephardic culture still possesses very distinctive Spanish aspects.

It is also worth noting that Spain has experienced a very substantive influx of Muslims of Moroccan origin, while its Jewish populace remains a shadow of its former scale. The Islamic population of Spain exceeds 1.3 million whilst the Jewish populace, continuing to be subject to anti-Semitism during more recent eras, remains very small. It is often described as being under 50,000 but it may be little as 12,000 according to a 2007 American Jewish Committee report.


Political commentators, such as Robert Fisk, appears unable to muster any genuine understanding for the plight of Jewish people in Medieval Spain, in which the widely divergent treatment of the Islamic and Jewish populaces are unduly conflated. In Fisk's case, he also uses the occasion to attack his pet hates: any hostility toward Islam, the Jewish State etc. Many ordinary Christians also suffered under the Inquisition but are not deserving of mention, let alone query as to why they don't deserve inclusion as well. Little wonder since Fisk has gone out of his way to demonise the much-persecuted Christians of the Middle East today.

The persecution of the Jewish populace, not only during the Inquisition, but especially during the events preceding it, stands out in European history, because these people were not belligerents against Spanish Christianity. In fact, they often suffered under the Moors as much as Christians. Yet, from a Christian perspective, this did not lead to a sense of solidarity. The treatment of Spanish Muslims was indeed punitive but the principle focus of the Inquisition was driven by a deep abiding hatred of the Jewish populace, which persisted long after all were killed or driven from Spain. Under Franco, Spain would continue to tolerate open anti-Semitism — a link which clearly informs Spanish elements hostile to Israel’s existence today.

There were many horrors visited on peoples during the European Dark Age and Medieval Era. Is this particular Spanish period remembered due to expulsions, or the behaviour of the Inquisition? Both are of course linked but infamy stems from the intolerance of the Inquisition, since expulsions were not uncommon in that era. This oppression was unprovoked, and manifestly harsher than equivalent treatment of Spanish Muslims, until they too were expelled, in part due to a level of subsequent belligerent activity, a not uncommon prospect in the Medieval Europe, when any groups took up arms against a given ruler.

Nonetheless, the treatment of the Moriscos should be regarded as one of the darkest episodes of predatory Christian proselytization, where the Spanish authorities soon reneged upon their promises.

On one hand there was a very aggressive intolerant intent to proselytize, which, when unsuccessful, led to expulsions, while on the other hand, there was a demented manifestly genocidal blood lust, where it is easy to envisage the entire Jewish populace being wiped out in a century, if it was not first expelled.

Thus, the Spanish Inquisition should ultimately be viewed as in essence an officious state-sanctioned expression of the very sentiments that motivated prior anti-Jewish pogroms, its stark depravity rightly constituting the very reason Spain’s treatment of her Jewish subjects stands out in the annals of infamy.

Robert Fisk’s article is analysed in more depth, and reproduced in part, by AnneinPT.

Article also published by Crethi Plethi.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Jewish Settlements Do Not Impede Peace

Many Western narratives on the Israel-Arab/Palestinian conflict, assert that Arab-Palestinian grievances are fundamentally based upon a supposed dispossession of territory, and so peace would be obtained by returning lands gained by Israel in the defensive Six Day War.

Today this argument relates principally to Judea and Samaria, more widely known as the ‘West Bank’, a recent moniker the Jordanians applied to the area, after the Arab State’s invasion of Israel in 1948.

The existence of Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, and formerly Gaza prior to the unilateral 2005 Israeli withdrawal, are central to the claim that the Jewish State has instituted a 'land grab' since 1967. Settlements are the focal point of boycott campaigns, and other efforts to deligitimise Israel.

However, commentators less hostile to Israel also assert Jewish settlements are a deeply problematic phenomenon. Whilst accepting Israel is surrounded, in a hostile Arab-Islamic neighbourhood, they nonetheless advance a somewhat similar stance to anti-Israel critics, by portraying the settlement issue as one of the great obstacles of the peace process. Indeed, some act as if it is the greatest challenge, as per John Kerry’s intensive criticism of Israeli settlement policy, suggesting it will undermine a two-state solution.

Inconvenient facts

Whilst Jewish settlements are seen across the world as the bottleneck that stops any peace process in its tracks, a cursory glance at some fundamental facts will suggest that that this claim is a propagandistic red-herring of monumental proportions.

Israel is regularly demonised, with the very worst of motives ascribed to its behaviour. For example, many in the Arab world suggest the Jewish State seeks to territorially dominate the Middle East. Thus, one might ask to what extent has Israel held onto the territory it gained during the Six-Day War, which constitutes the Nation’s greatest victory? Startlingly, 90% of these gains have been returned to Israel’s Arab neighbours: the Sinai, and part of the Golan Heights, with Gaza becoming a de facto independent state.

More particularly, what of Judea and Samaria itself? To what extent has Israel 'grabbed' or 'thieved' the 'West Bank'? A survey, commissioned by anti-Israel NGO B’Tselem, found that 0.99% of the territory features constructed settlements, with applicable roads taking further space. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) prime negotiator, similarly asserted that settlements constitute 1.1% of the region.

Processes have not been instigated, by Israel, to recognise new Jewish settlements, since the Oslo II process of the mid to late 1990s. Dutch anti-Israel activist and mapmaker, Jan de Jong, produced a sequence of distorted maps to suggest Israel was instituting a 'land grab'. De Jong rather absurdly claimed that 60% of Judea and Samaria is taken by settlements but his maps, as reproduced by the Wall Street Journal, Feb 4th 2010, note that Israel did not begin further processes of settlement recognition after 1995. Subsequent land activity, according to the map, relates to unrecognised 'Settler outposts', which the Israeli authorities dismantle with some regularity.

De Jong Map, suggesting a 'land grab', Wall Street Journal, Feb 4th 2010

Anti-Israel commentators claim that the proposed E1 development would drive a wedge from East Jerusalem to the Jordan River Valley, and thus the site would divide any potential Arab-Palestinian state. This is a complete untruth. The narrowest point between the E1 and the Dead Sea is fifteen kilometres, as wide as the narrowest points within Israel’s pre-1967 borders, the very borders those who condemn the Jewish State demand that it to return to.

Whilst settler violence is rightly an issue worthy of attention, it is wildly exaggerated in contrast to the far more prevalent, and deadly, Arab-Palestinian equivalent. According to B’Tselem’s own figures, some seventeen Arab-Palestinians were killed by settlers from 2000 to 2012, often in contexts of self-defence. By contrast, according to B’Tselem, over two hundred settlers were killed during the same period.

Negligible impact upon peace processes

One might think that Arab-Palestinians are desperate for an independent state, given the abhorrent conditions so many activists claim they are subjected to. Thus, it is curious that the Millennial ‘Camp David’ talks, which offered the PA 91% of their territorial demands, fell apart due to Yasser Arafat’s rejection of joint sovereignty over the Temple Mount, which Muslims call al Haram al Sharif. Land concessions were even more generous at Taba in 2001.

The 2007-08 Abbas-Olmert talks proposed territorial concessions of over 98%, with some land swaps. Abbas suddenly dropped out of the final stage of the talks in September 2008.

The brief 2010 talks with Benjamin Netanyahu collapsed because the PA demonstrated bad faith by only attending for the final few weeks of a ten month settlement freeze, having previously dismissed this substantive concession. Former US Peace envoy George Mitchell stated soon afterward that the PA made the freeze an absolute condition, after it having previously been 'less than worthless'. Mitchell described the freeze as less than the US requested but 'more than anyone else had done.'

Latterly, Netanyahu made several attempts to get Abbas to the negotiating table. Abbas finally succumbed when the demand to release all pre-Oslo prisoners was met, indicating that settlement freezes are not a pre-eminent requirement for negotiations. Rather, a tangible political victory is the incentivising element to bring an ever-reluctant Palestinian Authority to direct peace talks.

Likewise, anti-Israel commentators use the growth of settlements as a pre-text to claim that the two-state solution is dead, and thereby advocate for a one-state bi-national 'Rwandan solution'.

The intent of such one-staters is evident by their prejudicial actions. In reality, settlement growth is not a major issue because the substantive majority of Jewish Settlers live in five settlements near the 1949 Armistice Lines, and it was envisaged, in peace talks, that Israel would keep a majority of settlements, in exchange for some land swaps. The PA has long accepted the principle of land swaps. Thus, intense international condemnation, in which it is claimed that settlement expansion makes a just two-state solution impossible, is completely incorrect.

It could be argued that settlement activity is the sole stimulus toward achieving peace, given that the international community is unwilling to hold the PA to account for any wrongdoing. Former Bethlehem Mayor Elias Freij said: 'The Palestinians now realize, that time is now on the side of Israel… and that the only way out of this dilemma is face-to-face negotiations'. It does seem Israel gives the green light to further construction when the PA seeks to bypass a negotiated peace process.

However, if such a strategy has been adopted, it has been enacted in a half-hearted fashion. Despite the popular portrayal of Benjamin Netanyahu as a ‘hawkish’ supporter of settlements, official figures by Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics demonstrate that there has been less settlement construction during Netanyahu’s five years of governance. An average of 1,443 new housing units have been built in the contested territory during each year of his tenure, despite house prices being at a premium within the State itself.

In a similar manner, the most significant move on settlements occurred in April 2012, when an Israeli government committee was established to complete legal recognition of settlements Bruchin, Rechalim and Sansana, which already possessed de facto recognition. Previously, Negahot was the last settlement to have its recognition process legally finalised, in 1999, so this further de jure process was a diplomatic about-turn. The international media claimed Bruchin, Rechalim and Sansana were illegal settler outposts. However, State recognition had been initiated in the 1980’s and 90’s. The completion of the process was frustrated for years by Ehud Barak and Ariel Sharon, due to political considerations.

Final recognition was likely intended to place pressure on the Palestinian Authority. Negotiators for the two sides held talks in Amman during January 2012, but the PA decided to withdraw after only five meetings, thus failing to get Abbas to agree to meet Netanyahu. Talks recommenced, but PA negotiators again walked away in April, after Israeli proposals were submitted. Ron Prosor, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, noted that the PA quit the talks without response. Netanyahu would initiate the move toward full recognition soon after.

A conclusion - racism

This article addressed the pragmatic and realpolitic issues surrounding Jewish Settlements. The subject also has a substantive moral and legal dimension, for which the continued existence of settlements can be forcefully argued. For example, Article Six of the League of Nations/British Mandate charter explicitly allows for Jewish settlements.

Likewise, Jewish history and culture has not only been embedded in Judea and Samaria since ancient times, but to arguably an even greater extent than the rest of Israel, with of course the notable exception of East Jerusalem.

Yet we see an overt denial of any rights of residence for Jewish people in Judea and Samaria.

The frequent pronouncements, by a variety of Palestinian Authority officials, that Jewish people will not be allowed live in a future Arab-Palestinian state, are met with disinterest. More broadly speaking, there is no substantive expectation that Jewish people will or should be allowed stay in the region, with a decades-long acquiescence to the Palestinian Authority’s racist land-law, making it a capital offence for Arab-Palestinians to sell land to people of a Jewish identity. Rather, there is unrelenting hostility to their presence. This popular anti-Israel Western position subscribes to overtly racial argumentation, for not only does it echo the NAZI concept of Judenrein living spaces, it goes further by extending the claim to a region where Jewish people possess an indigenous tie to the land.

Ultimately, a narrative focusing on settlement issues confuses a disturbing reality, in which hostility toward settlers is merely symptomatic of a broader malaise. This conflict is motivated by Israel’s very existence, as a principally Jewish State in Dar al-Islam, be it existing behind or beyond its Armistice Lines.

First published at the New English Review.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

RTE: On the Origins of Ukrainian-Crisis Propaganda, is the Western World Anti-Russian?

Carole Coleman with Dmitri Tsiskarashvili, April 17 2014, RTE-Player screen-grab

RTE’s 6.1 News, the prime TV news show of Ireland’s public service broadcaster, featured a special report on the Ukrainian crisis on the 17th April, by Carole Coleman, one of the broadcaster’s principle reporters covering foreign news stories.


During the report in question, ‘Russia and the US accuse each other of exaggeration’, Coleman narrates:
“The air is thick with warnings and accusations. Not just on the ground in Ukraine, but in Washington, Kiev, Moscow and, by extension, the mass media. It’s called ‘The Propaganda War’, and Dmitri Tsiskarashvili from Trinity College Dublin, thinks Vladimir Putin is winning it.” […]
“The most effective propaganda is disinformation. Take Russia’s claim that uniformed men in Crimea were not its troops. Today Vladimir Putin admitted he had special units in Crimea. The US paints Russia as a power-hungry player bent on destabilisation, an accusation repeated so many times that NATO is stepping up its presence in the Baltic region.” [Cue footage of a Russia Today interviewer asking how NATO is advocating a peaceful solution whilst increasing its troop presence]
“So what is real in the fog of war and what is bluster?”
Tsiskarashvili: “During [the] Soviet time, it was straightforward naïve and stupid propaganda. But now I think the Russians became very [much] more skilful, more educated because they [are] learning from the United States, how to do a proper propaganda [campaign], especially during a time of war or some kind of financial crisis.”
Coleman’s narration continues:
“The mainstream media has adopted its own biases too. Last winter we described those on Maidan [Square] in Kiev as ‘pro-European protestors’. Now we are more likely to call the pro-Russians in the East, ‘militants’ and ‘separatists’.”
“As in all wars, the words are almost as dangerous as the weapons.”

Carole Coleman report citing 'Russia Today' (RT), April 17 2014, RTE-Player screen-grab

Media Bias?

Carole Coleman’s report is remarkable for equating, with respect to the Ukrainian crisis, the propaganda coming from the Kremlin, with similar content broadly emanating from United States.

Coleman takes issue with the word ‘militant’, as used by the media. To do so suggests she believes it is a misnomer, but it is surely an uncontroversial use of English, to describe well-armed groups as such.

As a parallel, Coleman criticised the use of the words ‘pro-European protestors’, used by the international media to describe those protesters who took to the streets of Kiev late last year, after the government pulled out of an EU trade deal. The Ukrainian government of the time opted instead for an arrangement with Russia. Whilst many protestors likely opposed the government on a variety of issues, such as corruption, they were nonetheless protestors that favoured closer economic ties with the European Union. Why then would Coleman take issue with such unproblematic terminology?

Whilst presenting the report in seemingly balanced terms, Coleman’s examples are revealing of a pro-Russian sympathy, for she criticised a positive descriptor of one group, and a negative descriptor of their political opponents. Her criticism was surprising, since her colleagues used these terms as well.

An unfortunate relativism

Carole Coleman’s report featured Dr. Dmitri Tsiskarashvili, supposedly an expert on media matters, stating that Russian propaganda had become more sophisticated, more akin to that of the US media.

Whilst few governments do not attempt to influence their media to some extent, the US possesses a level of press freedom that is diametrically opposed to that of the Russian State. Thus, it is an absurdity to present these nations as on a par.

Rather than having expertise in media analysis, Coleman’s source, Dr. Tsiskarashvili, is an assistant professor in Russian Studies at Trinity College Dublin, who, of course, focuses on academically-themed Russian pursuits. His roles include ‘Business Studies and Russian Language Programme Coordinator’.

Likewise, in another report on April 12th, entitled “Unrest grows in east Ukraine”, Coleman interviews Sergei Tarutin, a Russian newspaper editor, who criticised the Ukrainian government for a perceived weakness, and for failure to communicate with its Russian speaking populace. Coleman failed to provide any space for a Ukrainian counterpoint.

A propaganda war of two sides?

In reality, there certainly appears to have been a considerable effort to feed disinformation into the Russian media. A significant amount of this content has been debunked although such information is unlikely to undermine the force of the initial propagandistic stories.

The Russian authorities have long been claiming the government in Kiev is controlled by fascists, and accusations of Ukranian anti-Semitism appear to be coming from Russian govermental sources. Russian Jewish leaders have made similar claims which have been stoutly rejected by Jewish leaders in Ukrane itself.

In early April, a Russian propaganda video came to the international media’s attention, because it inverted reality to an extraordinary extent. The video showed a poorly organised array of Russian fighters defending Russian soil from a fascistic Ukrainian Army invasion! Thus, there is good reason to doubt Dr. Tsiskarashvili’s account of a growing sophistication in Russian propaganda.

John Lough, a Eurasian specialist at the Royal Institute of International Affairs (Chatham House), argued, on RTE’s Drivetime (April 15th), that fear is motivating Russian-Ukrainian separatism:
“Russian propaganda has been carrying a very simple message over recent weeks… you would be astounded at the level of disinformation, and the impression being cultivated by the Russian media, which are successful in those border areas of Ukraine, that a group of people have come to power in Kiev who are predominately fascists, anti-Semites, anti-Russian individuals, who are going to discriminate against Russian speakers in Ukraine. They used this argument in Crimea, and it’s now being transported to the South-East regions of Ukraine… to get the population frightened, and fearful of what might happen next in Ukraine. You’ve got 40,000 troops on the border, you’ve got indications Russia, publicly, is very concerned about the security situation, so I think in those circumstances its not hard to find supporters for a particular cause, which is to say it’s important to federalise Ukraine…”
Meanwhile, in the face of a resolute and rather combatitive Russian State, many commentators and politicians are pointing to US president Barack Obama’s rather uncertain foreign policy stance over the issue, a view Obama has himself acknowledged to some extent. Thus, it is wholly out of kilter to suggest the US is being as hawkish as Russia, in any fair-minded understanding of the conflict.

Moreover, it is quite absurd for Coleman to blame NATO’s increasing mobilisation in the region on the US’ rhetoric, rather than on Russia’s incursion in the Crimea, and mobilisation at Ukraine’s border.


Whether or not the aims of Russian speaking separatists are legitimate, for in truth few in Western Europe can claim to be particularly knowledgeable on the political climate in Ukraine, it nonetheless seems that a powerful Russian media-orchestrated fear campaign is motivating a desire by these people to separate, or at least distance themselves, from the government in Kiev.

Carole Coleman’s coverage of the Ukrainian crisis presents as subtly pro-Russian, a rather rich irony considering her accusations of Western media bias. Coleman doubles-down on her irony quotient, by using footage from Russia Today, a satellite channel widely known to be a highly successful propaganda arm of the Kremlin.

Coleman has long been noted for possessing stridently anti-American views, and, in this instance, she unjustly equates an evidentially apparent Russian media campaign, with relatively strong rhetoric emanating from the White House. Such a stance seems indicative of a rather odd paranoia of the US, NATO, and the Western media.

Also published at Crethi Plethi.