Owen Jones: Tough on meanness, tough on the causes of meanness

Kit Knightly
A response to the Guardian article Putin is a human rights abusing oligarch by Owen Jones

In his latest piece on Vladimir Putin, Owen Jones demonstrates the weakness of the politically left-of-centre press in the UK – and indeed the Western world as a whole. A certain kind of chinless, sweater-vested, well-meaningness that achieves nothing but smugness and twitter shares. In this article – here – he sets out a political platform that is, in essence, tough on meanness and tough on the causes of meanness.

In its own way it is more insidious than the out-spoken right-wing nonsense of Trump or Farage. Let’s be friendly, he says. Let’s all get along. Everybody should be allowed to do whatever they want…

…and you should go to jail for saying otherwise.

His point is simple – Putin is bad and the left should not apologise for him – and he makes it pretty effectively. He just has to repeat massive geopolitical lies, whilst propping up his own public image as “the guy at the Guardian you wish your daughter would date”.

Let’s dive right in, shall we? The headline:

Putin is a human rights abusing oligarch.

Well, it’s direct at least. But seems to only demonstrate that Mr Jones doesn’t know what “oligarch” means. (Hint, it doesn’t mean “nasty man” Owen). The definition is very simple, and none of it applies to Putin who is not a business magnate and has never worked in anything but government. An Oligarchy is:

…a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people might be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, religious or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next…

Russia is actually a democracy, though you’d be forgiven for not realising this if you only ever read the Guardian, and Putin is an elected head of state – and a popular one at that. Not an autocrat. Not an oligarch. You can’t force a lie to become true simply through repetition.

Interestingly enough, according to researchers at Princeton (that well-known den of pro-Kremlin spies): the USA actually IS an oligarchy. But I digress.

A rightwing authoritarian leader who attacks civil liberties, stigmatises lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, indulges in chauvinistic nationalism, is in bed with rapacious oligarchs and who is admired by the European and American hard right.

My word, the inaccuracies come thick and fast don’t they?

Rightwing? In what sense?

Economically speaking Putin would actually be considered rather left-wing in the UK or US. When was the last time a British government re-nationalised an industry? Russia has a far more socialist economy than we do.

Is he right-wing racially? No. There’s no racial discrimination in Russian government. Russia has dozens of ethnic minorities, all protected under law unlike – and I’m just pulling a random example out of the air here – ethnic Russians in Ukraine.

Stigmatises LGBT people? Oh, this is about THAT law isn’t it? The propaganda law. The law which forbids the “promotion of non-traditional sexual practices to children”. Yup, that sounds pretty brutal. I mean, just listen to the guy talk here or read his statements here, he’s obviously a raging homophobe.

NB. For anybody interested there’s a breakdown of the Russian law written by a gay American lawyer here, and good discussion of it on the No Agenda show (about 10 minutes in).

Putin is “in bed” with rapacious oligarchs? The Russian government, under Putin, does business with all sorts of oligarchs.

Like Berezovsky, who moved to London after Putin was elected.

Or Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was stripped of his assets and arrested for fraud.

Or Sergei Pugachev, who is currently on the run after being prosecuted for embezzling.

When Putin stripped the oil-based oligarchs’ control of Russia’s energy reserves, who was he in bed with then? When he re-nationalised those industries and poured the money into re-building Russian infrastructure…at which oligarch’s behest was that?

We live in a country where Google, Vodafone, Amazon et al regularly dodge billions of pounds worth of taxes, with no repercussions, can we really afford to start throwing stones about government corruption? Is there any chance, at all, Cameron would permit the arrest of British bankster?

Jones, of course, does have a point – the involvement of billionaires in politics is dangerous, and possibly insidious. I mean you’d never see George Soros pulling political levers in the West, and God knows no big business ever gave money to Clinton, Blair, Cameron or anybody else. It’s not like there’s an oligarch running for President of America right now…

As for who Putin is “admired by”, it doesn’t signify. A man does not choose his admirers. A weak argument from a weak writer.

Now BBC One’s Panorama has broadcast allegations that the Russian leader has secretly amassed a vast fortune….a British public inquiry concluded that ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was likely to have been murdered at the personal behest of Putin….but we know that some of those critical of the government – like Anna Politkovskaya, who courageously opposed Putin’s war in Chechnya…”

Yes, with the recent (farcical) Litvinenko ruling, Russia-bashing is back in vogue. Well done Owen, it seems your moral outrage has peaked at the time most likely to get you thousands of shares on facebook. Lucky you.

There’s a common thread in all of the above accusations – there’s no evidence to back up any of them. In the case of Litvinenko, the court actually ignored evidence he was poisoned BEFORE November 1st in order to make their narrative fit together (see the video published earlier this week), and as for the BBC’s ludicrous Panorama episode, well, let’s just say it’s getting its own article.

Jones’ portrayal of the Second Chechen War as “Putin’s war”, and his later use of the phrase “[Putin’s] savage war in Chechnya”, are both quite interesting. Firstly it suggests an ignorance of military history on Owen’s part (not surprising considering his ignorance of economics, legislation and even the basic meaning of words) – the Second Chechen War was started as a result of the invasion of Dagestan.

In August 1999 Dagestan, a federal republic, was invaded by the “Islamic International Brigade”, this is their flag, it may look a little familiar. Just imagine it emblazoned on the hood of a brand new Toyota:

Remind you of anything?

Remind you of anything?

In response to an invasion by Islamic insurgents, Russia sent in the army – I’m not sure if Owen considers this savage, or not – and pushed the invaders back into the neighbouring republic, Chechnya. The constant, low-level insurgency in Chechnya then spilled over into all out war. The Russian and Chechen authorities on the one side, and Chechen rebels, IIB and Mujahideen on the other.

Yes, THAT Mujahideen.

The “Islamic extremists are fine as long as they are killing Russians” model, so successfully set up in Afghanistan in 1979 and deployed in Syria last year, was used in Chechnya too.

Is war bad? Obviously. Did the people of Chechnya suffer? Immeasurably. But to lay that at the Kremlin’s door, as if Chechnya were a vanity project of the Russian leadership, is so terribly dishonest that you wonder how Jones can sleep at night.

To then compare Chechnya and Crimea, as Jones does here:

…the west’s attitude towards Putin is hypocritical. When Putin prosecuted his savage war in Chechnya, there was none of the western outrage later meted out when the Russians annexed the Crimea.

Is to step sideways into madness.

Putting aside the pathetic parroting of the “annexation” meme, I’m curious to know how much outrage defending your country from Islamic insurgents should merit, and – indeed – what course of action Owen would recommend in place of “savage” self-defence.

I suppose the Western press is just of the opinion that, if an army turns up at your border, you don’t ask who they are or why they are blowing up your buildings, and you certainly don’t shoot back, you just let them in and apologise for the mess.

When you look at it that way, both the refugee crisis and the condemnation of Assad suddenly make a lot more sense.

We should express our solidarity with Russia’s embattled democrats and leftists. We don’t have to choose between critiquing our own foreign policy and opposing unjust foreign governments. In a sense, critics of western foreign policy have more of a responsibility to speak out. While supporters of, for example, the Iraq calamity can be more easily batted away by Putin apologists, nobody can accuse people like me of hypocritically failing to critique western foreign policy.

Once again, Owen, Russia’s “democrats” are in charge. They were democratically elected, they are very popular. I know Western definitions of democracy are shifting at the moment, but there’s nothing intrinsically more fair about being ruled by a government nobody voted for, it doesn’t mean the system works.

And Russia’s “leftists”? The communist party is the second biggest presence in the Duma. They are the majority of Putin’s opposition – a role usually attributed to political no-names likes Nemstov or Navalny, in a British press that increasingly has little to no interest in physical realities.

There’s nothing alternative or liberal here, not really.

Beneath the veneer of liking immigrants and the rainbow-facebook picture and sorting out his recycling Owen Jones is very much on The Right Side. Our side. He’s against wars but, obviously, OUR wars are better than THEIR wars.

It doesn’t matter to him that, for several years now, Russia has been the only thing between America and the global chaos they’ve been trying to incite, it doesn’t matter that Washington continues to pursue policies that require Russian good-sense and judgment to avoid World War III.

He still, somehow, maintains the moral authority of the west. Its God-given right to dictate terms, and its duty to lead the world. He doesn’t question the Empire, only gently corrects it. We should all help the poor refugees, but let’s not think too hard about the policies of deliberate destabilization that lead us to this crisis. We should all resist ISIS, but let’s not publish (or even read) the reams of evidence that show ISIS is being funded by NATO allies and equipped by America.

Everything is basically fine, we should just be a bit nicer. At least we’re not Russians.

This whole article could have been written by Luke Harding, or Shaun Walker or Michael White or Jonathan Jones – it shows only that the spectrum of acceptable opinions narrows more and more each day, and that modern journalism is a lot like early model Fords – “Any colour you want, as long as Putin is the bad guy”.

It is a laundry list of myths and bullshit and hot air. Sound and fury, signifying less than nothing. It could have any picture in the by-line, it just so happens it has the pasty pre-pubescent looking one.

The accompanying apologetic subtext is the only thing that sets it apart. “I’m one of the gang!”, the weedy kid pipes up. “I’m cool too!”.

At least when Shaun Walker copies and pastes opinions from the GCHQ approved list, he doesn’t pretend it’s for anything other than money.

And here, it seems, we come to the crux of the point: In the above paragraph “people like me”, would perhaps better phrased as “People, like me!”. In short, Owen Jones prizes his perceived role as “the good guy” too much to question the official narrative of the Western press. Safeguarding his reputation as a supporter of all things pleasant, he likes being invited to talk at LGBT rallies, and getting handshakes and being nice.

We get it Owen, you’re nice. You’re not good, you’re not right, you’re just nice.


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