Lizzie Phelan, from London, 25 years old, is an English journalist – even if she want to specify her marked Irish origins – who became famous thanks to her role as a war correspondent from the Libyan war theatre during the civil war and the NATO bombing against Gaddafi’s government, working for the international networks Russia Today and Press TV. She was accused to spread fake news by some colleagues just because she has reported a version of the facts different from the dominant one in West, and she is still busy in the frontline to inform us about the hard situation in Syria. We decided to call her to learn more about her and her work.
Steve Biko famously said: “The greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor, is the minds of the oppressed”. This question is about cultural imperialism which one cannot understand without making some reference to its historical role. The treatment of Libya by the imperialist nations’ cultural resources is no different from how the victims of imperialist aggression, from for example the Celts up to Iran, Russia and China today, have been treated and will continue to be so long as imperialism continues to blight humanity. Western imperialism is a system that benefits only a tiny percentage of the global population and therefore it is a system of total injustice. And so in order for imperialism to stave off the inevitability of effective resistance to it, at the very least it is essential that it gains the silence of its populations about its crimes, which in history will be judged as popular complicity. It achieves this by promoting support for western hegemony almost entirely through its cultural resources, which in the modern context is via the education system and the mass media (including the music, film, news, fashion etc industries). And via these resources, historically its most effective tactic has been to create real and perceived differences, between the global majority that it oppresses and controls most brutally, as the famous adage goes to divide and rule. One of the most important differences in the context of western imperialism that was created is that of race, which for the purposes of this interview we will simply define as the notion that there are innate differences between people of different skin colours and the greatest differences are between people who have the most contrasting skin colours. People today often justify their ignorance of racism by saying that there is no such thing as racism because there is no such thing as race. So analyses of white supremacy turns those kind of people off, because such people lie to themselves that white supremacy is confined to history, but it can only become history once western imperialism becomes history.
This is because while it is true that race does not exist, a perception of race most definitely does and it is the most effective tool to garner popular complicity in minority white western elite control over the global non-white majority. The roots of anti-Black racism go further, but especially during the transatlantic slave trade upon which the modern imperialist nations particularly Britain and the US were built, the most effective way for that elite in North America to prevent revolt on their own doorstep was through giving poor white people certain measly privileges over the minority population of Black slaves. This had the inextricable dual effect of creating a perception amongst poor whites that under that system they were superior to Black people as well as a fear that they could be worse off then they already were. The elite always want as much for themselves, but the pitiful privileges which they gave to whites were an investment to strengthen their own dominance as not only did it successfully prevent poor whites from uniting with Black people to overthrow the elite’s dominance once and for all, but it ensured that they act effectively as their own informal police force to keep Black people from effectively revolting. There is a direct parallel here with how the British elite after WWII bought off any effective resistance from British people to it and its crimes, which are greatest against the peoples of the Global South, by introducing the welfare state. This was reinforced through propaganda that promoted the criminalisation and thus fear of Black people – the psychology behind which is explained in most depth by Frantz Fanon.
And of course it is not just white people who are bombarded with information controlled by the white imperialist elite, but all peoples and so the perception of white superiority is extended to non-white people also which has lead to the belief that the more “white” attributes one has, the greater stature one enjoys. This has created divides not only between white and non-white people, but amongst non-white people themselves who have been equally brainwashed into thinking that their suffering is not caused by the imperialist elite but by those that are most oppressed by that system. Western imperialism has ensured the expansion of this strategy to all corners of the world with Africa and its peoples being the most vilified. It is important for this to be understood to be able to explain why the version of events in relation to the African nation of Libya as portrayed through the west’s news networks is in fact the polar opposite of the reality. Muammar Gaddafi was the most vilified of all the North African leaders, because unlike the other North African states that came to have majority Arab populations, under Gaddafi’s leadership Libya was closest to the African continent and concretely championed the independence of Africa from western imperial interests. Africa is the breadbasket of imperialism and Gaddafi’s very concrete steps to end neo-colonialism on the continent was the main factor which made him the greatest threat to the future of western hegemony. Over the decades of Gaddafi’s leadership the terminology often used to portray him in the imperialist controlled global media, was typical of the racist terminology which has historically been used to describe Black Africans.
For example, Gaddafi would often don traditional African dress, alongside which terminology such as “eccentric” or “mad dog” was used to describe him. This is just one example of how the demonization of Gaddafi’s Libya began long before the NATO bombardment which started in March last year. Such a portrayal was accompanied by a complete absence of documentation of the realities that were taking place inside Libya. The most important being, that despite suffering years of western sanctions, Libya achieved the highest Human Development Index ranking in Africa, universal education and healthcare and low levels of crime to name but a few impressive results. Up until the NATO backed coup last year, Libya’s population of Black skinned Libyans stood at one third of the total population and the majority of that population inevitably supported Gaddafi. There were also approximately one million migrant workers from other African countries that stayed in Libya because relatively its Jamahiriyah system (state of the masses) afforded them a decent life. It is therefore no coincidence that NATO’s proxies on the ground, the “rebels” are deeply anti Black Africa which is essential for the west to be able to destroy the steps that had been made by Gaddafi to destroy neo-colonialism on the continent. This dual strategy of pumping out outright lies about the Jamahiriyah, for example that it was a dictatorship committing systematic abuses against its people, while blocking any alternative narrative became most violent when the current crisis erupted in Libya and there was absolutely no room for the latter in the imperialist media. So the only narrative that the masses are exposed to is the narrative that champions western supremacy and demonises those that oppose it. One of the most blatant examples of this was during the doctrine of “there is no alternative” that was promoted under Margaret Thatcher’s Britain. That is there is no alternative to the western system of capitalist globalisation. Musician and writer Akala in his new book “Doublethoughts” provides an excellent analysis of our society but cleverly presents that society, which he bases in a land called ‘Ignorantia’, as fictional. He explains how in Ignorantia, which is synonymous with the imperialist nations, society is indoctrinated to hold ignorance, violence and control as the three highest virtues in society. He adds that ignorance is the spearhead of this indoctrination and we are taught from birth to belittle those who are the most oppressed by the system. He says: “…[The] permanence in our system lies in the fact that we wholly accept, embrace and encourage the plain truth that man is ignorant, that that ignorance begets violence and if he is not controlled that violence cannot be effectively harnessed and may even be misused [directed toward an upper caste member for example]”. It is as though only those who are shown the most brutal face of imperialism can see the truth, and when I was in both Libya and Syria I would often be told how in the west, when you talk about the truth you are treated as a “conspiracy theorist”, while in places like Libya or Syria, the truth is their reality and day to day existence.
Your work as a war correspondent is very hard and maybe one of the most dangerous work in general. In a war theatre, normal life rules disappear and your life becomes completely different from usual routine: nothing is sure and guaranteed, like it was in your country or in precedent everyday’s life. And for a woman, this is maybe even harder than for a man. Why did you choose this kind of career?
In many ways I did not choose this career but it has chosen me. I come from a progressive family which at the most radical end is my Irish family who were very active in the long and bloody struggle against the British and the name “Phelan” is my Irish grandmother’s maiden name, she came from a family of the McAteer and Phelan clans who were both very active in that struggle. Her father, William Phelan was a member of the Irish Citizen’s Army – one of the leading forces behind the 1916 Easter Rising against British rule. He was jailed and tortured by the British in the 1920s. Amongst the McAteers my relative Michael McAteer was in the IRA’s second battalion and was involved in the assault on the Four Courts that began the Battle of Dublin in 1922. So, I have been raised with a consciousness about what imperialism is, why it will always be resisted through every means available to those most oppressed by it and why anyone who opposes that system must unconditionally support those on the frontlines.
Therefore before I am a journalist, I am a supporter of justice, and one can only truly be such a supporter if one is opposed to the most unjust system in recorded history, western imperialism. I could be accused of overly using this quote but it is very important, Malcolm X said: “If you are not careful the media will have you loving the oppressor and hating those who are being oppressed”. This is a reality and so I see that my role, given the means that are available to me are to challenge that reality, that is why I choose to cover events relating to those that are on the frontline resisting imperialism at its most vicious.
The safety of my country that you refer to does not end when I leave England, in fact it follows me wherever I go. This is not to say that I am ensured complete protection, of course I could be hit by shrapnel or stray bullets, like any other civilian. But unlike any other civilian as a British passport holder, the chances that I will be targeted for my beliefs are minimal. This is because abuses against a westerner are treated with much more gravity by the imperialist dominated global media and related institutions. In fact, while I was in Libya during the NATO backed rebel invasion of Tripoli, a Brit who I have strong reason to believe was attached to Britain’s military, squared up to me and said: “that British passport that you hate so much is what will save your skin.” He was of course right, and it was what saved my skin. If I had been a Libyan relaying the facts to the global media, I would have immediately been killed or worse when the rebels entered the city. Similarly, the facts that I have relayed about the Libyan crisis are no different from what masses of Libyans have been saying. But simply because I am British I am afforded greater “credibility”. This relates directly to the imperialist hierarchy of privileges, the greatest of which are reserved for white westerners, that I was talking about in response to the first question. People who are afforded such privileges either deny that they exist, acknowledge them and do nothing to challenge them, or use their access to such privileges as a platform to challenge the system that has created them. As an internationalist, I consider that it is my role to do the latter. The potential sacrifices that choosing this strategy exposes me to, is nothing compared to the sacrifices made by those who find themselves on the frontlines defending themselves and humanity from imperialists’ brutal attempts to sustain itself.
A new world is coming. The unipolar order born in 1991, from the ruins of the Cold War, is disappearing, day by day, slowly substituted by a new multipolar order composed of some new emerging world-powers like Russian Federation and China, and new powerful economies like India or Brazil. This phenomenon gave these countries an impulse to form new alliances like the BRICS group or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. How much high is the alert-level in the rooms of American Department of Defence?
A new multipolar world is coming which is the continuation of the centuries long struggle of the peoples in the Global South against imperialism and is the first stage of building a just world that rather than encouraging self-destruction lays the foundations for eternal human progress. This new world will only come however if Fidel Castro’s relentless warnings of the very real dangers of an environmental or nuclear catastrophe which would destroy the world are prevented. The failure of western unipolarity has increased the chances of a nuclear catastrophe, and we can see that the recent intensification of military aggression that began with NATO’s destruction of Libya is a sign that the west is gripped by panic causing it to lash out as it tries to reassert its hegemony. Both Syria and Libya are important in this regard for a number of reasons. First, both states are in the Mediterranean area which western Europe sees as its backyard and both Muammar Gaddafi and Bashar al-Assad rejected France’s calls for them to join a “Mediterranean Union” that would also include Israel. At a time when the west is provoking confrontation with Russia and China, it is vital that it secures military dominance in this area which it has, in the short-term, achieved in Libya. With Syria being part of the Hizbullah-Syria-Iran resistance axis to Israel, it the west considers that it is vital for Assad’s Syria to be wiped out, so that Hizbullah can easily fall and subsequently Iran can be easily attacked. This would also leave Russia and China without any allies that could challenge Israel.
Of course, this is how the west would like for things to pan out but an increased attempt to destroy Syria would, like the system of imperialism itself be irrational as it would be likely to cause a retaliation by the resistance axis against Israel, the western response to which is difficult to foresee. This is because there are contradictions between the imperialists, the liberals and the fanatics, who both have the same goals but the former has a more long-term vision whereas the latter, epitomised by figures like Netanyahu, do not and are in fact suicidal, but of course they do not see it like that.
I believe it is inevitable that a retaliation, which would be a self-defensive retaliation, by the resistance will come soon. Again, to quote Malcolm X: ”I don’t think that when a man is being criminally treated, that some criminal has the right to tell that man what tactics to use to get the criminal off his back. When a criminal starts misusing me, I am going to use whatever necessary to get that criminal off my back“.