TURNING A BLIND EYE TO EVIL
Every black-hearted despot has needed his useful idiots, and history’s tyrants seem never to run short of them.
Vladimir Lenin had his sympathetic garrison of foreign correspondents prominently including John Reed, who wrote the book 10 Days That Shook The World, is buried in the Kremlin Wall, and as recently as 1987 had a Soviet stamp issued in his honour.Warren Beatty played him in the 1981 Academy award-winning film Reds.
Idi Amin was assisted by the Englishman “Major” Bob Astles in the 1970s as the bloodthirsty Ugandan ran his African horror show in which up to 500,000 enemies were killed, often in inexplicable “car accidents” after they had been tortured and shot.
Erratic and ruthless, Amin reportedly had disabled people thrown to crocodiles and admitted to eating his enemies. “I was the only person (Amin) could trust,” Astlestold The Times in 1985. Adding later: “I kept my eyes shut, I said nothing about what I saw.”
The North Vietnamese had Jane Fonda who earned the nickname Hanoi Jane after visiting that country during the Vietnam War in 1972 – a year in which almost 12,000 fellow Americans would be killed there – to denounce her country. At that time,genuine American heroes such as future presidential candidate the late John McCain were being routinely tortured in the same city.
On her last day there she was infamously photographed with an anti-aircraft gun used to kill her countrymen. Years later she would say: “As I walked away, I realised,‘Oh my gosh. It’s going to look like I am against my own country’s soldiers and siding with the enemy’.”
Yes, that’s right. It did. You were.
Former England captain David Beckham is proving to be a most useful idiot for Qatar in its bid to present itself as other than a wealthy state with an expensive veneer of civility disguising 6th-century barbarism of sharia law and hate for homosexuals along with support for those who would wipe Israel from the map.
Let’s overlook that Qatar cheated its way to hosting the World Cup; the event unfolding today should have been held in Australia or the United States. That rules were broken for Qatar to host this World Cup is one thing; that one of its defining exports has been the coffins of reportedly up to 6500 migrants workers is another.
Those lucky enough to be paid have worked in conditions that include long summers during which temperatures can reach 45C – for about $300 a week. But more than a few claim not to have been paid.
In August, groups of migrant workers joined protests to draw attention to their situation. Many of them were quickly arrested and some deported.
It is not just construction employees who have been treated poorly in this nation of migrant workers. Qataris make up just 8 per cent of the population of 2.6 million; a regularly exploited cavalry of imported Indians, Sri Lankans, Filipinos, Nepalese,Bangladeshis and Pakistanis makes up the rest.
It is estimated that 175,000 foreigners serve as domestics and, while the government has tried to improve their conditions, Amnesty International observes that they are sometimes underpaid, assaulted, spat upon and even raped. These poor people“buy” their jobs from agents to whom they are in debt. Their passports are routinely confiscated and they are often restricted from changing employers.
It is an ugly story and one from which Qatar seeks to hide. This is where Beckham comes in. He has been contracted to improve Qatar’s reputation, and not just for the duration of the World Cup: Qatar hopes to host the 2036 Olympics – coincidentally 100 years after Nazi Germany did the same in Berlin in an effort to put a human face on Hitler’s National Socialism.
It was revealed last year that Beckham will be paid more than $270m to work on the country’s image, which came as a surprise to the LGBT community which had hailed the sports star ever since he bravely bleached his hair and posed for the cover of Attitude magazine in 2002.
The editor who arranged that photo shoot is unequivocal about its impact: “For this handsome, fashion-conscious icon of masculinity to state that he welcomed and celebrated the gay gaze was a cultural game-changer.”
Of course, Beckham knows all about brands – he, his wife, their kids are called Brand Beckham – and he is out to change Qatar’s. But part of Qatar’s brand is that homosexuality is illegal there and punished severely. According to Human Rights Watch, LGBT people in Qatar have been rounded up and bashed by security forces while others have been forced to undertake “conversion” therapy.
Last month, one of Beckham’s fellow World Cup ambassadors, Qatari Khalid Salman,said homosexuality was “damage in the mind” and rightly forbidden in his homeland.
Beckham may be okay with it: “People in Qatar are very proud of their culture,” he barks not unlike a trained seal in a promotional video for the country. “The modern and the traditional fused to create something really special,” he continues, sounding like a prepared script in which his children are also mentioned.
I don’t suppose Beckham’s great friend Elton John – his first son’s godfather – and Elton’s husband David Furnish will be slipping quietly over to Doha for the World Cup final. And it makes you wonder about Beckham being discovered in the long queue to walk past the Queen as she lay in state. He’d sought no advantage from his fame, wealth or the OBE the Queen gave him to cut corners and take the VIP route.
But cynical observers wondered if it wasn’t an opportunity to give Brand Beckham a polish. He and his wife, former Spice Girl Victoria, are shameless in selling themselves. There was the Victoria Beckham blow-up doll decoy in Los Angeles while there filming the TV special Victoria Beckham: Coming to America. “She’s an international icon of fashion and glamour,” it breathlessly announced, and “married to the hottest man alive”.
In an effort to get her first solo single rising in the charts, she and her husband travelled around Britain jointly signing copies. They involved their children in the campaign to sell the Posh Is Back lipstick range.
One of their sons was recently on the cover of i-D magazine in “tighty whities” and“in various stages of undress with pink hair”. A London newspaper reported that“the crotch-grabbing and hyper sexualised styling have sparked conversations about the double standards around the objectification of boys and girls.”
Unlike the situation in Qatar, no human rights are at risk on Rodeo Drive. In anycase, Beckham’s Qatar deal is so valuable he’ll never need another.
Vladimir Putin’s mates have spent two decades turning useful idiocy into an art form. Idiot-in-chief has been the former French actor Gerard Depardieu who adopted Russian citizenship to avoid paying French taxes.
At the time, Depardieu praised Putin’s country as “a great democracy”. He sold his $100m Paris mansion, and, on being given a Russian passport by his mate, said: “I like this man very much … he has political wisdom.”
He later wrote: “I love your president, Vladimir Putin, very much and it’s mutual.”He added: “The wind blows freely (in Russia). I think its powerful temperament stems from this. And that’s what it’s like with me, that’s how we’re similar. One must be very strong to be Russian.”
Like Putin, the B movie star Steven Seagal is a martial arts obsessive – and a long-term Kremlin apologist, claiming the Russian President “is one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader alive today”.
A flattered Putin granted Seagal citizenship in 2016. Segal likes to “consider Putin as a brother” and justified Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The real Putin was well known to the world by then. Gaining confidence in his second presidential term, prominent enemies of his were regularly eliminated:Kremlin critic, the investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya, was shot dead in Moscow (on Putin’s birthday), as the editor of Russia’s Forbes had been earlier;Alexander Lytvynenko was poisoned with polonium-210 in London; lawyer and journalist Magomed Yevloyev was shot in the head while in police custody; human rights activist Natalya Estemirova was kidnapped in Chechnya and murdered. There are so many.
As prime minister, Putin had initiated the Second Chechen War, an invasion that claimed 60,000 lives and left the struggling nation environmentally ruined.
Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroder also knew well who Putin was – they were and remain mates – but still agreed to join the board of Nord Stream, a Russian-led conglomerate that built the controversial gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea that made Europe dependent on Russian energy and enriched the Kremlin coffers, and Schroder’s.
At one stage, Russia was earning about $325m a day from the deal, money it invested in invading Ukraine. It has made Schroder and other Germans involved pariahs at home. The Germans have a word for such people: Putinversteher. It translates as Putin understander.
But Hollywood takes the cake. And did so on Friday, December 10, 2010 when the young entrepreneur Samuel Aroutiounian booked a swag of big names to appear at a children’s cancer event in St Petersburg. He’d been introducing stars to Putin for years. This time he outdid himself with, of course, Depardieu, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Costner, Sharon Stone, Monica Bellucci, Kurt Russell and even Goldie Hawn. The entertainment was James Brown’s saxophonist Maceo Parker and his band. Putin was asked to sing – he was learning piano and as part of his English language lessons had mastered the lyrics to Blueberry Hill, made famous by Fats Domino. Putin stroked a few notes on the piano and thought better of it, but then stood to sing, Parker’s band joining in. The palatalised vowels sound odd: “I found my threell on Blueberry Heell”. The audience’s reception is odder still. Depardieu beams and claps along like a schoolchild. The others join in. Sharon Stone flashes a V sign. Whose victory is this?
The whoops and wild applause at the end are as predictable as they are demeaning.But presumably everyone hoped the singer would stick to his day job. Unfortunately,he has.