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 BlogviewPatrick Cockburn Archive

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Debate rages on every television screen and newspaper front page about the fairness or unfairness of lockdowns and semi-lockdowns. The finger of blame for the failure to stop the spread of coronavirus is increasingly pointed at the chief of NHS Test and Trace, Baroness Harding, and at the health minister, Lord Bethell, serial blunderers referred... Read More
I was in Baghdad in 1998 during US airstrikes, watching missiles explode in great flashes of light as they hit their targets. There was some ineffectual anti-aircraft fire, the only result of which was pieces of shrapnel falling from the sky and making it dangerous to step outside the building we were in. To my... Read More
The battle against Covid-19 is often compared to real war. The analogy encourages a “we are all in it together” solidarity and suggests that it is unpatriotic to criticise or oppose government decisions. Yet the comparison should not be entirely dismissed as self-serving bluster by political leaders because a war and a pandemic have many... Read More
“Many relatives of mine were living in camps near the border with Turkey,” says Huda Husein, a 25-year-old teacher living in the rebel-held enclave of Idlib in northwest Syria. “But last month they returned home [to the cities and villages] because they prefer dying under an airstrike to dying in the camps.” A cousin told... Read More
The silence of journalists in Britain and the US over the extradition proceedings against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is making them complicit in the criminalisation of newsgathering by the American government. In an Old Bailey courtroom in London over the past four weeks, lawyers for the US government have sought the extradition of Assange to... Read More
I was six years old in 1956 when my parents decided to return to Ireland from London, though a polio epidemic was in full swing in Cork city thirty miles from where we lived. They thought we would be safe in our house deep in the countryside and were encouraged by the fact that there... Read More
Amid the patriotic bombast about Making America Great Again at the Republican Convention nominating President Trump for a second term on 24 August, nobody noticed that it began on the anniversary of one of the most humiliating defeats in American history. It was on this day more than two centuries earlier in 1814 that a... Read More
Twenty years ago, a novelist went to see his publisher to discuss his proposal to write a dystopian novel set in Britain in 2020 when newspaper columnists have taken power and are running the country. These opinion-makers, sometimes called the Commentariat, had for years been expressing outrage at the failings of the government and everyone... Read More
Desperate refugees crammed into cockle-shell boats landing on the shingle beaches of the south Kent coast are easily portrayed as invaders. Anti-immigrant demonstrators were exploiting such fears last weekend as they blockaded the main highway into Dover Port in order “to protect Britain’s borders”. Meanwhile, the home secretary, Priti Patel, blames the French for not... Read More
A sheriff in Texas was once trailing badly in his re-election campaign. He met with his political friends to discuss how he might regain the lead. After examining different options, he himself came up with a suggestion on how to damage his opponent. “Why don’t we say that he commits bestial acts with pigs?” he... Read More
The Republican convention was a nauseating performance even by the cess-pit standards of the Trump administration. In its cult-like obeisance to the supreme leader it reminds me of meetings of the Iraqi Baath Party that periodically endorsed Saddam Hussein as the national saviour. The only speeches acceptable in both cases were dollops of fawning praise.... Read More
“I cannot tell my true name,” says Ramiz Halawani, a 37-year-old teacher in Damascus. “You know how bad and violent our security intelligence are. They have spies everywhere. So, I am using another name.” Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Independent, Mr Halawani said he contracted Covid-19 earlier this month, as the epidemic swept... Read More
“If I don’t buy masks or medicine, I may die or survive, but if I don’t buy bread for the family, we will all die of starvation,” says a retired 68-year-old teacher in Damascus, explaining why he does not have masks, sterilisers or medicines. “We need two bundles of loaves every day which costs us... Read More
President Donald Trump is cock-a-hoop over the United Arab Emirates becoming the first Arab Gulf state to normalise its relations with Israel. He needs all the good news he can get in the months before the US presidential election. “HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab... Read More
We live in an era of resurgent nationalism. From Scotland to Sri Lanka, from China to Brazil, governments rely on nationalism as a source of communal identity and a vehicle for common action. In countries where religious identity appears to dominate, as with Islam in Turkey and Hinduism in India, religion has bonded with nationalism.... Read More
When I got polio on a farm in the middle of the Irish countryside in 1956, an Irish Health Ministry official visited our nearest neighbour, a farmer called Dick Cunningham, the next day. He told him what had happened and advised him to keep his children at home. Other farmers in the area, none of... Read More
Donald Trump has fallen far enough behind in the polls as to raise the hopes of the world that it will soon see the back of him as US president come the election in 100 days’ time. Given his calamitous handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the decline in his popularity is scarcely surprising. Yet Trump... Read More
The new Cold War launched by the West against China and Russia is escalating by the day. In a single week, the Kremlin has been unmasked trying to discover the secrets of Britain’s pursuit of a vaccine against coronavirus and revelations are promised about covert Russian interference in British politics. Boris Johnson made a U-turn... Read More
When Voltaire on his deathbed was asked by a priest if he renounced Satan, he responded: “Now, now my good man. This is no time to be making enemies.” Britain may not yet be on its deathbed, but it is politically and economically sick and this might be a good moment to follow Voltaire’s example... Read More
President Trump is making plain the degree to which the country remains divided by the American Civil War. His threat to veto the $718bn Defence Bill if it renames military bases called after Confederate generals harks back to 1861. His stand highlights the bizarre way that the US military has named its biggest bases, like... Read More
The government’s controversial Prevent programme aims to stop individuals becoming terrorists, but it would be much more effective if it taught British political leaders not to engage in wars that become the seed-beds of terrorism. Consider the case of Khairi Saadallah, the suspect in the killing of three people in a park in Reading who... Read More
Conservative leaders snigger at protesters seeking the removal of statues memorialising those whose fortunes came from the exploitation of slaves. The leader of the House of Commons, Jacob Rees-Mogg, implied facetiously this week that such demands are on a par with seeking to knock down Stonehenge on the grounds that it once could have been... Read More
Britain is failing to cope with the Covid-19 epidemic as well as other countries in Europe and East Asia have. Out of 62,000 excess deaths in the UK, says former chief medical officer Sir David King, “40,000 excess deaths could have been avoided if government had acted responsibly”. The failure is devastating: on a single... Read More
In October 2001 I was standing on a hilltop 40 miles north of Kabul watching US aircraft bomb the Taliban front line. The night sky was lit up with the flash of explosions and the sparkle of ineffectual anti-aircraft fire. It was fairly obvious who was going to come out the winner. A few weeks... Read More
Stop those non-humans who are writing and provoking our people,” says Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov in an Instagram video. The non-humans he objects to are journalists who criticise the Chechen authorities for mishandling their response to the Covid-19 epidemic. Given Kadyrov has faced allegations of torturing and disappearing critics (which the leader denies), he leaves... Read More
The US and UK are the nation states that have performed worst in the world in coping with the coronavirus pandemic. Americans and Britons make up more than a third of the 300,000 people worldwide who have died from Covid-19. They have paid the ultimate price for their governments’ slow and incompetent response to the... Read More
The shadowy figures of well-armed Isis gunmen can be seen making an attack in the plains of northern Iraq on an outpost held by paramilitary fighters loyal to the Iraqi government. Some four of the latter are killed by a roadside bomb. Isis specialises in publicising its successful military actions online to show that it... Read More
“Go to China!”, a woman in Denver, Colorado, shouts at two hospital workers standing in front of her car to prevent her from taking part in a protest against the coronavirus lockdown. Her cry is a sign that President Trump is having some success in demonising China: he says that that he has a “high... Read More
In the summer of 2011, riots erupted all over London and television screens and newspapers were filled with pictures of blazing buildings and looted shops. People swiftly noted that among those not present in the capital was the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, who was with his family in a camper van in the Canadian... Read More
“Where does incompetence end and crime begin?” asked an appalled German chancellor in the First World War on learning that his chief military commander planned to renew his bloody but futile attacks on the western front. President Trump is showing a similar disastrous inability during the coronavirus pandemic to shift away from his well-tried tactics... Read More
I was walking in the early evening down an empty street in Canterbury, wondering how residents were coping with fear and isolation stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. People living there must have been in their houses judging by the cars parked outside, but there were few lights in the windows suggesting that they were in... Read More
Government leaders everywhere are calling for their people to wage war against the coronavirus outbreak, recalling past victories in an effort to boost public morale. In Britain, politicians cite the Second World War as a suitable example of determined and successful resistance to a terrifying enemy. Yet the faltering response of the British authorities to... Read More
The US may be reaching its “Chernobyl moment” as it fails to lead in combating the coronavirus epidemic. As with the nuclear accident in the Soviet Union in 1986, a cataclysm is exposing systemic failings that have already weakened US hegemony in the world. Whatever the outcome of the pandemic, nobody is today looking to... Read More
“I have delivered food parcels to four families this morning,” says Paula Spencer, who runs the community centre in Thanington, a deprived district on the outskirts of Canterbury. Two of the families had called for help because they had symptoms of the coronavirus, and two simply needed food to eat. There are no signs of... Read More
The fear caused by the coronavirus outbreak is greater than that provoked by a serious war because everybody is in the front line and everybody knows that they are a potential casualty. The best parallel is the terror felt by people facing occupation by a hostile foreign army; even if, in the present case, the... Read More
On 30 March last year, a man suffering from severe mental illness walked out of his flat in north London and stabbed a woman in the back with a knife, inflicting injuries that left her paralysed for life. She was a complete stranger to him, as were the four other people whom he met by... Read More
On 9 to 10 November 1938 the German government encouraged its supporters to burn down synagogues and smash up Jewish homes, shops, businesses, schools. At least 91 Jews – and probably many more – were killed by Nazi supporters egged on by Joseph Goebbels, the minister for public enlightenment and propaganda, in what became known... Read More
I was in Kabul in 2010 when Julian Assange and WikiLeaks first released a vast archive of classified US government documents, revealing what Washington really knew about what was happening in the world. I was particularly interested in one of these disclosures, which came in the shape of a video that the Pentagon had refused... Read More
“People wanted to kick the government and Sinn Fein provided the shoe to do the kicking,” says Christy Parker, a journalist from the beautiful but de-industrialised town of Youghal in county Cork. He speaks of the “chasm” between the elite benefiting from Ireland’s impressive economic progress and the large part of the population that has... Read More
If I was sitting in a restaurant and said in a loud voice that I had probably contracted coronavirus, many other customers might get up and leave. But I would be telling the literal truth: I have had a persistent sniffle for weeks and coronaviruses cause the common cold. What I do not have is... Read More
My favourite slogan about Brexit over the past three years is written in large white letters on a red gable wall in the Tigers Bay district of Belfast. It was painted before the referendum of 2016 and, below a union flag, reads: “Vote Leave EU. Rev 18:4.” The biblical reference is to a verse in... Read More
China is responding to the spread of the coronavirus in Wuhan much as countries have always reacted to life-threatening epidemics. At every level of society and government, fear of death – or, more accurately, fear of being held responsible for death – drives decision-making, which is consequently often ill-judged. Officials do not want to cause... Read More
Today Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei gave his first Friday sermon in Tehran for eight years to an audience of thousands, as he tried to calm down the furious public reaction to the Revolutionary Guards mistakenly shooting down a Ukrainian plane carrying 176 passengers, then proceeding to lie about their responsibility for three days. Khameinei... Read More
I was in Iraq in April 1991 when government security forces crushed the Shia uprising against Saddam Hussein’s regime, killing tens of thousands and burying their bodies in pits. I had been expelled from Iraq to Jordan at the start of the rebellion in March and then, to my surprise, allowed to return, because Saddam... Read More
The Iranian missile attack on two US bases in Iraq is symbolic retaliation for the US assassination of General Qassem Soleimani on 3 January. Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei said there would be direct action against the US by the Iranian armed forces, and this has now happened. The message is that the Iranian leadership... Read More
The assassination of Qassem Soleimani has capsized Iraqi politics in the most dangerous of ways, making it possible that the country will be plunged once again into a state of permanent crisis and war from which it has escaped in the last two years. President Trump is threatening sanctions against Iraq if it expels the... Read More
Iraqis have a well-honed instinct about approaching danger which stems from their grim experience during 40 years of crisis and war. Three months ago, I asked a friend in Baghdad how she and her friends viewed the future, adding Iraq seemed to me to be more peaceful than at any time since the US and... Read More
Nationalism in different shapes and forms is powerfully transforming the politics of the British Isles, a development that gathered pace over the last five years and culminated in the general election this month. National identities and the relationship between England, Scotland and Ireland are changing more radically than at any time over the last century.... Read More
I live in Canterbury, where the Labour MP Rosie Duffield increased her slim majority tenfold in the general election. Given Labour’s defeat in almost all of the rest of the UK, it’s worth considering why this happened,. A prime reason Duffield retained her seat is that that Labour had the support of a rickety but... Read More
I suspected from the moment the general election was called that the result would be a large Conservative majority, a calamitous defeat for Labour, and a decisive victory for Brexit. To prevent myself getting too depressed by this grim prospect, I picked out and read two books on crises that were far more dire: one... Read More
Patrick Cockburn
About Patrick Cockburn

Patrick Cockburn is the Middle East correspondent for the British newspaper The Independent. He was awarded the 2005 Martha Gellhorn prize for war reporting. His book on his years covering the war in Iraq, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (Verso) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for non-fiction.


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