A slight change for Then and Now this month as we focus on two works by the same writer, John Pilger. But seeing as his books are so powerful, so necessary and so inspirational I think you'll excuse it! Thirteen years ago he produced Hidden Agendas, one of the most important books of the nineties, and now we have Freedom Next Time, a book that makes us question everything we think we know about world affairs. Hidden Agendas It is quite a curious experience reading 'Hidden Agendas' in 2010, as I did, having got it for Christmas. Written before Tony Blair became Prime Minister (although at a point where it was fairly obvious he was coming into power – the David Cameron effect of today), it is a moment of looking into the recent past and reading what can only be described of as accurate predictions. The growth of Thatcherite politics into the former left, the continued closeness of the 'special relationship', the increase of free trade, child labour and the desperation caused by a globalised trade in depressed and corrupt nations...this isn't an airport read that's for sure. Pilger is a journalist to whom integrity is so closely wrapped up to his writing that he is never afraid to put himself in danger or upset the establishment. This is the man, for example, who was banned from Apartheid South Africa for pissing off the racist ruling class. And it is this integrity that has kept him looking deep into the hidden stories, the forgotten news, the dispossessed nations and countries that we don't see in the news. Pilger was in Haiti long before the earthquake put it on the news, when the humanitarian crisis was fostering the conditions that have caused the horrific scenes we have been watching on our screens. Hidden Agendas brings together a number of the countries, regimes and people that Pilger has spent his whole career bringing attention to. He reveals the horror of slave labour in Burma, where men, women and children build the roads and railways to pave the way for Western investment. We meet the resistance leader of the East Timorese, a country whose genocide by the Indonesians was ignored by the world's media. We meet the East Timorese Nobel laureate, who, when the prize was announced, had no permanent home or phone number because it was not safe for him to have an address. We meet the mothers whose children were mown down in the Vietnamese war, who are now seeing their country destroyed by rampant globalisation, a globalisation that is discouraging literacy, healthcare and education in favour of golf courses for western tourists. Pilger was there when the Americans pulled out, and he returned as American businesses marched in. He rages against his native Australia's government, who pandered to Suharto and betrayed the East Timorese, who stood by Australian soldiers in the Second World War and fought side by side against the Japanese. He demands we pay attention, he demands that we no longer look away. As I say, it is curious reading it 13 years on. One of the most beautiful, inspiring and poignant interviews in the book is the one with the true Burmese leader Aung San Suu-Kyi. Hearing her voice ring clear through the book, it is so truly devastating to realise that 13 years on she is still under arrest, that Burma is still being crushed by the military junta. (I actually have tears in my eyes just thinking about it). Beyond the human and political stories that Pilger tells are the deep, investigative and terrifying exposes of UK and US behaviour on the national stage. Nowhere else is this more horrific than in the damning chapters on the arms trade. He discusses deals, intrigues and the deaths that have been the result of the British arms trade. We see how our weapons rain down on warzones, how our helicopters were used in genocide in East Timor, we see the cosy relationship between our government and Pinochet, and we see the argument that the arms industry ensures UK jobs peel away to be revealed as a chimera. A final word goes to Pilger's damning indictment of the Murdoch and Maxwell monopoly on the media. As this issue becomes ever pertinent as Murdoch's control increases and creeps ever more into our media and political life, Pilger charts the rise of his empire in Australia, the UK and the US. He looks into the Sun's reaction to the Hillsborough disaster, and the media and government's relationship when reporting issues such as the miner's strike and the docker's dispute. He charts the history of his own old paper, the Mirror, from campaigning working man and woman's paper that was committed to uncovering the corrupt, to the sport, tits and celebrity paper it has become today. Hidden Agendas isn't a left vs right, Tory vs Labour book however. It is a book that is committed to the human, and to finding justice for the people who are harmed and dispossessed by the systems in place in the world powers. It is a book that demands attention is paid, it takes the side of the people who are harmed and lands that are destroyed by greed and corruption. He is a writer who has changed my perspectives on everything, which brings me neatly to his latest book... ...Freedom Next Time Freedom Next Time is Pilger's latest book and focuses on the dispossessed people of Diego Garcia the Israeli Palestinian conflict, Afghanistan and South Africa. It is a book that lifts the veil on what is happening around the world and focusses on the inimitable nature of the human spirit as well as revealing the corruption and greed that is causing such untold suffering on the people of the world. Whatever your thoughts or political view on the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the fact that the continued war is causing endless deaths and hunger and pain is indisputable. Pilger meets the people who are harmed and affected by the every day issues of the conflict, before confronting the political leaders who are allowing such horrors to happen, demanding answers. But whilst the political interviews often fill you with despair, (an American official laughing and asking Pilger if he was 'a member of the Labour party'), the human stories offer hope and inspiration in the midst of devastating horror. Take the Israeli whose young daughter was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber and who, rather than wanting revenge, is trying to understand and forge peace with the Palestinians. As he says, he wanted to understand what made someone so desperate, the only solution they could think of to aid their situation was to become a suicide bomber. Or the woman whose brother died trying to save his disabled friend in the Twin Towers, and was referenced to in a speech by George Bush. She didn't want her brother to be used to justify the deaths of men and women in Afghanistan so she went to the war torn country to work with widows to help them rebuild their lives. (again, tears in my eyes). These are the people who have been directly affected and damaged by aggressive foreign policies and terrorism but are working for peace. These people aren't saints or have out of the ordinary powers, they are normal every day people who want to make the world a better place. Just as Hidden Agendas lifted the veil on the humanitarian crisis and the genocide in East Timor, the opening chapter of Freedom Next Time looks at the treatment of the people of Diego Garcia. This tiny island in the Pacific was a British colony and home to around 4 or 5 generations of islanders, until the British government did a deal with the US to make the island an American air base. The government lied about the history of the island, saying the population was made up of transient workers who would be moved to Mauritius. And so it was. The British took the population of Diego Garcia – a population who, whilst not wealthy, were self sufficient and committed to their community life, and moved them to the slums of Mauritius. The USA built an airbase on the island, and have been there ever since. This is not something that happened in colonial times. This happened to people who are still alive today. To people who are still fighting to return to their home. They aren't on the 10'o clock news, but their voices are here, in Pilger's book. The final chapter returns Pilger to the country he was banned from in the sixties, South Africa, where he asks whether freedom for the black South Africans has really been won. He looks at western investment in the Apartheid regime and how Western interests are now being supported by the ANC. He wonders whether the new black elite disguises the continued prevalence of white business power that does not share the wealth with the poor black communities. He visits slums and poor townships that haven't really changed since he was there in the sixties. And although he praises the work of Mandela and Tutu and the reconciliation committees, he questions whether justice has really been served to the murderers of Apartheid and their victims. As the poverty gap continues to wreak havoc on the population of South Africa, Pilger demands answers. Freedom Next Time is such a beautiful book in its celebration of the triumph of human spirit, as well as a devastating and heart breaking expose on corruption, cruelty and war. It is a book that forces you to take action, forces you to ask questions. Pilger's passion for justice, honesty and human rights shines through in every word. He is disappointed, horrified by the terrible corruptions exercised by the ruling elite but he is also joyful and jubilant at the possibility of human action for change. He celebrates the resistance of the human, the campaigning spirit against injustice, from the Israeli sending an olive branch to the Palestinians, to the poor black mothers demanding justice from a South African slum, to the residents of Diego Garcia who are still fighting to return home. He is a writer who makes you cry, and makes you mad and makes you stand up and pledge to do something, whether that's writing a letter or reading more of his books or joining a human rights charity. I first discovered Pilger when my A-level history teacher lent me The New Rulers of the World in 2003, fed up of me getting on my fairly ill informed soap box and yelling at my centre right pro war fellow pupils. It changed my life, it changed my perspectives and it made me want to do something. I urge you to read his books. It is writers like him that make this world a place you want to live in, despite the horrors he depicts. Illustration by Bobby Griggs