HYPOCRISY, HATRED AND THE WAR ON TERROR
by Robert Fisk
The Independent (London)
November 8, 2001, Thursday
"AIR CAMPAIGN"? "Coalition forces"? "War on terror"? How much longer
must we go on enduring these lies? There is no "campaign" - merely
an air bombardment of the poorest and most broken country in the
world by the world's richest and most sophisticated nation. No MiGs
have taken to the skies to do battle with the American B-52s or
F-18s. The only ammunition soaring into the air over Kabul comes
from Russian anti-aircraft guns manufactured around 1943.
Coalition? Hands up who's seen the Luftwaffe in the skies over
Kandahar, or the Italian air force or the French air force over
Herat. Or even the Pakistani air force. The Americans are bombing
Afghanistan with a few British missiles thrown in. "Coalition"
indeed. Then there's the "war on terror". When are we moving on to
bomb the Jaffna peninsula? Or Chechnya - which we have already left
in Vladimir Putin's bloody hands? I even seem to recall a massive
terrorist car bomb that exploded in Beirut in 1985 - targeting Sayed
Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual inspiration to the Hezbollah, who
now appears to be back on Washington's hit list - and which missed
Nasrallah but slaughtered 85 innocent Lebanese civilians. Years
later, Carl Bernstein revealed in his book, Veil, that the CIA was
behind the bomb after the Saudis agreed to fund the operation. So
will the US President George Bush be hunting down the CIA murderers
involved? The hell he will.
So why on earth are all my chums on CNN and Sky and the BBC
rabbiting on about the "air campaign", "coalition forces" and the
"war on terror"? Do they think their viewers believe this twaddle?
Certainly Muslims don't. In fact, you don't have to spend long in
Pakistan to realise that the Pakistani press gives an infinitely
more truthful and balanced account of the "war" - publishing work by
local intellectuals, historians and opposition writers along with
Taliban comments and pro- government statements as well as
syndicated Western analyses - than The New York Times; and all this,
remember, in a military dictatorship.
You only have to spend a few weeks in the Middle East and the
subcontinent to realise why Tony Blair's interviews on al-Jazeera
and Larry King Live don't amount to a hill of beans. The Beirut
daily As-Safir ran a widely- praised editorial asking why an Arab
who wanted to express the anger and humiliation of millions of other
Arabs was forced to do so from a cave in a non-Arab country. The
implication, of course, was that this - rather than the crimes
against humanity on 11 September - was the reason for America's
determination to liquidate Osama bin Laden. Far more persuasive has
been a series of articles in the Pakistani press on the outrageous
treatment of Muslims arrested in the United States in the aftermath
of the September atrocities.
One such article should suffice. Headlined "Hate crime victim's
diary", in The News of Lahore, it outlined the suffering of Hasnain
Javed, who was arrested in Alabama on 19 September with an expired
visa. In prison in Mississippi, he was beaten up by a prisoner who
also broke his tooth. Then, long after he had sounded the warden's
alarm bell, more men beat him against a wall with the words: "Hey
bin Laden, this is the first round. There are going to be 10 rounds
like this." There are dozens of other such stories in the Pakistani
press and most of them appear to be true.
Again, Muslims have been outraged by the hypocrisy of the West's
supposed "respect" for Islam. We are not, so we have informed the
world, going to suspend military operations in Afghanistan during
the holy fasting month of Ramadan. After all, the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq
conflict continued during Ramadan. So have Arab-Israeli conflicts.
True enough. But why, then, did we make such a show of suspending
bombing on the first Friday of the bombardment last month out of our
"respect" for Islam? Because we were more respectful then than now?
Or because - the Taliban remaining unbroken - we've decided to
forget about all that "respect"?
"I can see why you want to separate bin Laden from our religion," a
Peshawar journalist said to me a few days ago. "Of course you want
to tell us that this isn't a religious war, but Mr Robert, please,
please stop telling us how much you respect Islam."
There is another disturbing argument I hear in Pakistan. If, as Mr
Bush claims, the attacks on New York and Washington were an assault
on "civilisation", why shouldn't Muslims regard an attack on
Afghanistan as a war on Islam?
The Pakistanis swiftly spotted the hypocrisy of the Australians.
While itching to get into the fight against Mr bin Laden, the
Australians have sent armed troops to force destitute Afghan
refugees out of their territorial waters. The Aussies want to bomb
Afghanistan - but they don't want to save the Afghans. Pakistan, it
should be added, hosts 2.5 million Afghan refugees. Needless to say,
this discrepancy doesn't get much of an airing on our satellite
channels. Indeed, I have never heard so much fury directed at
journalists as I have in Pakistan these past few weeks. Nor am I
What, after all, are we supposed to make of the so-called "liberal"
American television journalist Geraldo Rivera who is just moving to
Fox TV, a Murdoch channel? "I'm feeling more patriotic than at any
time in my life, itching for justice, or maybe just revenge," he
announced this week. "And this catharsis I've gone through has
caused me to reassess what I do for a living." This is truly
chilling stuff. Here is an American journalist actually revealing
that he's possibly "itching for revenge".
Infinitely more shameful - and unethical - were the disgraceful
words of Walter Isaacson, the chairman of CNN, to his staff. Showing
the misery of Afghanistan ran the risk of promoting enemy
propaganda, he said. "It seems perverse to focus too much on the
casualties or hardship in Afghanistan ... we must talk about how the
Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have
harboured the terrorists responsible for killing close up to 5,000
Mr Isaacson was an unimaginative boss of Time magazine but these
latest words will do more to damage the supposed impartiality of CNN
than anything on the air in recent years. Perverse? Why perverse?
Why are Afghan casualties so far down Mr Isaacson's compassion? Or
is Mr Isaacson just following the lead set down for him a few days
earlier by the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who portentously
announced to the Washington press corps that in times like these
"people have to watch what they say and watch what they do".
Needless to say, CNN has caved in to the US government's demand not
to broadcast Mr bin Laden's words in toto lest they contain "coded
messages". But the coded messages go out on television every hour.
They are "air campaign", "coalition forces" and "war on terror".