We Are Paying The Price For An Infantile
Attempt To Reshape The Middle East
By Robert Fisk
November 21, 2003
the price of
joining George Bush's "war on terror". They couldn't
hit Britain while Bush was on his triumphalist state
visit to London, so they went for the jugular in
Turkey. The British consulate, the
British-headquartered HSBC bank. London-abroad. And of
course, no one -- least of all the Turks -- imagined
they would strike twice in the same place. Turkey had
already had its dose of attacks,
"They" must mean "al-Qa'ida". And of course, merely
point out that we -- the British -- are now paying the
price for George Bush's infantile attempt to reshape
the Middle East in Israel's favour will attract the
usual venom. To tell the brutal truth about the human
cost of Tony Blair's alliance with the Bush
administration is to "do the terrorists' work for
them", to be their "propagandist". Thus, as usual,
will all discussion of yesterday's
atrocities be closed down.
But the American and British administrations know very
well what this means. The Australians paid the price
for John Howard's alliance with Bush in Bali. The
Italians paid the price for Silvio Berlusconi's
alliance with Bush in Nasiriyah. Now it is our turn.
Al-Qa'ida was quite specific. The Saudis would pay.
The Australians would pay. The Italians would pay. The
British would pay. They have. Canada is still on the
list. Until, I suppose, it is our turn again. Even in
1997, Osama bin Laden would repeat to me that Britain
would only escape Islamic "anger" if it pulled out of
the Gulf. Nor do these mass murders have just one
purpose. Turkey is allied to Israel. Ariel Sharon has
visited Ankara. Turkey is hated in Iraq and much of
the Arab world, partly for its Ottoman antecedents.
And if the Saudis are attacked because their Islamic
regime is led by a corrupt monarchy, Turkey is
attacked because it isn't Islamic enough. Break up
Turkey. Break up the relations between Muslims and
Jews in Istanbul -- the purpose of last Saturday's
suicide bombings -- and break up the compromise
"Islamist" overnment that now rules Turkey. All must
have formed a part of al-Qaida's thinking.
Nor should we fool ourselves about what I always call
"the brain". We have a habit of thinking that the
bombers don't understand the outside world. If they
are "against democracy", they wouldn't understand us,
would they? But they do. They knew exactly what they
were doing when they attacked the Australians in Bali
-- they knew the Iraqi invasion was unpopular in
Australia, that Howard might ultimately be blamed.
They knew the invasion was unpopular in Italy. So
Italy would be punished for Berlusconi's hubris.
They knew, too, of the demonstrations that awaited
George Bush in London. So why not distract attention
from the whole panjandrum by assaulting Britain in
Turkey. Who would care about Bush's visit to
Sedgefield when Britons are lying dead in the grounds
of their consulate in Istanbul? Just so in Iraq. The
Iraqi insurgents are well aware of George Bush's
falling opinion polls in the United States. They know
how desperate he is to extract himself from Iraq
before next year's presidential elections. Thus are
they increasing their assaults on American forces and
their Iraqi supporters, provoking the US army to ever
more ferocious retaliation?
We have a kind of fatal incomprehension about those
against whom we have gone to war; that they are living
in caves, cut off from reality, striking blindly --
"desperately" as Mr Bush would have us believe -- as
they realise that the free world is resolved to
destroy them. Just now, I suspect they are resolved to
destroy Mr. Bush -- politically if not physically. Mr
Blair too. In a war in which we go all out to crush
the leadership of our antagonists, we can only expect
them to adopt the same policy.
But we go on misunderstanding. Take those tiresome
speeches by Osama bin Laden. When his audio-tapes are
aired, we journalists always take the same line. Is it
really him? Is he alive? That becomes our only story.
But the Arab response is quite different. They know
it's him. And they listen to what he says. So should
But alas, we still pedal the old myths, as George Bush
did in London on Wednesday. His speech contained the
usual untruths. Note, for example, the list of attacks
he gave us: "Bali, Jakarta, Casablanca, Bombay,
Mombasa, Najaf, Jerusalem, Riyadh, Baghdad and
Istanbul". Najaf may well have nothing to do with
al-Qa'ida but the suicide bombings in Jerusalem,
vicious though they are, have absolutely nothing to do
with our "war on terror". They are part of a brutal
anti-colonial struggle between Palestinians and
Israelis. Yet the inclusion of Jerusalem allows Ariel
Sharon to join his war against the Palestinians to
Bush's war against al-Qa'ida. This mendacity
continued. Israel, said Bush, had to "freeze"
settlements on Palestinian land -- not close them down --
only dismantle what he artfully called "unauthorised
"Outposts" is Israel's word for the most recent land
seizures in the West Bank and the word "unauthorised"
suggests that there is some legality to the massive
settlements already built on Palestinian land.
According to Bush, the "heart of the matter" in the Middle
"a viable Palestinian democracy." Not once did Bush
mention "occupation". Why not? Is he so frightened of
Israel's lobby before next year's US presidential
election that even this most salient fact of the
Middle East experience has to be censored from his
narrative of events?
There was, too, the familiar distortion of the
historical narrative. He said that America and Britain
would do "all in their power to prevent the United
Nations from solemnly choosing its own irrelevance."
Come again? Who was it who wouldn't let the UN
inspectors finish their search for weapons of mass
destruction in Iraq last year? Who was it who wouldn't
accept a UN stewardship of the Iraq crisis?
Bush claimed yet again that we "tolerated" the
dictatorships of the Middle East. Rubbish. We created
them, Saddam's regime being the most obvious example.
Who doubts, Mr Bush asked us, "that Afghanistan is a
more just society and less dangerous without Mullah
Omar playing host to terrorists from around the
world?" Could this be the same Afghanistan which once
more cringes under the warlords of the old Northern
Alliance, the Afghanistan where the opium poppy is
once again the country's prime export, where aid
workers are being cut down by the Taliban?
And in Iraq, where the occupying powers now face an
Iraqi insurgency of fearful proportions, Mr Bush still
thinks he is fighting "Ba'athist holdouts and
jihadists". Even his military officers are repeating
that it is a growing Iraqi guerrilla army they are
fighting -- not "foreign fighters" or "jihadis". At
the end, of course, we came back to the Second World
War and Churchill -- the "leader who did not waver",
with whom Bush last year compared himself and with
whom he on Wednesday compared Tony Blair -- a "leader
of good judgement and blunt counsel and backbone."
Where, oh where are we going? How much longer must we
suffer this false account of history? How much longer
must we willfully misread what we are doing and what
is being done to us?
Copyright: The Independent