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IUK: This is not a war on terror. It's a fight against America's enemies
By Robert Fisk
29/9/2001 4:32 am Sat
This is not a war on terror. It's a fight against America's enemies
25 September 2001
'We are being asked to support a war whose aims appear to be as
misleading as they are secretive'
While covering the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, I would,
from time to time, drive down through Jalalabad and cross the
Pakistan border to Peshawar to rest. In the cavernous, stained
interior of the old Intercontinental Hotel, I would punch out my
stories on a groaning telex machine beside an office bearing the
legend "Chief Accountant" on the door. On the wall next to that
office - I don't know if it was the Chief Accountant who put it there
- was a framed piece of paper bearing four lines of Kipling that I
A scrimmage at a border station
A canter down a dark defile
Five thousand pounds of education
Felled by a five-rupee jezail
Or, I suppose today, a Kalashnikov AK-47, home-produced in
Quetta, or one of those slick little Blowpipe missiles that we
handed over to the mujahedin with such abandon in the early
Eighties so that they could kill their - and our - Russian enemies.
But I've been thinking more about the defiles, the gorges and
overhanging mountains, the sheer rock walls 4,000 feet in height,
the caves and the massive tunnels which Osama bin Laden cut
through the mountains. Here, presumably, are the "holes" from
which the Wes is going to "smoke out" Mr bin Laden, always
supposing that he's been obliging enough to run away and hide in
them. For there is already a growing belief - founded on our own
rhetoric - that Mr bin Laden and his men are on the run, seeking
their hiding places.
I'm not so certain. I'm very doubtful about what Mr bin Laden is
doing right now. In fact, I'm not at all sure what we - the West -
are doing. True, our destroyers and aircraft carriers and fighter
aircraft and heavy bombers and troops are massing in the general
region of the Gulf. Our SAS boys - so they say in the Middle East
- are already climbing around northern Afghanistan, in the region
still controlled by the late Shah Masoud's forces. But what exactly
are we planning to do? Kidnap Mr bin Laden? Storm his camps
and kill the lot of them, Mr bin Laden and all his Algerian,
Egyptian, Jordanian, Syrian and Gulf Arabs?
Or is Mr bin Laden merely chapter one of our new Middle Eastern
adventure, to be broadened later to include Iraq, the overthrow of
Saddam Hussein, the destruction of the Lebanese Hezbollah, the
humbling of Syria, the humiliation of Iran, the reimposition of yet
another fraudulent "peace process" between Israel and the
If this seems fanciful, you should listen to what's coming out of
Washington and Tel Aviv. While The New York Times Pentagon
sources are suggesting that Saddam may be chapter two, the
Israelis are trying to set up Lebanon - the "centre of international
terror" according to Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon - for a
bombing run or two, along with Yasser Arafat's little garbage tip
down in Gaza where the Israelis have discovered, mirabile dictu, a
"bin Laden cell".
The Arabs, of course, would also like an end to world terror. But
they would like to include a few other names on the list.
Palestinians would like to see Mr Sharon picked up for the Sabra
and Chatila massacre, a terrorist slaughter carried out by Israel's
Lebanese allies - who were trained by the Israeli army - in 1982.
At 1,800 dead, that's only a quarter of the number killed on 11
September. Syrians in Hama would like to put Rifaat Al-Assad, the
brother of the late president, on their list of terrorists for the mass
killings perpetrated by his Defence Brigades in the city of Hama in
the same year. At 20,000, that's more than double the 11
September death toll.
The Lebanese would like trials for the Israeli officers who planned
the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which killed 17,500
people, most of them civilians - again, well over twice the 11
September statistic. Christian Sudanese would like President Omar
al-Bashir arraigned for mass murder.
But, as the Americans have made clear, it's their own terrorist
enemies they are after, not their terrorist friends or those terrorists
who have been slaughtering populations outside American
"spheres of interest". Even those terrorists who live comfortably in
the US but have not harmed America are safe: take, for example,
the pro-Israeli militiaman who murdered two Irish UN soldiers in
southern Lebanon in 1980 and who now live in Detroit after flying
safely out of Tel Aviv. The Irish have the name and address, if the
FBI are interested - but of course they're not.
So we are not really being asked to fight "world terror". We are
being asked to fight America's enemies. If that means bagging the
murderers behind the atrocities in New York and Washington, few
would object. But it does raise the question of why those
thousands of innocents are more important - more worthy of our
effort and perhaps blood - than all the other thousands of
innocents. And it also raises a much more disturbing question:
whether or not the crime against humanity committed in the US on
11 September is to be met with justice - or a brutal military assault
intended to extend American political power in the Middle East.
Either way, we are being asked to support a war whose aims
appear to be as misleading as they are secretive. We are told by
the Americans that this war will be different to all others. But one of
the differences appears to be that we don't know who we are going
to fight and how long we are going to fight for. Certainly, no new
political initiative, no real political engagement in the Middle East,
no neutral justice is likely to attend this open-ended conflict. The
despair and humiliation and suffering of the Middle East peoples
do not figure in our war aims - only American and European
despair and humiliation and suffering.
As for Mr bin Laden, no one believes the Taliban are genuinely ignorant of his whereabouts. He is in Afghanistan. But has he really gone to ground? During the Russian war, he would emerge, again and again, to fight Afghanistan's Russian occupiers, to attack the world's second superpower. Wounded six times, he was a master of the tactical ambush, as the Russians found out to their cost. Evil and wicked do not come close to describing the mass slaughter in the US. But - if it was Mr bin Laden's work - that does not mean he would not fight again. And he would be fighting on home ground. There are plenty of dark defiles into which we may advance. And plenty of cheap rifles to shoot at us. And that wouldn't be a "new kind of war" at all.