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Hypocrisy, Hatred and the War on Terror
8 November 2001
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 realize 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 com ments 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 realize 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 pri son 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 firs t 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 co ntinued 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 civilization, 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 surprised.
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 harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close up to 5,000 innocent people.
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.