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Re: Robert Fisk article on September 11th
by Khaldoun Samman
11 September 2002 14:25 UTC
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Is it possible to provide the website address of Fiske's 9/11 article?

Thanks in advance,  Khaldoun

 MalcolmRL Pratt wrote:

One year on: A view from the Middle East

The September 11 attacks were an undoubted outrage. But, says The
Independent's Middle East correspondent, they were an inevitable result of
the great gulf between the Arabs and the US

By Robert Fisk

11 September 2002

September 11

One year on: A special report

September 11 did not change the world. Indeed, for months afterwards, no one
was allowed even to question the motives of the mass murderers. To point out
that they were all Arabs and Muslims was fair enough. But any attempt to
connect these facts to the region they came from – the Middle East – was
treated as a form of subversion; because, of course, to look too closely at
the Middle East would raise disturbing questions about the region, about our
Western policies in those tragic lands, and about America's relationship
with Israel. Yet now, at last, President Bush's increasingly manic
administration has spotted the connection – and is drawing all the wrong

For, as the days and weeks go by, it is becoming increasingly difficult to
recognise in the words of Americans – and in their newspapers – the Middle
East, the region in which I have lived for 26 years. While cocooned within
the usual assurances that Islam is one of the world's great religions and
that the United States is only against "terrorists", not Muslims, a brutal
and cruel fate is being concocted for Arabs, a world in which more than a
score of nations are being fingered as "terrorists" or "haters of democracy"
or "kernels of evil". Richard Armitage, the US Deputy Secretary of State,
last week decided to include the Lebanese Hizbollah. With a vague, though
unspecific, reference to the 291 American servicemen killed in the suicide
bombing of the US Marine base in Beirut in 1982, he announced that "they're
on the list, their time will come, there's no question about it. They have a
blood debt to us...".

List? Is that what it is now? A list as unending as Mr Bush's so-called "war
on terror"? Does Hizbollah come above al-Qa'ida on the list these days? Or
after Iraq? Or maybe after Iran? "They have a blood debt to us" is a remark
as frightening as it is infantile; it suggests that what the United States
is embarking upon, far from being a titanic battle of good vs evil, is a
series of revenge attacks. One wonders what Tony Blair thinks of all this.
Does he, too, have a blood debt owed to him? And what – a question that is
never asked – do Muslims make of this nonsense?

I have to say that I have yet to meet a Muslim who has expressed anything
but horror about September 11. But I have yet to meet a Muslim who said they
were surprised. Indeed, after so long in the Middle East, I have to say that
I wasn't surprised when, high over the Atlantic, the pilot of my
America-bound plane told his astonished passengers that four commercial
airliners had been crashed into the United States. Stunned by the awesome
nature of the crime, yes. Appalled by the sheer cruelty of the mass
killings, of course. But surprised? For weeks I had been waking up each
morning in Beirut, wondering when the explosion would come. So had most
Arabs I have talked to during the past year. How and when the explosion
would take place, they had no idea – but that the detonation would occur was
never in question. And in a part of the world so steeped in blood, it was
perhaps understandable that both the intellectual and the public response to
September 11 was somewhat less emotional than in the rest of the planet.

For example, if you talk to a Palestinian in Lebanon about the September
massacre, he will assume you are referring to the slaughter, at the hands of
Israel's militia allies, of 1,700 Palestinians in Beirut in September of
1982. Just as Chileans, when hearing the phrase "September 11" – as that
fine Jewish writer Ariel Dorfman pointed out – will think of 11 September
1973, when an American-supported coup d'ιtat led to the overthrow of the
Allende government and the deaths of thousands of Chileans. Talk to Syrians
about a massacre and they will think first of all – though they will not say
the words – of the killing of up to 20,000 Syrians in the Islamist uprising
at Hama. Talk about massacres to the Kurds and they will tell you about
Halabja; to the Iranians and they will tell you about Khorramshahr; to the
Algerians and they will think of Bentalha and a whole series of other
village atrocities that have cost the lives of 150,000 Algerians.

The truth is that the Arabs – like Chileans and other people far from the
new centre of total world power – are used to mass killing. They know what
war is like, and quite a number of Lebanese asked me in the days after
September 11 – our September 11, that is – if George Bush really did think
America was at war. They weren't doubting the nature of the attacks. They
were just wondering if the US President knew what a real war was like. In
Lebanon, you have to remember, 150,000 men, women and children were killed
in 16 years; 17,500 of them – almost six times the total of dead of
September 11, and almost all of them civilians – were killed in just the
summer of 1982, during Israel's bloody invasion of their little country, an
invasion to which the US had given a green light.

And in many cases, of course, the dead – particularly in Lebanon, and ever
more frequently in the Israeli-occupied territories – are being killed by
American weapons. In the Palestinian town of Beit Jala, for example, almost
all the missiles fired into Palestinian houses were made by the Boeing
company. Only in the Arab world has a terrible irony been noted: that the
very same company that proudly made those weapons – "all for one and one for
all" is the logo for Boeing's Hellfire missile – also produced the airliners
that were used to attack the United States. Having endured the company's
weapons, Arabs turned their airplanes into weapons as well.

It does not excuse the September 11 killers their hideous crime against
humanity to record that in the Middle East, you do often hear the thought
expressed that now the US knows what it is to suffer. It's not intended to
suggest that the United States deserved such horrors; merely a faint hope
that Americans will now understand how much others have suffered in the
Middle East over the years. I have to say, of course, that this is not the
lesson that Americans are in any mood to learn.

Indeed, one of the most extraordinary – and patently absurd – elements of
post-September 11 America is the way in which the Bush administration has
steadily transformed a hunt for international criminals into a biblical
struggle against the Devil incarnate. The Devil started off with a beard and
a propensity to live in Afghan caves. Then it turned out that he wore a
military beret and had a hankering for poison gas and weapons of mass
destruction. And by last week, when Richard Armitage was claiming that
Hizbollah may be the "A-team of terrorists" – al-Qa'ida being demoted to the
"B-team" – the Devil had apparently moved residence from Baghdad to Beirut.
Add to all this Iran and the non-Muslim Dear Leader who lives in North Korea
and really does have nuclear weapons – which is why we will not bomb him –
and a very odd picture of the world emerges. In general, however, that
world, however distorted, is a Muslim world.

Now, along with this transformation has come a whole set of policies
intended to show the superiority of our Western civilisation – centred on
the need for the Arab world to enjoy "democracy". It isn't the first time
that the US has threatened the Arabs with democracy, but it's a dodgy
project for both parties: first, because the Arabs don't have much
democracy; second, because quite a lot of Arabs would like a bit of it; and
third, because the countries where they would like this precious commodity
include Saudi Arabia, Egypt and other regimes that the Americans would like
to protect rather than destroy with democratic experiments. The
Palestinians, President Bush has told us, must have a democracy. The Iraqis
must have a democracy. Iran must have a democracy. But not, it seems, Saudi
Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Syria and the rest. Naturally, all these ambitious
projects have set off a good deal of discussion in the Arab world – perhaps
one of the few fruits of September 11 that hasn't yet turned sour.

A recent study in the United States – by Pippa Norris at Harvard and Ronald
Inglehart of the University of Michigan – demonstrated convincingly that
Samuel Huntington's grotesquely overrated "clash of civilisations" is a load
of old baloney. Muslims, the study discovered, were as keen on democracy as
Westerners – there presumably being no Christians left – and in some cases
even more enthusiastic than Americans and others. The differences between
the two emerged on social issues; on homosexuality, women's rights, abortion
and divorce. Norris and Inglehart concluded that it would be a gross
simplification to suggest that Muslims and Westerners hold fundamentally
different political values.

Over the past few weeks, Arab intellectuals have been adding their own gloss
to this, especially in Egypt. They have been challenging Huntington.
Egyptians and Moroccans and even Saudis have been trying to make a cultural
defence of Arabism, rejecting the idea of "globalisation" – a word I hate
but which turns up in Arabic as awalameh (literally "world inclusivity") –
and the notion that to be for globalisation is to be pro-Western and to be
against it is to be against development. But development is not democracy,
and the question remains: why is there no serious democracy in the Arab
world? Although Ayatollah Khomeini created the theological machinery to
emasculate Iranian social democracy, Iran's elections, and the repeated
victories of President Mohammad Khatami, were undoubtedly fair; Mr Bush's
remarks about how he wants to "bring democracy to Iran" are thus off course.

But it is the Arabs who have never developed a modern political state. If
they had, might September 11 have been avoided? This was certainly an
initial Bush suggestion; the suicide killers, he informed the world, had
attacked America because they "hated democracy". The trouble is that the 19
murderers wouldn't have known what democracy was if they had woken up in bed
with it. But let's not avoid the question: why only police states and
torture chambers in the Arab world?

A historian might go back centuries. When the Crusaders reached the Middle
East in the 11th century, it was the Arabs who were the scientists; the
Westerners – the "Franj" – were the political and technological numbskulls.
And when the Arabs did develop a kind of social order under the remnants of
the Abbasids in medieval Spain, in the Andalusia of El Cid, the Arabs –
along with their Christian and Jewish brothers and sisters – experienced
something like a cultural renaissance. In the Middle East, however, the
Arabs felt they were under pressure from the West – from Western military
prowess and economic power – and went on to the defensive. To question your
caliph – or, even worse, to advance in theological philosophy – was a form
of subversion, even treachery. When the enemy is at the gates, you don't
question authority. Rather like the Americans after September 11 – when to
seek the motives for the massacres was regarded as something akin to a
thought crime – any intellectual enquiry was suppressed. The Western powers
did much the same to the Arabs after the 1914-18 war. They chopped up the
Ottoman empire, sprinkled dictators and kings across the Middle East, and
then – in Egypt and Lebanon, for example – locked up anyone exercising their
democratic opposition to the regime. If the opposition was not going to gain
political power democratically... well, it would stage a coup d'ιtat. And
this has largely been the fate of the Middle East since: a series of coups –
rather than revolutions on the Iranian model – which had to be backed up
with armies and secret policemen and torture chambers.

To a patriarchal society – and to one in which there had been no theological
development comparable to the European Renaissance – was added our own
Western determination to support undemocratic regimes. If we had democracy
in the Middle East, the people who live there might not do what we want. So
we supported the kings and princes and generals who did our bidding, unless
they suddenly nationalised the Suez Canal, set off bombs in Berlin discos or
invaded Kuwait, in which case we bombed them. Not by chance has Osama bin
Laden raked over these historical coals. He wants the downfall of the Saudi
regime – how he must have loved the Rand corporation's lecturer who called
Saudi Arabia the "kernel of evil" – and he wants the downfall of the
pro-Western Arab dictators.

Amid the twisted rhetoric now coming out of Washington – a linguistic
barrage sounding more and more like the authentic voice of bin Laden – it is
becoming ever more difficult to believe that Mr Bush is planning any kind of
democracy in Iraq. Nor in "Palestine". After all, Yasser Arafat was not
rejected because of his failure to create a democracy; he was rejected
because he didn't do the job of a dictator well enough. He failed to create
law and order in the small portions of land awarded to him in return for his
putative good offices.

But something much bigger is going on today. Almost every Arab nation is
being lined up by the United States, eagerly encouraged by Israel. Palestine
must have "regime change"; Iraq must have "regime change"; Iran – most
recently accused, without any proof, of shipping al-Qa'ida gold to Sudan –
must have democracy; Saudi Arabia is a "kernel of evil"; Syria is now to be
sanctioned for "supporting terrorism"; Lebanon is accused of harbouring
al-Qa'ida members – a patent untruth, but one that is already finding its
way into The New York Times; and Jordan may have to serve as a launch pad
for an Iraqi invasion (which, possibly, would mean goodbye to our plucky
little king). The United States ends extra financial support for Egypt
because it locks up an American Egyptian for stating the truth – that
Egyptian elections are a fraud. What, Arabs are asking themselves, are the
Americans up to? Are they planning to reshape the map of the Middle East? Is
this to be another exercise in colonial planning, akin to the one the
British and French wrought after the First World War? Are we planning to
topple all the Arab regimes?

In other words, are we now trying to turn Huntington's third-rate book into
a success story? Are we actually now in the process of starting a clash of
civilisations? Never before have Muslims and Westerners been so polarised,
their conflicts so sharpened – and Arab hopes so fraudulently raised. We are
no more planning to give those Arabs "democracy" than we planned to honour
our promise of independence at the end of the 1914-18 war. What we want to
do is to bring them back under our firm control, to ensure their loyalty. If
the House of Saud is collapsing of its own volition, the Americans seem to
be saying, then let it collapse. If Jordan's King Abdullah won't play ball
on the Iraqi invasion plans, what's he worth anyway? In the Arab press,
there is a slow but growing suspicion that "regime change" might turn out to
be Middle East change.

But let's remember two things; that the killers of September 11were Arabs.
And they were Muslims. And the Arab world has held no debate about this.
There have been plenty of stories to the contrary: that the 19 murderers
were working for the Americans or the Israelis; that hundreds of American
Jews were warned not to go to work on the day of the attack; even that the
planes were remotely controlled and had no pilots at all. This childish and
sometimes pernicious rubbish is widely believed in parts of the Middle East.
Anything to duck the blame, to avoid the truth.

And it's a strange thing that is happening now. The Americans want the world
to know that the killers were Arabs. But they don't want to discuss the
tragedy of the region they came from. The Arabs, on the other hand, do want
to discuss their tragedy – but wish to deny the Arab identity of the
killers. The Americans have created a totally false image of the Arab world,
peopling it with beasts and tyrants. The Arabs have adopted an almost
equally absurd view of the US, believing its promises of "democracy" but
failing to grasp the degree of anger many Americans still feel over the

Yet still there are double standards at work here. George Bush can rightly
condemn the killing of Israeli university students as making him "mad", but
blithely brush off the slaughter of Palestinian children by a bomb dropped
from a US-made Israeli plane as "heavy handed". Yet it's not just the
pitiful remarks of President Bush, but the double standards of whole
peoples. Here's what I mean. Today, 11 September, our newspapers and our
television screens are filled with the baleful images of those two towers
and their biblical descent. We will remember and honour the thousands who
died. But in just five days' time, Palestinians will remember their
September massacre of 1982. Will a single candle be lit for them in the
West? Will there be a single memorial service? Will a single American
newspaper dare to recall this atrocity? Will a single British newspaper
commemorate the 20th anniversary of these mass killings of 1,700 innocents?
Do I even need to give the answer?

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9-11: A tribute to the more than 3,000 lives lost
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