Friday, November 18


British journalist Robert Fisk has published a new book, The Great War for Civilization. His remarks about 9/11 and the state of American journalism at the launch party are worth contemplation. But before you read them, read this.

In April 2003, during the invasion of Iraq, Fisk recalled the words of the British Lt. Gen. Sir Stanley Maude, made during the 1917 invasion of Mesopotamia as part of World War I: "we have come here not as conquerors but as liberators to free you from generations of tyranny." Comparing the two invasions, Fisk says: "History has a way of repeating itself... And within three years we were losing hundreds of men every year in the guerilla war against the Iraqis who wanted real liberation — not by us from the Ottomans, but by them from us — and I think that's what's going to happen with the Americans in Iraq. I think a war of liberation will begin quite soon, which of course will be first referred to as a war by terrorists, by Al-Qaeda, by remnants of Saddam's regime. Remnants: remember that word. But it will be waged particularly by Shiite Muslims against the Americans and the British to get us out of Iraq — and that will happen. And our dreams that we can liberate these people will not be fulfilled in this scenario."

Fisk is a critic of what he perceives as hypocrisy in British government foreign policy: "Again, one needs to also say that Saddam Hussein — I'm sure he's still alive — a most revolting man. He did use gas against the Iranians and against the Kurds. And I also have to say that when he used it against the Iranians — and I wrote about it in my own newspaper at the time, The Times — the British Foreign Office told my editor the story was not helpful because, at that stage of course, Saddam Hussein was our friend — we were supporting him. The hypocrisy of war stinks almost as much as the civilian casualties."

Now for his reminiscence:

On September 11, I was crossing the Atlantic — going to New York. I was on the satellite phone with my business centre office in London. I heard about the attack, I told the attendant to tell the captain that there was an attack going on against the United States of America, aircraft have gone into many buildings — the stewardess stood there and asked where are the planes coming from? I said we do not know, could be from anywhere, Latin America, Europe, wherever. Then the captain came. We went around the plane together to look around for passengers we didn’t like. I noted down 13, two in business class, the rest in economy. The attendant had 14 seat numbers. Of course they were all Muslims, some reading the holy Quran, praying with worry beads. They were dark skinned, they were all Muslims, they looked at me suspiciously. Because I was looking at them suspiciously I realized suddenly that bin Laden has turned nice liberal Bob into a racist. I was going around racially profiling the passengers on the aircraft. I realized that one of the purposes of the attacks of Sept 11 might have been to turn the innocent against the innocent, not just Muslims against the West.

And I remember that night when I returned to Europe, I ended up on Irish Radio which had me along with Harvard Prof Alan Dershowitz, and when I kept saying “We must ask the question Why (these attacks) — to which Mr Dershowitz responded “to ask the question ‘why’ you are a dangerous man you are sympathetic to terrorists, hence you are anti-American and being anti-American you are anti-Semitic’.

It struck me as odd that when a crime is committed on New York streets the first thing is to look at the motive, but the first thing you were not allowed to do was to ask for the motive..... you can ask about gays, lesbians, etc., but not question US relationships and the Middle East, whether it be relationship with Israel or the Arab world. But the first thing you were not allowed to ask was “Why”. And that night the BBC put one guest on its programme who said that my asking why was the worst bad joke of the year. I think it should have been the first question that should be asked. Not asking why would allow the president of the US to change the world forever. I don’t believe it did. I don’t think we should allow 19 killers to change my world forever. I think Bush got away with it.

And I think that by and large for many months Americans were prevented from looking for the motive. By the time they could look for the motive, we were bombing Afghanistan and saying there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And then defeating Saddam Hussein. And so it goes on and on. And it seems somehow that modern-day politicians with, in many cases, the help, I’m afraid, of journalists, are able to continue to bamboozle people. ‘We’ll explain it tomorrow’, ‘that’s too secret to tell you,’ secret intelligence officials insist. Look at The New York Times’s first paragraphs over and over again, “According to American intelligence officials.” “American officials say.” I think sometimes The New York Times should be called “American Officials Say.” Just look at it tomorrow or the day after. Or the L.A. Times, or the, not the San Francisco Chronicle, it’s not much of a paper anymore unfortunately, but The Washington Post.

You know the cozy relationship between American journalists and power is very dangerous. You want to look and see what that relationship is like. The osmotic, the host and the parasite together. You only have to look at a White House press conference, ‘Mr President, Mr President?’ ‘Yes, Bob. Yes, John? Yes, Nancy,’ that’s the relationship. Journalists like to be close to power. They know that if they want to be close to power, they mustn’t challenge power. And that goes back to the Amira Haas definition of journalism, of which I am a total devotee: you must challenge power all the time, all the time, all the time even if the politicians and the prime minister, even if your readers hate you. You must challenge power. And that includes bin Laden power.

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