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Lost in the rhetoric of war

By Robert Fisk

A few months ago, my old friend Tom Friedman set off for the small Gulf emirate of Qatar, from where, in one of his messianic columns for The New York Times, he informed us that the tiny stateís Al Jazeera satellite channel was a welcome sign that democracy might be coming to the Middle East. Al Jazeera had been upsetting some of the local Arab dictators - President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt for one - and Tom thought this a good idea. So do I. But hold everything. The story is being rewritten. Last week, US Secretary of State Colin Powell rapped the Emir of Qatar over the knuckles because so fie claimed - Al-Jazeera was "inciting anti-Americanism".

So, goodbye democracy The Americans want the emir to close down the channelís office in Kabul, which is scooping the world with tape of the US bombardments and, more to the point, with televised statements by Osama bin Laden. The most wanted man in the whole world has been suggesting that heís angry about the deaths of Iraqi children under sanctions, about the corruption of pro-Western Arab regimes, about Israelís attacks on the Palestinian territory, about the need for US forces to leave the Middle East.

And after insisting that Osama is a "mindless terrorist" - that there is no connection between US policy in the Middle East and the crimes against humanity in New York and Washington - the Americans want to close down Al Jazeeraís coverage. Needless to say, this tomfoolery by Powell has not been given much coverage in the Western media, who know that they do not have a single correspondent in the Taliban area of Afghanistan. Al Jazeera does. But why are British journalists falling back on the same sheep-like conformity that we adopted in the 1991 Gulf War and the 1999 Kosovo war?

For here we go again. The BBC was on Monday broadcasting an American officer talking about the dangers of "collateral damage" - without the slightest hint of the immorality of this phrase. Tony Blair boasts of Britainís involvement in the US bombardment by talking about British "asset", and by Monday morning, the BBC were using the same soldier speak. Is there some kind of rhetorical fog that envelopes us every time we bomb someone?

Whether the Taliban are lying or telling the truth about 30 dead in Kabul, do we reporters really think that all our bombs fall on the guilty and not the innocent? Do we think that all the food we are reported to be dropping is going to fall around the innocent and not the Taliban? I am beginning to wonder whether we have not convinced ourselves that wars - our wars - are movies. The only Hollywood film ever made about Afghanistan was a Rambo epic in which Sylvester Stallone taught the Afghan mujahidin how to fight the Russian occupation, help to defeat Soviet troops and won the admiration of an Afghan boy.

Are the Americans, I wonder, somehow trying to actualise the movie? But look at the questions weíre not asking. Back in 1991 we dumped the cost of the Gulf War billions of. dollars of it - on Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But the Saudis and Kuwaitis are not going to fund our bombing this time round. So whoís going to pay? The first night of bombing cost, so we are told, at least US$2 million (RM7.6 million) I suspect much more. Let us not ask how many Afghans that would have fed - but do letís ask how much of our money is going towards the war and how much towards humanitarian aid.

Osamaís propaganda is pretty basic. He films his own statements and sends one of his henchmen off to the Al Jazeera office in Kabul. No vigorous questioning of course, just a sermon. The Taliban have kept reporters out. But does that mean we have to balance this distorted picture with our own half-truths? When the terrifying, details of the hijacker Mohamed Attaís will were published last week, dated April 1996, no one could think of any event that month that might have propelled Atta to his murderous behaviour.

Not the Israeli bombardment of southern Lebanon, nor the Qana massacre by Israeli artillery of 106 Lebanese civilians in a UN base. more than half of them children. For thatís what happened in April 1996. No, of course that slaughter is not excuse for the crimes against humanity hi the United States last month. But isnít it worth just a little mention, just a tiny observation, that an Egyptian mass-murderer-to-be wrote a will of chilling suicidal finality in the month when the massacre in Lebanon enraged Arabs across the Middle East?

Instead of that, weíre getting World War 11 commentaries about Western military morale. On the BBC, we had to listen to how it was "a perfect moonless night for the air armada" to bomb Afghanistan. Pardon me? Are the Germans back at Cap Gris Nez? Are our fighter squadrons back in the skies of Kent, fighting off the Dorniers and Heinkels?

Of course, I know the moral question. After the atrocities in New York, we canít "play fair" between the ruthless Osama and the West; we canít make an equivalence between the mass murdererís innocence and the American and British forces who are trying to destroy the Taliban. But thatís not the point. Itís our viewers and readers weíve got to "play fair" with. Must we, because of our rage at the massacre of the innocents in America, lose all our critical faculties? President Bush says this is a war between good and evil. You are either with us or against us. But thatís exactly what Osama says.

Isnít it worth pointing this out and asking where it leads? Ė Dipetik dari The Independent.






        
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