The WTC Attack, Sep 11 2001

Commentary and Analysis

Robert Fisk: we'll be blaming someone else

'It is palpably evident that they are not fleeing the Taliban but our bombs and missiles'

As the refugees crowd the borders, we'll be blaming someone else
by Robert Fisk for the Independent
23 October 2001

Mullah Mohammed Omar's 10-year-old son is dead. He was, according to Afghan refugees fleeing Kandahar, taken to one of the city's broken hospitals by his father, the Taliban leader and "Emir of the Faithful", but the boy -- apparently travelling in Omar's car when it was attacked by US aircraft -- died of his wounds. No regrets, of course. Back in 1985, when American aircraft bombed Libya, they also destroyed the life of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's six-year-old adopted daughter. No regrets, of course. In 1992, when an Israeli pilot flying an American-made Apache helicopter fired an American-made missile into the car of Said Abbas Moussawi, head of the Hizbollah guerrilla army in Lebanon, the Israeli pilot also killed Moussawi's 10-year-old. No regrets, of course.

Whether these children deserved their deaths, be sure that their fathers -- in our eyes -- were to blame. Live by the sword, die by the sword -- and that goes for the kids too. Back in 1991, The Independent revealed that American Gulf War military targets included "secure" bunkers in which members of Saddam Hussein's family -- or the families of his henchmen -- were believed to be hiding. That's how the Americans managed to slaughter well over 300 people in an air raid shelter at Amariya in Baghdad. No Saddam kids, just civilians. Too bad. I wonder -- now that President George Bush has given permission to the CIA to murder Osama bin Laden -- if the same policy applies today? And so the casualties begin to mount. From Kandahar come ever more frightful stories of civilians buried under ruins, of children torn to pieces by American bombs. The Taliban -- and here the Americans must breathe a collective sigh of relief -- refuse to allow Western journalists to enter the country to verify these reports. So when a few television crews were able to find 18 fresh graves in the devastated village of Khorum outside Jalalabad just over a week ago, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld could ridicule the deaths as "ridiculous". But not, I suspect, for much longer.

For if each of our wars for infinite justice and eternal freedom have a familiar trade mark -- the military claptrap about air superiority, suppression of "command and control centres", radar capabilities -- each has an awkward, highly exclusive little twist to it. In 1999, Nato claimed it was waging war to put Kosovo Albanian refugees back in their homes -- even though most of the refugees were still in their homes when the war began. Our bombing of Serbia led directly to their dispossession. We bear a heavy burden of responsibility for their suffering -- since the Serbs had told us what they would do if Nato opened hostilities -- although the ultimate blame for their "ethnic cleansing'' clearly belonged to Slobodan Milosevic.

But Nato's escape clause won't work this time round. For as the Afghan refugees turn up in their thousands at the border, it is palpably evident that they are fleeing not the Taliban but our bombs and missiles. The Taliban is not ethnically cleansing its own Pashtun population. The refugees speak vividly of their fear and terror as our bombs fall on their cities. These people are terrified of our "war on terror'', victims as innocent as those who were slaughtered in the World Trade Centre on 11 September. So where do we stop? It's an important question because, once the winter storms breeze down the mountain gorges of Afghanistan, a tragedy is likely to commence, one which no spin doctor or propaganda expert will be able to divert. We'll say that the thousands about to die or who are dying of starvation and cold are victims of the Taliban's intransigence or the Taliban's support for "terrorism" or the Taliban's propensity to steal humanitarian supplies.

I have to admit -- having been weaned on Israel's promiscuous use of the word "terror" every time a Palestinian throws a stone at his occupiers -- that I find the very word "terrorism" increasingly mendacious as well as racist. Of course -- despite the slavish use of the phrase "war on terrorism" on the BBC and CNN -- it is nothing of the kind. We are not planning to attack Tamil Tiger suicide bombers or Eta killers or Real IRA murderers or Kurdish KDP guerrillas. Indeed, the US has spent a lot of time supporting terrorists in Latin America -- the Contras spring to mind -- not to mention the rabble we are now bombing in Afghanistan. This is, as I've said before, a war on America's enemies. Increasingly, as the date of 11 September acquires iconic status, we are retaliating for the crimes against humanity in New York and Washington. But we're not setting up any tribunals to try those responsible.

The figure of 6,000 remains as awesome as it did in the days that followed. But what happens when the deaths for which we are responsible begin to approach the same figure? Refugees have been telling me on the Pakistan border that the death toll from our bombings in Afghanistan is in the dozens, perhaps the hundreds. Once the UN agencies give us details of the starving and the destitute who are dying in their flight from our bombs, it won't take long to reach 6,000. Will that be enough? Will 12,000 dead Afghans appease us, albeit that they have nothing to do with the Taliban or Osama bin Laden? Or 24,000? If we think we know what our aims are in this fraudulent "war against terror", have we any idea of proportion?

Sure, we'll blame the Taliban for future tragedies. Just as we've been blaming them for drug exports from Afghanistan. Tony Blair was at the forefront of the Taliban-drug linkage. And all we have to do to believe this is to forget the UN Drug Control Programme's announcement last week that opium production in Afghanistan has fallen by 94 per cent, chiefly due to Mullah Omar's prohibition in Taliban-controlled areas. Most of Afghanistan's current opium production comes -- you've guessed it -- from our friends in the Northern Alliance.

This particular war is, as Mr Bush said, going to be "unlike any other" -- but not in quite the way he thinks. It's not going to lead to justice. Or freedom. It's likely to culminate in deaths that will diminish in magnitude even the crime against humanity on 11 September. Do we have any plans for this? Can we turn the falsity of a "war against terror" into a war against famine and starvation and death, even at the cost of postponing our day of reckoning with Osama bin Laden?

"To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places - and there are so many - where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."

-- Howard Zinn (You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train: A personal history of our times)

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