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Fisk: We are following Sharon into a trap

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    Ariel Sharon has walked into a trap. And we are following him by Robert Fisk Osama bin Laden is writing the script in the war against terror The Independent,
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 3, 2002
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      Ariel Sharon has walked into a trap. And we are following him

      by Robert Fisk

      Osama bin Laden is writing the script in the war against terror
      The Independent, December 1, 2002

      Time was when Bali would have been the story of the year, the most
      violent act in 12 months, to be recalled with horror in December as
      the most terrible of crimes. But Bali was just the story of the
      month. And soon, perhaps, the Karachi bombings and the Bali bombings
      and the Mombasa bombings will be just stories of the week. See how
      easily we have acclimatised to death on a vast scale? What is to be
      this week's nightmare? How many innocents will be killed by the time
      you open next week's Independent on Sunday?

      But last week's killings in Kenya and the attempt to bring down an
      Israeli airliner were far more important than most people realise.
      For by bringing Israel into the loop – by allowing Israel to become
      a partner in President Bush's asinine "war on terror" – al-Qa'ida
      has ensured that the Arab Muslim world will henceforth give its real
      if quiescent sympathy to Osama bin Laden. Outraged as many Arabs
      were at the international crimes against humanity of 11 September
      2001, few will object to an attack against Israelis, however cruel,
      while Israel's suppression of the Palestinians continues. If al-
      Qa'ida is now against Israel, Arabs will give their support.

      With utter predictability, Ariel Sharon walked into the al-Qa'ida
      trap. He vowed "revenge". Thus any strike against the al-Qa'ida – by
      America, by Britain, by Australia – will be seen as an Israeli
      attack. America and Britain and Israel are now fighting on the same
      side. In the short term – and in his mendacious attempt to link
      Yasser Arafat with Mr bin Laden – Mr Sharon may have gained some
      advantage. At last, Israel's war on Palestinian "terror" can be
      placed on the same footing as its new war against al-Qa'ida. No
      longer will Mr Sharon's ghastly spokesmen have to justify their
      army's brutality towards Palestinians. Israel is fighting the same
      struggle of "good against evil" that President Bush invented for us
      just over a year ago.

      But for Israelis, there is one big error in all this. By responding
      to al-Qa'ida's wicked assault on its civilians, it is taking on a
      mighty big opponent. For Mr bin Laden's men are not the hopeless
      suiciders that the Palestinians produce from their foetid refugee
      camps. The Afghanistan-trained men of Mr bin Laden's legion do not
      spring from the squalor of Gaza or the occupied masses of the West
      Bank. They are ruthless, highly motivated, intelligent – just for
      once, William Safire was right when he called them "vicious
      warriors" – and they may be more than a match for Israel's third-
      rate intelligence men. Israel's rabble of an army can kill child
      stone-throwers with ease. Al-Qa'ida is a quite different opponent.
      And if Mr Sharon wants to take on Mr bin Laden, he is ensuring that
      Israel goes to war with its most dangerous enemy in 54 years. Better
      by far to let the Americans tackle al-Qa'ida – and even they don't
      seem to be all that successful – than bring Israel into the battle.

      Now, however, Messrs Bush and Blair will have to watch in silence as
      Mr Sharon bludgeons the occupied Palestinians into further
      submission. Israel is now engaged in our war, on our side, and
      whatever Israel does will now have the imprimatur of the "war on
      terror". Israel is now on the side of the good guys and if it kills
      nine children when its air force wants to assassinate a Hamas
      leader, the White House will not even be able to call it "heavy-
      handed". (Incidentally, it's instructive to note that while the
      child-killing in Gaza was "heavy-handed" in the words of Mr Bush's
      spokesman, Ari Fleischer, the killing of 12 Israeli soldiers and
      policemen was described by the same gentleman as a "heinous crime".)

      But let's move to one side for a moment. Has anyone spotted
      something amiss about the latest episode in the "war on terror"? Has
      it dawned on any of the chickenhawks in the US administration or in
      Downing Street that they are losing the initiative? Has anyone
      noticed that Mr bin Laden is writing the script? Al-Qa'ida attacks
      New York so we attack Afghanistan. Al-Qa'ida attacks in Bali and the
      Australian government re-pledges its support for America. Al-Qa'ida
      threatens America and so we murder four of its members in Yemen. And
      our governments – even the Irish last week – respond not by
      protecting us, not by uniting in a new, inspiring system of
      international justice, but by producing laws that will diminish our
      freedoms, our rights and our liberty. Under attack by al-Qa'ida?
      Let's tap into the telephones and emails of our innocent citizens.
      Let's frisk every Muslim who goes through our airports. Let's spy on
      our own people. How Mr bin Laden – hardly a man of humour, as I can
      personally attest – must be smiling.

      Now Americans have got to live with the Department of Homeland
      Security. The Teutonic roots of this name – Homeland translated as
      Heimat in the Reich – are perhaps best ignored for the present. But
      already, travellers in the US are finding themselves targeted at
      airports because of their skin-colour or their religion or their
      jobs.

      Here's just one small example. I've recently finished another series
      of lectures at American universities. Americans are great people;
      they are bright and they want to learn the truth about the Middle
      East, not least because they realise that their newspapers and
      television stations lie to them about the region. I give my lectures
      free of charge. The Independent and Independent on Sunday have
      thousands of readers in the US and we journalists have a duty to
      talk to them. But on this last trip, I notched up my 21st
      consecutive "random" security check at an airport boarding gate.
      Every time I travel on an American aircraft, up pops this little
      coding on my boarding card and all my hand-baggage is taken to bits.

      Now I don't mind this at all. The security staff are polite,
      underpaid and often very friendly – I even persuaded one to turn up
      at my talk in Manhattan – but the origin of my journey, Beirut, or
      the number of pariah visas in my passport or perhaps just my
      reporting, has got me on to the American security list. The boarding
      card "security" coding is in fact quite easy to decipher – and if a
      numbskull like me can work it out, be sure that the bad guys can –
      but the point is that, yet again, a perfectly law-abiding civilian
      is paying the price for Mr bin Laden.

      So here's a few thoughts. Why must we let al-Qa'ida write the
      script? Why don't we set up the machinery of real international law?
      Why don't we talk about "justice" rather than revenge? Why don't we
      have international tribunals so that those who wish to kill us can
      have their time in court? I don't want al-Qa'ida's members blown to
      pieces in Yemen by Mr Bush's hit squads. I want to see them tried,
      fairly and by due process. Of course, the Americans will whinge and
      whine about this. They will rabbit on about how Americans may be
      taken to court for political ends, about how American troops might
      be liable for war crimes trials – and given some of their behaviour
      in Afghanistan, I can well see why they would worry about this. I
      can see, too, why Mr Sharon would worry that he, too, could end up
      in court on war crimes charges for his involvement in the massacre
      of Palestinians at Sabra and Chatila in 1982. I don't know if Mr
      Sharon is guilty. But I think he deserves a fair trial.

      No, I'm not equating al-Qa'ida and Mr Sharon, nor am I associating
      the innocent with the guilty. But it's time we wrote the script to
      this terrible conflict. It's time we stopped crushing our own
      freedoms. It's time we talked about law and fairness and justice.
      Not just for criminals. But for the whole Middle East.








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