Fisk: We are following Sharon into a trap
- 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
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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