- "Air campaign"? "Coalition forces"?
"War on terror"? How much longer must we go on enduring these
lies? There is no "campaign" - merely an air bombardment of the
poorest and most broken country in the world by the world's richest and
most sophisticated nation. No MiGs have taken to the skies to do battle
with the American B-52s or F-18s. The only ammunition soaring into the
air over Kabul comes from Russian anti-aircraft guns manufactured around
- Coalition? Hands up who's seen the Luftwaffe in the skies
over Kandahar, or the Italian air force or the French air force over Herat.
Or even the Pakistani air force. The Americans are bombing Afghanistan
with a few British missiles thrown in. "Coalition" indeed.
- Then there's the "war on terror". When are
we moving on to bomb the Jaffna peninsula? Or Chechnya - which we have
already left in Vladimir Putin's bloody hands? I even seem to recall a
massive terrorist car bomb that exploded in Beirut in 1985 - targeting
Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, the spiritual inspiration to the Hezbollah, who
now appears to be back on Washington's hit list - and which missed
but slaughtered 85 innocent Lebanese civilians. Years later, Carl Bernstein
revealed in his book, Veil, that the CIA was behind the bomb after the
Saudis agreed to fund the operation. So will the US President George Bush
be hunting down the CIA murderers involved? The hell he will.
- So why on earth are all my chums on CNN and Sky and the
BBC rabbiting on about the "air campaign", "coalition
and the "war on terror"? Do they think their viewers believe
- Certainly Muslims don't. In fact, you don't have to spend
long in Pakistan to realise that the Pakistani press gives an infinitely
more truthful and balanced account of the "war" - publishing
work by local intellectuals, historians and opposition writers along with
Taliban comments and pro-government statements as well as syndicated
analyses - than The New York Times; and all this, remember, in a military
- You only have to spend a few weeks in the Middle East
and the subcontinent to realise why Tony Blair's interviews on al-Jazeera
and Larry King Live don't amount to a hill of beans. The Beirut daily
ran a widely-praised editorial asking why an Arab who wanted to express
the anger and humiliation of millions of other Arabs was forced to do so
from a cave in a non-Arab country. The implication, of course, was that
this - rather than the crimes against humanity on 11 September - was the
reason for America's determination to liquidate Osama bin Laden. Far more
persuasive has been a series of articles in the Pakistani press on the
outrageous treatment of Muslims arrested in the United States in the
of the September atrocities.
- One such article should suffice. Headlined "Hate
crime victim's diary", in The News of Lahore, it outlined the
of Hasnain Javed, who was arrested in Alabama on 19 September with an
visa. In prison in Mississippi, he was beaten up by a prisoner who also
broke his tooth. Then, long after he had sounded the warden's alarm bell,
more men beat him against a wall with the words: "Hey bin Laden, this
is the first round. There are going to be 10 rounds like this." There
are dozens of other such stories in the Pakistani press and most of them
appear to be true.
- Again, Muslims have been outraged by the hypocrisy of
the West's supposed "respect" for Islam. We are not, so we have
informed the world, going to suspend military operations in Afghanistan
during the holy fasting month of Ramadan. After all, the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq
conflict continued during Ramadan. So have Arab-Israeli conflicts. True
enough. But why, then, did we make such a show of suspending bombing on
the first Friday of the bombardment last month out of our
for Islam? Because we were more respectful then than now? Or because -
the Taliban remaining unbroken - we've decided to forget about all that
- "I can see why you want to separate bin Laden from
our religion," a Peshawar journalist said to me a few days ago.
course you want to tell us that this isn't a religious war, but Mr Robert,
please, please stop telling us how much you respect Islam."
- There is another disturbing argument I hear in Pakistan.
If, as Mr Bush claims, the attacks on New York and Washington were an
on "civilisation", why shouldn't Muslims regard an attack on
Afghanistan as a war on Islam?
- The Pakistanis swiftly spotted the hypocrisy of the
While itching to get into the fight against Mr bin Laden, the Australians
have sent armed troops to force destitute Afghan refugees out of their
territorial waters. The Aussies want to bomb Afghanistan - but they don't
want to save the Afghans. Pakistan, it should be added, hosts 2.5 million
Afghan refugees. Needless to say, this discrepancy doesn't get much of
an airing on our satellite channels. Indeed, I have never heard so much
fury directed at journalists as I have in Pakistan these past few weeks.
Nor am I surprised.
- What, after all, are we supposed to make of the so-called
"liberal" American television journalist Geraldo Rivera who is
just moving to Fox TV, a Murdoch channel? "I'm feeling more patriotic
than at any time in my life, itching for justice, or maybe just
he announced this week. "And this catharsis I've gone through has
caused me to reassess what I do for a living." This is truly chilling
stuff. Here is an American journalist actually revealing that he's possibly
"itching for revenge".
- Infinitely more shameful - and unethical - were the
words of Walter Isaacson, the chairman of CNN, to his staff. Showing the
misery of Afghanistan ran the risk of promoting enemy propaganda, he said.
"It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship
in Afghanistan ... we must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian
shields and how the Taliban have harboured the terrorists responsible for
killing close up to 5,000 innocent people."
- Mr Isaacson was an unimaginative boss of Time magazine
but these latest words will do more to damage the supposed impartiality
of CNN than anything on the air in recent years. Perverse? Why perverse?
Why are Afghan casualties so far down Mr Isaacson's compassion? Or is Mr
Isaacson just following the lead set down for him a few days earlier by
the White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, who portentously announced to
the Washington press corps that in times like these "people have to
watch what they say and watch what they do".
- Needless to say, CNN has caved in to the US government's
demand not to broadcast Mr bin Laden's words in toto lest they contain
"coded messages". But the coded messages go out on television
every hour. They are "air campaign", "coalition forces"
and "war on terror".
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