30 January 2006

Barbarism in the name of civilisation

By Tapani Lausti

Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. Fourth Estate 2005.

Millions of people have been shocked by the way George W. Bush and Tony Blair lied their way to the hell-like occupation of Iraq. Reading Robert Fisk's new book would shock them even more. The lies did not start with the latest occupation of Iraq. During most of the 20th century the Western elites have been lying their way to control the huge oil resources in the Middle East. The peoples of the area have been showered with promises of democracy and economic progress. All the promises have been broken in the economic and political interests of the great powers. Untold misery has been inflicted on the peoples living in the area. All this continues today.

Fisk documents this miserable history in a personal manner using as the historical starting point his father's experiences in the First World War. The after-effects of that war planted the seeds of a horrendous century. The great powers pursued their interests in a way which made a stable world impossible. Towards the end of the century, the breakup of the Soviet empire after the bloody adventure in Afghanistan seemed to give the world a respite. Alas, it was not to last. The only remaining empire, the United States, with its global interests, is now pushing the world towards ever new dangers, with help from its loyal adjutant, Britain.

As is the custom of the powerful, Bush and Blair dress up their illegal war and occupation with rhetoric about democracy and human rights. They are men living in comfort but inflicting horrible suffering on hundreds of thousands of people. They themselves have never seen a dead and mutilated body or wounded and traumatised victims without limbs or eyes. Fisk has seen more of this kind of suffering than most people, whether journalist or soldier. During the Iraqi occupation he has again been visiting hospitals and morgues to see the real effects of Bush and Blair's outrageous policies. For Fisk, war is hell: "... war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit." (p. xxi)

Fisk is a tenacious war correspondent who seems to be everywhere, often in places where politicians and military officers would not like him to be. However, for him just describing what is happening is not enough. One also has to ask the big question: Why? After the September 11 outrage in 2001 he immediately started asking the question which the politicians tried to make seem outrageous. As reaction to his analyses, Fisk received a lot of abuse from readers, politicians and also from many other journalists. When he sought to seek out the terrorists' motives in the US policies in the Middle East, he was accused of supporting terrorism.

Soon after 9/11, the Americans, praising their own goodness, started to bomb Afghanistan, killing thousands of innocent people. Touring the country at the time, Fisk realised that many villages were completely destroyed by American bombs. In one village the outraged inhabitants almost beat him to death, thinking he was American. Again he received a lot of abuse from colleagues after he wrote that he understood the hatred of the villagers. Fisk reminds his readers that he "had spent more than a quarter of a century reporting the humiliation and misery of the Muslim world..." (p. 1079) He knows a lot about people's mood. They can see the double standards of great power politics and the racist indifference to the suffering of brown-skinned people.

Fisk is worried about the way journalists have more and more become targets of violent attacks. He thinks the rot started already in Vietnam where many journalists started wearing uniforms and carrying guns. Open propaganda has also been harmful. He quotes the CNN boss Walter Isaacson's guidelines to his journalists that it would be 'perverse' to pay too much attention to the Afghans' suffering because "such reporting ran the risk of helping the Taliban". Subsequently, in Iraq the journalists became open targets of attacks, "because their role as correspondents simply no longer guaranteed them protection". (p. 1082) Fisk has critical words against journalism which acts as mouthpiece to government policies in the US and the UK.

Fisk has dark premonitions of new horrors coming. As the Americans openly declare their intention to kill Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, the rules of the game seem to be changing. In the old days, it was an exception to target the leaders of adversaries, whether guerrilla leaders or government ministers, now it is becoming something taken for granted.

Fisk asks: ""If — and when — our own political leaders are assassinated, shot down or blown up, we shall vilify the murderers and argue that a new stage in 'terrorism' has been reached. We shall forget that we are now encouraging this all-out assassination spree." (p. 1267)


See also a review in Finnish and visit Robert Fisk pages in the archive

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