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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

The wickedness and awesome cruelty of a crushed and humiliated people

By Robert Fisk
September 12, 2001

So it has come to this. The entire modern history of the Middle East - the
collapse of the Ottoman empire, the Balfour declaration, Lawrence of 
Arabia's lies, the Arab revolt, the foundation of the state of Israel, 
four Arab-Israeli wars and the 34 years of Israel's brutal occupation of 
Arab land - all erased within hours as those who claim to represent a 
crushed, humiliated population struck back with the wickedness and awesome
cruelty of a doomed people. Is it fair - is it moral - to write this so 
soon, without proof, when the last act of barbarism, in Oklahoma, turned 
out to be the work of home-grown Americans? I fear it is. America is at 
war and, unless I am mistaken, many thousands more are now scheduled to 
die in the Middle East, perhaps in America too. Some of us warned of "the 
explosion to come". But we never dreamt this nightmare.

And yes, Osama bin Laden comes to mind, his money, his theology, his 
frightening dedication to destroy American power. I have sat in front of 
bin Laden as he described how his men helped to destroy the Russian army 
in Afghanistan and thus the Soviet Union. Their boundless confidence 
allowed them to declare war on America. But this is not the war of 
democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the 
coming days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian 
homes and US helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996
and American shells crashing into a village called Qana and about a 
Lebanese militia - paid and uniformed by America's Israeli ally - hacking 
and raping and murdering their way through refugee camps.

No, there is no doubting the utter, indescribable evil of what has 
happened in the United States. That Palestinians could celebrate the 
massacre of 20,000, perhaps 35,000 innocent people is not only a symbol of
their despair but of their political immaturity, of their failure to grasp 
what they had always been accusing their Israeli enemies of doing: acting 
disproportionately. All the years of rhetoric, all the promises to strike 
at the heart of America, to cut off the head of "the American snake" we 
took for empty threats. How could a backward, conservative, undemocratic 
and corrupt group of regimes and small, violent organisations fulfil such 
preposterous promises? Now we know.

And in the hours that followed yesterday's annihilation, I began to 
remember those other extraordinary assaults upon the US and its allies, 
miniature now by comparison with yesterday's casualties. Did not the 
suicide bombers who killed 241 American servicemen and 100 French 
paratroops in Beirut on 23 October 1983, time their attacks with 
unthinkable precision?

There were just seven seconds between the Marine bombing and the 
destruction of the French three miles away. Then there were the attacks on
US bases in Saudi Arabia, and last year's attempt - almost successful it 
now turns out - to sink the USS Cole in Aden. And then how easy was our 
failure to recognise the new weapon of the Middle East which neither 
Americans nor any other Westerners could equal: the despair-driven, 
desperate suicide bomber.

And there will be, inevitably, and quite immorally, an attempt to obscure 
the historical wrongs and the injustices that lie behind yesterday's 
firestorms. We will be told about "mindless terrorism", the "mindless" bit
being essential if we are not to realise how hated America has become in 
the land of the birth of three great religions.

Ask an Arab how he responds to 20,000 or 30,000 innocent deaths and he or 
she will respond as decent people should, that it is an unspeakable crime.
But they will ask why we did not use such words about the sanctions that 
have destroyed the lives of perhaps half a million children in Iraq, why 
we did not rage about the 17,500 civilians killed in Israel's 1982 
invasion of Lebanon. And those basic reasons why the Middle East caught 
fire last September - the Israeli occupation of Arab land, the 
dispossession of Palestinians, the bombardments and state-sponsored 
executions ... all these must be obscured lest they provide the smallest 
fractional reason for yesterday's mass savagery.

No, Israel was not to blame - though we can be sure that Saddam Hussein 
and the other grotesque dictators will claim so - but the malign influence
of history and our share in its burden must surely stand in the dark with 
the suicide bombers. Our broken promises, perhaps even our destruction of 
the Ottoman Empire, led inevitably to this tragedy. America has bankrolled
Israel's wars for so many years that it believed this would be cost-free. 
No longer so. But, of course, the US will want to strike back against
"world terror", and last night's bombardment of Kabul may have been the 
opening salvo. Indeed, who could ever point the finger at Americans now 
for using that pejorative and sometimes racist word "terrorism"?

Eight years ago, I helped to make a television series that tried to 
explain why so many Muslims had come to hate the West. Last night, I 
remembered some of those Muslims in that film, their families burnt by 
American-made bombs and weapons. They talked about how no one would help 
them but God. Theology versus technology, the suicide bomber against the 
nuclear power. Now we have learnt what this means.