War without end: Only justice, not bombs, can make our dangerous world a safer place
By Robert Fisk
This was the year the "war on terror" - an obnoxious
expression which we all parroted after 11 September
2001 - appeared to be almost as endless as George Bush
once claimed it would be. And unsuccessful. For, after
all the bombing of Afghanistan, the overthrow of the
Taliban, the invasion of Iraq and its appallingly
tragic aftermath, can anyone claim today that they feel
safer than they did a year ago?
We have gone on smashing away at the human rights we
trumpeted at the Russians - and the Arabs - during the
Cold War. We have perhaps fatally weakened all those
provisions that were written into our treaties and
conventions in the aftermath of the Second World War to
make the world a safer place. And we claim we are
Where, for example, is the terror? In the streets of
Baghdad, to be sure. And perhaps again in our glorious
West if we go on with this folly. But terror is also in
the prisons and torture chambers of the Middle East. It
is in the very jails to which we have been merrily
sending out trussed-up prisoners these past three
years. For Jack Straw to claim that men are not being
sent on their way to torture is surely one of the most
extraordinary - perhaps absurd is closer to the mark -
statements to have been made in the "war on terror". If
they are not going to be tortured - like the luckless
Canadian shipped off to Damascus from New York - then
what is the purpose of sending them anywhere?
And how are we supposed to "win" this war by ignoring
all the injustices we are inflicting on that part of
the world from which the hijackers of September 11
originally came? How many times have Messrs Bush and
Blair talked about "democracy"? How few times have they
talked about "justice", the righting of historic
wrongs, the ending of torture? Our principal victims of
the "war on terror", of course, have been in Iraq
(where we have done quite a bit of torturing
But, strange to say, we are silent about the horrors
the people of Iraq are now enduring. We do not even
know - are not allowed to know - how many of them have
died. We know that 1,100 Iraqis died by violence in
Baghdad in July alone. That's terror.
But how many died in the other cities of Iraq, in Mosul
and Kirkuk and Irbil, and in Amara and Fallujah and
Ramadi and Najaf and Kerbala and Basra? Three thousand
in July? Or four thousand? And if those projections are
accurate, we are talking about 36,000 or 48,000 over
the year - which makes that projected post-April 2003
figure of 100,000 dead, which Blair ridiculed, rather
conservative, doesn't it?
It's not so long ago, I recall, that Bush explained to
us that all the Arabs would one day wish to have the
freedoms of Iraq. I cannot think of an Arab today who
would wish to contemplate such ill fortune, not least
because of the increasingly sectarian nature of the
authorities, elected though they are.
The year did allow Ariel Sharon to achieve his aim of
turning his colonial war into part of the "war on
terror". It also allowed al-Qa'ida's violence to
embrace more Arab countries. Jordan was added to Egypt.
Woe betide those of us who are now locked into the huge
military machine that embraces the Middle East. Why,
Iraqis sometimes ask me, are American forces - aerial
or land - in Uzbekistan? And Kazakhstan and
Afghanistan, in Turkey and Jordan (and Iraq) and in
Kuwait and Qatar and Bahrain and Oman and Yemen and
Egypt and Algeria (there is a US special forces unit
based near Tamanrasset, co-operating with the same
Algerian army that was involved in the massacre of
civilians the 1990s)?
In fact, just look at the map and you can see the
Americans in Greenland and Iceland and Britain and
Germany and ex-Yugoslavia and Greece - where we join up
with Turkey. How did this iron curtain from the ice cap
to the borders of Sudan emerge? What is its purpose?
These are the key questions that should engage anyone
trying to understand the "war on terror".
And what of the bombers? Where are they coming from,
these armies of suiciders? Still we are obsessed with
Osama bin Laden. Is he alive? Yes. But does he matter?
Quite possibly not. For he has created al-Qa'ida. The
monster has been born. To squander our millions
searching for people like Bin Laden is about as useless
as arresting nuclear scientists after the invention of
the atom bomb. It is with us.
Alas, as long as we are not attending to the real
problems of the Middle East, of its record of suffering
and injustice, it - al-Qa'ida - will still be with us.
My year began with a massive explosion in Beirut, just
400 metres from me, as a bomb killed the ex-prime
minister Rafiq Hariri. It continued on 7 July when a
bomb blew up two trains back from me on the Piccadilly
line. Oh, the dangerous world we live in now. I suppose
we all have to make our personal choices these days.
Mine is that I am not going to allow 11 September 2001
to change my world. Bush may believe that 19 Arab
murderers changed his world. But I'm not going to let
them change mine. I hope I'm right.