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Lobbies, & the
Corporate Media Don't Want You To Know
APOCALYPSE THEN....AND NOW
MER FLASHBACK -
MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 23 April 2006: Since
writing this article nine years ago Edward Said has himself passed
away, taking from us all one of the most eloquent and passionate voices
of truly expert and courageous thought and analysis. Said was
partially compromised and straight-jacketed by his associations with
the major Arab regimes, which at the time of this article he was
relying on for publication of his regular column. Even so Said's
penetrating commentaries and often biting insights were among the best
of his day and provide considerable insight now upon reflection many
year and many terrible events later.
I D - E A S T R E A L I T I E S WWW.MiddleEast.Org
Analysis & Commentary They Don't Want You to Know
Said: "Apocalypse Now"
MEDIA...IS AN EXTENSION OF THE
- Professor Edward Said
MER - MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 12/21/97:
P O C A L Y P S E N O W
The following article was recently published by Professor Edward Said,
one of the most astute and thoughtful analysts of Palestinian background
who has lived most of his life in New York City where he
teaches Comparative Literature at Columbia University.
As the U.S. once again mobilizes its modern-day empire against Iraq --
controlling the entire Middle East region through its unique combination
of military force, intelligence gathering, "client regimes", military technology
and big business relationships -- Said's articles are surely among the
most provocative and insightful, even if he himself has chosen to go light
on the Arab regimes (and also to overlook the earlier this century British
castration of Iraq that "created" Kuwait in the first place), in order
to be published in some of their key newspapers.
One of the additional ironies about today's Middle East is that Said's
bi-weekly column is now jointly published in key Saudi and Egyptian newspapers
-- media controlled and manipulated by American-sponsored regimes far more
than what takes place in the U.S.; and regimes whose conspiracy with the
Americans to bring Iraq to its knees at barbarous cost and to sell-out
the Palestinians through the disingenuous "Peace Process" Said has himself
so brilliantly focused on in other media at other times...but
never in his Arab world column.
It would be a mistake, I think, to reduce what is happening between Iraq
and the United States simply to an assertion of Arab will and sovereignty
on the one hand versus American imperialism, which undoubtedly plays a
central role in all this. However misguided, Saddam Hussein's cleverness
is not that he is splitting America from its allies (which he has not really
succeeded in doing for any practical purpose) but that he is exploiting
the astonishing clumsiness and failures of US foreign policy. Very few
people, least of all Saddam himself, can be fooled into believing him to
be the innocent victim of American bullying; most of what is happening
to his unfortunate people who are undergoing the most dreadful and unacknowledged
suffering is due in considerable degree to his callous cynicism -- first
of all, his indefensible and ruinous invasion of Kuwait, his persecution
of the Kurds, his cruel egoism and pompous
self-regard which persists in aggrandizing himself and his regime at exorbitant
and, in my opinion, totally unwarranted cost. It is impossible for him
to plead the case for national security and sovereignty now given his abysmal
disregard of it in the case of Kuwait and Iran.
Be that as it may, US vindictiveness, whose sources I shall look at in
a moment, has exacerbated the situation by imposing a regime of sanctions
which, as Sandy Berger, the American National Security adviser has just
said proudly, is unprecedented for its severity in the whole of world history.
567,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the Gulf War, mostly as a result
of disease, malnutrition and deplorably poor medical care. Agriculture
and industry are at a total standstill. This is unconscionable of course,
and for this the brazen inhumanity of American policy-makers is also very
largely to blame. But we must not forget that Saddam is feeding that inhumanity
quite deliberately in order to dramatize the opposition between the US
and the rest of the Arab world; having provoked a crisis with the US (or
the UN dominated by the US) he at first dramatised the unfairness of the
sanctions. But by continuing it as he is
doing, the issue has changed and has become his non-compliance, and the
terrible effects of the sanctions have been marginalised. Still the underlying
causes of an Arab/US crisis remain.
A careful analysis of that crisis is imperative. The US has always opposed
any sign of Arab nationalism or independence, partly for its own imperial
reasons and partly because its unconditional support for Israel requires
it to do so. Since the l973 war, and despite the brief oil embargo, Arab
policy up to and including the peace process has tried to circumvent or
mitigate that hostility by appealing to the US for help, by
behavior, by willingness to make peace with Israel. Yet mere compliance
with the US's wishes can produce nothing except occasional words of American
approbation for leaders who appear "moderate": Arab policy was never backed
up with coordination, or collective pressure, or fully agreed upon goals.
Instead each leader tried to make separate arrangements both with the US
and with Israel, none of which produced very much except escalating demands
and a constant refusal by the US to exert any meaningful pressure on Israel.
The more extreme Israeli policy becomes the more likely the US has been
to support it. And the less respect it has for the large mass of Arab peoples
whose future and well-being are mortgaged to illusory hopes embodied, for
instance, in the Oslo accords.
Moreover, a deep gulf separates Arab culture and civilization on the one
hand, from the United States on the other, and in the absence of any collective
Arab information and cultural policy, the notion of an Arab people with
traditions, cultures and identities of their own is simply inadmissible
in the US. Arabs are dehumanized, they are seen as violent irrational terrorists
always on the lookout for murder and bombing outrages. The only Arabs worth
doing business with for the US are compliant leaders, businessmen, military
people whose arms purchases (the highest per capita in the world) are helping
the American economy keep afloat. Beyond that there is no feeling at all,
for instance, for the dreadful suffering of the
people whose identity and existence have simply been lost sight of in the
This morbid, obsessional fear and hatred of the Arabs has been a constant
theme in US foreign policy since World War Two. In some way also, anything
positive about the Arabs is seen in the US as a threat to Israel.
In this respect pro-Israeli American Jews, traditional Orientalists, and
military hawks have played
a devastating role. Moral opprobrium is heaped on Arab states as it is
on no others. Turkey, for example, has been conducting a campaign against
the Kurds for several years, yet nothing is heard about this in the US.
Israel occupies territory illegally for thirty years, it violates the Geneva
will, conducts invasions, terrorist attacks and assassinations against
Arabs, and still, the US vetoes every sanction against it in the UN. Syria,
Sudan, Libya, Iraq are classified as "rogue" states. Sanctions against
them are far harsher than against any other countries in the history of
US foreign policy. And still the US expects that its own foreign policy
agenda ought to prevail (eg., the woefully misguided Doha
summit) despite its hostility to the collective Arab agenda.
In the case of Iraq a number of further extenuations make the US even more
repressive. Burning in the collective American unconscious is a puritanical
zeal decreeing the sternest possible attitude towards anyone deemed to
be an unregenerate sinner. This clearly guided American policy towards
the native American
Indians, who were first demonized, then portrayed as wasteful savages,
then exterminated, their tiny remnant confined to reservations and concentration
camps. This almost religious anger fuels a judgemental attitude that has
no place at all in international politics, but for the United States it
is a central
tenet of its worldwide behavior. Second, punishment is conceived in apocalyptic
terms. During the Vietnam war a leading general advocated -- and almost
achieved -- the goal of bombing the enemy into the stone age. The same
view prevailed during the Gulf War in l99l. Sinners are meant to be condemned
terminally, with the utmost cruelty regardless of whether or not they suffer
the cruelest agonies. The notion of "justified" punishment for Iraq is
now uppermost in the minds of most American consumers of
and with that goes an almost orgiastic delight in the gathering power being
summoned to confront Iraq in the Gulf.
Pictures of four (or is now five?) immense aircraft carriers steaming virtuously
away punctuate breathless news bulletins about Saddam's defiance, and the
impending crisis. The President announces that he is thinking not about
the Gulf but about the 21st century: how can we tolerate Iraq's threat
to use biological
warfare even though (this is unmentioned) it is clear from the UNSCOM
reports that he neither has the missile capacity, nor the chemical arms,
nor the nuclear arsenal, nor in fact the anthrax bombs that he is alleged
to be brandishing? Forgotten in all this is that the US has all the terror
weapons known to humankind, is the only country to have used a nuclear
bomb on civilians, and as recently as seven years ago dropped 66,000 tons
of bombs on Iraq. As the only country involved in this crisis that has
never had to fight a war on its own soil, it is easy for the US and its
mostly brain-washed citizens to speak in apocalyptic terms. A report out
of Australia on Sunday, November l6 suggests that Israel and the US are
thinking about a neutron bomb on Baghdad.
Unfortunately the dictates of raw power are very severe and, for a weak
state like Iraq, overwhelming. Certainly US misuse of the sanctions to
strip Iraq of everything, including any possibility for security is monstrously
sadistic. The so-called UN 661 Committee created to oversee the sanctions
is composed of fifteen
member states (including the US) each of which has a veto. Every time Iraq
passes this committee a request to sell oil for medicines, trucks, meat,
etc., any member of the committee can block these requests by saying that
a given item may have military purposes (tires, for example, or ambulances).
addition the US and its clients -- eg., the unpleasant and racist Richard
Butler, who says openly that Arabs have a different notion of truth than
the rest of the world -- have made it clear that even if Iraq is completely
reduced militarily to the point where it is no longer a threat to its neighbors
(which is now the case) the real goal of the sanctions is to topple Saddam
Hussein's government. In other words according to the Americans, very little
that Iraq can do short of Saddam's resignation or death will produce a
lifting of sanctions. Finally, we should not for a moment forget that quite
apart from its foreign policy interest, Iraq has now become a domestic
American issue whose repercussions on issues unrelated to oil or
Gulf are very important. Bill Clinton's personal crises -- the campaign-funding
scandals, an impending trial for sexual harassment, his various legislative
and domestic failures -- require him to look strong, determined and "presidential"
somewhere else, and where but in the Gulf against Iraq has he so
a foreign devil to set off his blue-eyed strength to full advantage.
Moreover, the increase in military expenditure for new investments in electronic
"smart" weaponry, more sophisticated aircraft, mobile forces for the world-wide
projection of American power are perfectly suited for display and use in
the Gulf, where the likelihood of visible casualties (actually suffering
Iraqi civilians) is extremely small, and where the new military technology
can be put through its paces most attractively. For reasons that
need restating here, the media is particularly happy to go along with the
government in bringing home to domestic customers the wonderful excitement
of American self-righteousness, the proud flag-waving, the
sense that "we" are facing down a monstrous dictator. Far from analysis
and calm reflection the media exists mainly to derive its mission from
the government, not to produce a corrective or any dissent. The media,
in short, is an extension of the war against Iraq.
The saddest aspect of the whole thing is that Iraqi civilians seem condemned
to additional suffering and protracted agony. Neither their government
nor that of the US is inclined to ease the daily pressure on them, and
the probability that only they will pay for the crisis is extremely high.
At least -- and it isn't very much -- there seems to be no enthusiasm among
Arab governments for American military action, but beyond that there is
no coordinated Arab position, not even on the extremely grave humanitarian
question. It is unfortunate that, according to the news, there is rising
popular support for Saddam in the Arab
as if the old lessons of defiance without real power have still not been
Undoubtedly the US has manipulated the UN to its own ends, a rather shameful
exercise given at the same time that the Congress once again struck down
a motion to pay a billion dollars in arrears to the world organization.
The major priority for Arabs, Europeans, Muslims and Americans is to push
to the fore
the issue of sanctions and the terrible suffering imposed on innocent Iraqi
civilians. Taking the case to the International Court in the Hague strikes
me as a perfectly viable possibility, but what is needed is a concerted
will on behalf of Arabs who have suffered the US's egregious blows for
too long without an adequate response.
[<>Published in late November in Arabic in the Saudi government controlled
in Arabic in London, and in English in the Egyptian government
Al Ahram Weekly published in Cairo.]
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(April 23, 2006)
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