Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2003 2:51 pm 
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Though many continue to pay a terrible price for September 11 and the resulting "war on terrorism" everywhere, there has been little concrete success in the "war" at home during the past month. The anthrax attacker, believed to be of domestic origin, has been "profiled," but there is no information about this person's actual identity or whereabouts. The word "profiled" itself is an emblem of the futility of the domestic side of the whole "war" enterprise thus far. A large number of non-US citizens continue to be held on the basis of their possible connection with the bombings of September 11 without any indication that such connections are being established. Profiling is a clumsy and inefficient means of trapping wrongdoers. It is effective chiefly in abridging rights. The one accomplishment is the charging of Zacharias Moussaoui, who emerged early in the investigation of September 11, and not through profiling. That Moussaoui is to be tried in civil court may be a positive sign that Bush has heeded those who are disturbed about the plan to use military tribunals, such as Harvard constitutional lawyer Laurence Tribe (see his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, http://www.counterpunch.org/ltribe1.html).

Al-Qa'ida is clearly being crushed in Afghanistan, but will it ever be crushed world-wide, or as an influence? Recent information summarized by Kurt Eichenwald on page one of the December 10 NYTimes suggests that al-Qa'ida's financial sources may be ultimately unblockable - and without those sources blocked, the "war on terrorism" is a failure and al-Qa'ida will be able to pick up the pieces elsewhere (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/10/inter ... 0MONE.html). What about bin Laden's guilt? That seems more certain now. If the video tape released by the US is authentic, as it certainly appears to be, it is highly incriminating, though without clearly stating that Osama personally either planned or ordered the hijackings. What is most chilling in the tape is the sense that the attacks could easily inspire many more converts to jihad and the belief that this is "true Islam." The tape is a reminder of bin Laden's support in Saudi Arabia. There is no real news on the tape, and yet it brings back the full horror of September 11, rendered more vivid by the cool delight and perverse self righteousness of Osama and his "brothers." But the US has been chasing a phantom in Osama if Prince Nayef, the Saudi interior minister, is right in saying that he is only the façade of al-Qa'ida and that September 11 would have happened without him; it had already seemed that al-Qa'ida, with its autonomous cell structure, could easily go on with him gone (http://www.nytimes.com/2001/12/10/inter ... 0SAUD.html). In any case bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri have not been found at this writing. And whether Osama is a figurehead or a real leader and mastermind, going after him with all our forces is exactly what he and his people would want, because doing so further motivates his followers with a sense of their importance and provides him and them with massive publicity. Crushing al-Qa'ida - however wrong the damage to Afghanistan - is something the US had to try to do, but those who have not wanted to give bin Laden publicity are right. But unfortunately they have failed.

The Afghan "war" effort moves in fits and starts, but some things are relentless: winter covers the land, starvation threatens the people and needless suffering continues unabated. Since the Taliban lost power there have been if anything more civilian deaths and injuries. When Robert Fisk was stoned and beaten by Afghan refugees, he wrote that "I would have done just what they did." A first hand witness, Fisk calls this a "filthy war" (http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asi ... ory=109257). Why have we done what we have done, achieving so little and causing such destruction and suffering in an already devastated country? "Smart bombs" has turned out to be a spin doctor's euphemism, since "collateral damage" has meant at least 3,767 civilian deaths in eight and a half weeks, according to the documentation of a professor at the University of New Hampshire, Marc W. Herold. The reasons for the deaths are various, Herold argues, but "the critical element remains the very low value put upon Afghan civilian lives by U.S. military planners and the political elite, as clearly revealed by U.S. willingness to bomb heavily populated regions" ( http://cursor.org/stories/civilian_deaths.htm). Both the media and our leaders seem to consider it unpatriotic even to report the civilian Afghan death toll. Donald Rumsfeld says it is simply impossible to know because we lack access and in dealing with Afghans we are dealing with "world class liars" (http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Dec2001 ... 204sd.html).

After all this suffering, how has the situation in Afghanistan changed? "Chaotic" is the word most often used in connection with Afghan politics and alliances, and despite the arrangements for an interim government of disparate factions brought about in Germany (this, like disabling the Taliban, something that happened faster and more easily than expected), the future is very uncertain. Kabul may ultimately make a place like Beirut look orderly. Not only are Afghan factions unruly and guilty of the worst human rights abuses - to which the CIA appears to have contributed in the Kala Jangi prison massacre (on the concern of Amnesty International, see http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/uk_pol ... 84095.stm; for another possible massacre, see http://news.independent.co.uk/world/asi ... ory=110213) , some of their members are notable for how often they have changed allegiance. The Taliban have withdrawn from Kabul and suffered heavy losses. But the Taliban are not dead, nor are they decisively defeated. Their fighters are scattered and concealed. The madrasas and refugee camps that have produced young Taliban recruits in Pakistan still exist, and the current war may greatly enlarge them both.

In recent days Bush and Blair have receded as the dominant leaders of the "war on terrorism" and been replaced by two far more questionable figures: John Ashcroft and Ariel Sharon. These men are shabby spin doctors, but they rule. Suppression is their aim. They are even more convinced than Bush and Blair of the questionable doctrine - too close for comfort to the position of the outright fanatic - that it is all "us versus them," whereas even presented in the simple terms used by Arianna Huffington in a recent column, this view is blatantly false. As Arianna puts it, "evil is not an Aljazeera exclusive." She needs only to cite the anthrax mailer and the Marin county Talib John Walker, AKA Abdul Hamid - product of a Pakistan madrasa - to make her case (http://www.ariannaonline.com/columns/files/120601.html). Ashcroft's fanaticism erodes the law and our rights. Sharon's exacerbates the worsening situation in Israel. Donald Rumsfeld has noted that Arafat lacks the power to curb Hamas, Hizbullah, et al., but in any case Sharon is bent on dismantling the Palestinian Authority with bombs and mortars and thus rendering Arafat completely powerless. At the same time he, and western spokesmen generally, put all the blame on Arafat for Palestinian violence: a truly Catch-22 game (see Jonathan Cook in Jerusalem on Sharon's double bind on Arafat at http://www.ahram.org.eg/weekly/2001/563/fr1.htm). It is unlikely that any decisive improvement will come without strong US intervention (UN help would be nice).

When the June 1967 war came in the Middle East, I had recently returned to the US from two years in Cairo, where I had listened avidly to the radio news and read Al Ahram and learned how different world events look from an Arab perspective. What Time magazine called a "rescue mission" to the Belgian Congo, Al Ahram had seen as an "Armed Invasion in the Heart of Africa." In June 1967 I could find no expressions of the Arab point of view in American newspapers. Has the situation changed? Surely it has, and now America is no longer in denial of the existence of the Palestinian people. But some things remain sadly constant. How can all Israel's current ills be laid at the feet of Yassir Arafat without a pervasive western ignorance of the situation fostered by silence in the news and subservience to Israeli propaganda? For the contrast between the US media spin on Israel and what may actually be happening, those who don't read Arabic might consult the web site of a courageous and articulate young Palestinian living in Chicago, Ali Abunimah, a tireless media watcher who provides an e-mail service that points out each day what has happened to the Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories and how the US media - particularly NPR - have failed to report it (see http://www.abunimah.org/nprlink.html).

Just as John Ashcroft has shamelessly used the threat of terrorism as an excuse to abridge freedoms in the US, Ariel Sharon has shamelessly claimed to have climbed on board our "war on terrorism" in the assassinations and reprisals of the Israelis against the Palestinians - further implicating the US in those actions (http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/0,,3- ... 35,00.html). Bush's and Blair's post-September nods toward the need to establish a viable Palestinian state and end the occupations have not led to improvements in the lot of the Palestinians, which in fact continue to deteriorate. Just as food is dropped with bombs in Afghanistan, "talks" go on along with daily terrorism and counter-terrorism in Israel - though they are proceeding so badly that US envoy Anthony C. Zinni has, to put it diplomatically, "made his impatience clear" (www.nytimes.com/2001/12/11/internationa ... earchpv=ny). Today Israel exists as it does now only because, as C.G. Estabrook has recently written, it is a "wholly-owned subsidiary of the United States government" (http://www.counterpunch.org/cestabrookisrael.html). Israel is an object lesson in the principle that the solutions do not lie in an "us/them" or "good/evil" view of events; in the fact that "terrorism" is not external in source. Some of our best friends are terrorists; it has been argued that "military occupation" (as in Israel's of Palestinian lands) is itself a form of terrorism (http://www.counterpunch.org/naggiar1.html). It could easily be argued that the US has terrorized the Afghan people as an insane reprisal for the US hijackings and bombings of September 11, whose perpetrators are dead, and whose planners and initiators are to a large extent unknown, unproven, and unfound - and are certainly not of Afghan origin. The Afghans' only known contribution to American mayhem has been in driving New York taxis.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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