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The Coming Firestorm

So now Osama bin Laden is Hitler. And Saddam Hussein is Hitler. And George Bush is fighting the Nazis. Not since Menachem Begin fantasized to President Reagan that he felt he was attacking Hitler in Berlin – his Israeli army was actually besieging Beirut, killing thousands of civilians, “Hitler” being the pathetic Arafat – have we had to listen to claptrap like this. But the fact that we Europeans had to do so in the Bundestag on Thursday – and, for the most part, in respectful silence – was extraordinary.

I’m reminded of the Israeli columnist who, tired of the wearying invocation of the Second World War to justify yet more Israeli brutality, began an article with the words: “Mr Prime Minister, Hitler is dead.” Must we, forever, live under the shadow of a war that was fought and won before most of us were born? Do we have to live forever with living, diminutive politicians playing Churchill (Thatcher and, of course, Blair) or Roosevelt? “He’s a dictator who gassed his own people,” Mr Bush reminded us for the two thousandth time, omitting as always to mention that the Kurds whom Saddam viciously gassed were fighting for Iran and that the United States, at the time, was on Saddam’s side.

But there is a much more serious side to this. Mr Bush is hoping to corner the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, into a new policy of threatening Iran. He wants the Russians to lean on the northern bit of the “axis of evil”, the infantile phrase which he still trots out to the masses. More and more, indeed, Mr Bush’s rhetoric sounds like the crazed videotapes of Mr bin Laden. And still he tries to lie about the motives for the crimes against humanity of 11 September. Yet again, in the Bundestag, he insisted that the West’s enemies hated “justice and democracy”, even though most of America’s Muslim enemies wouldn’t know what democracy was.

In the United States, the Bush administration is busy terrorizing Americans. There will be nuclear attacks, bombs in high-rise apartment blocks, on the Brooklyn bridge, men with exploding belts – note how carefully the ruthless Palestinian war against Israeli colonization of the West Bank is being strapped to America’s ever weirder “war on terror” – and yet more aircraft suiciders. If you read the words of President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and the ridiculous national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, over the past three days, you’ll find they’ve issued more threats against Americans than Mr bin Laden.

But let’s get back to the point. The growing evidence that Israel’s policies are America’s policies in the Middle East – or, more accurately, vice versa – is now being played out for real in statements from Congress and on American television. First, we have the chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee announcing that Hizbollah – the Lebanese guerrilla force that drove Israel’s demoralized army out of Lebanon in the year 2000 – is planning attacks in the US. After that, we had an American television network “revealing” that Hizbollah, Hamas and al- Qa’ida – Mr bin Laden’s organization- have held a secret meeting in Lebanon to plot attacks on the US.

American journalists insist on quoting “sources” but there was, of course, no sourcing for this balderdash, which is now repeated ad nauseam in the American media. Then take the “Syrian Accountability Act” that was introduced into the US Senate by Israel’s friends on 18 April. This includes the falsity uttered earlier by Israel’s Foreign Minister, Shimon Peres, that Iranian Revolutionary Guards “operate freely” on the southern Lebanese border. Now there haven’t been Iranian Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon – let alone the south of the country – for 18 years. So why is this lie repeated yet again?

Iran is under threat. Lebanon is under threat. Syria is under threat – its “terrorism” status has been heightened by the State Department – and so is Iraq. But Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister held personally responsible by Israel’s own inquiry for the Sabra and Shatila massacre of 1,700 Palestinians in Beirut in 1982, is – according to Mr Bush – “a man of peace”. How much further can this go? A long way, I fear.

The anti-American feeling throughout the Middle East is palpable. Arab newspaper editorials don’t come near to expressing public opinion. In Damascus, Majida Tabbaa has become famous as the lady who threw the US Consul Roberto Powers out of her husband’s downtown restaurant on 7 April . “I went over to him,” she said, “and told him, ‘Mr Roberto, tell your George Bush that all of you are not welcome – please get out’.” Across the Arab world, boycotts of American goods have begun in earnest.

How much longer can this go on? America praises Pakistani President Musharraf for his support in the “war on terror”, but remains silent when he arranges a dictatorial “referendum” to keep him in power. America’s enemies, remember, hate the US for its “democracy”. So is General Musharraf going to feel the heat? Forget it. My guess is that Pakistan’s importance in the famous “war on terror” – or “war for civilization” as, we should remember, it was originally called – is far more important. If Pakistan and India go to war, I’ll wager a lot that Washington will come down for undemocratic Pakistan against democratic India.

Across the former Soviet southern Muslim republics, America is building air bases, helping to pursue the “war on terror” against any violent Muslim Islamist groups that dare to challenge the local dictators. Please do not believe that this is about oil. Do not for a moment think that these oil and gas-rich lands have any economic importance for the oil-fueled Bush administration. Nor the pipelines that could run from northern Afghanistan to the Pakistani coast if only that pesky Afghan loya jirga could elect a government that would give concessions to Unocal, the oddly named concession whose former boss just happens to be a chief Bush “adviser” to Afghanistan.

Now here’s pause for thought. Abdelrahman al-Rashed writes in the international Arabic daily Asharq al-Awsat that if anyone had said prior to 11 September that Arabs were plotting a vast scheme to murder thousands of Americans in the US, no one would have believed them. “We would have charged that this was an attempt to incite the American people against Arabs and Muslims,” he wrote. And rightly so.

But Arabs did commit the crimes against humanity of 11 September. And many Arabs greatly fear that we have yet to see the encore from the same organization In the meantime, Mr Bush goes on to do exactly what his enemies want; to provoke Muslims and Arabs, to praise their enemies and demonize their countries, to bomb and starve Iraq and give uncritical support to Israel and maintain his support for the dictators of the Middle East.

Each morning now, I awake beside the Mediterranean in Beirut with a feeling of great foreboding. There is a firestorm coming. And we are blissfully ignoring its arrival; indeed, we are provoking it.

(C) 2002 lndependent Digital (UK) Ltd

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Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

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