Review of the year:
Robert Fisk on war without end

Only justice, not bombs, can make our dangerous world a safer place

Published: 30 December 2005

The Independent

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 winning.

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 ourselves).

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.

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 winning.

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 ourselves).

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.