THE VIEW FROM GROUND ZERO
The Index Lecture
Prepared for the Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival
June 2, 2002
Truth and terror: Harold Evans The former editor of The Sunday Times, editorial director of US News and World Report and author of The American Century, on the chilling paradoxes of the global village.
I am happy and honoured to light a candle for the 30th birthday of Index. We have been well served by the leadership of Index, from the original documentation of Soviet oppression, when it was not the most fashionable cause, to today. Mr. Francis Fukuyama, who preceded me at this rostrum, provoked controversy ten years ago by suggesting that in the triumph of liberal democracy we had arrived, in Hegel’s phrase, “at the end of history.” Whatever, we had certainly not arrived at the end of hypocrisy. Everybody is in favor of free speech until it runs into their vested interest – governments, corporations, unions, and individuals with pet causes. Indulge me tonight if some of my observations are out of the mainstream.
Twenty-eight years ago, cornered into giving the Granada Guildhall lecture, I described the British press as half-free, meaning it was too much subject to censorship and prior restraint – what the Americans call gag orders. I was then in the middle of a battle for thalidomide children and was objecting to the numerous legal restrictions on that and other investigations which had me cuffed more times than Bill Sikes. Actually like Clive of India I stand amazed at my own moderation. I should have said the Risibly Half Free Press. I recall being told by Whitehall that the public health record of cruise ships was a state secret. No doubt one would have the same dusty answer ringing up in 1911 to inquire about the number of lifeboats proposed for the Titanic. Another time a couple of lugubrious Scotland Yard detectives arrived to take me in for revealing the government’s plans to close half the railway system. That was then. Perhaps I should have suppressed our scoop; they might have been up to running HALF a railway system.
The suppressors will always be with us, but that does not seem to me to be the main issue today. The British press is freer and there is a fuller flow of information, but it is no easier to discern transcendental truth. At journalism schools in America they are lectured on objectivity, which should mean a reverence for the object, and in journalism that must surely be truth, but it turns out that “objectivity” comes down to no more than impartiality, interpreted as balancing statements of facts on either side without regard to their weight, or historical and moral context. On the one hand, Stalin murdered millions of Russians; on the other hand he worked very hard. Truth often does not lie in the comfortable middle and giving equal weight to opposing statements may propagate a contextual falsehood (of which more later). And then there are the prisms we all carry around through we view the facts. I want to focus on the subject of truth in relation to terrorism because it looks different from America than it does from Europe and I am concerned about that.
The paradox is that the world is connected as never before in terms of the flow of current, but many of the wires are lethally bare. Competition from half-truth masquerades as knowingness, and disinformation and misinformation, travel faster than the speed of light. The inhibitions of political correctness often erode candour: equivocators of the world unite, you have only your convictions to lose. And the culture of rage and religious fanaticism that has spawned and condoned terrorism is insensible to reason. Jonathan Swift recognised our dilemma more than two hundred long ago: "You cannot reason a person out of something he has not been reasoned into." The consequences of unreason are rather more severe than they were in Swift's time.
Americans do not see how terrorism can be confronted and defeated other than by the force of arms and law enforcement. My European friends see an arrogant and unilateralist America throwing its weight around. They have a point about the EARLY cowboy style of this Administration. It was, in a word, insufferable. But it has learned a lot in the face of the new terrorism, as Joe Klein suggested today, and in any event the terrorism we face now is of a different order than the terrorism of European experience, the Red brigades, Baader-Meinhoff, ETA and the IRA of Europe. Al Qaeda, radical Islam, is not amenable to the European approach of negotiation and conciliation over political rights and territory. It is engaged only in the dialectic of death.
The platitudes of alliance paper over the heart of the matter: that Europe has become militarily weak, that it could not by itself have eradicated the nerve centre of Islamic terror in Afghanistan. It seems to Americans that rather than talk in the context of the uncomfortable truth of dependency, European commentators too often join the default chorus, a chorus that avoids responsibility by blaming everything that goes wrong on the United States. Actually, the United States gets blamed when things go right, too, because what we have is not an argument about concrete means of protecting citizens from terror and weapons of mass destruction, but more of a neurosis about dependency on American power. James Schlesinger, Jr. spoke for many Americans when he expressed frustration the other day: "The U.S. does the heavy lifting in combat, while Europe provides the critique.” Many Americans of all social and political hues are worried about - and resent - what they see as caviling inspired less by logic than by tired old anti-Americanism in Europe, modified, in American eyes, by Britain's more robust conduct: Tony Blair has his critics here but he is a hero in the U.S. Of course, discordance between European and American views on policy is healthy. Like many in America, I find myself more often on the European side - over matters like Kyoto, tariffs, Cuba, nuclear testing - and in the presidential election I wrote a number of columns for The Guardian critical of candidate Bush. But it is an attitude, not argument, that is germane here, and we need to know and consider that.
You know the story than when Paddy lay dying at ninety, the priest asked him to renounce the devil and all his works, and replied, “This is no time to antagonise anybody.” Well, I have no intention of antagonising our hosts for the Festival. If I take a few examples from The Guardian, it is because its pages have been open to a remarkable range of opinion, vividly expressed. The best representation of the attitude that alarms Americans was an “on the other hand” article that appeared after 9/11 in The Guardian in the now famous column by Seamus Milne. When Al Atta and his gang incinerated those clerks and bus boys, cooks and managers, bond traders, secretaries and firemen, 3,000 people of all faiths, ethnicities, and classes, including 100 Brits, the first instinct of Mr. Milne was to express amazed indignation that the Americans didn't get it, didn't realise they had it coming to them because they were hated with bitterness across the developing world for "what their government had visited upon large parts of the world." The crimes which apparently explained if not justified the killings included America sending troops to "every corner of the globe" and bombing "Afghanistan, Sudan, Yugoslavia and Iraq without troubling the United Nations." Very odd. I would have thought that the Americans - and Europeans much more so - might have been criticised for standing aside while 250,000 Muslims were murdered in Bosnia and being altogether slow to halt the ethnic cleansing and genocide in once-upon-a-time entity Mr. Milne calls Yugoslavia. But when they did intervene - under UNSC resolution 1244 - they saved thousands of lives: 14,000 Kosovars died before the Serbs were ejected. A million Africans died in Rwanda precisely because it was a corner of the globe when the U.S. forbore to send even a platoon, for which it was widely assailed; and with cause Clinton still feels guilty about it. Many believe Afghanistan's nascent civil society is imperiled by the Bush administration's refusal to put in the law-and-order forces requested by the Afghans themselves.
Mr. Milne's unexamined thesis was that terror networks will keep on emerging until "the injustice and inequalities that produce them are addressed".
Or until the Americans stop saving Muslims from slaughter or giving more millions to Muslim countries than the rest of the world combined.
To reasonable Americans, and not the Daddy Warbucks stereotypes of media, they seem damned if they do, damned if they don't. I rather think that Mr. Milne's indictment is altogether too narrow, that the source of Muslim rage is not this or that purely American act of policy, certainly not simply support for Israel, but, as the scholar Mr. Bernard Lewis argued before 9/11, the secularism and modernism of the West as a whole. Lewis testified to a bitter resentment among the heirs of an old, proud and long dominant civilisation, at having been overtaken, overborne and overwhelmed by those whom they regarded as their inferiors, a sentiment exploited by the fundamentalists. While Islam has inspired in the humblest peasant or peddler a dignity and a courtesy towards others never exceeded and rarely equalled in other civilisations, says Lewis, in moments of upheaval and disruption, rage erupts and violent crime receives sanction. In the words of another authority, Professor Benjamin Barber of Rutgers, Jihad has been declared on the values, cultures, institutions - and people - that make up liberal society. Jihad, of course, means simply “struggle”, but as hi-jacked by Al Qaeda, it is irreconcilable with anyone's secular democracy. It is in many ways similar to the secular European fascism of the thirties.
I have always regarded the lucid writings of my old friend and colleague Hugo Young as the epitome of political wisdom, so I really sit up when Hugo – whose intellectual rigor does not tolerate the reflexive anti-Americanism of Mr. Milne – rebukes Tony Blair for supporting President Bush. Only this month, Hugo characterised the Prime Minister as – I quote – “supporting an American war on terrorism not driven by a desire to improve the world, but to make American territory safe from the world, and the world safe for American domination." Perhaps Hugo was irritated by a spasm of American arrogance, but looking through my prism, I find myself wondering: Doesn’t it count just a little bit to “improving the world” that success would also do something to make British territory safe from the world? Doesn’t it improve the world just a bit to make flying safer - who can forget Lockerbie? And doesn’t it “improve the world”, whatever the motive, to save the lives of possibly millions from weapons of mass destruction? Perhaps it is the ice melting in the Arctic – all Bush's fault! - but it seems the Atlantic has grown wider in the time I have lived in the United States. Indeed, last week I wondered if I still inhabited the same planet when I read the elegant Madeleine Bunting mocking the involvement of British soldiers in Afghanistan as farcical and concluding: "The war in Afghanistan was a crude and clumsy intervention which did little for the wretched Afghans and even less for the struggle against terrorism". I thought at once of the young Muslim woman, author of My Forbidden Face, who came to New York from Kabul to utter both gratitude and reproach on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of women who were “buried alive” by the Taliban. She told us: "In our misery, we kept asking, where is the world, where is the world? We were so isolated." Of course, Afghanistan will be in the recovery room for some time, but the determination to find fault with a brilliant operation that confounded its critics is just like an Indian fable. A man-eating tiger had devoured 36 villagers, so they called in a hunter to kill the beast. When he had risked death to do just that, the head man rushed forward not to thank him, but complain about the flies on the carcass.
September 11 has been hard for us to explain to our children Isabel, 10, and George, 15, harder than anything in their lives because we couldn't understand it ourselves.
Now we know. The Jews did it.
The purpose of this vast and brilliant 9/11 Israeli conspiracy is clearer now than it was. It was a plot to vilify Muslims, to pave the way for a joint Israeli-U.S. military operation not just against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban but also Islamic militants in Palestine.
Could anybody believe this rubbish? Yes, millions and millions and millions did. And still do and we should hesitate to call them stupid. A Gallup Poll survey, released in March this year questioned people in nine predominantly Islamic countries - Pakistan, Iran, Indonesia, Turkey, Lebanon, Morocco, Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia representing about half the world's Muslim population. Some 67 per cent found the attacks morally unjustified, which is something - why not 100%? - but they were also asked whether they believed reports that groups of Arabs carried out the attacks. Only in West-aligned Turkey was the answer Yes, but it was a close 46 to 43%. In all the other eight Islamic countries, the populations rejected the idea that Arabs or Al Qaeda were responsible. The majorities are overwhelming in Pakistan, Kuwait, Iran and Indonesia - in Pakistan only 4% believe the hijack killers were Arabs. Repeat, that is a poll just a couple of months ago, after millions of words from reporters, and exultant videos from the Osama bin Laden show. Of course, some of you know those videos were produced by Rent-a-Mullah, Inc. a CIA shadow company operating out of Maryland. But please keep it to yourself...
Who could be crazy/malign/misguided enough to disseminate this odious invention as the truth? You may ask: there has been no consistent effort to find out. The short answer is the millenarians, imams, editors, columnists, government ministers, in every one of the non-democratic countries of the Arab and Islamic world, and on the West Bank.
But it not confined to those closed societies where there is no freedom of the press. Sheikh Muhammad Gemeaha lived on New York's upper west side when he was in the United States for the Cairo Centre of Islamic Learning at al-Azhar University and he explained to we dummies that "only the Jews" were capable of toppling the World Trade Centre. If the conspiracy became known to the American people, said Sheikh Gemeaha, "they would have done to Jews what Hitler did." It is to be found too among Muslim groups in Paris and London, and among a tiny number of American youth. One of the most malevolent sources of activity is a body called the Associated Students of San Francisco State University allied with the General Union of Palestinian Students and the Muslim Student Association.
Pakistan's Cupertino in the Afghanistan was a little tricky for General Musharaff because the fact of the Israeli-American conspiracy to frame Arabs for 9/11 has been a running theme in most of the country’s Urdu-language newspapers. The Nation, the leading daily published in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi, headlined a typically straight unqualified assertion:
MOSSAD BEHIND ATTACKS
The newspaper Ad-Dustour in moderate Jordan elaborated: "The Twin towers attack was "the act of the great Jewish Zionist mastermind that controls the world's economy, media and politics".
This Mossad conspiracy is being endlessly recycled. Thomas Friedman, the NYT columnist, reported this month that it was an article of faith in Indonesia, the pivotal Southeast Asia state with the world's largest Muslim population. The week I was asked to give this talk, Dr. Y. Alaridi opined in the English language Syrian Times: "Has the CIA asked the Israeli Mossad if they had any idea about September 11 tragedy before it happened? Sir, please forgive my rudeness, by the way, who does rule America?" There is no end to the paranoia. In an interview with Arab television only last week, a British spokesman was asked to prove that the 9/11 attacks were NOT carried out by the CIA.
How could people be so susceptible to misinformation? Well, conspiracy theories simplify a complex world. They have the advantage that the absence of evidence is itself proof of plot: missing records at Pearl Harbor, missing bullets in Dallas, missing bodies in Jenin. Preconceptions are outfitted in fantasy. Contradiction by authority is mere affirmation of the vastness of the plot: so he's in it, too. Conspiracy and rumour bloom especially where the flow of news and opinion is restricted and especially where illiteracy is high, as it is in Pakistan where the madrassas (schools) devote all their attention to religious indoctrination - the only developing country, I think, where literacy rates are falling. Syed Talat Hussain, the prominent Pakistani journalist, was frank about it: "In a country where there is a void of information, newspapers resort to rumours. In addition, there is an abiding tradition in the Pakistani print media deliberately to prove that whatever goes wrong is the work of the Jews and the Hindus". But there is another explanation for the potency of the poison today. It is the aura of authenticity provided by technology, by the Internet. John Daniszewski of the Los Angeles Times, asked an editor of the Nation in Islamabad, Ayesha Haroon, why they blamed Israel. "It is quite possible that there was deliberate malice in printing it", she admitted, but she went on: "I also think it has to do with the Internet. Somebody in Canada, the U.S. or UK is sitting there and makes up something and sends it to us. And when you see something on a computer, you tend to believe it is true." Here in the new magic is a source of much of our misery. An Indonesian just back from visiting the Islamic fundamentalist stronghold of Jogjakarta told Friedman how alarmed he was by the tide running for Jihad against Christians and Jews. What is frightening, he said, is an insidious digital divide. "Internet users are only 5 per cent of the population - but these 5 per cent spread rumours to everyone else. They say, ‘He got it from the Internet.’ They think it's the Bible."
But what about these 4000 Jews? The figure of 4000 got into circulation because some years ago somebody guessed that's how many Israelis there were in the city. The fact is Jews and Israelis did what everybody did on September 11: they showed up for work and died along with Muslims and Christians and Buddhists. The four children of Deborah Kaplan, engineer, know too well that nobody tipped off their mother. Allan Schwartzstein, equities trader, and father of two, died wearing the watch he had received for his bar mitzvah 15 years before. He was named after an uncle killed in Israel in 1948. The uncle’s body was never found and neither was Allan’s. His high-level connections in Israel did not help Hagay Shefi, the technologist son of the Israeli brigadier general Dov Shefi. He was speaking at the Risk Waters conference and never had a chance on the 106th floor.
The smear that defiles the dead, that millions perceive as reality, owes its original currency, astonishingly, to one website. The story got legs because it fitted the story line of Jewish masterminds and because very few people in media regarded it seriously enough to take note of, still less, eviscerate. One dotcom reporter who did investigate, Bryan Curtis of Slate, first discovered the fiction surfacing on a site called Information Times on September 12. It began tentatively saying the "terrorist government of Israel could not be ruled out as the suspect" and then supposition congealed. At 6.26 a.m. on September 17 it substantiated the plot with the headline that 4000 Jews were spared execution by their compatriots. And the source for this devastating charge seems to be Al-Manar Television in Lebanon, which exists "to stage an effective psychological warfare with the Zionist enemy" and gives frequent airtime to the terrorist group Hezbollah. So I thought I would call Information Times in Washington to ask whether they had the slightest qualms about making such a play of an unchecked story from such a source. They were hard to find. Directory assistance had no entry for Information Times, Info Times, or the editor listed on its website, a Wizard of Oz by the name of Syed Adeeb. Mr. Curtis also tried. The Press Club told him it had no such tenant; email messages were bounced back. When I spoke to Curtis this week, he told me he had been bombarded by anti-Semitic responses. He also got a threatening legal letter but when Slate's lawyers tried to reply, the evanescent litigants were on the lam again. But Information Times is still peddling its wares on the web and you will get the flavour if I read you a few of the 31 stories I found at the top of their list on May 16:
1306: Expose Lobbyists who Support Israeli Terrorism
1307: Powell cunningly encourages Genocide of Arabs
1309 Thomas Friedman is a violent extremist
1310 US REP Says Bush Junta behind 9/11 attacks
1313 Dumb Foxy Blonde Utters Israeli Propaganda
1316 Hindu Terrorists Raped and Burned Women
1322 Bush Imposes Criminal Dictator on Pakistan
1325 Bush Changes Our Name to US of Israel
1334 Israelis with bomb material arrested in Washington
Once upon a time Mr. Adeeb, and his shy sponsors, would be sending out smudged cyclostyled sheets that that would never see the light of day. But now the mysterious Mr. Adeeb and others like him have a megaphone to the world, with this spurious authenticity of electronic delivery. Mr. Cordell Hull in the thirties of print and radio complained that a lie went half way round the world before truth had time to put its trousers on; nowadays it has been to Mars and back before anyone is half awake. It is extraordinary how seductive it is. After 9/11, I heard that Palestinians had been filmed dancing joyously in the street, but that AP had for some reason not circulated the video.
Then I came across "the truth" on the web. Here is what I read, capitalisation as in the text:
"All around the world we are subjected to 3 or 4 huge news distributors and one of them is CNN. One set of images showed Palestinians celebrating the bombing out on the streets, eating some cake and making funny faces for the camera. Well THOSE IMAGES WERE SHOT BACK IN 1991. THOSE IMAGES OF PALESTINIANS CELEBRATING THE INVASION OF KUWAIT! It is simply unacceptable that a super power of communications as CNN uses images which do not correspond to reality. This is a crime against public opinion. The truth is that the U.S. has shown no respect for other countries in the last decades."
Sounds right. One recalls Yasser Arafat led the Palestinians in support of Saddam in the Gulf War so perhaps the film in 2001 was indeed of 1990 celebrations of his invasion of Kuwait, or perhaps they erupted on the street when he launched Scud missiles against the hated Israelis.
What was CNN doing airing a decades-old film? Didn't it realise it would make Americans angry with the Palestinians?
Well, they weren't doing anything of the kind.
The web site expose was itself a fraud. The film was not archive footage misapplied to a current event. It was shot on black Tuesday, Sept 11, by a Reuters TV crew in East Jerusalem and supplied to CNN in the normal way - as testified both by Reuters and CNN. The internal evidence supports CNN's rebuttal: the video included comments from a Palestinian praising Osama Bin Laden, unknown on the Jerusalem street in 1990, and in the background were automobiles made after 1991.
So how did the lie get round the world? A student named Marcio A.V. Carvalho, at Universidad Estatal de Campinas-Brasil (Unicamp), was told by someone that a professor at another university had the CNN tape and could prove it false. Carvahlo plugged the news into the email list of a discussion group he joined on the web. When members of the group got excited for more details, he went back to his contact and to the professor - who denied having the tape. Carvalho told his email list he had no more detail. Later, following the CNN rebuttal, both the University announced regrets that one of its students had for promulgated a falsehood, but by this time it had assumed an inflated life of its own. Carvalho disowned his Frankensteins; a hacker, he said, attacked his email domain and sent out distorted articles under his name.
I have reported this fragment in a little detail to show what we are up against today. We could be in this tent the rest of the week if we tried to find our way through the labyrinth of cognitive dissonance to assess the potential repercussions. On those who ingested the fraud alleging fraud, on those who caught up with it, on the different interpretations likely to be made by a viewer in America, in Europe, in the Middle East. But one thing is certain: whatever else they do, allegations of misreporting like this aggravate the dangers for journalists and TV crews – like Christiane Amanpour who is with us tonight - bravely venturing into areas of tension, risking arrest by the authorities, a stray bullet, or violence from the street, the asylum of ignorance. I have lost three colleagues and friends this way. At the end of the line of incendiary lies, there is the life of a reporter, just trying to do his job, like Danny Pearl tortured and butchered because he was a Jew and a reporter, led into a trap by a graduate of a British university.
THE TIDAL WAVE OF ANTI- SEMITISM
We have to look very hard in the distorting mirrors of the Middle East for the absolute knowledge of Enlightenment presumptions. But the Internet, for all its elephant traps, does enable us at least to know to an unprecedented degree what is being retailed, what people are thinking and being told. Before I lift the lid an inch or two on this Pandora's box, you are entitled to know where I am coming from. I see Israel, for all its warts, and its origins in terrorist violence against the British, as the parliamentary democracy envisaged by the famous editor of The Guardian, C. P. Scott, when in 1917 he introduced Chaim Weizmann to Lloyd George and A. J. Balfour. That led to the Balfour declaration for a Jewish national home. At the same time, I have never hesitated whenever I thought Israel was failing to live up to its ideals or being intransigent in negotiation. At the Sunday Times, I was the subject of a great deal of criticism for documenting in detail cases of ill-treatment of Arabs held prisoner on the West Bank by the Israeli military. I believe occupation is inevitably an ugly and humiliating thing. Israel would be well advised to stop building settlements; indeed as some peace groups in Israel suggest it might be possible to break the cycle of violence by formally withdrawing from an abandoned settlement and letting it be known that more will follow IF the gesture is reciprocated.
But none of the Palestinians’ grievances can justify what they are doing today. Nothing, I believe, nothing, can justify that random murder of Israeli citizenry, wherever they are in pre-67 Israel or the West Bank or Gaza. And nothing can justify the anti-Semitism that foments such terrorism. It is a big dark shadow on the world, and it is not simply a consequence of the Palestinian conflict, as conventional media portrays it – in so far as it portrays it at all, which is scandalously little. The leading authority on Anti-Semitism, the author and scholar Professor Robert Wistrich, Neuberger Professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, judges that today’s level of anti-Semitism is unprecedented, and anyone who makes the most cursory examination cannot fail to be stunned. The effluent is from official sources and newspapers in Arab states, from schools and government-funded mosques, from Arab columnists and editorial writers, cartoonists, clerics, and intellectuals, from websites that trail into an infinity of iniquity. Hostility to Israel is pumped into millions of homes every day by the pan-Arab TV satellite channel, Al-Jazeera. It is said to be “objective”. At the start of the Afghan campaign, it gave twice as much airtime to Bin Laden and his supporters as the coalition. Recently, it showed its priorities very clearly by giving an easy ride to the anti-Semitic Le Pen and a rough ride for Tony Blair. The appearance of modernity in the Arab media is illusory. More important than the presence of the hardware is the absence of the software, the notion of a ruggedly independent self-critical free press. CNN will film American bomb damage in Afghanistan. Al-Jazeera and the Middle East stations would never dream of talking to the orphans and widows whose loved ones were blown apart by a suicide bomber. An Arab critic of American and the coalition is always given the last word.
Wherever you apportion the balance of blame on the emotive issue of Palestine, vertigo is surely induced by seeing the ghost walk again: the spectre of anti-Semitism that haunted Europe in the thirties to its ghastly fulfillment is now revived whole in the Arab media and in some of the European press, too. Certainly, in too much of European dialogue, Israel is supported, in Lenin's words, like a rope supports a hanging man. Outright anti-Semitism is not a common feature, and there may be a token gesture to the right of Israel to exist, but much Middle East reporting falls into the impartiality trap. It gives equal weight to information from corrupt police states and proven liars as to information from a self-critical democracy. The pious but fatuous posture is that this is somehow fair, as if truth existed in a moral vacuum, something to be measured by the yard like calico. Five million Jews in Israel are a vulnerable minority surrounded by 300 million Muslims, who for the most part are governed by authoritarian regimes, quasi-police states, that in more than 50 years have never ceased trying to wipe it out by war and terrorism. They muzzle dissent and critical reporting, they run vengeful penal systems, they have failed in almost every measure of social and political justice from the rights of women to fair trials and freedom of the press, they deflect the frustrations of their streets to the scapegoat of Zionism and they breed and finance international terrorism. Yet it is Israel that is regarded with scepticism and sometimes hostility. Take the battle of Jenin. The Guardian was moved to write the editorial opinion that Israel's attacks on Jenin were "every bit as repellent” as Osama bin Laden's attack on New York on September 11. Every bit? Every bit as repellent? Did we miss something? Was there some American provocation of Osama comparable to the murder of 19 Israelis at Passover? Was something going on in the World Trade Center as menacing as the making of bombs in Jenin, known to Palestinians as Suicide Capital?
The presumption in the Jenin feeding frenzy in print and in hours and hours of television was that the Palestinian stories of 3,000 killed and buried in secret mass graves must be true, yet the main spokesman Saeb Erekat has been shown time and time again to be a liar. Human Rights Watch now puts the death toll at a total of 54, and on their count 22 civilians – the Israelis say 3. Some Palestinian militants in fact claim Jenin as a victory in the killing of 23 Israeli soldiers
Of course, the press had a duty to report the Palestinians allegations; it was entitled to raise questions and express alarm in the editorial columns. But truth did not lie in the balance between competing statements, and it was ill-served by hysteria. Big stories like this demand rigor in the reporting, restraint in the language, scrupulous care in the headlining, proper attribution of sources, and above a sense of responsibility: "Genocide" is too agonising when real for it to be devalued by its use as small change. Benjamin Pogrund is one of the bravest journalists I have ever met. He has practised and defended the freedom of the press with his life all his life. He risked prison and beating bringing blacks and whites together during apartheid; he is doing something like that now in Israel promoting dialog between Jews and Arabs in the West bank, and he told me last week that the unsceptical reporting of Jenin made his hair stand on end.
Let me reject the sophistry that to question such matters is to excuse everything done under the guise of protesting anti Semitism. It is not anti-Semitic to raise questions about Jenin, no more than it is anti-press to raise questions about the reporting. It is not anti-Semitic to protest ill treatment of Palestinians. It is not anti-Semitic to consider whether Sharon’s past belies his promises for the future. It is not anti-Semitic to deplore the long occupation, though originally brought by Arab leaders in instigating and losing three wars.
It is IS anti-Semitic to vilify the state of Israel as a diabolical abstraction, reserving tolerance for the individual Jew but not the collective Jew; it IS anti-Semitic to invent malignant outrages; it is anti-Semitic to consistently condemn in Israel what you ignore or condone elsewhere; it is above all, anti-Semitic to de-humanize Judaism and the Jewish people such as to incite and justify their extermination. That is what we have thousands and thousands of times over on a preposterous scale.
Anti-Semitism on the scale it is today is something relatively new in the Islamic world. There was more tolerance for Jews in the Islamic empire than ever there was in Christian Europe. I was aware, as we all are, that Israelis are unpopular because of the prolonged occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. What I did not realise until I began looking into it for this talk was how frenzied, vociferous, paranoid, vicious, and prolific – underscore prolific - the new anti-Semitism is, and how little this fact has been reported, analysed and commented on in the West by press, academia, church, and governments. Yes, everyone threw up their hands in horror about Le Pen - it is always satisfying to find fault with the French! - but Europe turns a blind eye to worse. A single skinhead assault on a synagogue in Europe is news, but not the unremitting daily assault on Jews waged from Morocco to Cairo to Damascus, from Baghdad to Teheran, the Gaza Strip to Karachi. The media in the Middle East is an open sewer. Let’s not get trapped in a game of moral equivalency. In terms of abuse Muslims altogether suffer nothing comparable to the incessant warfare now. Twenty years ago Israeli school textbooks were disfigured by stereotypes of Arabs as treacherous, mendacious, stupid and murderous. But not now. They have cleaned up. Israelis and Arabs have worked to good effect together here.
But the Palestinian Authority uses European money to run a stream of hate propaganda through the schools, the mosques, on television and radio, in political rallies and summer camps. They film little girls singing their dedication to martyrdom. The degree of infection was manifest at Al-Najah University in the city of Nablus where the students put on an exhibition entitled:
The Sbarro Cafe Exhibition.
The Sbarro cafe was the pizza parlour where on August 9 a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered 15 people taking a meal. The exhibit, according to the Associated Press and Israeli media, included an exhibit with pizza slices and body parts strewn across the room. The walls were painted red to represent scattered blood.
It is hard looking for sanity to put in the picture. I found it in the Department of Psychiatry at Ein Shams University in Cairo. Here is Dr. Adel Sadeq who is also chairman of the Arab Psychiatrists' Association, on suicide bombings:
"As a professional psychiatrist, I say that the height of bliss comes with the end of the countdown: ten, nine, eight, seven six, five, four three, two, one. When the martyr reaches "one" and he explodes he has a sense of himself flying, because he knows for certain that he is not dead. It is a transition to another, more beautiful world. None in the Western world sacrifice his life for his homeland. If his homeland is drowning, he is the first to jump ship. In our culture it is different...This is the only Arab weapon there is and anyone who says otherwise is a conspirator."
¯Next patient, please!
The Muslim world’s relentless caricatures of the Jew are boringly on the same one note, Jews are always dirty, hook-nosed, money-grubbing, vindictive and scheming parasites. They are barbarians who deliberately spread vice, drugs and prostitution and poison water. Among the fabrications:
Israeli authorities infected by injection 300 Palestinian children with HIV virus during the years of the intifada (Charge by Nabil Ramlawi, March 17, 1997, at the UN Commission on Human Rights, Geneva)
Israel poisoned Palestinians with uranium and nerve gas. (Charge by Yasser Arafat at the 2001 World Economic Forum. Clips to show victims racked by convulsions and vomiting were fabricated by the Palestine Authority, reports Fiamma Nirenstein).
Israel is giving out drug-laced chewing gum and candy intended to make women sexually corrupt and to kill children (Egyptian and Jordanian news stories)
Jews use the blood of gentiles to make matzos for Passover (Al Ahram, Cairo). In the Saudi government daily Al-Riyadh on March 12 this year, Dr. Umayma Ahmad Al-Jalahma of King Faisal University in Al-Dammam described the Jewish holiday of Purim, offered us this: "The blood of Christian and Muslim children under the age of 10 must be used...Let us examine how the victims' blood is spilled. For this, a needle-studded barrel is used, with extremely sharp needles set in on all sides. These pierce the victim's body from the moment he is placed on the barrel. These needles do the job and the victim's blood drips from him very slowly. Thus, the victim suffers dreadful torment - torment that affords the Jewish vampires great delight."
This April the state-funded San Francisco students I mentioned have put out a poster of a baby "slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license."
Incredibly, the Arab and Muslim media, and behind them their states, have resurrected that notorious … forgery, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This supposedly occult document, which reads like something discarded as too ridiculous for the script for Mel Brooks' The Producers, is the secret Zionist plan by which satanic Jews will gain world domination. It has had more scholarly stakes through its heart than the umpteen re-enactments of Dracula, but this bizarre counterfeit is common currency in the Muslim world. A multi-million thirty-part series was produced in Egypt by Arab Radio and Television. With a cast of 400! And not as satire.
It is the Protocols that inspire Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, to teach their children that the Jews control the world's wealth and mass media. According to Hamas - and who will be there in the classroom or on the street to raise a question - Jews deliberately instigated the French and Russian revolutions, and World War I, so that they could wipe out the Islamic caliphate, establish the League of Nations "in order to rule the world by their intermediary.” When I checked on the website Palestine Watch, by the way, to check on what they were telling the world about Israeli propaganda, I drew a blank, but there it described Hamas as seeking nothing other than peace with dignity, forbearing to mention the small matter that Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel.
Apart from the volume and intensity of the multi-media global campaign, there is has been an ominous change in political direction. Arab frustration with the recognition of the state of Israel after World War II has for decades been expressed as "why should the Arabs have to compensate the Jews for the Holocaust perpetrated by Europeans."
Today the theme is that the Holocaust is a Zionist invention. It is expressed with a vehemence as astounding as the contempt for scholarship.
A typical columnist in Al-Akhbar, the Egyptian government daily on April 29: "The entire matter (the Holocaust), as many French and British scientists have proven, is nothing more than a huge Israeli plot aimed at extorting the German government in particular and the European countries. I personally and in the light of this imaginary tale complain to Hitler, even saying to him, "If only you had done it, brother, if only it had really happened, so that that the world could sigh in relief (without) their evil and sin."
Hiri Manzour in the official Palestinian newspaper: "the figure of six million Jews cremated in the Nazi Auschwitz camps is a lie", a hoax promoted by Jews as part of their international "marketing operation.”
Seif al-Al Jarawn in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Hayat Al-Jadeeda: "They concocted horrible stories of gas chambers which Hitler, they claimed, used to burn them alive. The press overflowed with pictures of Jews being gunned down…or being pushed into gas chambers. The truth is that such malicious persecution was a malicious fabrication by the Jews."
Clearly here is a consistent attempt to undermine the moral foundations of the state of Israel and it is espoused by a number of supposedly moderate people. The former president of Iran, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani had this to say on Tehran Radio: "One atomic bomb would wipe out Israel without trace while the Islamic world would only be damaged rather than destroyed by Israeli nuclear retaliation.”
The brilliance of the whole campaign of anti-Semitism is its stupefying perversity: the Arab and Muslim media and mosque depict Israelis as Nazis - even the conciliatory Barak and the hawkish Sharon are alike dressed up in swastikas with fangs dripping with blood - but media and mosque peddle the same Judeophobia that paved the way to Auschwitz. How can you talk to someone who conducts all discourse standing on his head screaming? People in the West who adopt the same murderous metaphor for Israel, and I have heard it often on this visit, may be regarded as a joke in their own country but that is not where the action is. They are moral idiots but they lend credulity to malevolent liars in the Middle East.
By comparison with the phantasmagoria I have described, it seems a small matter that without exception Palestinian school textbooks supplied by the PA Authority, and funded by Europe, have no space in the maps for the sovereign state of Israel, no mention of its 5 million people, no recognition of the Jews’ historic links to Jerusalem.
What many people in Europe do not realize is that while the Palestinian claim to a state might be reasonably supported, the cause is being exploited with Jew as a code word for extremist incitement of hatred of America and the West. Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, former rector of the Islamic University in Gaza speaks the message: "Wherever you are kill the Jews, the Americans who are like them, and those who stand by them."
This is Jihad. It is aimed at us at all, at Europeans who “look like” Americans because they believe in liberal democracy and are infected by American culture. But its first victims are the Palestinians and the frustrated masses of the Muslim world. Their leaders have led them into ignominy in three wars. They have failed to reform their corrupt and incompetent societies, failed in almost every measure of social and political justice, from the rights of women to fair trials and freedom of the press. It is no surprise that the Arab Street is angry. It is convenient to deflect the despair and anger of the Street to Israel and the Jews who supposedly control the West, but terror and hate have a way of poisoning the very society it is supposed to be helping. See Algeria, see Ireland. When Bernard Lewis observed 16 years ago that anti-Semitism was becoming part of Arab intellectual life "almost as much as happened in Nazi Germany,” he added the comforting thought that it lacked the visceral quality of Central and East European anti-Semitism being "still largely political and ideological, intellectual and literary" lacking any deep personal animosity or popular resonance, something cynically exploited by Arab rulers and elites, a polemical weapon to be discarded when no longer required.
But that was before the Palestinians signed on for suicide bombings, before the full force of the tidal wave I have sketched, before 9/11. Habits of mind tending to sanction terror are becoming ingrained in the Muslim world, sanctioned by the lethargy and prejudice in Europe: those Palestinians who danced for joy on 9/11 and those students who staged the grisly exhibition of pizza parlor murders were not Al Qaeda but their acceptance of terror as a substitute for politics does not auger well for the future of Palestine as a separate state or the possibilities of peaceful political dialogue in any of the Arab states.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
The instant and prolific dissemination of incitement is not just an issue in the Middle East. Campaigns of mutual animosity between Indian and Pakistan underlie the menacing brinksmanship of the moment. I believe that leaders of the media in this age of the Immediate Big Lie/the Complex Half Truth have more than a responsibility neutrally to record countervailing statements; they have a responsibility to seek out falsehood, promote objective truth and nurture political discourse. Mr. Jonathan Steele wrote in the Guardian that New York today is like Brezhnev’s Moscow because nobody dares question the party line on the war on terrorism. Perhaps nobody WANTS much to question it. As an unknowing prisoner in the gulag, I have to say, however, that Mr. Steele dramatised a good point. Patriotism running high can run amok, its natural passions exploited in times of crisis to justify encroachments on freedom of speech and free inquiry. That is happening to some extent now in the United States with the Vice President suggesting that it is unpatriotic to investigate the intelligence blunders that preceded 9/11. He has it exactly upside down.
Some things communicators might do:
Locate the poison bottles I have described - and others – and take the initiative to label them for what they are. Not just for the sake of the West or Israel. Fundamentalist regimes will be more onerous for the ordinary people, see Iran, see Afghanistan.
Expose deceptive websites. Run "Lies Coming Your Way" features when inflammatory stories are running. Promote corrective websites: I would mention The Daily Howler, which nails with great comic gusto the sins of the wayward press in America. Barbara and David P. Mikkelson at snopes.com make lacerating fun of a multiplicity of rumours. I also commend the world of bloggers or blogworld, as the U.S. News & World Report columnist John Leo calls it. Bloggers are opinionated folk concerned with public affairs who logon the web every day to correct falsehood. InstaPundit run by Glenn Reynolds, a University of Law professor, is a fine example.
Promote higher professional standards of journalism between adversaries. The Guardian has just staged a splendid initiative in bringing Palestinians and Israelis to hear counsel from old antagonists in Ireland on how to break out of a cycle of anarchy and nihilism. It must be warmly congratulated. I propose that the Guardian present Index with the birthday gift by helping it to sponsor meetings between editors and writers from the warring ideologies of the Middle East - all the Arabs countries and Israel, and editors and television correspondents who report on them in the Western media. They would meet for mutual criticism, not so much as to solve the political problems, but to agree a civilised professional framework in which differences can be reported, devoid of hate and lies, and perhaps to achieve some greater understanding of their responsibilities to objective truth. Thirty years ago in the International Press Institute we found that adversaries meetings such as that helped to defuse tensions then dangerously high between Greece and Turkey and India and Pakistan.
Fourth and finally, all of us should have as much care with the explosive power of words as Heathrow does with our luggage. Words like…
As Churchill said, words are the only things that last forever. We cannot think morally without a reverence for the meaning of words. Take just that one noun, martyrs. There have been close on 100 suicide bombings in Israel. They are deluded youth and hired killers, paid by the Saudis and the Iraqis and organised under the Palestinian Authority - until Arafat’s recent attempt to distance himself on the high moral ground that they are bad for Palestine’s “image." Of course, Palestinians can call their bombers "martyrs" if they choose; but the rest of us should respect the classical integrity of the meaning of the word martyr, someone who gives up his own life to save others - not randomly to kill babes in arms, old men in wheelchairs, mothers and fathers going their innocuous ways. To describe the assassins as “martyrs”, which a headline I saw recently did, is to be emotionally complicit in what classical Islam itself regards as a double transgression, suicide and murder.
Thank you for your forbearance during a long and no doubt depressing catalogue of hatred and falsehood. To sum it all up, I would like to call in aid an objective truth noted by my most celebrated predecessor as the editor of the Times.
Sir William Haley addressing the staff on the day he retired left them with this thought as I do with you tonight:
"There are things which are bad/ and false/ and ugly/ and no amount of specious casuistry will make them good/ or true/ or beautiful."
This material is copyright by Harold Evans, 2002 and/or Harold Evans Associates. Reproduction by permission only.
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