They call all resistance "terrorism"
by Edward W. Said
International Socialist Review, Aug/Sep 2001
ROBERT FISK the Middle East correspondent for the Independent,
comments that "ignorance of the Middle East is now so firmly
adhered to in the US. that only a few tiny newspapers report anything
other than Israel's point of view?
I DID a homemade survey of the major papers in the metropolitan
centers-Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and Boston. They
are uniformly reporting from Israel, that is to say, using reporters
who are stationed in Jerusalem, which is Israel because it's been
annexed, or Tel Aviv. They have very few reporters in the Arab
world reporting the Palestinian point of view. Second, they report
things that are sent back to their editorial offices in their
home bases, and the stories are changed to reflect the same bias,
the same line.
The mantra is Palestinian violence and Israeli insecurity.
That is the theme of all the reporting in which hundreds of Palestinians
have been killed, thousands maimed and wounded, ignoring the reports
of Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, United Nations committees, the
UN High Commissioner for Refugee's report. I could give you a
dozen citations about what is taking place that are easily verifiable.
None of this gets reflected in the major newspapers, and certainly
not on TV. Even the so-called virtuous programs, like the "NewsHour"
on PBS and National Public Radio, hew to the same line, largely-and
they told me this when I inquired-because of letter-writing or
e-mail campaigns that flood them with complaints, orchestrated
obviously by public relations outfits, designed to keep the news
focused on Israel and Israel's plight.
There are a few intrepid people writing critical pieces in
the Orlando Sentinel, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Z magazine,
the Des Moines Register, and the Hartford Courant. You find them
here and there. But they are few and far between and do not reach
the major newspaper-reading public.
TERRORISM IS an ongoing focus for the US. media. The State
Department has just issued its annual report. With the litany
of terrorist states, Afghanistan, Pakistan, /ran, Iraq, Libya,
Sudan, and Syria, an of them are Muslim-majority countries. "Terrorism
is a persistent disease," Colin Powell said as he released
the report. What geopolitical function does the focus on terrorism
FIRST OF all, this relentless pursuit of terrorism is, in
my opinion, almost criminal. It allows the United States to do
what it wishes anywhere in the world. Take, for example, the 1998
bombing of Sudan. That was done because Bill Clinton was having
trouble with Monica Lewinsky. There was a paper-thin excuse that
they were bombing a terrorist factory, which turned out to be
a pharmaceutical factory producing half the pharmaceutical supply
for the country, which a few weeks later was in the grip of a
plague. Hundreds of people died as a result of the plague because
there were no pharmaceuticals to treat them because of the willful
bombing by the United States.
Terrorism has become a sort of screen created since the end
of the Cold War by policymakers in Washington, as well as a whole
group of people, like Samuel Huntington and Steven Emerson, who
have their meal ticket in that pursuit. It is fabricated to keep
the population afraid and insecure, and to justify what the United
States wishes to do globally.
Any threat to its interests, whether it's oil in the Middle
East or its geostrategic interests elsewhere, is labeled as terrorism,
which is exactly what the Israelis have been doing since the mid-1970s
in response to Palestinian resistance to their policies.
It's very interesting that the whole history of terrorism
has a pedigree in the policies of imperialists. The French used
the word "terrorism" for everything that the Algerians
did to resist their occupation, which began in 1830 and didn't
end until 1962. The British used it in Burma and in Malaysia.
Terrorism is anything that stands in the face of what we want
to do. Since the United States is the global superpower and has
or pretends to have interests everywhere-from China to Europe
to southern Africa to Latin America and all of the Americas-terrorism
becomes a handy instrument to perpetuate this practice.
Terrorism is also now viewed as a resistance to globalization.
That connection has to be made. I notice, by the way, Arundhati
Roy made that connection, as well, that people's movements of
resistance against deprivation, against unemployment, against
the loss of natural resources, all of that is termed "terrorism.
Into this vicious cycle feed a few groups like bin Laden's
and the people he commands, whether they are in Saudi Arabia or
Yemen or anywhere else. They're magnified and blown up to insensate
proportions that have nothing to do with their real power and
the real threat they represent. This focus obscures the enormous
damage done by the United States, whether militarily, environmentally,
or economically, on a world scale, which far dwarfs anything that
terrorism might do.
Lastly, very little is said about homegrown terrorism, the
militias and armed groups in this country, or Timothy McVeigh.
I remember very clearly after the blowing up of the federal building
in Oklahoma City, my office was deluged with phone calls because
I think Steven Emerson, who was instantly called an expert on
terrorism, said this has all the marks of Middle Eastern terrorism.
That cycle of connections is deeply damaging to individuals
of Arab and Muslim origin in this country. During the 2000 election
campaign, anything having to do with Islam or Muslims was used
as a way of discrediting your opponent. Hillary Clinton returned
a $50,000 contribution from the Muslim Alliance, which is a very
conventional, quite politically neutral group, because they smacked
of terrorism, she said. Those kinds of labels can be like racial
profiling that involves not only African Americans and Latin Americans
but also Arab Americans.
Interestingly, the State Department report you cited shows
conclusively that the Islamic world is number 10 on the list.
The greatest source of terrorism is the U.S. itself and some of
the Latin American countries, not at all the Muslim ones. But
they're used, partly manipulated by the Israeli lobby, partly
by Defense and State Department interests, to keep America in
its policies and to intimidate people.
THE US.- and UK.-led sanctions against Iraq are clearly crumbling.
What accounts for that?
THEY'VE FAILED. In the first place, the point of the sanctions
was to bring down Saddam Hussein, but he got stronger. Second,
the Iraqi civilian population has suffered enormous harm, genocidal
harm, thanks to the United Kingdom and the United States. Sixty
thousand children are dying every year since the sanctions were
imposed. And countless unnumbered others have been affected through
cancer and other diseases. It's led to the impoverishment of the
entire population. Two UN commissioners of the oil-for-food program
resigned because of the inhumanity of the sanctions.
Also, Iraq does not exist, contrary to U.S. policymakers'
fantasies, in a vacuum. It is, along with Egypt, one of the central
Arab countries. Its economy has always historically been tied
to that of its neighbors, especially Jordan. What has happened
is that the Jordanians have now been supplied by Iraq with oil
at 50 percent of its cost, and Jordan trades with Iraq. There
are other kinds of organic connections between Iraq and its neighbors,
including some of the Gulf countries. So the sanctions can't possibly
continue in the form that they were envisioned.
As a result, we have Colin Powell traveling throughout the
Middle East in February, advocating something called "smart
sanctions." That struck me as a complete misnomer and again
a fantasy-to suggest that the U.S. can in fact cause people to
go against their own interests. That won't happen. The whole thing
has been a total, futile, disastrous policy.
This is the irony of it. The power and wealth of the United
States is such that most people have no awareness of the damage
that has been caused in its name-or the hatred that has been built
up against it throughout the Middle East and the Islamic world-for
no purpose other than to guarantee the continued dominance of
policymakers and a few people whose interests are tied to this
ridiculous and inhuman policy.
ONE OF the countries that has broken the sanctions and actually
sent flights into Baghdad is Turkey. It is in the situation of
being the site of the major US. air base that bombs Iraq and also
a country that has invaded northern Iraq a number of times in
pursuit of Kurdish resistance fighters.
AND WHICH is supplied by the U.S. in pursuit of its war against
the Kurds, to the extent that it makes what happened to the Albanians
in Kosovo look like a Sunday school picnic Turkey, one mustn't
forget, is in very close alliance with Israel They have joint
military maneuvers. There's a military alliance with the United
States and with Israel, and yet, because commercial and regional
interests override those, Turkey is now trading with and getting
oil from Iraq, the second-largest oil supplier in the region.
DO YOU think the Israeli military and economic alliance with
Turkey is part of a grand strategy to encircle the Arabs?
NO, BECAUSE Egypt is involved. It's not to encircle the Arabs.
It's to encircle what are considered to be intransigent states,
like Syria, Iraq, and Iran. It's not directed against the Arabs,
but rather against those states that have seemed to be too anti-Israeli
or too sympathetic to the Palestinians. But it's a mindless, irrational
strategy. In the final analysis, these are deeply unpopular policies
and can't possibly last. It's like Syngman Rhee in South Korea,
or Ky and Thieu in Vietnam. U.S. policymakers never learn. They
repeat the same mistakes, with the same human and economic and
political costs. They will persist in doing it, because their
education and their perspective is the same, handed down from
generation to generation.
NOBEL PRIZE winner and current Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon
Peres recently gave an interview to the Turkish press denying
the Armenian genocide.
THERE, TOO, Turkish policy and Israeli policy are very similar.
They both have an interest in suppressing knowledge and acknowledgment
of what the Turkish government did to the Armenians early in the
twentieth century because they want to reserve the right to function
in the same way. I'll give you an example. In 1983, there was
an Israeli government radio program that was about trying to understand
what happened to the Armenians. It was forbidden to go out on
the air simply because they used the words "holocaust"
and "genocide," which in Israel are reserved only for
what happened to the Jews. This kind of policy is perpetuated
by what Shimon Peres did, stupidly, instead of trying to widen
the circle of acknowledgment and understanding of what might happen
to people, whether in Rwanda or to the Armenians or the Bosnians
or elsewhere in the world where these horrible things have occurred
and where all human beings have an interest in making sure that
they don't happen again. They want to organize memory in such
a way that it's focused exclusively on certain groups and not
on other groups that suffered these historical calamities.
YOU'VE SPOKEN out on many occasions on the right of return.
Are you making any headway on getting recognition of a right of
I THINK we are, especially in people's awareness that there
is a right of return. I don't mean only necessarily to Palestine.
People cannot be driven from their homes or even choose to leave
their homes and not have the right to return. That's the larger
principle. That right was left out of the Oslo peace process,
invidiously, though Palestinians now constitute the largest number
of disenfranchised refugees since World War II still in existence
and still to be found in refugee camps.
The right of return can also serve to draw attention to the
plight of Palestinians in Arab countries, Syria and others, where
they haven't been patriated and been given rights of residence,
work, or travel. So it's not just in Israel-although Israel is
the main cause of this-but elsewhere in the Arab world in general
where Palestinians are treated harshly.
I would like to think that this is part of a bigger movement
drawing attention to the rights of immigrants to enter countries
if they've been driven from their own. If they're not able for
political and physical reasons to return, they should be given
rights of residence wherever they are. It's a worldwide phenomenon
that deeply interests me.
We live in a period of migration, of forced travel and forced
residence, that has literally engulfed the globe. This has resulted
in a series of very reactionary immigration laws, not only in
Israel, that are motivated by some myth of purity that citizens
of these countries, like Italy, Sweden, Britain, and the U.S.,
have a right to ward off these lesser people, these inferior people-from
Africa and Asia mostly-who seek refuge or to return to their homes.
The principle is the same, whether people are not allowed
to return to their homes in Palestine or are not allowed to find
new homes in countries like Lebanon, the U.S., or Sweden because
they're considered to be strangers and alien. The whole concept
of who is a stranger, who is an alien, and who is a native has
to be rethought to include the fate of people whose ancestors
were exterminated and people who came in and forcibly became settler
colonists in countries like Israel and the United States. It's
a vast phenomenon and urgently in need of rethinking in ways that
I hope the Palestinian right of return movement can dramatize.
Edward W. Said, university professor of English and Comparative
Literature at Columbia University, is a leading Palestinian activist
and scholar. He is the author of several books, including The
End of the Peace Process: Oslo and After (Pantheon) and Reflections
on Exile and Other Essays (Harvard University Press). Interviewed
by David Barsamian, director and producer of Alternative Radio.