Fisk talks about Lebanon, Israel, US and Iran

Ya Libnan, Lebanon
April 26 2008

Fisk talks about Lebanon, Israel, US and Iran

Published: Saturday, 26 April, 2008 @ 6:54 PM in Beirut (GMT+2)

Wajahat Ali interviews renowned journalist Robert Fisk on his 32 years
of experience in Lebanon, along with his thoughts on Iran, Bin Laden,
and the media’s influence on the drive to war in the Middle East.

"One thing I’m going to say to you now, please make sure – and I hope
you’re tape recording this – but please make sure you’re quoting me
accurately. Don’t even for the basis of shortening something make me
say something I haven’t said," orders celebrated journalist Robert
Fisk. "Because the biggest problem I have in journalism is being
quoted or misquoted and then being asked to defend something I haven’t

I assuage him, "I’ve taped every single word, and I’ve got what you’ve
said down, and so far no interview has…" "And when you’re putting
it together, because you’re not going to use it all, try to make sure
my counteracting points are there. So, if I call Ahmedinjad a
"crackpot" keep it in, but make sure I’m also talking about Iran in
general. Where I’m criticizing the Israelis, make sure I also
criticize the Arabs." The world’s most decorated foreign correspondent
would have an equally brilliant career as a headmaster or drill

Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, has lived
in the region for nearly three decades. When contacting him, he
offered multiple numbers – one land line in Ireland, another cell line
in Lebanon, and ever changing appointments due to his frenetic travel
schedule. A fifteen-minute interview promise quickly ballooned into a
lengthy, hour-plus conversation and an enlightening and entertaining
Middle East history lesson.

Rumors of Fisk’s passionate, opinionated garrulousness are indeed
fact. Some detractors claim his personality infects his writing with a
biased bombastic flair reflecting arrogance, while his supporters –
who are many – highlight his impassioned voice as authentic and
refreshing. Here, Fisk talks to us about Hezbollah, his upcoming book
on Kosovo, and those pesky CNN questions. Of course, we’ve kept every

A recent British report said Gaza is in its worst condition since the
last 30 years. Just last week, a seminary was targeted and several
civilians were killed. Americans see this and think "Arabs vs. Jews,
they’re just always killing each other." What’s the ground scene
reality regarding the current volatility? Is one side to be blamed
more than the other for the recent conflagration?

Oh, God! Sounds like a CNN question! You know, this is about history,
this is about the way our societies develop and what we’re told and
what we’re not told. You’ve got the same situation in The West Bank,
Gaza, Israel or "Palestine" as you had after the end of the First
World War. Two groups of people want to live on the same piece of real
estate and they have conflicting claims, one of which is based largely
on deed which goes right back to the Ottoman period and the British

And the case of settlements seems to be based on the idea of what God
has promised. And those two things don’t work out. You can’t say on
the one hand, well, I have got the deeds to the land, but no God’s
actually given it to me. That’s the end of conversation, isn’t it?
>From there on, you can spin out to all sorts of historical allegories,
and ways of reporting, and ways of reporting history, and it doesn’t
go anywhere. Each time we’re told we have to start again, we have to
start the clock from now and we have to forget the past. You can’t
forget the past anymore than you can in Iraq or you can in Europe or

The Second World War is and was constantly being drudged up by Blair
and Bush to rationalize the invasion of Iraq. Well, you can’t
constantly go back to WW2 and call Saddam the Hitler of Baghdad, and
then on the other hand say we aren’t going to go back to history to
other parts of the Middle East, because that’s inconvenient, so we’re
just going to start from here. We always hear people say, "Let’s move
forward" (Laughs). The psychobabble language of marriage guidance
counselors, you know, only look to the future let’s not look at the
past even though so much sorrow has happened. I’m afraid you have to.

The Middle East is a land of great injustice. The Israelis can claim,
or wish to at least, that Lord Balfour’s Declaration of 1917 promised
Britain support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which didn’t just
mean the left hand bit that became Israel. Many Israelis now and would
be Israelis they could claim that Palestine meant everything up to the
Jordan River. It was Chaim Weizmann’s hope that Jewish settlements
would be allowed East of the Jordan River after the Cairo conference
held in 1921. You have two groups of people who were made conflicting
promises by the British. One for Arab independence and promises that
Jewish immigration would not in any way make the indigenous Arabs
dispossessed or suffer in any way. And the other which was a promise
by Britain for support of a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Those things
are as impossible to integrate then as they are today.

We keep going around the Middle East and setting up our various
dictators, whether they be the Kings of Arabia, or whether they be
King Farooq in Egypt, or King Idris in Libya. Then, when people didn’t
want the various kings, we brought in the various generals. General
Sadat and Colonel Kaddafi. King Abdullah was a soldier, King Hussein
was a solider. So, we get surprised when people say, "Enough is
enough!" But, in the end of the day, when you say, "Who is right and
who is wrong?" It’s history that is wrong. It’s the mistakes we’ve
made and the injustices we’ve committed in that region. You can start
it off with the Ottoman Empire, you can start it off in post WW1, and
you can start it off with the Americans. And as you look back in
history, the papers get more thin and fragile, don’t they?

You’ve been in the Middle East for decades. You’ve seen both
Republican and Democratic foreign policy…

What’s the difference? There’s no difference. Where’s the difference
between Clinton and Bush? It’s like people saying Labor government is
going to come in Israel and be different than Likud, and it turns out
not to be different at all.

Well, Obama as you know before his run as President, was more partial
towards Palestinian rights. But, last month along with Clinton, he
wrote a letter strongly condemning Palestinian violence. Many wonder,
if he or even Clinton wins, is there going to be any change in policy?

Here’s the thing that’s going to be different in policy regarding the
Middle East in the United States whoever wins the election: it’s
utterly irrelevant.

Lebanon seems to be a forgotten story. In 2006, it had a struggle with
Israel which devastated a large part of that society…

Hezbollah did. I don’t know if Lebanon did at all, but Hezbollah did.

Has the Lebanese society been able to recover in the past 2 years, or
has it only strengthened Hezbollah?

Well, it certainly strengthened Hezbollah, but their political
performance since then has been so ambiguous in that whatever it
gained militarily in terms of prestige it has substantially lost
politically inside Lebanon itself. Look, the only good news in Lebanon
is that civil war hasn’t restarted. Lot of people thought it would,
and I thought it would, but it hasn’t. This could mean that they have
realized the folly of war: that you don’t win. It’s all about death;
it’s not about victory.

It also means that an awful lot Lebanese who were sent away as
children to be educated during the civil war – you know to Paris,
London, Geneva, and Boston wherever – have returned to Lebanon and
said, "I don’t want this sectarian nonsense, and I want to live in an
ordinary country without any more war." To that extent, Lebanon – the
fact it has not disintegrated like Gaza or Afghanistan or Iraq despite
the wish of the Americans and Iranians to use it as battleground –
which was what 2006 was about – is quite a tribute to Lebanon and the
Lebanese. Whether they appreciate their good fortune is quite a
different matter.

You have experience in Kosovo and Serbia, and you know Kosovo declared
independence and sovereignty from Serbia on Feb 17. Do you believe
there is complicity of Western agents in its prolonged suffering? Is
this a new chapter signaling hope? And could it have come earlier?

I have a book coming out in two and a half years time which is going
to involve quite a lot of things about Kosovo and Bosnia and
particularly Islam. It’s going to be called "Night of Power" which you
don’t need me to explain. They are very different places, of
course. The Serb actions in Bosnia were not driven by the same
political motives as the Serb actions in Kosovo, which Serbs believe
is part of Serbia, and you can argue that until the cows home. I don’t
know about "Agents" being complicit in anything.

On one hand I never totally dismiss the "plot" because we know, for
example, the CIA and the British were involved in overthrowing
Mossadegh [the democratically elected leader of Iran overthrown by the
CIA] and bringing in the Shah in 50’s Iran. That’s all true. But the
idea you can manipulate states into independence is probably pie in
the sky.

The treatment of the Kosovars was such that Europe was bound to extend
its support for independence in one form or the other. Now, we know in
the Balkans, as always, regional European powers have their fingers in
it. Just as the Germans supported the Croation independence, and we
know why historically. We know historically many Albanians entered
Kosovo during and before the Tito Period and changed its ethnic
makeup. But, then again, how far do you go back in history when it was
the other way around?

I think this is really an Ottoman story and the breakup of the Ottoman
Empire, which began the First World War. When the Ottoman Empire began
to fray inside Europe, and I’m talking about Bulgaria as well as
Serbia, it didn’t do so in a neat way. It did so with massacres and
horrific killings, which if you read the contemporary accounts seems
to be what we were writing about Bosnia in the 1990’s. There was a
considerable historical heritage left over, unfortunately blood that
most dealt with in an imperfect and unjust way.

I think that Kosovo contains the seeds of further hostilities because
of course I can’t imagine any Serbian leader denouncing Serbia’s right
to regard Kosova as part of the historic homeland of Serbia. And I
don’t think Bosnia has been solved for that matter. It’s just an
independent state in one federal illusion, isn’t it? Everyone is
illusory in the Ottoman empire of what it was. You have to go back to
the Ottomans to work all this out.

There’s this very interesting book that came out called Jerusalem 1912
and it argues quite persuasively that fundamental issues of land
ownership and Jewish immigration became major issues before the First
World War, before the British and Turks were at war, before the
Ottoman Empire disintegrated. And I think you have to see the problems
in the Balkans, although they don’t involve Arabs or Jews, in a
similar light. We are constantly trying to cope with what our fathers
or our grandfathers did. I wrote the book Great War of Civilization,
and my father was a solider in the First World War which produced the
current Middle East – not that he had much to do with that – but he
fought in what he believed was the Great War for Civilization.

One of the problems that current leadership has is that in the past
they had time to reflect and discuss what they were going to do and
how best to deal with a particular situation. Their decisions might
have been grotesquely unjust or wrong, but at least they took them
based on considered reflections, whether they be in London clubs or
Downing Street or while reading Shelley in bed, but at least they had
an opportunity to reflect on what they were doing.

Today, we live by press conferences, TV prime time, News at 10, CBS
news, ABC, CNN exclusives whatever it might be. We get pumped up by
Presidential elections, Primary elections, so policies are made on the
move – in the backs of cars, on mobile phones, over drinks before a
hurried dinner when you have another press conference afterwards. This
is why you have this cult of – and I don’t like this phrase – "spin
doctors," a man who comes up with an easy phrase. So, instead of
having reflective decision making which takes into consideration what
will happen tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the year after
next, the decision making is taken on the basis on how to respond to
some criticism one minute ago based on a Press conference. For this
reason, you don’t have any long term planning.

That’s why we didn’t have any plan for post war Iraq, because we were
too busy going on CNN announcing victory, so we hadn’t thought about
that. There is an excellent academic pamphlet by Corelli Barnett, who
is a prominent British historian, which goes step by step from archive
documents in the British Public Record Office and National Archives
from the Cabinet papers of 1941. And Churchill in 1941, when Britain
still expected invasion by Nazi Germany, and before Hitler invaded
Russia, before America was in the war after two long and profitable
years of neutrality, Churchill appointed a Cabinet committee in London
under Nazi bombardment to plan the post War government of Occupied
Germany. Now, there’s forward thinking!

There’s a sign of how governments used to behave. Four years before
the end of the War, when it looked as if the Germans were going to
win, Churchill and the British, alone without any American involvement
in the War, he was planning post War Germany. And as British troops
moved under fire into the German city of Cologne in 1945, British
Civil Servants in flak jackets went with them to take over the Town
Hall, because they wanted civil administration to resume
immediately. To get the fuel running, get rationing, get the people
fed. It worked, and people didn’t die. I mean the Germans were poor
and hungry, but they didn’t die.

There’s a classic example of how before the age of instant television,
news press conferences, spin doctors, etc., people planned for the
future and generally it tended to work; by and large, it was
successful. That was four years before the end of WW2. Four days
before the Americans occupied the center of Baghdad, they didn’t have
a coherent plan. They had an odd committee set up in the State
Department, but no one listened to it and it had 20 people. So, you’re
carried along on this instant decision making: "So, whaddya’ gonna’
do, Mr. Bush? How do you respond to this?" And Bush has had 5 minutes
before hand to bone up on what he is going to say.

We have a program in Britain called Desert Island Discs on the BBC,
where basically you are allowed to choose 8 records that you play on a
desert island if you were marooned. One of my records I chose was
Winston Churchill’s speech to the British on June 18, 1940 when
Dunkirk was finished, and the British were alone in the War against
Nazi Europe. And I played it, because Bush and Blair keep claiming
they are Churchill, but here was the real thing. And Churchill’s voice
immensely tired and maybe he had a few glasses before he spoke, and
you have this extraordinary feeling of power and a man who is using
his knowledge of history and imbuing it into other people. What
knowledge of history does Bush have? He confused Cambodia with
Vietnam. He talks about Vietnam but he managed to avoid going there,
as we know Cheney did.

You know another problem we have at the moment is that I don’t think
there’s a single senior Western statesmen, which might change if
McCain becomes President, who has ever been in a war. All of the
Middle Eastern leaders have been in wars, I promise you. But none of
the Western leaders have been in war. You see, their knowledge of
wars, The Bushes and the Blairs, are from TV, Hollywood movies.

When Churchill committed people to war, he had been in the trenches in
WW1. Theodore Roosevelt had direct experience. Eisenhower certainly
did, I mean he was Supreme Allied Commander of WW2. So, you had in the
post war years, you had Western leadership that knew what war was
about: it was about death and screaming and loss and sorrow. Now, for
people like Blair whose shadow lingers over the dull and boring Gordon
Brown in London, war was a policy option: something you did if you
couldn’t get in with the United Nations. "Do we need a second
revolution or not?" That wasn’t the way people used to go to war

One of the things that is lacking today is common sense. Anybody with
common sense, anybody who sat down would’ve said, "Don’t – Attack –
Iraq." Bush actually did start talking about democracy in Iraq before
he invaded, despite what the lefty commentators say, he didn’t say we
want democracy but he said, "We want democracy in the Middle East." I
remember I wrote a piece in November 2002 asking, "He wants a
democracy in the Middle East, and he wants to start in Iraq?!?" which
is not common sense. I think a lot of the problems we have in the
moment is a failure to have a long-term view of anything.

Even if you take the Israeli government who says, "We are going to
root out the evil weed of terror, terror, terror," I mean they’ve been
saying that since 1948. How many air raids have there been over
Lebanon since 1948? Thousands and thousands and thousands. And they’ve
achieved nothing, because still we’re told we have to root out the
evil weed of terror. Because it gets repeated ad nauseam on television
it has become normal. Nobody says, "Hang on a minute, there’s a
problem here. If Israel’s still at war 60 years after it came in
existence, there is a problem there."

You have this quote, "There’s this misconception that journalists can
be objective." You also say, "What journalism is really about…

I think what I said is "impartial." We should be partial on the side
of justice. One of the problems we have in the Middle East in the
moment, partly because of the pressure put on journalists particularly
in the United States by lobby groups. I’m including the Israeli Lobby,
and there is an Arab Lobby, as we know. Partly because of this awful
trend of American journalism where you have to give 50% of your time
to each side, you end up producing a sort of matrix, a mathematical
formula which is bland, lacking in any kind of passion or realism, and
is a bit like reading a mathematics problem.

Much of the Middle East is reported like a football match: this side
did this, they kicked a goal, they replied back, the ball went through
the goal post, etc. Giving equal space in your report to two
antagonists is ridiculous! I mean if you were reporting the slave
trade in the 18th century you wouldn’t give equal time to the slave
ship captain, you’d give time to the slaves. If you were present at
the liberation of a Nazi extermination camp, you don’t give equal time
to SS spokesman, you go and talk to the survivors and talk about the

If you were present as I was in 2001 in West Jerusalem when an Israeli
pizzeria was blown up and most of the victims were school children. I
was just down the street. I reported about the Israeli woman who had a
chair leg through her, and an Israeli child who had his eyes blown
out. I said in my piece, "What did this child ever do to the
Palestinians?" And do you think I gave equal time to the Islamic Jihad
spokesman? No, I did not. Nor when I was in Sabra Shatilla [the
massacre of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon overseen by Ariel Sharon]
did I give time to Israeli spokesman? If we walk as ordinary human
beings out of our house and we see an atrocity, we are angry. Well, we
journalists should be angry too if we feel that way about it. Not say,
"Well, on the other hand, we just balance this by X,Y,Z."

Can’t someone say that we readily dismiss FOX News as being biased and
right wing, then can’t we just as readily dismiss you since you’re not
an objective, unbiased voyeur?

The thing about FOX news is that they have a predetermined
version. They aren’t interested in justice; they are interested in the
"right," aren’t they? They’re interested in the right wing of the
Republican side, unless a Democrat happens to be right wing enough for
them. They have a political slant. I’m not left wing. I’ve never voted
in an election in my life. If I’m in the Israeli part of Jerusalem, I
write with great passion and you can look up the story in my book The
Great War for Civilization about the bombing of the Israeli pizzeria.

I was in Bosnia and wrote passionately against the murderous Serbs, I
mean those Serbs who were murdering. But if you report on Serbia
during the NATO bombing I report with great feeling about the Serb
civilians who were done to death by NATO and knowingly done so. NATO
knew they were killing civilians in Serbia during the Kosovo war. And
I also reported what was being done to Kosovo Albanians. That’s not
what FOX News does. FOX News has a certain agenda.

Many of your critics, specifically some Zionist critics, say that
you’ve lived in the Middle East for so long that you’ve become partial
and succumbed to "their" narrative.

Same old, tiresome, boring old thing, you know. This always comes
up. If you arrive at a place, and you don’t write satisfactory one
week after arriving, they say you can’t see the woods for the
trees. And if you do understand enough after two weeks, they say
you’ve gone native. I haven’t risked my life in the most dangerous
parts of the world to become a partial reporter politically. I’d be
out of my mind if I did that.

By the way, you keep talking about my critics and what the Zionists
say. I don’t read blogs, because I don’t use the Internet because I
think it’s crap. But I know there are two or three writers in the UK
and I know there are three or four in America who regularly attack me,
but that’s about it. I mean if you see my mailbag which comes in at
250 letters a week, maybe two or three are very critical, and the rest
are either nice or helping or suggesting stories. What I’m saying is
that one of the problems I have is the people will exaggerate the
numbers and say, "Well, your critics say…" which makes it seem there
is an army out there of 600 people constantly writing articles and
commentary. And, it’s not true. There aren’t.

I come to the States [on] average every three and half weeks for
lectures and I don’t come across these people. The last one who was
really obnoxious was in Texas for an interview, and the second
cameraman came over to me after the program and said he wanted to hit
me (Laughs). I said turn back the cameras, and we’ll do this live, but
be careful when you do. Most people don’t care a damn about the Middle
East, I’m sorry to say.

In America or the world?

Pretty much everywhere, particularly in America I’m sorry to say. And
also in Europe, I mean how much of my daily paper is on the Middle
East? And this idea that there is an army of critics or an army of
supporters is simply untrue. By and large, people read you and they
move on to read something else. What percentage of people read The
Independent either online or on paper? I have no idea. I probably get
more mail from America than I do from Britain, which is
interesting. I’m read in the Arab world as well as in Israel. I think
I’ve had two anonymous phone calls in my life in 32 years both from
Turkey objecting to what I’ve written about the Armenian genocide. One
of them was objecting to criticism of the Turkish Army, and one of
them was objecting to my coverage of the Armenian Genocide, which
obviously occurred a few years before I was born to put it mildly.

There are campaigns occasionally for accuracy, some outfit that
operates somewhere in Boston, and you get city postcards from people
writing to the editors, "I will never buy you magazine again" signed
so and so from Houston, Texas. Firstly, we are not a
magazine. Secondly, alas, we do not circulate in Houston, Texas, so
this person hasn’t been buying it anywhere, but he’s just been
encouraged to write this silly postcard which goes in the bin. But
when you have a campaign organized by a lobby group, you tend to take
it seriously in America, we don’t. We put it in the rubbish bin. We
are interested in individual, serious letters by people. So am I. I
encourage them in the paper. If the letters, especially if they are
critical or have a certain mischief about them, I insist we run them,
and I think it’s good. I think it makes people think and stirs up
their idea of questioning about what’s going on in the Middle East.

The honest truth is I don’t use the internet, so I don’t see all the
blogs or Googles or whatever they are. I can tell by, obviously,
traveling and people coming up to me in airplanes, but I don’t pay any
attention to it. I’m a journalist and a reporter and one of the great
advantages I have on the paper is that my editor likes me to write
opinion columns and also wants me to be a street reporter. So, when
there’s a bombing explosion in Beirut or a war in Iraq, I’m
there. Which is in a unique position to be in, because most reporters
might be on a story but they don’t have an opinion column. And most of
the people who write columns don’t go out on the beat.

You call them "hotel journalists," correct?

No, that’s not true. What I said was that journalists, who worked in
Baghdad and who, for perfectly good reasons, were unable to leave
their hotels, i.e. security concerns, insurance companies hired by the
papers to insure their lives, all their special security detail like
the ex-military people who guard them. They find themselves
effectively using their mobile phone from their hotel room, a guarded
hotel, right? The problem is they don’t tell their readers, their
listeners, their viewers that they’re reporting from the hotel. They
give the impression when they give a "Baghdad Dateline" that they’re
driving around the streets. You find articles written by someone who
is sitting in an office with sandbags around the walls and aren’t let

The much more serious side is that readers are entitled to believe, if
they see it, "Dateline: Badghad" or Basra or whatever – that the
reporter has movement. That he can go around and check out
stories. But in fact if you read it, it’s just a police source that
says, "American military says…American government says" and end of
story. And it becomes echo chamber for what anyone in the Green Zone
says. I mean I can live in the West of Ireland with a mobile phone and
ring the Green Zone and produce the same report (Laughs).

They’re touted as experts in the American media.

I don’t know. Look, I have American colleagues, one of them in the New
York Times, who goes out and gets good stories. So, I’m not pasting my
criticism on all journalists. There’s lots of people trying to do what
I’m trying to do. But, I do object to reporters who do not leave their
hotels, but do not tell their readers that they do not leave their
hotels. That’s what I call "hotel journalism." I’m not talking about
any reporter on the beat anywhere as being a hotel journalist.

What’s happening now as stories get more dangerous in the Middle East
– and The Middle East is getting more lethal for reporting – as
stories get more dangerous, more and more the Western correspondents
are sending the local people out to do the story. In other words,
Iraqis are on the streets in Baghdad reporting back to the New York
Times reporter what they see. I noticed last year you will remember
there was an Al Qaeda type organization that started an uprising in
the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli and took over apartment
blocks. And I jumped in a car, and they had taken over an apartment
block in Tripoli and were shooting at the Army, and I raced up to
Tripoli. I know Lebanon very well, I mean I’ve been living there for
almost 32 years. And I got into center Tripoli, which is very Sunni
Muslim city, very pro-Saddam I might add with [his] pictures outside
the window. And there were bullets whizzing around the streets, and
there were dead bodies, the armies were about to storm inside this

By pure good luck or bad luck, depending on your point of view, I knew
the Lebanese Colonel who was going to take the army unit into this
apartment block and storm into it and take it back. I’d been to his
wedding, actually, which means I’m his friend (Laughs). "Robert, do
you want to come with us?" I didn’t use a flak jacket because it is
too bloody hot. So, I suddenly found the ridiculous Robert Fisk
storming into this building with these soldiers, and I never carry a
weapon or flak jacket or anything, and seeing the most incredible

Afterwards, I was out there in the street with all these dead bodies
on the street. What astounded me was that I was the only Western
reporter there. Most of the other reporters were either from Lebanese
newspapers or Lebanese working for Western news organizations. I was
the only blue eyed, Anglo Saxon guy there. My Western colleagues were
there and they were in the hotel, and I’m not criticizing them. What
was interesting is that on the very first, critical day of the Al
Qaeda take over, I looked around the street and I didn’t see another
Westerner. There were lots of Lebanese soldiers, policeman, people
standing by, other journalists, camera crew, they were all
Lebanese. Now, twenty years ago that wouldn’t be the case.

You just gave a really good microcosm example of how you’re on "the
scene." You’re one of the very few people who is "lucky" – well, I
don’t think that is the proper word, I don’t even what the proper word
is – to meet Osama Bin Laden and have an interview with him.

It’s definitely not lucky (Laughs). No, it’s not. I’ll tell you this
guy will follow me for the rest of my life. It’s more and more unlucky
I’ll let you know.

You interviewed him three times in total, and he made some very
interesting comments about you. I don’t know how you feel about that,
but he was quite reverential. In America, we see Osama as the horned
devil himself, and in certain parts of the Muslim world…

He sees Mr. Bush pretty much the same way, of course.

Well, certain parts see him as a halo-wearing messiah. Steve Coll has
a new book out on Bin Laden, and in my interview with him he told me
one of the main reasons for his charismatic leadership is his ability
to be multicultural, to understand the ability to look beyond
ethnicity and race in his global jihad.

No, that’s not – that’s a very trendy explanation. It’s very simple
why Bin Laden is popular in the Arab world; it’s because he says
things that local presidents and kings won’t say.

What does he say?

He speaks about the injustice to Muslim people in a way that Mubarak
or King Abdullah would never say. Because of course they’re basically
run by us, aren’t they? He presents what millions of Arabs think. I’m
not implying a million of Egyptians and Gulfies want to actually fly
airplanes into tall buildings – they don’t. But when he describes the
collapse of the Caliphate, which was the Ottoman Empire, when he talks
about the immorality of the Gulf princes and kings, when he talks of
the political or military or psychological occupation of the Muslim
world by the West, he’s saying things which millions and millions of
Muslims agree with. But they don’t hear their own leadership: the
Khaddafis, the Mubaraks, or the King Abdullahs, or the Assads saying.

This doesn’t mean Bin Laden is particularly intuitively brilliant. I
mean Ahmadinejad says a lot of things which are absolutely bullshit,
but they probably catch somebody’s eye. I mean Ahmadinejad is
outrageous, I mean he’s a crackpot. When he starts questioning the
Jewish Holocaust, it’s similar to the Turks questioning the Armenian
Holocaust, or the Israelis saying that they never drove the
Palestinians out of Palestine, they left on their own accord because
they were going to wait until the Jews were driven to the sea and they
obeyed all the radio instructions. You know the story.

But, you know, Bin Laden has a voice, because the leadership of the
Arab world doesn’t have a voice. Or if it does, it’s a weak one
supporting the United States in general. I mean, the Mubaraks and the
Abdullahs are allowed to say, " If the war continues in Gaza, there
will be an explosion in the Middle East." That’s all right, that’s
part of the course. They said it 70 times and it doesn’t even get
reported very often. But the moment they start to talks seriously
about the fact that people feel they are under the thumb of the West,
which they do, then they are in trouble. I mean the fact we only
express our criticism of Mubarak is when the police lock up the wrong
person who has a PhD from Boston or Harvard or whatever.

By and large, you see there is no Arab representative. Nor has there
been for decades. It’s very interesting after the First World War, the
Egyptians kept wanting democracy, and they kept saying they wanted the
King out. So, the British locked them up. And the same thing happened
in Iraq in the 1920’s, you the know the British arrived after they
invaded in 1917 and the Iraqis said, "You encouraged us to want
independence, and when we say we want independence, you put us in
prison!" Which is true of course.

Naturally, if you go back to the 20’s and 30’s, where I think a lot of
the history also beings, anyone who wanted a real freedom was
imprisoned. So, the only way the Arabs learned you can have a change
was through a revolution. Which meant no democracy of course. Meant
you did everything in secret, whether you did it in office or clubs or
a basement of a mosque is irrelevant. So, the failure of the Arab
world to have a democracy is partially our fault.

You have to remember before the First World War, Egyptian academics
and thinkers and philosophers were returning from France with the most
extraordinary sort of Republican – which I’m using in the French
Republic sense – views of liberation, freedom and equality. This is
the decade where women didn’t want to wear the scarf in Cairo and
other cities in Egypt. Where they had willingly embraced the West. You
have to go back to the Ottoman Empire, and the biggest, industrial
construction in the world was the Suez Canal. It was built by the
French but under the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans imported state of
the art steam locomotives from Switzerland to Lebanon. In
Constantinople, the pashas were learning to paint and play the piano –
they wanted to be like us. So we destroyed them. You see? We like it
the way it is now. We don’t have to have too many occupation armies,
but they all do what they’re told, and if they don’t, then we bomb

If Bin Laden’s grievances against the U.S. and the West are removed,
and maybe you can tell us his major grievances since you’ve met him,

The world doesn’t work like this. Bin Laden justifies his actions on
certain grounds. Whether it be the corruption of the Saudi Royal
Family, the "Crusaders" to use his phrase, he says "Western forces" in
the Muslim World. And remember, one of his achievements is that he’s
brought Western forces into two more Muslim countries that they
weren’t in before – Afghanistan and Iraq. And I used the word
"achievement" ironically when I said that.

His raison d’etre will change, like we all do. To suggest that Bin
Laden is out there as a negotiable figure is ridiculous. He doesn’t
want to negotiate. One of the main problems with Al Qaeda is that
there is no negotiation. We still haven’t learned that Bin Laden isn’t
important anymore. He’s created Al Qaeda. That’s it. It’s over. It
doesn’t matter if he dies of kidney failure, or whether he’s bombed or
dies of old age or gets bored or gets assassinated or anything else,
it’s over. Al Qaeda exists. And unless we deal with the injustice in
the Middle East, there will always be an Al Qaeda. It might not be
called Al Qaeda, it could be called "Al Qaeda Al Ummah," "Al Qaeda
Saudia," "Al Qaeda in Iraq." The very word is intrinsically rather
boring, its foundation doesn’t set me off on a romantic thought. But,
I always use the phrase "Al Qaeda-like", which is inspirational but
not card membership type connections.

Still we think, "If we capture Bin Laden and Mullah Omar, then we’ll
be ok." And it’s not true. There was a very fine French historian of
the First World War, and he did a very good interview in Le Pointe
some months ago, and he said you know we haven’t realized the world
has changed militarily. But in the past, after the first and second
World Wars, we thought we could have foreign adventures and be
free. We could go to Vietnam. No North Vietnamese ever blew themselves
up in front of the White House. We went and fought in Korea, but no
North Korean soldier came and blew himself up in the London
Underground. But today we can’t do this anymore, if we send our
soldiers into Iraq, we are not saving Gloucester or Denver. That’s not
going to change. We’re not going to back to nice, friendly left wing
nationalists who wouldn’t dream of setting off bombs in our cities
anymore. That’s gone.

Whether you regard this as increasing immorality of our opponents that
is entirely up to you. But factually, we’re not safe at home anymore.

So, this is the future? We have to face the future and this is how
it’s going to be?

Well, you’ve got to think of the years to come, not just about the
next press conference. We’re going back to the same point I made to
you earlier.

I had an interview with Seymour Hersh and asked him about Iran’s
activity in the Middle East. He said Iran is doing what it’s always
been doing in supporting the Shias. That’s what it’s doing in Lebanon
and in Iraq. Now, you mention Ahmadinejad as being a "crackpot" and…

I think he’s a crackpot, yeah.

People say Iran has its fingers in the cookie jar in helping Hezbollah
and helping the Iraqi insurgents. Is Iran completely innocent? Should
it be attacked? And what would…

You’re doing what CNN and FOX do. You’re producing a sustained
government narrative and then asking a question about it. Yes, they do
support Hezbollah financially, militarily, and in training, we know
that. Do they support the Iraqi insurgency? Morally perhaps. I mean,
mentally they might, but they don’t need to teach the insurgents how
to blow up vehicles. I mean Iraqi insurgents, many of them in the
Army, fought Iranians for 8 years. They know how to blow up vehicles
and put bombs together. They don’t need help from the Iranians. So,
from the start you have to disentangle this conventional wisdom on how
Iran is this big, dark nation that is manipulating the Shias through
out the Middle East.

I don’t think the Shias of Iraq need military help from Iran. I don’t
think they need money actually. And besides when you have a situation
when most of the Iraqi government is beholden to Iran, what the hell
are you worried about the insurgents for? When Ahmedinejad took the
car from the airport like any normal human being, instead of being
flown in armored helicopter, which was quite impressive, the American
press didn’t make a lot of it, but it’s there.

You have to go back again. When the Shah was in power, the West wanted
Iran to be nuclear power. He was our policeman in the Gulf, wasn’t he?
The Shah went to New York and gave an interview saying he wanted Iran
to have nuclear weapons, because after all Russia and America had
them. And there wasn’t a complaint from the White House. In fact,
shortly after he met Carter in the White House. And we in Europe, in
particular, climbed over each other’s shoulders to supply the nuclear
hardware to produce nuclear power stations.

When Khomeini came to power and the Islamic Revolution, before the
Iran-Iraq War, and I actually was present as he said this in
Tehran. He said nuclear weapons are gifts of the devil and we will
close them down. And all nuclear instillations, and they weren’t
nuclear weapon instillations, they were just nuclear instillations for
power generation, were closed down under Khomeini’s orders. At the
height of the Iran-Iraq War in 1986, when Saddam was supported by
Britain and the United States, and was using gas, a weapons of mass
destruction, against the Iranians, the Iranian High Command came to
the conclusion that he was using these weapons, then Khomeini
reluctantly reopened the nuclear establishment in Iran as a direct
result of our friend Saddam using gas and chemicals. Which in some
cases were supplied by companies on the East Coast of the United
States. That’s what put the Iranians in the nuclear game.

Now, when you see it from this historical perspective, they’re getting
a bit of the raw deal, aren’t they? All the mullahs want their hands
on weapons (Laughs.) That wasn’t the case originally. I don’t see any
particular reason why the Iranians want to make nuclear weapons at the
moment. Because if they fire a weapon at Tel Aviv, they know Tehran
will be destroyed. On the other hand, if you look at North Korea,
quite clearly you will not be invaded if you have a nuclear
weapon. Then again, you have to stand back and look at the long term
and ask, are we, or our children or our grandchildren, our future
generations always going to around saying, "Well, he can have nuclear
weapons, because he is nice and is on our side on the War on Terror
and his name is Musharaff. And they can’t have nuclear weapons because
they have turbans on."

I mean are we going to do this A-B-C joke every year deciding who may
or may not have these things. If we deal with a world that deals about
justice, and this can apply to Eastern Europe, the Far East, Latin
America, or the Middle East, the whole institute of worrying about
nuclear weapons begins to diminish. After the rising of 1798 in
Ireland, where I am now, every Irishman who was found even to have a
pitchfork that could be used as a weapon was hanged. But, in pubs you
can see them on the walls. Because it’s become irrelevant. There’s
this peace here. If you go to England, you can find swords from the
English Civil War. Well, if in the aftermath of that war and we’re
talking about the 17th century, if you had been found with that sword,
you would’ve been executed. But now it’s in a pub on the wall of a

You know, I’m not trying to be naïve when I say this, but with the
whole issue of nuclear weapons, once the purpose of the weapon has
disappeared, the weapon is pointless. If Iran didn’t feel itself
surrounded by the Americans, which it is because the Americans are in
Iraq, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, I mean
I don’t think they’d worry so much about defending Iran. Although, of
course, you realize getting rid of the Taliban and Saddam, both
enemies of Iran, means Iran basically won the American war in
Iraq. You’ve got to start your questions not with a narrative: "Are
they supporting the Iraqi insurgency?" Probably not. "Are they
supporting Hezbollah?" Definitely. But, then again who is supporting
the Israelis? The Americans.

There’s no doubt that the missile which the Hezbollah fired at that
Israeli gunboat in the 2006 war, which almost sank it by the way, was
from Iran. But don’t tell me that the bombs dropped on Hezbollah
weren’t from the United States, they were of course. With all these
questions you’re asking me, and I’m not trying to be critical of you,
you need to go three steps back where you start asking the questions.

And there’s nothing worse than the immortal phrase, ‘I never said
that.’ Because people say, ‘Ah, that’s what he says now.’ And you’ll
be surprised at the number of people, who might be quite sympathetic
to what you’re saying, who manage to blunder into one single quote
which they [an interviewer] slightly touch up or forget something
quite innocently, and I am fighting off the problems that creates for
the next 6 months long after you’ve forgotten ever talking to me. So,
please, please be careful and make sure you’re very accurate in what I
say, and it’s balanced out.

I’ll keep it very fair. I’ll quote you, and I won’t delete a word.

Fine. That’s all I need to hear.


From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS