International Socialist Review Issue 19, July-August 2001
They call all resistance "terrorism"
David Barsamian interviews Edward Said, author and spokesperson for Palestinian rights.
This is the second part of a two-part interview. Part one, published in ISR issue 18, can be found here.
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).
ROBERT FISK, the Middle East correspondent for the Independent, comments that "ignorance of the Middle East is now so firmly adhered to in the U.S. that only a few tiny newspapers report anything other than Israels point of view."1
I DID a homemade survey of the major papers in the metropolitan centersLos 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 its 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 Refugees 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, largelyand they told me this when I inquiredbecause 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 Israels 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 U.S. media. The State Department has just issued its annual report. With the litany of terrorist states, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, and Syria, all of them are Muslim-majority countries. "Terrorism is a persistent disease," Colin Powell said as he released the report.2 What geopolitical function does the focus on terrorism serve?
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 its 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.
Its 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 didnt 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 everywherefrom China to Europe to southern Africa to Latin America and all of the Americasterrorism 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 peoples 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 Ladens and the people he commands, whether they are in Saudi Arabia or Yemen or anywhere else. Theyre 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.3 The greatest source of terrorism is the U.S. itself and some of the Latin American countries, not at all the Muslim ones. But theyre 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 U.S.- and U.K.-led sanctions against Iraq are clearly crumbling. What accounts for that?
THEYVE 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. Its 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 cant 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 fantasyto suggest that the U.S. can in fact cause people to go against their own interests. That wont 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 nameor the hatred that has been built up against it throughout the Middle East and the Islamic worldfor 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 U.S. 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 mustnt forget, is in very close alliance with Israel. They have joint military maneuvers. Theres 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. Its not to encircle the Arabs. Its to encircle what are considered to be intransigent states, like Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Its 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 its a mindless, irrational strategy. In the final analysis, these are deeply unpopular policies and cant possibly last. Its 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.4
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. Ill 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 dont happen again. They want to organize memory in such a way that its focused exclusively on certain groups and not on other groups that suffered these historical calamities.
YOUVE SPOKEN out on many occasions on the right of return. Are you making any headway on getting recognition of a right of return?
I THINK we are, especially in peoples awareness that there is a right of return. I dont 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. Thats 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 havent been patriated and been given rights of residence, work, or travel. So its not just in Israelalthough Israel is the main cause of thisbut 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 theyve been driven from their own. If theyre not able for political and physical reasons to return, they should be given rights of residence wherever they are. Its 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 peoplefrom Africa and Asia mostlywho 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 theyre 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. Its a vast phenomenon and urgently in need of rethinking in ways that I hope the Palestinian right of return movement can dramatize.
David Barsamian is the director and producer of Alternative Radio.
1 Robert Fisk, "I am being vilified for telling the truth about Palestinians," The Independent, December 13, 2000.