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Thursday, August 10, 2006

Arc of extremism

Here's my column from today's Morning Star.

Spot the difference. Country A has its citizens kidnapped and killed by a ‘terrorist’ group supported by Country B. Country A reacts by taking action to free the hostages and defeat the terrorists which Country B denounces as 'disproportionate' and uses its influence to gain support from other countries for 78 days of air strikes on Country A. Country C also has its citizens kidnapped and killed by a ‘terrorist’ group. But this time, County B supports the measures Country C takes in response- even though, unlike in the first example, they involve attacking another sovereign state and killing hundreds of innocent civilians.The double standards Country B (the USA) showed towards (Country A) Yugoslavia in 1998/9 during its battle with the Kosovan Liberation Army and (Country C) Israel today could not be more glaring, particularly, when one considers that the trigger for the renewal of hostilities between the KLA and Yugoslav forces in October 1998 was the kidnapping by the KLA of two Yugoslav journalists.

No one on the Sky News bulletin I recently watched thought fit to ask James Rubin, the ubiquitous former Press Officer to Secretary of State Madeline Albright, why Yugoslavia had no right to carry out ‘anti-terrorist’ action on its own soil in 1998/9, but Israel has the right to carry out its ‘anti-terrorist’ action on another’s soil.An estimated 900 Lebanese civilians have been killed in the Israeli offensive- a third of them children under the age of 12. A million Lebanese have become refugees in their own country. Don’t, however, hold your breath for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to be indicted for war crimes or be sent, with his hands tied behind his back, on an RAF plane to stand trial at The Hague, the fate which befell Slobodan Milosevic. Olmert knows he can literally get away with murder, because he is supported by the most powerful and malevolent political grouping on this planet, Washington’s neo-conservatives. The very same people who championed the cause of radical Islamists in the Balkans in order to destroy Yugoslavia, now defend the killing of innocent Muslims and Christians in Gaza and Lebanon as a necessary part of ’the war on terror’.

It is revealing to compare the way the Western media has portrayed both conflicts.
Back in 1998/9, the KLA were depicted as a bunch of heroic ‘freedom fighters’-battling to free their people from Serb oppression. ‘The United States and the KLA stand for the same human values and principles’ declared the U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman: little mention was made of the group’s links to organised crime and drug smuggling, and the fact that in the lead up to war, the KLA had killed more ethnic Albanians in Kosovo than Yugoslav forces. The KLA’s links with hard-line fundamentalist groups, including al Qaeda, were also glossed over. Yugoslavia, by contrast, was portrayed as a genocidal nazi-style dictatorship- even though its leader was a committed socialist and lifelong anti-racist who had won three successive elections held in a multi-party system.

All rather different to the way Israel is depicted today. Although there has been criticism of Israel‘s actions, the country still benefits from a favourable press coverage, especially in the United States and Britain. Israel, we are repeatedly informed, is a modern, forward-looking democracy, under constant attack from backward, fanatical neighbours hell-bent on its destruction. ‘Israel is an integral part of the West and an example for its virtues’ declares the journalist and Tory MP Michael Gove, while fellow Tory Boris Johnson claims that Israel has moral superiority over its opponents on the grounds that ‘when Israeli rockets kill civilians, they have missed their targets, and that when Hizbollah rockets kill civilians, they have scored a deliberate hit’.

Nowhere in this dominant version of events is mention made of Israel’s huge military arsenal and the fact that it is the only country in the region to possess nuclear weapons or that the jails of the Middle East‘s ‘model democracy’ contain over 4,000 Palestinians held without trial.
Despite’s Israel’s blatant aggression against Lebanon and their denial of rights to the Palestinians, it is the governments of Iran and to a lesser extent, Syria who are denounced as the instigators of the latest Middle East conflict. Yet Iran and Syria have far more reason to fear the U.S. and Israel than vice versa. Prominent neo-conservatives close to the Bush administration have made no secret of their desire to achieve ‘regime change’ in both Damascus and Tehran. To openly call for a nuclear first strike on Iran- as leading neo-conservative Richard Perle has done, is considered perfectly acceptable, yet, when the Iranian president makes a speech condemning Western policy towards his country, there is a huge outcry.

In reality, the ‘underdog’ in the present conflict is not Israel, a country bankrolled and armed by the most powerful nation on earth, but the Lebanese and Palestinian people fighting for their right to self-determination. And in 1998/9 the ‘underdogs‘ in the Kosovan conflict, were not the ’freedom fighters’ of the KLA- equipped with the very latest western weaponry, but the beleaguered Yugoslav government. Unfortunately for Slobodan Milosevic and the citizens of Yugoslavia, international resistance to US-led imperialism was weak and uncoordinated in 1999 and Yugoslavia’s attempt to defend its territorial integrity was defeated.

Seven years on though, things are different. As Israel’s bombs were pounding Lebanon, President Chavez of Venezuela was completing a tour of sovereign states that still retain their independence. Closer co-operation, not just in trade matters, but on defence and military issues too, is essential for these countries if they are to avoid the fate of others who refused to pay Danegeld. The pattern is clear. In 1999 Yugoslavia. In 2003, Iraq.In 2006 Lebanon.

If we don’t want to see Damascus and Tehran go the way of Belgrade, Baghdad and Beirut, it’s time all humane, decent people come together to stop the real ‘arc of extremism’- the one which stretches from Washington across to London and Tel Aviv.

1 comment:

TheRedLeopard said...

Great article, Neil.
Have you noticed that every time they try and blame the opposing side for starting the conflict. Milosevic and the Serbs were labelled 'aggressors' in 1999, Saddam was to blame in 2003 and now it's Hezbollah's turn.
But all three wars were planned well ahead. I'm amazed that there's still people out there who haven't got it yet. I suppose that's testimony to the war lobby's domination of the media.