It is never too hard to find examples of Orwell’s Newspeak dribbling out of the mouths of the governing classes, but the sewage flows freely this week. The tone was set early on by a thoroughly bellicose column in Wednesday’s Washington Post: “We Must Fight This War”. Its author Robert Kagan is, we are told, a “a “senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace”.
The British media is not too far behind; the editorial pages of today’s Sunday Telegraph rose to the occasion. Exhibit A was an article by Henry Kissinger (“President George W Bush has wisely warned that the attacks on New York and Washington amounted to a declaration of war”, et cetera ad nauseam); Exhibit B was a leader column (“Only two courses of action are open to Nato: appeasement or war. There is no third way…”, ditto), which approvingly quoted Shimon Peres’s recent remark that “every country must now decide whether it wants to be a smoking or nonsmoking country, a country that supports terrorism or one that doesn’t”.
The author of the first piece is reckoned by many of those who think about these things to be an international war criminal of the first magnitude, for his interventions — most of which can be reasonably described as terroristic — in Cambodia, Vietnam, Chile, Cyprus and East Timor; the man quoted in the second is the deputy prime minister and minister for foreign affairs in the government of Israel, i.e., the number two to prime minister Ariel Sharon, the man indirectly responsible (according to Israel’s own inquiry, no less) for the Falangists’ bloody massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1982 which left many hundreds of Palestinians dead. (Sharon was the commanding officer in Lebanon, and gave the order which let the militias into the camps, with highly predictable consequences).
We need Robert Fisk in the Independent on Sunday to remind us at a time like this, because no one else will, that today is the nineteenth anniversary of the start of the atrocities at Sabra and Shatila. There was an excellent BBC Panorama programme broadcast on 17 June about Sharon’s role in the massacres: its webpage has a full transcript, and other useful information.
Raj wrote [17.9.01]: AMERICA DECLARES WAR ON WORLD, SELF. AGAIN.
America is a contradictory place to be. Witness Mr Bush on racism: “We must be mindful that, as we seek to win the war, we treat Arab-Americans with the respect they deserve,” Mr Bush said. “There are thousands of Arab-Americans who live in New York City who love their flag,” the President said. “We should not hold one who is a Muslim responsible for an act of terror.”
Compare and contrast with Bush’s white supremacist subtext in the declaration of what CNN is calling “America’s New War”. America’s new war indeed. The US has been fighting racist wars at home and abroad for a while now. Discrimination against Latin@s, through the War on Drugs and more recently Plan Colombia. War against East and South-East Asians with the demonisation first of Vietnam, and now China. The war on African Americans and the poor through “Zero tolerance” and a racist judiciary. The Christian Right’s consistent war on women through pro-life initiatives. The War on Arab Americans has been going on for a while in the media. And now, tragically, America’s New War on the New Enemy Within. America seems to be finding new wars with the frequency and arrogance of Browning’s Duke.
And with equally fatal results.
Oliver wrote [18.9.01]: I was worried by one aspect of your comments about the contents of the Sunday Telegraph. It seems absolutely right to highlight some of the awful truths about Kissinger’s record in government. But when it comes to putting Peres’s quote in context, you have nothing to say about him other than that he is a member of Sharon’s government. You then expound at length on Sharon. It strikes me as unfortunate to taint one with the others actions, especially when they are such different politicians, and especially as so much else on your weblog page concerns bias in the reporting of the terrible racist attacks that have followed in the wake of last week’s tragedy.
Chris replies [18.9.2001]: Peres is not Sharon, true. They aren’t even in the same party. But when Mr Bush talks about refusing to make a distinction between terrorists and those who “harbor” terrorists, I can’t help thinking that the Israeli government is harbouring a rather important one. And while I don’t especially want to get into an argument about whether Israeli government policy amounts to state-sponsored terrorism — given their admitted use of what they euphemistically call “targeted killings” and everyone else calls “assassinations”, and the use of helicopter gunships in reprisals against stone-throwing Palestinians — I tend to think that’s a very plausible construction to place on things. The general point is that it ill becomes any Israeli minister to talk so smugly about a distinction between those countries that sponsor terrorism and those that don’t, because of traditional problems about motes and beams (and barley, O).