20 Ağustos 2013 Salı

Book Review Composition: The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East

Note to curious readers: I just tried to collect source that seems important to me and a

lso tried to make the book known for the person who are interested "twilight zone".


The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East is a book published in 2005 by the award-winning English journalist Robert Fisk.

The book is a compilation of many of the articles Fisk wrote when he was serving as a correspondent in theMiddle East for The Times and The Independent. The book revolves around several key themes regarding the history of the modern Middle East: the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf War as well as the 2003 Iraq War (United States invasion of Iraq) as well as other regional conflicts such as the Armenian Genocide and the Algerian Civil War. The Great War for Civilisation is the second book Fisk has written about the Middle East with the first one, Pity the Nation, (Nation Books, 2002) being about the Lebanese Civil War.

Fisk's book details his travels to many of the hotspots of the Middle East, such as Iraq and Iran during the Iran–Iraq War, and his numerous interviews with both the country's leaders and its people. Along with these interviews, Fisk also provides much of the historical context to these conflicts.

In the book, Fisk criticizes the governments of the United States and the United Kingdom for what he perceives as their hypocritical and biased foreign policy towards the Middle East, especially in regard to the Arab-Israeli conflict and the 2003 Iraq War. He contends leaders of both countries deliberately misled the world about their motivations for invading Iraq in 2003.[1]

The name of the book comes from a campaign medal Fisk's father was awarded for his services in the First World War.[2]

1. "One of Our Brothers Had a Dream..." is about Fisk's first interview in 1996 with the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden in the mountains of Afghanistan. The title of the chapter is derived from bin Laden who explains that one of his fighters had a dream of Fisk, wearing a robe and with a beard, and who was approaching them on a horse, signifying that he was, according to bin Laden, a "true Muslim".[3]Fisk immediately understood the context of the dream as an attempt by bin Laden to recruit him into his organization.[4]

2. They Shoot Russians is on the 1980 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan where Fisk chronicles much of the problems the Soviet Union faced in dealing with the Afghan mujahideen when they entered the country as well as the invasion's galvanizing effect in recruiting thousands of foreign Muslim fighters to the country and the resurgence of radical Islam in the country.

3. The Choirs of Kandahar is essentially a continuation of Chapter 2.

4. The Carpet-Weavers begins with the United States' and Great Britain's successful overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq. From there, it moves on to the events leading up to and following the Iranian Revolution of 1979 which deposed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

5-8. The Path to War and the subsequent chapters The Whirlwind War, War Against War and the Fast Train to Paradiseand Drinking the Poisoned Chalice deal with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the battles of the Iran-Iraq of the 1980s including theTanker War, Iran's use of human wave tactics and Saddam's use of chemical weapons against Iran, the United States' andWest's roles in the conflict and the conclusion of the war.

9. Sentenced to Suffer Death is Fisk's account of his father, Bill Fisk, during his service in the British military in World War Iand his difficult decision to take part as a member of a firing squad ordered to execute another soldier.

10. The First Holocaust is devoted to the topic of the Armenian Genocide. Its title is derived from the fact that the Genocide, organized by the government of the Ottoman Empire, took place in 1915, several decades before the Jewish Holocaust. In it, Fisk provides the historical context of the Armenian Genocide and includes his numerous interviews with survivors of the Genocide who are then living in Lebanon and Armenia. Fisk also heavily criticizes the denialist stance of Turkey, the successor to the Ottoman Empire, as well as Israel and Great Britain for failing to recognize the massacres and deportations as genocide.

11-13. Fifty Thousand Miles from Palestine and the subsequent chapters The Last Colonial War and The Girl and the Child and Love are devoted to the Arab-Israeli conflict from the 1980s onward. The chapters deal with the deaths of civilians on both sides, suicide bombings and the Israeli government's military approach to the Palestinian issue. Much of these chapters also detail with media coverage of the conflict and the terms used by them to describe both sides, most notably the word "terrorist".

14. Anything to Wipe Out a Devil... briefly focuses on the Algerian War and the use of torture and terrorism by both the French military and Algerian fighters of the 1954-1962 war. After the French pullout and Algerian independence, the book details the internal power struggles among the secular and Islamist factions and continues on with this theme into theAlgerian Civil War which began in 1991.

15. Planet Damnation gives an eyewitness report of the Gulf War. Fisk was stationed in the desert with the Allied forces and makes references both to the push-back of Iraqis from Kuwait as to the bombing of Iraq in connection to it.

16. Betrayal describes the repression of the Iraqi uprising after the Gulf War by the Iraqi government, which attacked and persecuted the rebels, as well as the Kurdish northern minority.

17. The Land of Graves. The pun in chapter's title points at the repercussions that U.N.'s sanctions against Iraq had on the civilian population.

18. The Plague deals with the unusual illnesses which plagued the Iraqi public after the war.

19. Now Thrive the Armourers... is an incursion into the world of the arms manufacturers of "all nationalities, all faiths, all follies, all causes and all crimes," [5] which provide belligerents with weapons.

20. Even to Kings, He Comes... is an analysis of the deeds of King Hussein of Jordan and President Hafez al-Assad of Syria. The first, a controversial ruler, whose subjects were both acclaiming him and shrieking at his coffin during his burial ceremony, is put alongside with "The Lion of Damascus", whose Hama massacre is looked into.

21. Why ? tries to find an explanation to the September 11, 2001, attacks. From a strict journalistic point of view, the tragedy came totally unwelcome for Fisk, as it postponed indefinitely his coverage of the Sabra and Chatila massacres out of the pages of The Independent. Fisk inserts the skipped report in the first part of Chapter 21.

22. The Die Is Cast examines the diplomatic and mass media moves which led to the Operation Iraqi Freedom.

23. Atomic Dog, Annihilator, Arsonist, Anthrax, Anguish and Agamemnon describes in great detail the turbulences which have accompanied the takeover of Iraq and its capital, Baghdad.

24. Into the Wilderness is the last chapter of the book. It gives an idea of the challenges the Coalition Provisional Authority has faced in that country, and reports on the assassination of the Lebanese Prime-Minister Rafiq Hariri, witnessed by Fisk.

The book ends, as it has begun, in the "tiny village of Louvencourt, on the Somme,"[2] where Robert Fisk's father has fought. This is not only meant as a homage to Bill Fisk, but is also an implicit reminder of one of the leitmotifs of the book: the volatile situation in the Middle East is a consequence of the political arrangements concluded at the end of the First World War.

The work has also a Chronology of the Middle East, starting with the birth of the Prophet Mohammed and ending in 2005, the year of the book's British release, with the words: "UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1968 -- calling for Israel's withdrawal from occupied land -- remains unfulfilled."

^ See, for example, Chapter 22 (pp. 888-937) which deals with the run up to the invasion and its aftermath.
^ a b Fisk, Robert (2006). The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. New York: Alfred Knopf, xvii. ISBN 1-84115-007-X
^ Fisk. Great War For Civilisation, 29.
^ Fisk. Great War for Civilisation, 29-30.
^ George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara, Act III. The quote constitutes the epigraph of the chapter.

One Man's Arabia


Published: December 11, 2005

Even those of us who are not optimists by disposition have to admit that there are good reasons for being cheerful when we look around the world today. North America and Western Europe enjoy peace and prosperity unimaginable by historic standards, and if the picture is less rosy in Latin America, and often tragic in Africa, then one must admit that whatever happens in those places doesn't threaten global stability. And now Japan is being joined by China and India in an explosive economic development (with whatever untoward social and environmental consequences) that may yet make this the Asian century.
Ray Bartkus

There is, in fact, just one region on earth that gives grounds for the deepest gloom. We unhelpfully call it the Middle East, although what's really meant is Western Asia, the area between the Mediterranean and the Indus, bordered in the north by the Black Sea, the Caucasus and desert, in the south by the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean. That region is in the throes of a historically immense, pathological crisis whose character we only partly understand, although we can perceive easily enough that what is already perilous may turn catastrophic, and could yet engulf us all.

One symptom of this crisis is the degree to which the region, not really so populous compared with Africa on one side and South Asia on the other, dominates our daily news. A breed of reporters have made it their home and their career, few of them better known than the Englishman Robert Fisk. Now in his late 50's, he is one of the most controversial journalists of the age, winner of numerous prizes, much admired by some, including colleagues who respect his obsessive attention to detail and sheer physical courage, execrated by others because of what has been seen as his open hostility to Israel, America and the West.

For most of the 1970's and 80's he worked for The Times of London, covering Belfast before he moved to the Middle East in 1976. Eleven years later he switched papers, and has since then been writing for The Independent, which has itself changed character since its birth less than 20 years ago and is now a daily version of the weekly "viewspapers," using its front page more for campaigning and debate than for hard news. Fisk fits in there very snugly.

He has already written a book about Lebanon, where he lives. Now comes "The Great War for Civilisation," his Big Book (and how) and his testament. A vast overview of the region, it makes use of every clipping and notebook he has ever kept and runs in no particular order, chronological or otherwise, from his meetings with Osama bin Laden ("my first impression was of a shy man") to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq-Iran war, both of which he covered.

Then he heads back to the Armenian genocide of 90 years ago before coming forward again to the first gulf war and the betrayal of the Kurds that followed it, by way of "The Last Colonial War" (that would be Israel in the territories, of course), not to mention 19th-century British expeditions to Afghanistan. All in all, it adds up to some half a million words.

If that description sounds a little sour, maybe it is. There are different kinds of full disclosure, and on occasion it might be appropriate for a reviewer to own up and admit to a touch of sheer resentment at having had to read diligently a book of more than 1,000 pages that might with profit have been kept to half that length, or even a third.

This is really several books fighting each other inside the sack. It could have been an intelligent young person's guide to Western Asia, or a concentrated, closely structured polemic against American policy in the region, or just a memoir. A recurring reminiscence about Fisk's father, who served as an infantry officer in World War I, and the gung-ho adventure yarn about Afghanistan the elder Fisk had read as a boy, might have made for a vivid personal story on its own, but seem here to have wandered into the wrong party.

When Fisk (or any of us) is writing for a newspaper, the exigencies of the trade, and tough-minded copy editors, keep length under control. Here he lets it all hang out, diffuse and inchoate, made worse by a penchant for Fine Writing. "The night wind moved through the darkening trees, ruffling the robes of the Arab fighters around us." "I have woken in my bed to hear the blades of the palm trees outside slapping each other in the night, the rain smashing against the shutters." Chapters begin with tiresomely portentous sentences - "Ben Greenberger doesn't trust the Arabs"; "Roger Tartouche grins at visitors from beneath his steel French army helmet, head turned slightly to the left, his battledress buttoned up to the neck" (on his gravestone, that is) - all of which only adds to the immense wordage.

At least in part, "The Great War for Civilisation" is a stimulating and absorbing book, by a man who speaks Arabic, who has known the region better than most and has met the leading players, from bin Laden to Ahmad Chalabi (who offered to introduce him to Oliver North). It is a formidable production; and as Dr. Johnson said of "Paradise Lost," no man ever wished it longer.

What Fisk's enemies will be scanning the book for is not so much stylistic lapses as the bias of which he is often accused, and here I believe he can be defended, at least in terms of personal honor. Robert Fisk is not a crooked journalist like - well, some sentences are better left unfinished, but quite a few names come to mind. Indeed, Fisk uses the book, among other things, to settle old scores, and there are some hair-raising and all too plausible stories about working for Rupert Murdoch and his more sycophantic apparatchiks.

Without doubt Fisk is an honest man by his lights, but then plain dishonesty is not the only danger for journalism. Another correspondent on Fisk's own paper who had reported from the Balkans in the 1990's looked back with distaste at "the angry partisanship" with which that conflict was covered. The phrase could almost be Fisk's heraldic motto.

He doesn't let us forget that he loathes Saddam Hussein, and is contemptuous of Yasir Arafat even as he sarcastically mentions his own anti-Israeli reputation. Then he goes on to write about "Israel's policy of state murder" and "the American journalists who report in so craven a fashion from the Middle East." This newspaper and its writers are regularly pummeled, notably "Tom Friedman, an old friend but an increasingly messianic columnist." Friedman can look after himself, but if I were Fisk I would not lightly use the word "messianic" about anyone.

Some former colleagues of Fisk's have claimed that events are wrongly described and names wrongly recorded here. There are certainly quite a few historical errors. A. J. Balfour was not "Lord Balfour" at the time of the eponymous Declaration; and the famous wartime broadcast from an R.A.F. bomber by Richard Dimbleby was over Berlin, not Hamburg. But such minor slips are not the real problem.

Journalists are not automatons but sentient men and women, and the "extinction of self" that supposedly scientific German historians once preached is an illusion. And yet Fisk's brand of reporting-with-attitude has obvious dangers. His ungovernable anger may do his heart credit, but it does not make for satisfactory history. His book contains very many gruesome accounts of murder and mutilation, and page after page describing torture in almost salacious detail. This has an unintended effect. A reader who knew nothing about the subject - the proverbial man from Mars - might easily conclude from "The Great War for Civilisation" that the whole region is mad, bad and dangerous to know, which is presumably not what Fisk wants us to think. Nor does he much abet the argument by George W. Bush and Tony Blair that Islam is essentially a peaceful and gentle religion. Most of the Muslims met here seem cruel and crazy, exemplifying Shelley's line about "bloody faith, the foulest birth of time."

Ray Bartkus
Such a relentless catalog of butchery also misses the point. Unless one is an unconditional pacifist one must accept even the death of innocents. During World War II, 100,000 German children (as well as half a million adults, mostly women) were killed by Allied bombing. It is possible utterly to deplore that bombing campaign while still believing that the war to defeat Hitler was just. Likewise there is a distinction between the violent consequences of the present operation in Iraq, and the question of how far it was wise or virtuous in the first place.

Both the ferocity with which the Americans waged the first gulf war, and the betrayal of the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds thereafter, are bitterly condemned by Fisk (although he also describes with revulsion what the Iraqis did in Kuwait). So should we not have fought that war at all? Or, having begun it, should we have pressed on to destroy Saddam Hussein the first time around? What some members of the administration of Bush the Elder said - if we'd taken Baghdad, we would have owned the country - has surely gained more force now, when exactly that has come to pass.

After all I have said, to add "more in sorrow" might seem a little hypocritical, but this review is, for what it's worth, written by someone who largely shares Fisk's broader outlook, if one can filter out the rage and exaggeration. Western intervention - once European, now American - in that region has been too often malign in intention and lamentable in effect. Iraq itself is a creation of the British, in particular of Winston Churchill, and not the happiest legacy of empire, though one that may be unraveling thanks to the latest Western meddling.

But Fisk's condemnations, and his tone of voice, are so sweeping as to damage his own case. He became particularly unpopular four years ago because of what he wrote after the attacks in New York: "This is not the war of democracy versus terror that the world will be asked to believe in the coming hours and days. It is also about American missiles smashing into Palestinian homes and U.S. helicopters firing missiles into a Lebanese ambulance in 1996 and. . . ." He still feels sorry for himself about the torrent of abuse he received, unable to see that, although there is a great deal to be said in criticism of American policy in the Middle East, Sept. 12, 2001, might not have been the best day to say it.

Nor does he allow for historical context. He denounces, for example, the 1953 coup in Iran, engineered by Kermit Roosevelt of the C.I.A. and his British buddies to oust the government of Mohammed Mossadegh and install the shah. As it happens, one of the conspirators is a neighbor of mine, a charming and courteous old gentleman who was a wartime hero before he swapped a Royal Navy uniform for the cloak and dagger of MI6, and to this day he is impenitent about that power play in the cold war.

He and his fellow plotters didn't delude themselves that they were trying to bring good government to the Persian people, nor did they "call too loud on Freedom / To cloak your weariness," as Kipling had it. The object of the exercise wasn't to "democratize the Middle East" but to keep the Soviets from reaching the Indian Ocean, and it succeeded. If anything, I have more sympathy with that kind of realpolitik than for the weird mixture of ideology and deception we get from the present administration.

All the same, there is plenty here to make us think again about where the region is heading, and why. Some of Fisk's points are very telling. Next time the president informs us of the noble and beneficent cause of democracy, read Fisk on Algeria, which did indeed have democratic elections, only they were unfortunately won by the wrong party in the form of the Islamic extremists.
The Guardian: Robert Fisk

And as a break from the latest grim news coming out of Baghdad, have a look at what a correspondent for Fisk's old paper, The Times of London, said about Iraq. Many people "think that the local inhabitants will welcome us because we have saved them," and that the country only needs developing to repay our expenditure, but this is clearly wrong, since "we are asking the Arab to exchange his pride and independence for a little Western civilization."

That was written in September 1919. Another commentator said that in Iraq we have been led "into a trap from which it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. . . . Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. . . . We are today not far from a disaster." The writer was none other than T. E. Lawrence - in August 1920. Did someone say what goes around comes around?

Geoffrey Wheatcroft's books include "The Controversy of Zion: Jewish Nationalism, the Jewish State, and the Unresolved Jewish Dilemma" and, most recently, "The Strange Death of Tory England."

Source: http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Fisk_Robert/Great_War_Civil_review.html

review of the book 

The Great War for Civilisation
by Robert Fisk
book review by Augustus Richard Norton
The Nation magazine, Febraury 6, 2006
In March 1991 Shiites in southern Iraq were being slaughtered en masse. President George H.W. Bush had called upon the Iraqis to topple Saddam Hussein after the US-led coalition defeated the Iraqi army in Kuwait. The Shiites heeded the call with vigor and savagery, as did their Kurdish countrymen in the north, but now the reconsolidated Baathist regime was striking back, killing tens of thousands. Using helicopter gunships that Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf rashly permitted them to operate under the terms of the previous month's cease-fire agreement, as well as ground forces, Saddam's forces pulverized the rebellion. Many of the mass graves that have been recently unearthed are from this period.
While this was going on the Americans stood by and watched, often literally. One of the more disgraceful moral lapses in US history, this moment of "betrayal" fundamentally recast Shiite identity in Iraq. Advocates of the latest invasion--who were caught off-guard by the lukewarm reception Iraqi Shiites accorded their would-be liberators in 2003--seem to have slept through that part of the movie. US officials up and down the line did little to mitigate, much less end, the suffering of the Shiites, perhaps in deference to the wishes of their ally Saudi Arabia, for whom the prospect of a Shiite-dominated Iraq is no more inviting now than it was then. Only Iran offered substantial help, which would later yield dividends in credibility for Tehran and for groups it supported, as the elections in Iraq have revealed.
There was at least one American hero in 1991, Staff Sergeant Nolde of the First Armored Division. Robert Fisk, who never learned Nolde's first name, met him at a crossroad in Safwan, the southern Iraqi border town where Nolde's platoon sat while refugees desperately tried to flee to Kuwait. Ordered by a US official to turn them back to the killing fields in southern Iraq, where they were almost certain to die, Nolde responded:
"I'm sorry, sir. But if you're going to give me an order to stop these people, I can't do that. They are coming here begging, old women crying, sick children, boys begging for food. We're already giving them most of our rations. But I have to tell you, sir, that if you give me an order to stop them, I just won't do that." You could see the embassy man wince.
Alas, US foreign policy is not set by the likes of Nolde, which helps to explain why the United States is widely derided and unloved, not just in the Middle East. This makes it all the more important to come to grips with the double standards and hypocrisies that have come to connote American foreign policy to many people around the globe.
Fisk's magnum opus is not just about America in the Middle East, but America has a starring role in The Great War for Civilisation and it is not a flattering one. She is America, righteous of voice but tone-deaf to history, jealous of power but so entwined with Israel that she sometimes reads the other character's lines as her own. Notwithstanding Fisk's penchant for denying the powerful the benefit of the doubt, there is more than enough truth in his depiction to show that George W. Bush's promises to the oppressed (notably in his January 2005 inaugural speech) are more rodomontade than factual, especially when the President claimed, "All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know: The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you." It is impossible to read Fisk's book--replete as it is with evidence of US complicity with dictators, selective tolerance for political violence and erratic respect for human rights--and hear Bush's claims as other than crowd-pleasing boilerplate.
Fisk, the London Independent's senior Middle East correspondent, is one of the best-known--and most polarizing--war reporters, one of the few print journalists with adoring fans and equally passionate detractors. The Independent, after discovering that most of its web hits came from Fisk readers, began charging a fee for his columns, well before other papers in Europe and North America were charging for "premium content." Now one may buy several news packages, including "Robert Fisk" for £50 a year (about $90). It is tempting to compare him to Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh for the exclamations of fierce loyalty or disdain that his pugnacious columns inspire. But Fisk is more serious than either man and, as The Great War for Civilisation exhaustively demonstrates, he has a command of his subject worthy of a historian.
Fisk draws the title of his book from an inscription on the flip side of the World War I victory medal awarded to his father, Bill Fisk, whose service in that war was the signal experience of an otherwise unexceptional life. As a boy, Robert got a glimpse of war's ravages during family excursions to European battlefields, and his father earned a rare ration of filial admiration for demonstrating that moral bearings need not be forfeited in war. Lieut. William Fisk apparently refused to lead a firing squad charged with executing an Australian soldier for desertion and murder; the elder Fisk would have recognized a kindred spirit in Staff Sergeant Nolde, no doubt.
A few other heroes appear at the most unexpected moments--a Muslim cleric who rescued the author from a potentially fatal beating in Afghanistan comes to mind--but The Great War for Civilisation does not offer many feel-good endings. Fisk's often powerful reportage is steeped in a rich appreciation of history, but the book is not chronologically tidy, nor does it advance a sustained argument to guide the reader through a vast body of work that represents thirty years of distinctively tenacious, often brave journalism. I must admit that while reading this massive, unruly book I imagined Fisk emptying all his drawers on the bed. The book would have benefited greatly from a strong-willed editor. It is not just that the prose is sometimes flabby but that anecdotes and jabs are recycled, sometimes within the same chapter. Perhaps the editors at Knopf believe that Fisk is so important to Middle East journalism--or so revered by his readers--that every nail clipping and bon mot needs to be preserved. If so, they missed a chance to offer an even more compelling, less daunting volume, especially for readers with a newly acquired curiosity about the Middle East. Even so, this is a significant work that is sure to endure well after the current flood of Middle East-related books has crested.
In the Middle East, Fisk observes, "the people live their past history, again and again, every day," and for two centuries that history has largely been shaped by outside powers, especially imperial France and Britain, the expansionist Soviet Union and for more than half a century the United States. Certainly, were it not for the etching of borders associated with seminal documents--the 1916 Sykes-Picot Agreement, the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Lord Mountbatten's plan for the partition of British India--the region as we know it would scarcely exist. Yet even to conjure the region absent these decisive great-power intrusions is such a complex exercise in recursion that it serves to demonstrate how deeply implicated others have been in engraving the history of the region. Long after the echoes of Napoleon's cannons firing on the port of Alexandria in 1798 quieted, the profound changes that the invasion launched in Egypt and the wider Arab world reverberated. The deadly effects of "great wars" on the field of battle are clear enough, whether in the mud and slaughter of the Somme or on the hills of Maysaloun, where in 1920 the French vanquished the Arab struggle for an independent Syria. But it was what followed those episodes of mayhem that gave decisive shape to the modern Middle East: the drawing of boundaries, co-optation of local elites, economic subordination and the maneuvering of pieces on geopolitical chessboards. French generals, British diplomats and American missionaries were people with a plan. Their hubris, in Fisk's view, was to impose Western civilization on the people of the Middle East, and their efforts were part of a continuing "great war for civilisation" that has as its goal the conquest of the region.
Fisk sees no good coming from these ceaseless interventions. Indeed, he argues that campaigns in the "war for civilisation" may begin with optimism but typically end in catastrophe--America's invasion of Iraq in March 2003 being a case in point. The invasion was informed not only by a willful contempt for history and an extravagant display of ethnocentrism but also by a framework of best-case scenarios and fantasies untouched by empirical knowledge of Iraq, as the case of the Iraqi Shiites illustrates. If a new Iraq emerges from the current violent stalemate, it will look very little like the exemplary democratic state that Bush or his chorus of war-boosters envisaged. In fact, it is likely to be closer to the Iranian model of "Islamic democracy," provided it does not descend further into civil war. Fisk's cynicism about Anglo-American policy in Iraq is richly borne out by the legacy of deprivation, death and disorder that the invasion, and the preceding decade of sanctions and nibbling attacks by the United States and Britain, have yielded.
In the area around Basra in southern Iraq, to take one of many examples in Fisk's book, there has been a phenomenal epidemic of leukemia, breast and stomach cancer presumably connected to the introduction of an estimated 340 tons of radioactive material into the environment during the 1991 Gulf War. The source of the radioactivity? The profligate use of depleted uranium ammunition by the US military. In areas where the ammunition was fired in great quantities, cancer rates in children are as high as 71.8 per 100,000 compared with a regional average of 3.9 per 100,000. An Iraqi doctor reviewing his patient files tells Fisk, "Of fifteen cancer patients from one area, I have only two left. I am receiving children with cancer of the bone--this is incredible.... My God, I have performed mastectomies on two girls with cancer of the breast--one of them was only fourteen years old." Fisk calls this the product of "a policy of bomb now, die later."

But is Iraq doomed to wallow in misery, or might something good come of this poorly conceived invasion? While there may be no escape from history, Fisk's dour emphasis on history's recurrent patterns risks producing a static picture of the region. In his eagerness to discover historical parallels, he sometimes fails to grasp the novel features of the present. As a result, he offers neither feasible prescriptions nor a persuasive analysis of possible outcomes. Even if one shares Fisk's skepticism of US motives in Iraq--and his conviction, echoed by the vast majority of Iraqis, that America's war is ultimately about oil--there is no question that politics in the region have been thrown off kilter by the occupation. The naïve conception of a democratic peace that has preoccupied George Bush--especially since Iraq's WMD larder proved to be empty--is irrelevant, except perhaps as an index of presidential gullibility, but after years of political stagnation there has clearly been a step-level change in the region.
Whether the outcome of the US-led invasion of Iraq will be constructive political turmoil leading to serious reform in obdurate autocracies, such as Egypt, Syria and Tunisia, or more horrific bloodshed and instability as Iraq plunges further into civil war, is a pertinent--and still unanswered--question. Although I opposed the invasion, my sense is that the political terms of reference have changed dramatically, if only because the United States and other Western states have been forced to acknowledge that the Islamist parties are the major opposition force in the region. Fanciful presumptions about secular oppositionists have been shelved, at least for now. As the recent elections in both Iraq and Egypt reveal, the Islamist parties will be an indelible component in whatever new equilibrium emerges in the region's political systems. Oddly, for all that Fisk has to say about the errors, deceptions and missteps of US policy, he sheds scant light on the possible future of regional politics, other than showing how America's policies have been a boon to followers of Osama bin Laden. Given his long years in the Middle East, it is surprising that his book lacks a serious assessment of how the region might be affected by America's Iraq adventure.
Then again, Fisk is not offering a volume of prognostication but a work of memory. And if there is one clear 
lesson of this book, it is that while wars, crusades and terror may erase people, memories and the quest for retributive justice are not so easily extinguished. In his reporting on the region's wars, Fisk has waged a campaign against forgetting and deliberate amnesia.
Fisk arrived in Beirut in 1976, at the age of 29, to report on the year-old civil war. Thirty years later, he is still there. While some of his contemporaries, notably John Bulloch, Kamal Salibi, Jonathan Randal, Ehud Ya'ari and Ze'ev Schiff have produced important accounts of major phases of the Lebanon conflicts, no journalist, or scholar for that matter, can match the breadth, nuance or tenacity of Fisk's meticulous history of Lebanon's fifteen-year civil war, Pity the Nation. Fisk was one of the first reporters to enter Sabra and Shatila, the Beirut camps where, in September 1982, as many as 1,000 Palestinian refugees and displaced Lebanese Muslims were massacred at the hands of Christian militiamen allied with Israel. The atrocities that occurred in the camps left a deep imprint on Fisk's psyche, and he has often recalled those gruesome scenes, emphasizing the integral role that Israeli officials, including then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, played in permitting the killings as well as in the subsequent disappearance of as many as 1,800 Arab, mostly Palestinian, male prisoners, who were turned over to the Christian Phalange. Most have never been seen again. On September 11, 2001, Fisk was on a flight to the United States, and he was putting the final touches on a story revisiting the 1982 massacres.
His eventful career spans two Israeli invasions, the rise and fall of Syrian suzerainty in Lebanon, the eight-year war launched when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, the defeat of the Soviet army in Afghanistan, the Algerian civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and, of course, September 11 and its aftermath. During the civil war in Algeria, which erupted in 1992 after the army canceled elections the Islamists were poised to win, Fisk was one of the few reporters writing for an English-language paper to report from the ravaged former French colony, where perhaps 200,000 died at the hands of government forces or Islamist insurgents. His seventy-page chapter encompassing Algeria's victorious revolution to break free of Paris, the accelerating decay of the authoritarian single-party state that emerged in 1962 and the calamitous civil war that raged for most of the 1990s could easily be a fine stand-alone essay on a society nearly eviscerated by violence.
Fisk's writing has always been notable for its graphic depictions of violence. He jerks our heads and forces us to gaze upon disemboweled corpses, decimated families and the anguish of war's victims, as if he wanted to infuse our nostrils with the secondhand stench of death. He has no patience for the Gameboy euphemisms--target-rich environments, collateral damage, surgical strikes--so favored by cable news coverage of America's wars.
Although it is not his intention, Fisk's parade of dreadfully suffering victims can lead to a kind of numbing war porn. "Please stop," I found myself muttering, "you've made your point." He notes that "war is also a vicarious, painful, attractive, unique experience for a journalist. Somehow that narcotic has to be burned off. If it's not, the journalist may well die." Perhaps Fisk is himself addicted to war. I suspect that he needs to feed the habit.
He writes wearing a hairshirt of empathy for the victims of oppression, never more notoriously than when, in 2001, he was nearly murdered by angry Afghans in a war-ravaged village on the border with Pakistan. "If I were an Afghan refugee," Fisk wrote from his hospital bed, "I would have attacked Robert Fisk. Or any other Westerner I could find." His adversaries had a field day of schadenfreude. The Wall Street Journal editorialized that he had finally gotten "his due," suggesting that his defense of the attackers was tantamount to absolving mass murderers, particularly the nineteen perpetrators of the September 11 terrorist attacks, of their crimes. Fisk has done nothing of the sort, in fact, and he makes no secret of his loathing of the terrorists responsible for the attacks. But he insists on providing a context for Al Qaeda's atrocities, something that infuriates many people who prefer the convenient simplicity of a black-and-white world. He had the effrontery to suggest that US policy, including its skewed stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict, has something to do with the enmity and distrust that America faces not just in the Middle East but in much of the world:
No, Israel was not to blame for what happened on September 11th, 2001. The culprits were Arabs, not Israelis. But America's failure to act with honour in the Middle East, its promiscuous sale of missiles to those [i.e., the IDF in particular] who use them against civilians, its blithe disregard for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children under sanctions of which Washington was the principal supporter--all these were intimately related to the society that produced the Arabs who plunged New York into an apocalypse of fire.
Fisk's trenchant criticism of US Middle East policy has doubtless opened doors for him in the region (Osama bin Laden, for one, has praised his objectivity), but it also raises suspicion in the West, especially in the United States. Fisk does not help his case with his often strident prose and intemperate criticism, not to mention the egocentrism that runs through much of his reporting. There is a clear line between acceptable criticism and irresponsible insinuation, and Fisk sometimes crosses it. Consider, for example, his gloss on the bedlam and looting that marked the first days of the occupation of Baghdad, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld quipped that "stuff happens," evidently unaware of the occupier's responsibilities under international law. That there was no serious effort to bring the looting to a halt for days--even as the oil ministry was protected by American troops--reflects a level of strategic stupidity that has haunted the United States in Iraq ever since. This is fair game for tough reporting by Fisk and others. Fisk goes on, however, to hint that the looters were organized by some dark force--not Saddam's deposed regime but Iraqis presumably allied with the United States. He asks the conspiracy theorist's "who benefits" question: In whose interest is it for Iraq to be deconstructed, divided, burned, de-historied, destroyed? Like many people in the region that has been his home for the past three decades, Fisk seems to think the United States is capable of anything--anything, that is, except incompetence.
Yet for Americans fed a bland diet of government-manipulated news about the Middle East, The Great War for Civilisation should be a bracing, troubling book. American journalism does not come off well, although Fisk doffs his cap to several veteran reporters, including John Kifner of the New York Times and the late Peter Jennings. During the 1991 Gulf War, he writes, journalists became "mere cyphers, mouthpieces of generals, discreetly avoiding any moral questions, switching off their cameras--as we would later witness--when the horrors of war became too obvious. Journalists connived in the war, supported it, became part of it. Immaturity, inexperience, upbringing: you can choose any excuse you want. But they created war without death. They lied." (Fisk has never been accused of mincing words.) The ease with which the mainstream media became accomplices to the White House in the rush to war in Iraq less than three years ago suggests that Fisk's charges apply with equal force today.
The New York Times comes in for particularly tough criticism in Fisk's book. He accuses the Times of being gutless for its elliptical coverage of Iraq's use of chemical weapons in the Iran-Iraq War (1980-88). Fisk was one of the few Western journalists who reported from both the Iranian and Iraqi fronts during the war, and he wrote of Saddam's use of gas several years before Iraq's defiance of Washington made it politically acceptable to do so in the paper of record. His description of riding on a troop train returning casualties from the front is a rejoinder to the Gray Lady's doubts (at the time) about the Iraqi use of gas:
Then I pull open the connecting door of the next carriage and they are sitting in there by the dozen, the young soldiers and Revolutionary Guards of the Islamic Republic, coughing softly into tissues and gauze cloths. Some are in open carriages, others crammed into compartments, all slowly dribbling blood and mucus from their mouths and noses.
Times columnist Thomas Friedman, described as "messianic" and featured for certitudes with short half-lives, might wonder what Fisk would write about him were he not a "friend" from their days in Lebanon during the civil war, when Friedman made a name for himself as a fine, honest war reporter. Policy experts are not spared either, including the Brookings Institution's Kenneth Pollack, who is assailed for his "most meretricious" book The Threatening Storm, which convinced many liberal intellectuals to endorse the Iraq War. As Fisk notes, the book was no less flawed and biased in its blinkered assumptions than the Bush Administration's self-deceptive paradigm of Iraq.
But in decrying the timorousness of intellectuals, he makes his own no less bold claims to special knowledge, if not truth, grounded in appreciation of history's lessons in the Middle East. One of those lessons is that foreign intervention typically leads to catastrophe, particularly for the region's residents and often for the intervening state. There is precedent for the claim, including Lebanon in the early 1980s and Iran in the 1970s. Yet reading The Great War for Civilisation the credulous reader would imagine that the US invasion of Afghanistan was wholly unpopular with the Afghans. In fact, the toppling of the Taliban, while not universally applauded, was welcomed by many, many Afghans. He even wrote in 2003 that the American mission in the country was "collapsing," which reveals that Fisk may sometimes be as blinkered as those he derides.
Fisk also has an unfortunate weakness for lazy harangues, as in his evocation of the buildup to the war against Saddam Hussein:
This war, about oil and regional control, was being cheer-led by a president who was treacherously telling us that this was part of an eternal war against "terror." The British and most Europeans didn't believe him. It's not that Britons wouldn't fight for America. They just didn't want to fight for Bush or his friends. And if that included the prime minister, they didn't want to fight for Blair either. Still less did they wish to embark on endless wars with a Texas governor-executioner who dodged the Vietnam draft and who, with his oil buddies, was now sending America's poor to destroy a Muslim nation that had nothing at all to do with the crimes against humanity of 11 September 2001.
Fisk is at his best when he gets off his soapbox and concentrates on his strengths: telling the stories of history's victims and exposing the lies of the powerful. Some of the most impressive writing in The Great War for Civilisation, which ranges across a century of regional conflict, explores events that took place decades before the author's birth, notably the Armenian genocide of 1915, the subject of a chapter titled "The First Holocaust." Fisk's prodigious skills as a narrator are on vivid display in his moving account of Armenians marching off to death, based on interviews he conducted with survivors living their last days in a home for the blind in Beirut. "The First Holocaust" will make it more difficult for Turkey and its well-placed friends (among them Princeton historian Bernard Lewis, a favored guest at the Vice Presidential mansion) to sustain its campaign of denial.
The Great War for Civilisation is also peopled with extraordinary characters, whom Fisk wisely allows to speak for themselves in all their fascinating--and disconcerting--dissonance. When he meets Mikhail Kalashnikov at an international arms fair in Abu Dhabi, the inventor of the eponymous rifle assures him that good prevails in the end and that "the time will come when my weapons will be no more used or necessary." (Needless to say, Fisk does not share his optimism.) And there are indelible scenes, notably an interview in Iran's Qasr prison with Sadeq Khalkhali, the infamous cleric who summarily dispatched many functionaries of the Shah's regime to the firing squad. While offering a religious defense of stoning, Khalkhali attacks a tub of ice cream, digging "his little spoon into the melting white ice-cream, oblivious to the bare-headed prisoners who trudged past behind him, heaving barrels loaded with cauldrons of vegetable soup." Not far away women in chadors, clutching children, seek the release of their imprisoned husbands, but the smiling Khalkhali pays them no mind.
Fisk is sometimes rather too eager for the spotlight, making himself a character in the dramas he reports. Writing of the assassination of Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr, a leading Iraqi Shiite cleric, he says, "Only when I asked to visit Najaf in [July] 1980 did a Baath Party official tell the truth." But my recollection (I was then in Lebanon) was that months before his "scoop" there was no lack of knowledge about the savage killing of the revered cleric in Abu Ghraib prison. Sadr died as nails were driven into his head, after he was forced to watch the abuse and then execution of his sister, Bint Huda. Still, Fisk has captured many a scoop during his long and distinguished career, from his reporting on Sabra and Shatila to his revelations that the Iranian passenger jet blasted out of the air in 1988 by the USS Vincennes was identified by other American naval vessels as a civilian plane on a routine, scheduled flight, contrary to official US claims at the time.
What is more, he has been especially fearless in uncovering official deception, as in his reporting on Israel's siege of the West Bank in 2002, when Palestinian residences and government offices were ransacked, pillaged and smeared with feces. Israel tried futilely to dismiss reports as "baseless incitement whipped up by the Palestinian Authority," but the stories by Fisk and others proved otherwise. He contrasts American journalists "who report in so craven a fashion from the Middle East--so fearful of Israeli criticism that they turn Israeli murder into 'targeted attacks' and illegal settlements into 'Jewish neighborhoods'" with their Israeli colleagues, notably Ha'aretz's Ramallah correspondent Amira Hass, who abjures pablum and writes with deep moral insight about Israelis and Palestinians.
Although he is often vilified by Israel's friends for his criticisms of the Jewish state, Fisk is no less scathing about the late Yasir Arafat and other Arab and Muslim politicians and despots, many of whom, he notes, have benefited from the self-interested patronage of the powerful, including the United States. After the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, the United States and Israel were content to allow Arafat to establish himself as a petty autocrat, one of a number of aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Fisk treats in a fifty-page chapter and at various other points in his book. A different choice might have been made by insisting on building democratic political structures in Palestine. Instead, there was a myopic focus on Israeli "security," with Arafat cast as Israel's gendarme in Palestine. In 1994 I asked Yossi Beilin at a private meeting in Boston whether a peace built between societies would be more durable than one made by forging a deal with Arafat and his cronies. Beilin was then Deputy Foreign Minister in the government of Yitzhak Rabin, and he was a key architect of the Oslo "peace process." He replied impatiently: "The Palestinian state is going to be a dictatorship just like all the other Arab states." As Fisk notes, neither the Israelis nor the Americans objected to Arafat's allergy to democracy until the outbreak of the second intifada, when the call for Palestinian political reform became a virtual mantra in Washington and Tel Aviv:
Far from condemning the ever-increasing signs of despotism on the other side of their border, the Israelis lavished only praise on Arafat's new security measures. U.S. State Department spokesmen, while making routine reference to their "concern" for human rights, welcomed and congratulated Arafat on the vitality of his secret midnight courts--a fact bitterly condemned by Amnesty International. Equally secret meetings of Arafat's inner cabinet, which led to mass arrests of political opponents, were ignored by the U.S. administration.
After the assassination of Rabin in 1995, the Clinton Administration pursued an anemic policy vis-à-vis the new Likud government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Clinton privately characterized Netanyahu as unable to "recognize the humanity of the Palestinians," but the Israeli prime minister was permitted to undermine the very peace process Clinton had welcomed with ceremony and fanfare on the White House lawn in 1993.
Only in his last six months in office did Clinton get out front on peacemaking, first through an enormous effort at the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000 and then at Taba in the Sinai. Arafat was unfairly condemned by Clinton for sabotaging the effort because he would not accept then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak's take-it-or-leave-it offer. Even so, in the final months of the Clinton Administration the Palestinians and Israelis came close to nailing down the details of an agreement, but the new Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, was uninterested in a deal that would jeopardize his beloved West Bank settlements. The new American President, George W. Bush, espoused no interest in Middle East peacemaking and certainly did not want sloppy seconds to the despised Clinton. In any case, Bush's fixation was Iraq.
By the time Arafat died, in 2004--unmourned by Washington, hounded and surrounded by Sharon--he had long since become the villain, the sole "obstacle to peace." Then Israel departed forlorn Gaza, and in return "vast areas of the Palestinian West Bank would now become Israeli, courtesy of President Bush." With characteristic sarcasm, Fisk wonders about Bush: "Does he actually work for al-Qaeda?"
Few reporters in the West have gotten as close to the leader of Al Qaeda as Fisk, who landed two meetings with Osama bin Laden: the first in Khartoum in 1993, the second in Afghanistan in 1996. His accounts of the meetings are valuable for revealing bin Laden's concern for the fate of the Palestinians, which is often glossed as opportunistic by Western observers, as well as his contemplative demeanor and his confidence that "sooner or later the Americans will leave Saudi Arabia" and that "the war declared by America against the Saudi people means war against all Muslims everywhere." "Resistance against America will spread in many, many places in Muslim countries," he tells Fisk. Later, in February 2003, as the United States was poised to invade Iraq, bin Laden seized the opportunity to mobilize Muslims against the invaders and grasped the need to put aside his differences with secular Muslims opposed to America's presence in Iraq: "Despite our belief and our proclamation concerning the infidelity of socialists [i.e., Baathists], in present-day circumstances there is a coincidence of interests between Muslims and socialists in their battles against the Crusaders." This was bin Laden's call to arms in Iraq.
Yet Fisk fails to put bin Laden in context. Considering the many years that he has lived in and reported from the Middle East--and the formidable heft of his book--it's striking that he has not provided readers with a richer sense of the weave and texture of Muslim societies, where bin Laden's pursuit of cataclysm is widely abhorred and rejected, even as it inspires worrying numbers of jihadists to join the battle. Indeed, by the end of The Great War for Civilisation the reader is left with an extraordinary Hieronymus Bosch regional mural in mind. It is fascinating to gaze upon, often grotesque, but also quite incomplete. Not only does Fisk risk reducing complex societies to war zones, in a kind of anti-imperialist version of Orientalism; he also risks suggesting that most of the tensions and conflicts in the region, including the struggle over the meaning of Islam and Islamist politics, are simply a reaction to Western interference. The rise of the Arab Shiites, for example, has arguably more to do with local politics (and intra-Muslim struggles) than international relations--although nothing is merely local anymore. Fisk has an "externalist" view of the region, despite having lived there for decades. And one hardly gets a flavor of the various cultures within it. This is a systematic shortcoming of the book, which presents the Middle East as a cockpit of bloodshed and sorrow, not as a place where people face mundane challenges that ultimately must be addressed peacefully.

The Great War for Civilisation is 1,000-plus pages of history with attitude. It is not an impartial reading of contemporary Middle East history, but it is generally clear-eyed and consistently unflinching. The book seals Robert Fisk's place as a venerable, indispensable contributor to informed debate in and about the Middle East. If there are no realistic remedies on offer, there is generous informed criticism and a storehouse of rare detail and erudite reportage that serve as testimony to an exceptional career, one that is unmatched in its sustained intensity, moral introspection and courage. Lieut. William Fisk would be proud.

Source: http://www.world-religion-watch.org/index.php/book-reviews-on-relevant-religious-and-cultural-issues/323-fisk-great-war-civilization
Robert Fisk, longtime Middle East correspondent for what seems like much of the English-speaking world, has been on-call in the region for over 30 years. First as overseas reporter for The Times, and, since the late 1980s, for the London Independent, Fisk has acquired a wide and perceptive knowledge of the area. He is one of the few international correspondents to actually live there on a permanent basis (Beirut), and one of the fewer still who has learned to speak Arabic.

The author started off journalistic life serving as The Times' Northern Ireland correspondent from 1969-1975 where he reported on the burgeoning ethno-political conflict (later writing two books on the subject), before moving briefly to Portugal to report on the post-Salazar changeover to democracy. He decamped to Lebanon in 1976, where he remains to this day.

The title of the work is to be considered ironic in the extreme, taken as it is from a campaign medal his father won as a British officer in the First World War - "the war to end all wars". Fisk's deep-seated aversion to war and the very many "idiots in authority" who conduct it, stems, at least in part, from the experience his father, Bill, underwent in the trenches, and the blasé iniquity with which "deskbound" generals sent hundreds of thousands of Allied soldiers to their deaths.
The Conquest of the Middle East

The book is quite literally an all-enveloping history of the region since the end of the First World War. Fisk begins the book with a riveting account of his first meeting with Al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden. Being one of the few (if not the only) Western journalists trusted to give a "neutral" account of the goings on in the Middle East by Bin Laden, Fisk's access is unsurprising, but it can only make for fascinating reading. Following this encounter, he proceeds to expound upon his reporting experiences throughout the region, and what they've taught him.

The conclusion to the book's opening interview also reveals what will become a key element throughout: Fisk's corrosive skepticism towards those in authority, be they Islamist rebels, neoconservative Americans or misinformed British parliamentarians.

The repeating of historical mistakes by the Great Powers is a constant theme, whether it concerns the drawing of divisive borders by the British in Afghanistan or the breaking of their promises to the locals in mandate-era Iraq (an act to be repeated in many ways, as Fisk sees it, by both they and the United States in 2003). In many ways, Fisk's work is an iconoclastic one, smashing many of the preconceived notions concerning just what the West gets up to abroad. Indeed, perhaps purposely, historical lessons repeatedly go unlearnt. A corollary to this can be found in the fact that intervention is quite often a favoured policy in the short term, but has the knack of turning into a spectacular failure later on - Operation Ajax and the 1953 destruction of Iranian democracy by the CIA and British intelligence is specifically referenced.

The author also underlines the sheer hypocrisy incumbent in the arena of international affairs. One well-known example dates from 1983, when U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld lauded Saddam Hussein as "our friend in the region", and helped arm the Iraqi Army in their fight against Revolutionary Iran, yet 20 years later, in 2003 he branded him a threat to world peace. The curious fact that Saddam remained the same brutal dictator throughout was, unsurprisingly, never broached. His reporting of the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan, and the reaction to it in the West, is an interesting adjunct to this.

The Arab-Israeli conflict, as one might expect, forms a key marker in the book. Fisk reminds the reader that there are two very real sides to the story, and both are, in a sense, victims of history. Terrorism, we are told, is a fluid concept. Before 1948, Jewish terror groups like the Irgun and Stern Gang roamed Palestine creating murder and mayhem in their pursuance of immediate British withdrawal and the establishment of a Jewish state, yet today the same men are proclaimed as national heroes by many Israelis. The aftermath of the 1948 War of Independence, or Nakba ("Catastrophe") as the Palestinians term it, defines relations to this day.

The reader gets the sense that Fisk identifies with the Palestinian in the same sense that he seems to identify with all "oppressed" peoples: the Irish under British rule, the Algerians under French rule, and then under the yoke of their own government and the terrorists of the GIA, the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks, or the Jews of World War II.

The author also explores the moves behind the two state solution (and supports it), but is unyieldingly critical of Israel's settlement (or colonization, as Fisk puts it) policy in the West Bank, and attacks launched, either directly or indirectly, on civilians in Palestine and elsewhere (cf. Sabra and Shatila etc.)

An interesting facet of the book is the telling of how history can be ever so subtly explained away in order to fit in with currently en vogue political alliances. A pertinent example is the handling of the genocide of the Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks in 1915. He notes that many world leaders have shied away from calling the event what it was, organized mass murder - leaders who were more concerned about political bargaining than fidelity to the victims of history. He also relates U.S. promises to pass resolutions recognizing the genocide, but then shy away when Turkey, a crucial NATO ally, cried foul.

The author insists throughout on bringing exhaustive realism to the table: half-hangings in Iran, mass murder in Algeria, torture in Lebanon, pictures are painted in excruciating detail. The realities of conflict cannot be evaded with Fisk. The region often seems to be nothing more than a deeply disturbing "vast chamber of horrors."

He concludes the work tellingly, if pessimistically: "We have to accept our tragedy lies always in our past, we have to live with our ancestors' folly and suffer for it, just as they in turn suffered.....How to correct history, that's the thing".

For the critical reader, there is much to admire in Fisk's account. He personally experienced the vast majority of events he writes about, and does it candidly and without fear. He criticizes both sides of the divide when necessary (cf. the account of the aftermath of the Iranian Revolution, amongst others). To use a colloquialism, he tells it like he sees it.

If there is any reservation to be had about the book, one might conclude that a long experience of reporting on violence and mayhem has led the author too far into the path of cynicism. Fisk sees little honour on any side, especially that of the Great Powers. They are forever ignorant of history and concentrated on their own parochial interests, interests which almost inevitably conflict with those of the peoples they try to dominate. He is especially critical of current Israeli policy, policy which he believes short-sighted and at times horrendously counterproductive. There is much to say for this view. Yet his subconscious identification with the oppressed of all hues and colours may, at times, lead him to ignore the wider political realities of a situation, and criticize where perhaps it might be more realistic to compromise.

If anything, the Great War for Civilization shows the gritty background to what we now call "the War on Terror". As in most conflict situations, the blame often lies on both sides. Perhaps the most honest conclusion one can make in relation Fisk's account is to paraphrase Charles De Gaulle's old maxim, there is no real sense of right or wrong in international politics, only interests. For any student of the Middle East and the modern "War on Terror", The Great War for Civilization is an invaluable guide.

Source: http://technicallypossible.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/the-great-war-for-civilisation-robert-fisk-book-review/

This book is a tome. It weighs in at 1286 pages and another 50 pages of bibliography and notes. It has taken me the best part of 6 months of reading – in bits and pieces – to get through it. Probably because of the way I read it, but also because of the sheer depth and breadth of what is covered in this book, I don’t have a quick summary. I can only tell you my learnings and lasting images. These aren’t pretty images and this is not a book for the faint hearted.

Thishad 2 main themes for me – The personal story of Mr. Robert Fisk – Reporter Extraordinaire, of how he dodges bullets and obstacles and gets the story back to the press office in London, and of history, a history which so few of us know about but we can see it being repeated over and over again.

Fisk’s writing is very emotional and personal. Its not a history book by any stretch of imagination but history is a very important aspect of it. Fisk is fairly balanced at most times but does come across strongly on a few things. The excitement in this book come from first hand accounts of Fisk’s experiences in covering the Palestinian situation, the Iran Iraq War, the first gulf War, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and finally the post 9/11 mess in the middle east. From being handed a soviet rifle by a soldier for self protection while travelling with the “enemy” during the cold war, to dodging bullets on both sides of the front line in the Iran-Iraq war. First hand accounts of the sheer madness of war – of young teenage Iranian militia-men going back from the battle reading the Koran while they spit blood after inhaling Saddam’s nerve gas, to teenage American soldiers who have left their homes not knowing why they are out in a godforsaken desert halfway across the world, waiting to go back. Unfortunately, given the climate in which this book was released, his interviews with Osama bin Laden have been played up quite a bit. But in my opinion, that is not even remotely as interesting as his descriptions of other experiences.

He comes off very strongly against the hypocrisy of Western democracies. For example, the US armed Saddam’s military (the funds were primarily from Saudi Arabia) and the Germans sold them nerve gas during the Iran-Iraq war. Israel and the US sold weapons to Iran which were made in the US. They even accepted an apology from Saddam for killing 37 American soldiers on the USS Starc at one point. And when it is convenient to label Saddam as a monster – they do. Again, in such cases, the culpability of the press in western democracies – always plying the government line – meant that such flagrant abuses of sensibilities were rarely noticed or acted on by the voters. Fisk also talks about something which I have noticed myself much earlier - the way in which the press has misused the words “terrorist” and “terror” and dehumanised the entire Muslim world in the west.

Finally, there are a number of events which we were never taught in school – some which were downright horrifying. One of them which stands out is the shooting down of an Iranian passenger aircraft by an American cruiser in 1988. All 290 civilians were killed including 66 children. Subsequently, the US government said they “regretted” the loss of life but never apologised. In fact the crew of the battle cruiser were awarded medals.

Another, is the chain of massacres which took place in and around the Lebanese Civil War and later involving the Israeli Phalangist Militia. The loss of life is astounding-

Karantina Massacre (Jan 18, 1976) - 1000-1500 dead

Damour Massacre (Jan 20, 1976) – 150-582 dead

Sabra and Shatila Massacre ( 16-18 Sept, 1982) 762-3500 dead

No one knows the exact numbers of people who were killed and the numbers have been disputed with each interested party claiming the figure to be closer to what would be good for their cause. In some ways I can imagine these accounts being similar to those which surround the partition of India, though thankfully not at that scale. But I have felt that Indians forget more easily than other cultures – and long may it be so. The book covers so much more death and destruction which comes back to me in waves as I write this. But there is no way to put it across in a little review like this. The pictures of the horrors of war are something which every person, I believe, should have in their mind. Because if they do, they would never wish for war.

If there are 2 lessons that I have from this book, they are:

1. That you can’t trust what you see in the news. Ever. There is another side to the story and that side is ugly. No one will show you this because you won’t be able to take it.

2. The whole issue with the Middle East was caused due to Western powers’ political deals at the end of World War I. If you don’t meddle in others’ issues they won’t meddle in yours.


Robert Fisk’s Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf)
reviewed by Matthew Abraham

The name “Robert Fisk” has become synonymous with dangerous truth-telling in his reporting about the Middle East—truth-telling of a kind so rare in journalistic circles that those seeking to suppress the facts about what the Western powers have done to the region and its people usually resort to the usual defamation about how Fisk is anti-American and anti-Semitic. Fisk’s truth-telling is of a sort that must be shunned and avoided by the cowardly corporate media and its host of watchdogs who seek to make the likes of Fisk ancient history. If telling the truth is considered a revolutionary act in deceitful times Fisk has consistently violated the central taboos on Middle East reporting, repeatedly putting U.S. journalists to shame for their participation in a large-scale cover-up. His example needs to be learned from and emulated. What does it mean that truth-telling has become such an anomaly, such a dangerous act, that Fisk is part of a small handful of alternatives to the U.S. media’s perversion of reality? Fisk’s persistent and dogged example forces us to ask that question.

It would be a terrific understatement to claim that Robert Fisk has written an impressive book with his The Great War for Civilisation. The book is more than impressive—it is daunting and intimidating in its display of utter mastery of the modern history of the Middle East. Writing Middle East history, or at least the kind of history that most Western journalists have found themselves unable to tell, has been Fisk’s specialty for nearly fifty years.

“Journalists,” according to Fisk, are charged “with writing the first page of history.” Or to borrow from Ha’aretz reporter, Amira Hass, the journalist is supposed “to monitor the centers of power.” Fisk has established a reputation for telling the world the truth, in all its gory details, in his reporting on Middle East politics for The Independent. This has made him a rare commodity—someone who is willing to tell the truth, no matter how unpopular, about U.S., British, and Israeli neocolonialism in Iraq, Iran, Palestine, etc. His is a voice that is trusted because it will not accommodate itself to the dictates of Realpolitick, something most mainstream media sources capitulated to long ago. “I am neither a lion nor a mouse, but I can be a tough dog, and when I get a rope between my teeth I won’t let go until I shake it and tug it something rotten to see what lies at the other end. That, after all, is what journalists are supposed to do” (270).

When we journalists fail to get across the reality of events to our readers, we have not only failed in our job; we have also become a party to the bloody events that we are supposed to be reporting. If we cannot tell the truth about the shooting down of a civilian airliner—because this will harm “our” side in a war or because it will cast one of our “hate” countries in the role of victim or because it might upset the owner of our newspaper—then we contribute to the very prejudices that provoke wars in the first place…. Journalism can be lethal (271).

In this 1100-page book, where he includes thirty years of reporting on everything from the Armenian Holocaust denial in Turkey, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, the rise of Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of that war, the first Gulf war, the last ten years of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the aftermath of 9/11, we obtain a glimpse of Fisk’s deep commitment to humanity, his belief in human morality, and human decency. No Western reporter knows the politics of the Middle East better than Robert Fisk, but Fisk represents more than just a seasoned and knowledgeable reporter—his reporting represents a stentorian voice beckoning us to look closely at the major players and events in the Middle East. He is in the league of intellectuals such as I.F. Stone, Hannah Arendt, Edward Said, and Noam Chomsky in his determination to tell the truth the consequences be damned. He has been the target of abuse and vilification, including among those he presumably was defending in print.

Fisk not only narrates the great dramas of the region over the last several years, but provides the detailed historical context for those events, enabling his readers to really understand the basis for the indigenous population’s grievances against the great powers. His knowledge of the political landscape in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine makes his narration seem nearly effortless. However, Fisk is a more than a mere storyteller; indeed, he is also a chronicler of grave injustices. Along with a few intrepid Israeli journalists (Amira Hass, the late Tanya Reinhart, and Gideon Levy) he has reported on the imperial plundering of the region with an unmatchable eloquence and passion. For example, his Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon is the most moving journalistic account we have of the 1982 Lebanon War and is considered by many the quintessential history of Israel’s invasion, euphemistically dubbed “Peace for Galilee,” and its aftermath.

Fisk has a unique ability to recuperate the lost voices of those who have suffered at the hands of imperial violence, voices drowned out by the patriotic fervor and the denials accompanying the lame excuses of those who refuse to stand up against the abuses of power. In his eloquence and the thoroughness of his prose, once catches a glimpse of the desperation within the human condition, the extraordinary acts of courage emerging out of humiliation and injustice. He helps his readers to understand why Palestinian men and women living in the occupied territories become suicide bombers, who are willing to die as martyrs and leave their families behind, rather than to live as caged animals for the amusement of Israeli colons. Fisk refuses the facile formulations of the media pundits who speak of “homicide bombers,” a perverse reversal of cause and effect, a shift in emphasis from the oppressive conditions of occupation that produce a suicide to the status of the innocents, who may have prospered and enjoyed a good life as a result of the oppressive conditions that produced the suicide itself. Fisk fully exposes the extent of Israel’s utter destruction of the Palestinian biopolitical.

As the prospects for something called “Middle East peace” become increasingly elusive, with escalating violence a near certainty in the Israel-Palestine conflict and Iraq, and a possible U.S.-Israeli strike against purported nuclear targets in Iran, the region is posed for the kind of cataclysmic violence prophetic voices like Noam Chomsky and the late Israel Shahak warned us about sometime ago. That Fisk has taken on about the formidable task of warning Western readers of the coming firestorm out of the Middle East with such single-mindedness is a testament to his journalistic integrity, as well as an indication of how power conditions both the production and reception of the news.

Fisk forces his readers to dig deep within themselves to explore the depths of this region’s tragedy, which places the entire world on a dangerous precipice. “This is a book about torture and humiliation,” and I would add, greed and betrayal. To what should we attribute the deep psychological Western resistance to understanding the conditions under which Arabs live in the Middle East, particularly the seemingly inexplicable intransigence to exploring the possibility that many of the Arab world’s grievances against the West have some basis in actually historical events, and are not simply the figments of a few extremists’ imaginations? It is to this predicament that Robert Fisk has turned in his journalistic coverage of the Middle East. Why do people turn away from the horrific suffering, avoidable suffering, produced by their governments, when that suffering is so easily avoidable? Perhaps, as Fisk, points out “Much of the violence throughout the world comes back ‘Made in the U.S.A.’” (529).

In 1996, when Fisk delivered the hell fire missiles used by an American-made Israeli Apache against a Lebanese ambulance (killing four children and two women) to the Boeing executives in Seattle, Washington who were far removed from the violence of the human corpses produced by U.S. and Israeli military adventurism—Fisk is told, “We just sell missiles. We can’t be responsible for what’s done with them?” “Whatever you do…,” implored these powerful men at Boeing, do not mention the use of these missiles in relation to Israel. This is how the Israel Lobby has made even grown men afraid for their “careers.” That perceptions have to be structured so as to disable critical thought on crucial questions about the current state of affairs in the Middle East should given one pause. How, for example, can one avoid facing 1) the legitimacy of the grievances of those Palestinian Arabs living in the Occupied Territories who are on the receiving end of the well-honed U.S. military machine; 2) the complicity of those who speak of the U.S. brokering a peace process between Israel and the Palestinians; 3) and the gross distortion of the historical and diplomatic record by the U.S. press.

The use of American armaments against Arabs by Israel has been one of the most provocative sources of anger in the Middle East, and the narrative of their use is almost as important as the political conflict between Israel and its enemies. For it is one thing to know that Washington claims to be a “neutral partner” in Middle East peace negotiations while supporting one side—Israel—in all its demands; it is quite another when the armaments Israel employs to enforce its will—weapons that kill and tear apart Arabs—carry the engraved evidence of their manufacture in the United States (762).

Fisk will not allow us to so easily avoid this unpleasantness, these facts of history, and, yes, the price of occupation and brutality. He takes us straight into the eyes of those who terrorize “us”.

We are able to obtain a direct path into Osama Bin Laden’s thinking in the opening chapter of The Great War for Civilisation where Fisk provides us with a glimpse of Bin Laden’s egomania, as well as some insight into his justified outrage at U.S. and Israeli policy in the region:

Bin Laden was speaking slowly and with precision, an Egyptian taking notes in a large exercise book by the lamplight like a Middle Ages scribe. “This doesn’t mean declaring war against the West and Western people—but against the American regime which is against every American.” I interrupted bin Laden.

Unlike Arab regimes, I said, the people in the United States elected their government. They would say that their government represents them. He disregarded my comment. I hope he did. For in the years to come, his war would embrace the deaths of thousands of American civilians.

Fisk explains the depths of Arab anger against the West and its colonial wars since 1917, when the Balfour Declaration offered to create a Jewish national home in Palestine. One-time Jewish terrorists are now Israeli war heroes and prime ministers, feted heads of state, and much-revered spokesmen for the “War on Terror”. Begin, Shamir, Dayan, Sharon, Netanyahu, Barak, Rabin, and many others have sown as much terror as they have sought to eradicate—each has been on both sides of state terror. While the phrase “Jewish terrorist” is unheard of in contemporary media discourse, as the racial privilege Israelis enjoy over their Palestinian adversaries is never mentioned, it is important to remember that Israel was born out of Jewish terror and the place of this terror in Bin Laden’s seething anger against the Western powers:

Looking back now, knowing what we know, understanding the monstrous beast-figure he would become in the collective imagination of the world, I search for some clue, the tiniest piece of evidence, that this man would inspire an act that would change the world forever—or, more to the point, allow an American president to persuade his people that the world has changed forever (7).

One can look back now, nearly eight years later, at the 2001 publication of “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” and remember Walter Benjamin’s famous statement in his “Seventh Thesis on Philosophy” that “There is no document of culture that is not at the same time a document of barbarism” and conclude that barbarism indeed begins with the military planners who express their will-for-domination on paper even before the firing of the first missile or the slaying of the first victim.

Fisk was nearly stoned to death by the Afghani refuges of Kila Abdullah shortly after 9/11at the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, an event which many of his critics in the United States greeted with more than a little joy. See Fisk’s “If I Was an Afghan I Too Might Have Attacked Robert Fisk” at HYPERLINK "http://www.counterpunch.org/fiskbeaten.html" http://www.counterpunch.org/fiskbeaten.html (accessed on September 20th, 2009). As Fisk writes, “And -- I realised -- there were all the Afghan men and boys who had attacked me who should never have done so but whose brutality was entirely the product of others, of us -- of we who had armed their struggle against the Russians and ignored their pain and laughed at their civil war and then armed and paid them again for the "War for Civilisation" just a few miles away and then bombed their homes and ripped up their families and called them "collateral damage."

See Chomsky’s The Fateful Triangle: The United States, Israel, and the Palestinians and Shahak’s Open Secrets.

The Great War for Civilization

Feature Article by Robert Fisk, October 2005

Exclusive to Socialist Review, we print extracts from award-winning journalist Robert Fisk's forthcoming book The Great War for Civilisation

From the Preface

When I was a small boy, my father would take me each year around the battlefields of the First World War, the conflict that H.G. Wells called 'the war to end all wars'. We would set off each summer in our Austin Mayflower and bump along the potholed roads of the Somme, Ypres and Verdun. By the time I was 14, I could recite the names of all the offensives: Bapaume, Hill 60, High Wood, Passchendaele... I had seen all the graveyards and I had walked through all the overgrown trenches, and touched the rusted helmets of British soldiers and the corroded German mortars in decaying museums. My father was a soldier of the Great War, fighting in the trenches of France because of a shot fired in a city he'd never heard of called Sarajevo. And when he died 13 years ago at the age of 93, I inherited his campaign medals. One of them depicts a winged victory and on the obverse side are engraved the words: 'The Great War for Civilisation'.

To my father's deep concern and my mother's stoic acceptance, I have spent much of my life in wars. They, too, were fought 'for civilisation'. In Afghanistan, I watched the Russians fighting for their 'international duty' in a conflict against 'international terror'; their Afghan opponents, of course, were fighting against 'Communist aggression' and for Allah. I reported from the front lines as the Iranians struggled through what they called the 'Imposed War' against Saddam Hussein - who dubbed his 1980 invasion of Iran the 'Whirlwind War.' I've seen the Israelis twice invading Lebanon and then reinvading the Palestinian West Bank in order, so they claimed, to 'purge the land of terrorism'. I was present as the Algerian military went to war with Islamists for the same ostensible reason, torturing and executing their prisoners with as much abandon as their enemies. Then in 1990 Saddam invaded Kuwait and the Americans sent their armies to the Gulf to liberate the emirate and impose a 'New World Order'. In the desert, I always wrote down the words 'new world order' in my notebook followed by a question mark. In Bosnia, I found Serbs fighting for what they called 'Serb civilisation' while their Muslim enemies fought and died for a fading multicultural dream and to save their own lives.

On a mountain top in Afghanistan, I sat opposite Osama Bin Laden in his tent as he uttered his first direct threat against the United States, pausing as I scribbled his words into my notebook by a paraffin lamp. 'God' and 'evil' were what he talked to me about. I was flying over the Atlantic on 11 September 2001 - my plane turned round off Ireland following the attacks on the United States - and so less than three months later I was in Afghanistan, fleeing with the Taliban down a highway west of Kandahar as America bombed the ruins of a country already destroyed by war. I was in the United Nations General Assembly exactly a year later when George Bush talked about 'god' and 'evil' and weapons of mass destruction, and prepared to invade Iraq. The first missiles of that invasion swept over my head in Baghdad. Thus was George Bush's calamitous 'war on terror' given in advance its own supposedly moral foundations.

The direct physical results of all these conflicts will remain - and should remain - in my memory until I die. I don't need to read through my mountain of reporter's notebooks to remember the Iranian soldiers on the troop train north to Tehran, holding towels and coughing up Saddam's gas in gobs of blood and mucus as they read the Koran. I need none of my newspaper clippings to recall the father - after an American cluster-bomb attack on Iraq in 2003 - who held out to me what looked like half a crushed loaf of bread but turned out to be half a crushed baby. Or the mass grave outside Nasiriyah in which I came across the remains of a leg with a steel tube inside and a plastic medical disc still attached to a stump of bone; Saddam's murderers had taken him straight from the hospital where he had his hip replacement to his place of execution in the desert.

I don't have nightmares about these things. But I remember. The head blasted off the body of a Kosovan Albanian refugee in an American air raid four years earlier, bearded and upright in a bright green field as if a medieval axeman has just cut him down. The corpse of a Kosovan farmer murdered by the Serbs, his grave opened by the UN so that he re-emerges from the darkness, bloating in front of us, his belt tightening viciously round his stomach, twice the size of a normal man. The Iraqi soldier at Fao during the Iran-Iraq war who lay curled up like a child in the gun-pit beside me, black with death, a single gold wedding ring glittering on the third finger of his left hand, bright with sunlight and love for a woman who did not know she was a widow. Soldier and civilian, they died in their tens of thousands because death had been concocted for them, morality hitched like a halter round the warhorse so that we could talk about 'target-rich environments' and 'collateral damage' - that most infantile of attempts to shake off the crime of killing - and report the victory parades, the tearing down of statues and the importance of peace.

Governments like it that way. They want their people to see war as a drama of opposites, good and evil, 'them' and 'us', victory or defeat. But war is primarily not about victory or defeat but about death and the infliction of death. It represents the total failure of the human spirit...

When I first set out to write this book, I intended it to be a reporter's chronicle of the Middle East over almost three decades. That is how I wrote my previous book, Pity the Nation, a first-person account of Lebanon's civil war and two Israeli invasions. But as I prowled through the shelves of papers in my library, more than 350,000 documents and notebooks and files, some written under fire in my own hand, some punched onto telegram paper by tired Arab telecommunications operators, many pounded out on the clacking telex machines we used before the internet was invented, I realised that this was going to be more than a chronology of eyewitness reports.

My father, the old soldier of 1918, read my account of the Lebanon war but would not live to see this book. Yet he would always look into the past to understand the present. If only the world had not gone to war in 1914; if only we had not been so selfish in concluding the peace. We victors promised independence to the Arabs and support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Promises are meant to be kept. And so those promises - the Jews naturally thought that their homeland would be in all of Palestine - were betrayed, and the millions of Arabs and Jews of the Middle East are now condemned to live with the results.

In the Middle East, it sometimes feels as if no event in history has a finite end, a crossing point, a moment when we can say: 'Stop - enough - this is where we will break free.' I think I understand that time-warp. My father was born in the century before last. I was born in the first half of the last century. Here I am, I tell myself, in 1980, watching the Soviet army invade Afghanistan, in 1982 cowering in the Iranian front line opposite Saddam's legions, in 2003 observing the first American soldiers of the 3rd Infantry Division cross the great bridge over the Tigris River. And yet the Battle of the Somme opened just 30 years before I was born. Bill Fisk was in the trenches of France three years after the Armenian genocide but only 28 years before my birth. I would be born within six years of the Battle of Britain, just over a year after Hitler's suicide. I saw the planes returning to Britain from Korea and remember my mother telling me in 1956 that I was lucky, that had I been older I would have been a British conscript invading Suez.

If I feel this personally, it is because I have witnessed events that, over the years, can only be defined as an arrogance of power. The Iranians used to call the United States the 'centre of world arrogance', and I would laugh at this, but I have begun to understand what it means. After the Allied victory of 1918, at the end of my father's war, the victors divided up the lands of their former enemies. In the space of just 17 months, they created the borders of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia and most of the Middle East. And I have spent my entire career - in Belfast and Sarajevo, in Beirut and Baghdad - watching the peoples within those borders burn. America invaded Iraq not for Saddam Hussein's mythical 'weapons of mass destruction' - which had long ago been destroyed - but to change the map of the Middle East, much as my father's generation had done more than 80 years earlier.

From Chapter 22 - 'The Die is Cast'

The 5th of February 2003 was a snow-blasted day in New York, the steam whirling out of the road covers, the US secret servicemen - helpfully wearing jackets with 'Secret Service' printed on them - hugging themselves outside the fustian, asbestos-packed UN headquarters on the East River. Exhausted though I was after travelling thousands of miles around the United States, the idea of watching Secretary of State Colin Powell - or General Powell, as he was now being reverently re-dubbed in some American newspapers - make his last pitch for war before the Security Council was an experience not to be missed. In a few days, I would be in Baghdad to watch the start of this frivolous, demented conflict. Powell's appearance at the Security Council was the essential prologue to the tragedy - or tragicomedy if one could contain one's anger - the appearance of the Attendant Lord who would explain the story of the drama, the Horatio to the increasingly unstable Hamlet in the White House.

There was an almost macabre opening to the play when General Powell arrived at the Security Council, cheek-kissing the delegates and winding his great arms around them. CIA director George Tenet stood behind Powell, chunky, aggressive but obedient, just a little bit lip-biting, an Edward G Robinson who must have convinced himself that the more dubious of his information was buried beneath an adequate depth of moral fury and fear to be safely concealed. Just like Bush's appearance at the General Assembly the previous September, you needed to be in the Security Council to see what the television cameras missed. There was a wonderful moment when the little British home secretary Jack Straw entered the chamber through the far right door in a massive power suit, his double-breasted jacket apparently wrapping itself twice around Britain's most famous ex-Trot. He stood for a moment with a kind of semi-benign smile on his uplifted face, his nose in the air as if sniffing for power. Then he saw Powell and his smile opened like an umbrella as his small feet, scuttling beneath him, propelled him across the stage and into the arms of Powell for his big American hug.

You might have thought that the whole chamber, with its toothy smiles and constant handshakes, contained a room full of men celebrating peace rather than war. Alas, not so. These elegantly dressed statesmen were constructing the framework that would allow them to kill quite a lot of people - some of them Saddam's little monsters no doubt, but most of them innocent. When Powell rose to give his terror-talk, he did so with a slow athleticism, the world-weary warrior whose patience had at last reached its end.

But it was an old movie. I should have guessed. Sources, foreign intelligence sources, 'our sources', defectors, sources, sources, sources. Ah, to be so well-sourced when you have already taken the decision to go to war. The Powell presentation sounded like one of those government-inspired reports on the front page of the New York Times - where it was, of course, treated with due reverence the next day. It was a bit like heating up old soup. Hadn't we heard most of this stuff before? Should one trust the man? General Powell, I mean, not Saddam. Certainly we didn't trust Saddam, but Powell's speech was a mixture of awesomely funny recordings of Iraqi Republican Guard telephone intercepts � la Samuel Beckett that just might have been some terrifying proof that Saddam really was conning the UN inspectors again, and ancient material on the Monster of Baghdad's all too well known record of beastliness.

If only we could have heard the Arabic for the State Department's translation of 'OK buddy' - 'Consider it done, sir' - this from the Republican Guard's 'Captain Ibrahim', for heaven's sake. The dinky illustrations of mobile Iraqi bio-labs whose lorries and railway trucks were in such perfect condition suggested the Pentagon didn't have much idea of the dilapidated state of Saddam's railway system, let alone his army. It was when we went back to Halabja and human rights abuses and all Saddam's indubitable sins, as recorded by the discredited Unscom team, that we started eating the old soup again. Jack Straw may have thought all of this 'the most powerful and authoritative case' for war - his ill-considered opinion afterwards - but when we were forced to listen to the Iraqi officer corps communicating by phone - 'Yeah', 'Yeah', 'Yeah?', 'Yeah...' - it was impossible not to ask oneself if Colin Powell had already considered the effect this would have on the outside world. From time to time, the words 'Iraq: Failing To Disarm - Denial and Deception' appeared on the giant video screen behind General Powell. Was this a CNN logo? some of us wondered. But no, it was the work of CNN's sister channel, the US Department of State.

From Chapter 8 - 'Drinking the Poisoned Chalice'

When Khadum Fadel returned to Baghdad after 16 years of incarceration, he could remember only sorrow and hunger and rheumatism in an Iranian camp surrounded by barbed wire and mines, often lying in chains. Many thousands of the Iraqi prisoners came home after ten years of near-starvation in Iranian camps, only to find that American-backed sanctions after the 1991 war in which they had played no part were now starving their families. A whole angry army of ex-prisoners - filled with hatred of Iran, of Saddam and of the United States - were now living in misery and impoverishment in Iraq. Amid the mud and sand, they and the millions of Iraqis who avoided both imprisonment and death had learned to live and to die. They learned to fight. Under the lethal imagination of their dictator, they held the line against Iran. They used their tanks as static gun platforms dug into the desert and they burned their enemies with gas or swamped them with tidal rivers or electrocuted them in the marshes. A whole generation of Iraqi lieutenants and captains came to regard war - rather than peace - as a natural element in their lives. If ever the day came when Saddam was gone, what would these lieutenants and captains and their comrades from the trenches do if they faced another great army? What would they be capable of achieving if they could use their own initiative, their own imagination, their own courage - if patriotism and nationalism and Islam rather than the iron hand of Baathism was to be their inspiration?

From Chapter 21 - 'Why?'

However one approaches this Arab sense of humiliation - whether we regard it as a form of self-pity or a fully justified response to injustice - it is nonetheless real. The Arabs were among the first scientists at the start of the second millennium, while the Crusaders - another of Bin Laden's fixations - were riding in technological ignorance into the Muslim world. So while in the past few decades, our popular conception of the Arabs vaguely embraced an oil-rich, venal and largely backward people, awaiting our annual handouts and their virgins in heaven, many of them were asking pertinent questions about their past and future, about religion and science, about - so I suspect - how god and technology might be part of the same universe. No such long-term questions for us. We just went on supporting our Muslim dictators around the world - especially in the Middle East - in return for their friendship and our false promises to rectify deep-seated injustice.

We allowed our dictators to snuff out their socialist and Communist parties; we left their population little place to exercise their political opposition except through religion. We went in for demonisation - Messrs Khomeini, Abu Nidal, Gadaffi, Arafat, Saddam, Bin Laden - rather than historical questioning. And we made more promises. Presidents Carter and Reagan made pledges to the Afghan mujahedin: fight the Russians and we will help you. We would assist the recovery of the Afghan economy. A rebuilding of the country, even - this from innocent Jimmy Carter - 'democracy', not a concept to be sure that we would now be bequeathing to the Pakistanis, Uzbeks or Saudis. Of course, once the Russians were gone in 1989, there was no economic assistance.

The problem, it seemed, was that without any sense of history, we failed to understand injustice. Instead we compounded it, after years of indolence, when we wanted to bribe our would-be allies with promises of vast historical importance - a resolution to Palestine, Kashmir, an arms-free Middle East, Arab independence, an economic Nirvana - because we were at war. Tell Muslims what they want to hear, promise them what they want - anything, so long as we can get our armadas into the air in our latest 'war against evil'. And up they flew. In the sand-blasted mud villages along the border of Afghanistan, we could watch their contrails, white gashes cut into the deep blue skies that would suddenly turn into full circles and - far away across the Kandahar desert - we would hear a distant, imperial thunder. With binoculars, we could even make out the sleek, four-engined bombers, the sunlight flashing off their wings. Then the planes would turn south west and begin their long haul back to Diego Garcia.
From Chapter 22 - 'The Die is Cast'

What, I kept asking, happens after the invasion? On 26 January I asked our Independent on Sunday readers what we planned to do when Iraqis demanded our withdrawal from their country. 'For we will be in occupation of a foreign land. We will be in occupation of Iraq as surely as Israel is in occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. And with Saddam gone, the way is open for Osama Bin Laden to demand the liberation of Iraq as another of his objectives. How easily he will be able to slot Iraq into the fabric of American occupation across the Gulf. Are we then ready to fight Al Qaida in Iraq as well as in Afghanistan and Pakistan and countless other countries? It seems that the people of the Middle East - and the West - realise these dangers, but that their leaders do not, or do not want to.'

Travelling to the US more than once a month, visiting Britain on the penultimate weekend of January 2003, moving around the Middle East, I have never been so struck by the absolute, unwavering determination of so many Arabs and Europeans and Americans to oppose a war. Did Tony Blair really need that gloriously pertinacious student at the British Labour Party meeting on 24 January to prove to him what so many Britons felt: that this proposed Iraqi war was a lie, that the reasons for this conflict had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, that Blair had no business following Bush into the war? Never before had I received so many readers' letters expressing exactly the same sentiment: that somehow - because of Labour's huge majority, because of the Tory Party's effective disappearance as an opposition, because of parliamentary cynicism - British democracy was not permitting British people to stop a war for which most of them had nothing but contempt. From Washington's pathetic attempt to link Saddam to Al Qaida, to Blair's childish 'dossier' on weapons of mass destruction, to the whole tragic farce of UN inspectors, people were no longer fooled. The denials that this war had anything to do with oil were as unconvincing as Colin Powell's claim in January 2003 that Iraq's oil would be held in 'trusteeship' for the Iraqi people. 'Trusteeship' was exactly what the League of Nations offered the Levant when it allowed Britain and France to adopt mandates in Palestine and Transjordan and Syria and Lebanon after the First World War. Who will run the oil wells and explore Iraqi oil reserves during this generous period of 'trusteeship'? I asked in my paper. American companies, perhaps?
Chapter 5-'The Path to War'

The British held out wildly optimistic hopes for a 'new' Iraq that would be regenerated by western enterprise, not unlike America's own pipedreams of 2003. 'There is no doubt', the Sphere told its readers in 1915, 'that with the aid of European science and energy it can again become the garden of Asia... and under British rule everything may be hoped.'

The British occupation was dark with historical precedent. Iraqi troops who had been serving with the Turkish army, but who 'always entertained friendly ideas towards the English', found that in prison in India they were 'insulted and humiliated in every way'. These same prisoners wanted to know if the British would hand over Iraq to Sherif Hussein of the Hejaz - to whom the British had made fulsome and ultimately mendacious promises of 'independence' for the Arab world if it fought alongside the Allies against the Turks - on the grounds that 'some Holy Moslem Shrines are located in Mesopotamia'.

British officials believed that control of Mesopotamia would safeguard British oil interests in Persia - the initial occupation of Basra was ostensibly designed to do that - and that 'clearly it is our right and duty, if we sacrifice so much for the peace of the world, that we should see to it we have compensation, or we may defeat our end' - which was not how General Maude expressed Britain's ambitions in his famous proclamation in 1917. Earl Asquith was to write in his memoirs that he and Sir Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, agreed in 1915 that 'taking Mesopotamia... means spending millions in irrigation and development...' Once they were installed in Baghdad, the British decided that Iraq would be governed and reconstructed by a 'Council', formed partly of British advisers 'and partly of representative non-official members from among the inhabitants'. Later, they thought they would like 'a cabinet half of natives and half of British officials, behind which might be an administrative council, or some advisory body consisting entirely of prominent natives'.

The traveller and scholar Gertrude Bell, who became 'oriental secretary' to the British military occupation authority, had no doubts about Iraqi public opinion. 'The stronger the hold we are able to keep here the better the inhabitants will be pleased... they can't conceive an independent Arab government. Nor, I confess, can I. There is no one here who could run it.' Again, this was far from the noble aspirations of Maude's proclamation 11 months earlier. Nor would the Iraqis have been surprised had they been told - which, of course, they were not - that Maude strongly opposed the very proclamation that appeared over his name and which was in fact written by Sir Mark Sykes, the very same Sykes who had drawn up the secret 1916 agreement with François Georges Picot for French and British control over much of the post-war Middle East.

By September of 1919, even journalists were beginning to grasp that Britain's plans for Iraq were founded upon illusions. 'I imagine', the Times correspondent wrote on 23 September, 'that the view held by many English people about Mesopotamia is that the local inhabitants will welcome us because we have saved them from the Turks, and that the country only needs developing to repay a large expenditure of English lives and English money. Neither of these ideals will bear much examination... from the political point of view we are asking the Arab to exchange his pride and independence for a little Western civilisation, the profits of which must be largely absorbed by the expenses of the administration.'

Within six months, Britain was fighting a military insurrection in Iraq and David Lloyd George, the prime minister, was facing calls for a military withdrawal. 'It is not for the benefit of the people of that country that it should be governed so as to enable them to develop this land which has been withered and shrivelled up by oppression. What would happen if we withdrew?' Lloyd George would not abandon Iraq to 'anarchy and confusion'. By this stage, British officials in Baghdad were blaming the violence on 'local political agitation, originated outside Iraq', suggesting that Syria might be involved. For Syria 1920, read America's claim that Syria was supporting the insurrection in 2004.

These extracts are printed with the kind permission of Fourth Estate and the Independent.

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