under Bush's bed
SCMP April 8
Seven months after September 11, Osama Bin Laden is surely
enduring - assuming he is still alive - a most uncomfortable existence.
But he probably has a grin on his face too as he surveys the ever spreading
ramifications of the "war on terror" that he has incited.
The US physical riposte was as swift and effective as
anyone could have imagined. Just as the attacks of September 11 exceeded
the dreams of the assassins, so the speed and effectiveness of US military
actions in destroying the Taliban regime and ousting most of the el-Qaida
Arab core from Afghanistan was impressive.
However, the success of revolutionary terror is judged
not by the physical damage it inflicts but by its impact on the status
quo. Destruction of old relationships, undermining of institutions,
sowing of new hatreds, are the goals. In the Mr Osama case, this was
to set the west against Islam, and Arabs against each so that his radical
version of Islam would eventually triumph over secularist tendencies
and monarchies which mixed conservatism at home with external alliances
with the west. As I wrote shortly after September 11, the degree of
Mr Osama's success or failure would be determined by the way the US,
and the world in general, reacted to those events.
The initial over-reaction such as reluctance of businessmen
to travel has now been overcome. At the economic level, dramatic reductions
in interest rates and sharp rises in government spending have nullified
the economic impact. September 11 provided a cause for stronger stimulus
than would otherwise have been prudent.
However, at the political level, some of Mr Osama's goals
are making progress. The Bush administration has sought to equate all
kinds of movements, terrorist or otherwise, with el-Qaida. At the same
time, western claims to be the bodyguards of human rights, due process
and media independence are daily being classed as hypocritical.
Immediately after September 11, it was hoped that one
silver lining could be a serious western effort impose a settlement
on Israelis and Palestinians in line with the Oslo accord and UN Resolution
242. Whilst Palestine is a side issue for Mr Osama, it has created resentments
against the west which are very deep. For the Bush administration to
simply right off the Palestinian mainstream reacting against occupation
as "terrorists" shows a level of ignorance which is alarming.
The suicide bombings are certainly horrific. But the basic
fact remains that Palestinians, far from being aggressors, have been
on the retreat ever since the day in 1917 when the British, without
reference to the inhabitants, offered to support "the establishment
in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people".
More recent history reveals mistakes on both sides which
might have produced a permanent peace. However Mr Sharon has never made
much secret of his desire to plant any many Jewish settlements as possible
on the West Bank. His record of violence is well known.
The US effort to renew war on Iraq as part of the anti-terror
fight is also playing into Mr Osama's hands. Saddam Hussein certainly
runs a very nasty regime. But it has almost nothing in common with Mr
Osama's Islamic visions.
Western antipathy to Islam can be exaggerated and become
an excuse for local failings. But it is not a mirage as recent western
media coverage of Islamic issues in Asia shows. Nothing gets better
play in western-owned media than allegations of Muslim "terror groups"
running rampant around the region. Malaysia was accused of being a key
el-Qaida base and Indonesia was roundly criticised for not arresting
some Muslim fundamentalists at US say-so despite lack of evidence of
Malaysia and Singapore get praised for following the
latest US practice of jailing people incommunicado as well as without
trial. Apparently free speech is good - except for Muslims. Western
media have played up allegations in the Singapore's Straits Times of
a terror network in Indonesia but ignored investigations by Tempo magazine
which concluded that the documents on which it was based contained numerous
inventions. Tempo has a long record of independence. The Straits Times
has a history of close links to its government.
It is worth noting the contrast between the reports by
this paper's resident correspondent in Jakarta, Vaudine England, on
Islamic radicals in Indonesia and the "terror" beat-ups written by parachuted
correspondents keen to meet the expectations of editors. As Ms England
has pointed out, most of these fundamentalists have been around for
years and others are military in clerical disguise. If they are a threat,
it is to fellow Indonesians such as Christians in the Malukus.
Media demonisation of Islamic nations reached a new low
evident in last week's issue of the once-respected Far Eastern Economic
Review. "Beware of Bangladesh" screamed a cover story which turned out
to be an ill-documented and overblown account of the dangers of Islamic
fundamentalism in Bangladesh. For sure, some nasty extremists do exist
in this as in all countries, but the nation's secular polity and the
precedence of Bengali over Islamic identity is rooted in its independent
This was the first cover story that FEER had run on the
fifth largest country in its region in more than a decade. The Dow Jones-owned
magazine which purports to be in favour of democracy, a free press etc
had given just one paragraph coverage to the 2001 election in Bangladesh
which led to an orderly change of government. One gets the impression
that it is concerned less about giving a true and fair of the region
than meeting expectations of bosses in New York eager to hear of Muslim
terror in all corners.
No one can doubt Dow Jones commitment to the US "war
on terror". In addition to its jingoist editorials, it has publicly
defended handing over information a reporter acquired in Afghanistan
to US authorities long before publishing it. It may be legitimate for
a national news organisation to put what it sees as national interests
ahead of news value and transparency. However, it cannot simultaneously
claim to be "international" and demand global access and other rights
as though it were independent. Such policies also put non-US reporters
in an impossible position.
Ethnic balance has never been an obvious goal in western
media staffing. Muslims, whether western or other nationals, have been
conspicuous by their rarity. Since September 11, much of the western
owned media has lost its balance and followed an agenda of propaganda
and prejudice. Meanwhile most of the real enemies of the west, the educated
but disillusioned Muslims misfits of the type who carried out the attacks,
are still sitting and seething in London, Hamburg, Marseilles, Toronto
By going after make-believe enemies in Basilan, Bandung
and Bangladesh the west is avoiding the real issues and playing into
Mr Osama's hands, alienating hundreds of millions of Muslims in Bangladesh,
Indonesia, Iran etc. Most of them are far more moderate than the Christian
fundamentalist zealots such as attorney general John Ashcroft in Mr
Bush's government. ends