Archive for September 6th, 2005

The Road To Nowhere

Do you mind if I pester you with a fragmented and meandering post? I couldn’t find anywhere else to put it. Slugger has a post on impartiality; so maybe this ties in somehow.

My recollection of what got said in Saturday night’s The Road to 9-11 on Channel 4 has faded a bit. If I had powers of total recall, or at least a video recorder, I might be able to be more informative about what the programme was supposed to convey.

The road to me watching the Road to 9-11 began on Saturday morning, as I was having my nails done over organic yoghurt and wheatgrass. I espied a rather promising review in the Guardian Guide. The publication known for making Pat Robertson-style musings about George W. Bush had the following to say about the programme:

The highlight of a week of 9-11-related programmes, exploring the recent history of Middle East politics, from Sadat and Carter, to the fall of the Ottoman empire, bin Laden’s rise and the impact of oil.

Chronological concerns aside (did Sadat and Carter really predate the fall of the Ottoman empire?), my interest was aroused further by reviewer Andrew Mueller’s recommendation:

‘An excellent primer of 20th century Middle East geopolitics….Despite the title, it never quite subscribes to the fashionable fallacy that modern Islamist terrorism has “root causes” in legitimate grievances. Instead, well-chosen talking heads try to see the world as bin-Laden’s dingbat followers might – Bernard Lewis is especially sagacious’

Could this documentary be the antidote to my “root causes” fixation?

Sadly, I missed the first ten minutes or so as I had guests. By the time I had made my way to the sofa, the Ottoman empire had already fallen and the Arabs were consorting with Hitler.

Worse, I had missed the introduction to the well-chosen talking heads mentioned in the review, particularly the part where Bernard Lewis, who was the principal contributor, introduced himself as an ‘expert adviser’ to the Bush administration on Middle East. If anyone saw this part, please let me know.

I also missed the bit where another well-chosen talking head Kanan Makiya (giving a pro-Iraq war speech here alongside neoconservative hawk and former Netanyahu election adviser Richard Perle) talked about how he had told President Bush on January 10th 2003 that:

‘I think they (the American soldiers) will be greeted with sweets and flowers in the first months and simply have very, very little doubts that that is the case.’

Well-chosen. Perhaps. For instance, if you wanted to know why ‘they’ hate ‘us’, who better to get a talking head for your show than author of ‘The Politics of Rage: Why They Hate Us’ talking head, Fareed Zakaria, to whom I am grateful for including the following quote about himself on his own website:

‘the most influential foreign policy adviser of his generation’

Also, he used to edit Foreign Affairs, which could be called a magazine about affairs that have nothing to do with the United States. If I recall correctly, it was he who made the observation during the programme that the Middle East had been ‘cursed’ with oil.

He supported the invasion of Iraq. I wonder: for which country does he gives foreign policy advice?

But at least Bernard Lewis was certainly being sagacious, or at least he looked and sounded like it. His explanations underpinned the rest of the contributions, and his mellifluous intonations and wry facial expressions left me half-expecting that he would soon offer the off-camera interviewer a sherry. And there was lots of convivial holding forth about why Arabs/Muslims are angry. He is, of course, in a very good position to tell us why, being the author, among many other things, of The Roots of Muslim Rage.

Then there was famous columnist Thomas Friedman , whose television persona is both avuncular and amiable. He wrote a July 22, 2005 column titled ‘Expose The Haters’ suggesting that

‘the State Department should identify the Top 10 hatemongers, excuse makers and truth tellers in the world.’

His article explained, somewhat illiberally for someone who sounds so liberal:

After every major terrorist incident, the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism, colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and also deserve to be exposed.

In his book The Lexus and The Olive Tree, he says:

“The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15, and the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”

And then, to explain what the trouble was with Islam, there was Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble With Islam: A Wake-Up Call for Honesty and Change on hand to tell us what the trouble was with Islam. Her contribution to the programme was rather minimal, but strove to make the point that, contrary to popular belief in the Islamic world, the biggest oppressors of Muslims were other Muslims.

Then there were a couple of women, of whom one was definitely Iranian, not too sure about the other, and there was some guy linked to a mosque in New York. There was also someone called Michael who was a policy wonk of some sort. Apologies for the lack of detail here. I suspect I was hypnotised by Bernard Lewis.

Anyway, what did the programme say? Well, you have lots of fury in the Middle East because of 1948, because of the crapness of Arab armies in comparison with tiny Israel (and while the word Palestine was used, there was no mention, if I recall correctly, of the word ‘Palestinian’. No mention of the Iraq war either. Again, please correct me if I am wrong), because Nasser wasn’t much cop in introducing socialism, because the Soviets weren’t much better than the Nazis as allies. And Sadat appeared in front of the pyramids with Jimmy Carter. He also called Ayatollah Khomenei a lunatic, which didn’t go down too well. He got assassinated. I killed Pharaoh, the assassin shouted, clarifying for all interested parties that it was an Islamic matter, not a political one.

Why did 9-11 happen? Quite simply, because there is Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. You got it in Egypt through the Muslim Brotherhood, in Saudi Arabia through Wahabbism, and in Iran as a result of the Islamic Revolution. Oil funds this fundamentalism and terrorism. Osama Bin Laden is an Islamic fundamentalist who, rather being a terrorist in Egypt or Saudi Arabia, wants to unite Islam against the US, because the US is not very popular. It backed the Shah. It funded the mujaheddin in Afghanistan. But it is not that bad, really.

Middle-East Muslims, we were told, harbour a lot of grievances, but whilst some may be even understandable, these are given disproportionate attention. For example, look at the Iranian hostage crisis. Yes, the US supported the Shah, but he was nowhere near as bad as what arrived with Khomenei when he came to power. Which is true, but not in itself worth boasting about.

Bernard Lewis made the observation that Khomenei’s Islamic Government, which he checked out because he is a professor and that is what people do, could be described, with some justification, as Khomenei’s Mein Kampf.

Hmmm. Professor Lewis is fond of reversing analogies to explain differences between Islam and Christianity and Judaism. For instance, in explaining that the Koran was not analogous to the Bible, he once pointed out that you could not say that the Gospel was the Christian Koran, or that the Torah was the Judaic Koran. In the same spirit, I wonder if he would consider it valid to describe Mein Kampf as Hitler’s Islamic Government?

Anyway, let us not concern ourselves too much with frivolous mental contortions. In short, the Middle East is a great, creative place. Islam is a religion of peace, but the place is cursed by oil and anti-Semitism. Bring in democracy, mix a bit more West in with the East, and you can keep on sucking diesel and the Middle East can return to being a place of progress and civilisation.

Whether or not invasion and occupation of Iraq would be helpful in this regard was not addressed. Which is a shame, because if you’re going to pull so many prominent pro-Iraq war ‘experts’ together for a TV programme on the Middle East, you could always allow them to explain why war in Iraq was necessary….no?

The final credits rolled by Formula One-style, and the only thing I managed to glimpse was that Bernard Lewis had been the historical consultant.

Give that man in the Guardian Guide a Farley’s Rusk, I say.

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