Violence, Lies, and Videotape
By Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad,
Minaret of Freedom Institute
The first casualty of war is truth. The astonishing amount of deception–including self-deception–on all sides since the September 11 tragedies demonstrate the accuracy of that cliché. Let’s take a quick tour of the falsehood floating around amid the flames and smoke of the violence from New York to Kandahar and the talking heads from the American media to Usama Bin Ladin’s videotape missives to al-Jazeera.
One big issue of self-deception is the question as to against whom this war is being fought. The Bush Administration claim that it is not a war against Islam is a fair one, for they have made it a point to avoid attacking Islam as a religion or a belief system, despite urgings to the contrary from the usual corners. But the claim that it is not a war against Muslims is a hollow claim indeed. Not only is it Muslims who are the victims now in Afghanistan, but it is Muslims who are on the target list for the future. Iraq, Hizbullah, and the Sudan are on the list, while Irish, South American and (it need hardly be noted) Israeli terrorists are not.
A major example of self-deception seems to be in the news media over the question of who did it? Neither the Western media nor the Muslim press wants to admit that we just don’t know who the planners behind it were. In his videotapes Bin Ladin seems to be sure that it was done by Muslims inspired by him (although he is quick to add that he had nothing to do with it directly). Well, obviously Mohammad Atta was a Muslim, but was he recruited by fanatical members of al-Qaida, by secular Iraqi agents or by emphatically non-Muslim Israeli agents? All three views have proponents who insist they know the truth, and no one has any evidence.
Consider the Kuwaiti press who held a press conference in Washington, DC last week to demonstrate freedom of the press in Kuwait. One of the editors from the Gulf emirate restated the discredited notion that Israel had warned off 4,000 Israeli citizens from going to the World Trade Center on September 11. The genesis of this rumor is typical of the genesis of all gossip. The Israeli media had begun to mourn the four thousand (American) Jews estimated to work in the World Trade Center. This was misreported as a reference to 4,000 Israeli citizens. When the Arab press reported that there were not 4,000 Israeli citizens at the World Trade Center that day, the story spread that 4,000 Israelis must have been warned to stay away.
But the Americans are as eager to jump to conclusions as the Arabs. In a sloppy attempt to discredit the above-mentioned story, Truthorfiction.com (2001) also asserted that the claim that five Israelis were arrested for dancing on a rooftop in New Jersey while videotaping the destruction of the World Trade Center. In fact, five Israelis WERE arrested (Radler 2001). While the American media generally ignored this story, the Israeli media celebrated their subsequent release. Of course the Israeli media deplored the fact that these five Israelis were held without charge on secret evidence, making no mention of the one thousand Muslims now being held without charge on secret evidence.
It is not just the Arab press and American Internet sites that propagate rumors as fact. A reporter for USA Today in attendance at the press conference insisted to me that hard evidence proving Bin Ladin funded the September 11 events had been published in her newspaper. When I asked her what this evidence was, she said there was proof that Bin Ladin’s chief financial officer had sent money to Mohammad Atta. I asked for a specific citation, but she was unable to provide it, insisting that it had been in “all the papers.” So I tracked down the citation myself. Here is the exact quotation (McCoy and Cauchon 2001): “Perhaps the clearest way to show the difficulty authorities face is to examine what is publicly known about $100,000 wired about a year ago to Mohamed Atta, a reported leader of the hijackers who carried out the Sept. 11 attacks. Investigators say they believe the money came from Shaykh Sai'id, a reputed top bin Laden finance lieutenant in the United Arab Emirates.” A “belief” that an event happened does not constitute proof that it happened.
Much of the confusion, of course, stems from the need to get news out under tight deadlines with various players trying to put their own spin on fast-breaking events. On Nov. 15, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon called the release of the aid workers previously held by the Taliban a “rescue” even though they were “turned over peacefully by the Taliban” (Kaufman and Graham 2001). On Nov. 16, the same newspaper clarifies the issue by stating that the aid workers were freed by troops identifying themselves with the Northern Alliance but seemingly under the command of a local tribal leader who had defected from the Taliban (Moore 2001).
Such confusion under pressure, however, will not excuse the self-deception in the exultant attitude that the fall of Kabul marks victory for America in the war against terrorism. The fall of Kabul is a victory for the Northern Alliance, without doubt. It is a victory for the Afghani people who are now free to listen to music and to shave their beards and remove their burqas provided the Afghani factions do not plunge the country into the same kind of a horrific civil war that brought the Taliban to power in the first place. But a victory against terrorism? Have the media and the commentators already forgotten that the American objective in the attack on Afghanistan was to capture Bin Ladin and the al-Qa’ida leadership? Unfortunately for the cause of truth, the war isn’t over yet.
Marc Kaufman and Bradley Graham 2001, “Aid Workers Released by Taliban,” Washingfton Post (11/15) A1.
Kevin McCoy and Dennis Cauchon 2001, “Bin Laden portrayed as part CEO, part godfather,” USA Today (10/25) http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/04/international/04CND-RACE.html?searchpv=nytToday (accessed 9/4/01)
Molly Moore 2001. “From gony to Anxiety, Then Freedom,” Washington Post (11/16) A1.
Melissa Radler 2001, “Israelis Mistaken for Terrorists Home Soon,” Jerusalem Post (10/26) 1.A.
Truthorfiction.com, “Four Thousand Israelis Who Worked in The World Trade Center Did Not Show up for Work on the Day of the Terrorist Attacks-Fiction!” (10/24) http://www.truthorfiction.org/rumors/wtcisraelis.htm (accessed 11/15/01).