The unanswered question about 9–11

Robert Fisk is such a reward­ing his­to­ri­an of inter­na­tion­al pol­i­cy because his con­tacts are so broad and his expe­ri­ence is so long and because he writes so clear­ly, pas­sion­ate­ly and thought­ful­ly about the per­sis­tent fail­ures of West­ern policy—and humanity—in the Mid­dle East. There, the UK, France and the Unit­ed States direct­ly or through their occa­sion­al pup­pets and with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of the “inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty” have for a cen­tu­ry now made the same deep, stu­pid pol­i­cy errors and even com­mit­ted the same hor­ri­ble crimes… over and over.

Time and again, the prin­ci­pals have tried brazen­ly to jus­ti­fy them­selves by re-con­struct­ing this appalling nar­ra­tive. They have mis­led us or lied to us and to them­selves about their actions and motives: the rev­e­la­tion that West­ern “intel­li­gence agen­cies” were, for years, on inmate terms with Gadaffi’s tor­tur­ers is only the lat­est in decades of such dis­gust­ing decep­tion. Fisk, how­ev­er, makes the effort in his jour­nal­ism and in his books (The Great War for Civil­i­sa­tion) to recon­struct the sto­ry, in con­text and in detail. I don’t say his accounts are com­plete or his judge­ment always right; I don’t believe he’d make that claim on his on behalf. But he offers a much more plau­si­ble and coher­ent nar­ra­tive of the Mid­dle East than any­one I know.

Some­times, how­ev­er, no amount of evi­dence will sway opin­ion. The blame for our blind­ness to con­tem­po­rary his­to­ry often lies with our­selves as well as with our self-serv­ing lead­ers. Per­haps we col­lab­o­rate in mak­ing a shad­ow-play of mod­ern his­to­ry because each of us guards our san­i­ty and sen­si­tiv­i­ty from a sto­ry sat­u­rat­ed with mis­for­tune and suf­fer­ing by assign­ing events a role in famil­iar narratives—including many that are noth­ing more than myths;elemental, recur­rent, incon­tro­vert­ible— that serve to dis­tance us from respon­si­bilty.

One exam­ple more of this delu­sion is the sub­ject of Fisk’s lat­est arti­cle in The Inde­pen­dent. Why, Fisk asks, do the cit­i­zens of the West not ask them­selves the obvi­ous ques­tion—why?—about those ter­ri­ble events or reply with the obvi­ous answer? I remem­ber puz­zling to myself about this, too , in the days after the burn­ing Tow­ers col­lapsed. As George Bush and his Deputy Sher­iff stern­ly pro­claimed the act was inex­cus­able (true) and promised ret­ri­bu­tion, no one in pow­er was ready to acknowl­edge that the attack was not inex­plic­a­ble. The expla­na­tion could nev­er jus­ti­fy the slaugh­ter of thou­sands of inno­cents in the USA (or in the Mid­dle East). But abhor­rence at what the world has come to is no excuse for not see­ing where it has come from.

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