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The thirty-year war on terror

About the author
Dyab Abou Jahjah is founder and former president of the Arab European League, a regular contributor to the Arab press, and author of books on the Middle East and the issue of immigration

Before discussing the war on terror I would like to make my position clear. I’m not pretending to be objective. This is a highly emotional and controversial issue. The approach I am interested in taking is elaborating an Arab view on that war – not just an Arab-European view, but an Arab view, albeit from the experience of an Arab living in Europe.

A definition

“Terror” is any form of material and physical violence that is systematically targeting unarmed civilians regardless of the motivation.

Fareena Alam, editor of the Muslim magazine Q-News, responds to Dyab Abou Jahjah

A chronology

Our war on terror in the Arab world started in the 1930s. It was during this time that the existing European colonisers in Palestine instigated a worldwide Zionist movement that started targeting Arabs and other civilians.

This culminated in 1948 with Plan Dalet, the main aim of which was to complete the ethnic cleansing of most Palestinians from the territory occupied by the Zionists. This explicitly targeted Arab civilians and led to massacres in many villages (the case of Deir Yassin is widely known).

Since then the Zionist military forces, regular and irregular, have continued to systematically target and kill unarmed civilians. The numbers of civilians killed on both sides of the two intifada (the first from 1987-93, the second from 2000) don’t lie. The Zionists also committed massacres against civilians in other Arab countries including Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt.

French terrorism in Algeria is another terrorist component in Arab history. The French army and pied-noirs paramilitaries massacred around 1 million Algerian unarmed civilians in the 1960s. However the war on French terror ended with Algeria’s independence, while the war on Zionist terror is still ongoing.

In 1991 the United States indiscriminately bombed Iraq which caused the death of tens of thousands of civilians. The term “collateral damage” was introduced, claiming that the civilians were not primary targets. While this claim is hard to verify, the question arises: is killing civilians “collaterally”, when it is certain that such deaths will occur, a terrorist act and equal to explicitly targeting civilians? In my opinion and that of many Arabs, it is.

After that war, the US and Britain forced through a United Nations embargo on Iraq. According to Unicef studies, this directly resulted in the death of 8,000 Iraqi children each month for twelve years. This was blamed on Saddam Hussein, who was also reportedly concealing weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and not collaborating with the UN disarmament team.

We know now that this claim was a lie, and that Iraq fully collaborated and dismantled all its WMD. So for no plausible reason, almost 1.5 million children were killed by this embargo – if there could be any plausible reason for such genocide in the first place. This is another example of what we Arabs have experienced as a terrorist genocide equal to three 9/11s every month between 1991 and 2003.

In 2001 Arabs decided to hit back by using terrorism against the US. The US declared “a war on terror”, while our war on terror still continued.

In 2003 the US decided to invade Iraq for reasons related to oil reserves and its hegemonic plans for the middle east. Once again, “collateral damage” occurs, raising the same question as above. During the Iraq occupation the US and its allies have systematically killed innocent Iraqi civilians under the pretext of suspecting them of being insurgents.

In Iraq itself the resistance is attacking military targets and auxiliary structures of the occupation, which puts it under the rubric of legitimate resistance to occupation. There are a few exceptions to this, notably when the resistance targets innocent, unarmed civilians. For example, one minority faction of the Iraqi resistance, that of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, does not abide at all with the code of conduct of most of the other factions. Note that foreign contractors are armed and considered rightly as being part of the machinery of the occupation.

How to stop terrorism

American and Zionist terror have forced parts of the Arab resistance to adopt terrorist techniques as a way of retaliation. As a democrat I can only condemn terrorism from any side, and I call upon the Arab resistance to limit its operations to targeting military forces and their auxiliaries.

However I do realise that what the Americans call the war on terror is just the extension of their hegemonic war in a reckless and irresponsible quest for dominion and supremacy. Therefore aggressed peoples have the right to fight fire with fire, and retaliate by any means they consider necessary in the face of an overwhelming American destruction machine. Preserving the moral high ground is the least of their concerns in a dirty war that they also experience as such. They have only one message to America and its allies: you want to stop terrorism? Quit being a terrorist yourself.


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