Fabricating While Rome Burns

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), October 15, 2005 | Go to article overview

Fabricating While Rome Burns


Byline: By Duncan Higgitt Western Mail

As this War on Terror progresses, it is sometimes hard not to see it as a conflict with propaganda but rather as a propaganda war with violence.

Of course, we can cite examples on our own side, but instances such as the filming of insurgent attacks in Iraq and their distribution to a wider audience through jihadist websites proves that Islamists are just as adept at spreading their message. Better, in fact, because while White House announcements have made sceptics of us all, more muslims than ever are being recruited to the extremist cause.

Part of the reason for our reluctance to believe what our leaders are telling us can be laid at the feet of broadcast organisations.

While networks such as Fox are unashamedly biased in favour of the Bush strategy, the BBC, suffering the greatest paucity of war reporting experience in its history, has been influenced by a world view that reveals the left-wing, middle class backgrounds from which most of its journalists sprang.

Fortunately, for some time now, there has been a small group of writers dedicated to getting at the truth, the root causes, events and consequences of this current conflict, and between them they have produced a number of well-researched books that not only reveal the thinking behind people in, and influenced by, al-Qaeda, but how our response to their terror have often made matters worse.

We have had books like Malise Ruthven's A Fury For God, which explores the three-centuries-old origins of current Islamism; and Taliban, by Ahmed Rashid which, while there may no longer be a Taliban government in Afghanistan, covers that crucial period after the Soviets had withdrawn and, newly-confident with their supposed victory, how figures like Ahman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden formulated the thinking which justifies attacks on us today. It also reveals the shocking extent to which US oil interests (which incidentally bankrolled Bush's first White House campaign) were prepared to deal with the Taliban, conveniently ignoring the terror which they were visiting upon the Afghan people.

The authoritative title, Jason Burke's Al-Qaeda: Casting a Shadow of Terror, examines the growth of the terror group leading up to and following 9-11, its coup de grace, and - crucially - explains how it was effectively destroyed as an operational organisation in Afghanistan in the months following the attacks on the Twin Towers and has now become something far more dangerous: an ideology.

Now Loretta Napoleoni, in her excellent new book, Insurgent Iraq: al-Zarqawi and the New Generation, introduces a word that I hope will become important in our understanding of Islamist extremists - al-Qaedism.

The book introduces us to the new generation of terrorists, mostly through the life story of their foremost figure, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

It traces his origins from poverty-stricken, back-street thug in a faceless industrial city in Jordan, his contact - inevitably, given Middle East regimes' propensity for locking up opponents - with Islamism in prison, his uneventful stint in Afghanistan following the end of the anti-Soviet jihad, and his growth into one of the most powerful terrorist figures in the world.

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