Wednesday 29 September 2021

It Was Twenty Years Ago: "Infinite Justice".

A Promise Of Justice? I can hear you! I can hear you! The rest of the world hears you! And the people - and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!
President George W. Bush, 14 September 2001.

WHEN AN EVENT as large and resonant as the terror attacks of 11 September imprint themselves on the memories of millions, journalism is momentarily rendered speechless. The sheer enormity of the destruction of the World Trade Centre exposed what has been called “a poverty of eloquence” on the part of those whose job it was to describe reality.

Not only were the wordsmiths lost for words, but they were also bereft of explanations. Nowhere was this more evident than on the American television networks, where stunned anchor-people struggled, in real time, to interpret what their fellow citizens, with mounting horror and disbelief, were witnessing through a hundred million television sets.

The only people who seemed equal to the task of putting words to the images were politicians. Almost instantaneously, the US political and security establishment found the phrases that have subsequently come to frame the issue.

The terrorist attacks were described as the opening salvo of a global war between Good and Evil, a war which the United States would prosecute with the utmost severity - no matter what the cost. Those responsible for this outrage, and any who gave them shelter or support, would be pursued to the very ends of the earth. Within days, this cosmic struggle had a code-name: it was called “Infinite Justice”.

But now journalism is beginning to respond to the Bush Administration’s rhetoric. Upon the unreflective surface of the mainstream media monolith, hairline cracks of doubt and disagreement are appearing. Above the patriotic clamour for vengeance, dissenting voices are beginning to be heard.

Sometimes they come from the most unlikely sources. Stephen Schwartz writing in the right-wing weekly magazine, The Spectator, points an accusing finger not simply at Osama bin Laden, but also at the fanatical Islamic sect known as the Wahhabis (of which bin Laden is a follower). “Not all Muslims are suicide bombers,” observes Schwartz, “but all suicide bombers are Wahhabis.”

Founded in the 18th Century by the Arabian cleric Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the sect’s teachings were taken up by the founder of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Ibn Saud – who cleverly exploited its austere puritanism in his World War I struggle against what he regarded (encouraged by T.E. Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia”) as the decadence of his Turkish overlords.

As Schwartz notes, Wahhabism remains the official creed of the Saudi royal family: “One major question is never asked in American discussions of Arab terrorism: what is the role of Saudi Arabia? The question cannot be asked because American companies depend too much on the continued flow of Saudi oil, while American politicians have become too cosy with the Saudi rulers.”

Just how cosy, is revealed by John Mecklin, a US investigative reporter formerly based in Houston, Texas. Back in the late 1980s, Mecklin was running down leads on the connections between prominent Texans and the Bank of Credit and Commerce International – an institution later implicated in money laundering, arms dealing and, tangentially, in the Iran-Contra ‘arms-for-hostages’ scandal that rocked the Reagan White House.

One of the key figures at the Texas end of Mecklin’s BCCI investigation was businessman James R. Bath. Among Mr Bath’s clients were a number of wealthy Saudi Arabians – including one Salim bin Laden, heir to a vast construction fortune and half-brother to Osama. According to a Time magazine report, James Bath also had a 5% stake in two limited partnerships, Arbusto 79 and Arbusto 80, both controlled by his old Air National Guard buddy, George - eldest son of a former CIA Chief. (Arbusto is Spanish for ‘bush’.)

That son is now President of the United States – and the mortal foe of Osama bin Laden.

Infinite justice indeed.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion of Friday, 28 September 2001.


Anonymous said...

Corruption, sleaze and lies know no bounds when it comes to money and power. Parasites the lot of them. And we now have fake outrage from the US over the brutish Taliban and their regime - the cutting off of limbs, arbitrary executions, oppression of women and anyone who opposes them, etc - oh wait haven't the Saudi's been doing that forever? Well yes, but the difference being that their huge mega-big plane and arms orders from the west (including the US, UK, Spain, France, etc) are to "fight terrorists", including the civilians of Yemen, journalists, and not to mention their own people and dissents.

Shane McDowall said...

The most eloquent comment from the time of the World Trade Centre tragedy was " It's like New York had its front two teeth knocked out".

I could not put it better.

Simon Cohen said...

":Founded in the 18th Century by the Arabian cleric Ibn Abdul Wahhab, the sect’s teachings were taken up by the founder of the kingdom of Saudi Arabia – Ibn Saud – who cleverly exploited its austere puritanism in his World War I struggle against what he regarded (encouraged by T.E. Lawrence – “Lawrence of Arabia”) as the decadence of his Turkish overlords.;
This is completely untrue. Lawrence never met Ibn Saud and indeed the Arab revolt against the Turks was conducted by the Hashemite tribe the sworn enemy of Ibn Saud. There was no active Sa'udi involvement in the First World War nor was there any revolt against the Turks by the Sa'udi.
When one reads an article which has basic errors of this nature it destroys the credibility of the whole article.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Simon Cohen.

I stand corrected, Simon. The British envoy to Ibn Saud was not T.E. Lawrence but a British officer with the unlikely name of William Shakespear.

The consequence of Shakespear's diplomacy was, as you say, that the Saudis remained on the sidelines during the Arab revolt. They were, of course, handsomely rewarded by the British for doing so.

I would observe, however, that keeping one's forces off the battlefield at the behest of one of the belligerents constitutes a form of "involvement". As does allowing the British to make your kingdom a protectorate.

Still, you are right, a little more fact-checking on my part would have made for a better column.

Simon Cohen said...

Hi Chris,
William Shakespear's diplomacy was not intended to keep the Saudis on the sidelines. On the contrary he encouraged them to fight the Rasheeds who were receiving Turkish support. As Shakespear wrote in his despatch to London a defeat for the Rasheed would be a defeat for the Turks and Shakespear was already imagining himself riding at the head of the Saudi army on a grand campaign of Arabian conquest. Unfortunately at the battle of Jarrab in January 1915 the Saudis were defeated by the Rasheed and Shakespear was killed. And that ended any thoughts of the Saudis participating in a war against the Turks. They had enough on their hands protecting themselves from the Rasheed.
As to the Saudis being richly rewarded by the British I am at a loss to understand where you sourced that information from. The Hashemites were the Arabian tribe rewarded by the British [and rightly so as they with Lawrence played a major part in defeating the Turks] by being given the Kingdom of Iraq and the Kingdom of Jordan [where their descendants still reign].They also were allowed to retain all their land in southern Arabia including the holy cities of Medina and Mecca. They lost these to the Saudis in wars during the 1920s much to the dismay of the British who were inclined to send troops to assist the Hashemites. However wiser counsels prevailed.
Many people when commenting on these wars have little or no knowledge of the different Arab tribes and dynasties which is essential if one is to be able to correctly interpret the history of this region.