Robert Fisk: The ‘flowers’ of the Arab Spring are so distracting that Ariel Sharon’s death has barely raised a whimper

For years, Iraqis have been telling me that they prefer ‘security’ to ‘anarchy’

Robert Fisk
Sunday 12 January 2014 18:24 GMT
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon looks towards the West Bank
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon looks towards the West Bank

Has ever the Arab awakening – the Arab “Spring” if we were to believe the nonsense spouted at the time – looked more desperate, more bloody, more hopeless, more despairing than it does today? I am not referring to the anguish so distracting the Arab world that it scarcely raised a whimper this weekend when the man most of them regarded as a war criminal – Ariel Sharon – was mourned by the West and its frightened journos as “iconic”, “legendary”, “audacious”, a “bulldozer” and “a proudly Zionist general”.

Incredibly, the presenter of Al Jazeera English even offered her “sincere condolences” to an Israeli friend of this dreadful man. When the Israeli Kahan Commission report was quoted by reporters, they inaccurately said it held Sharon only “indirectly” responsible for the 1982 Sabra and Chatila massacres of up to 1,700 Palestinian civilians murdered by Israel’s proxy Lebanese militia. In fact, the official text also states that Sharon was “personally” responsible.

But why should Arabs care about the final demise of a man who, like much of the Arab world, spent the last years of his existence in a coma? For the awful truth – and it has to be stated at last – is that the Arab revolutions have brought about unspeakable slaughter, an unprecedented flood of refugees and economic disaster. As a newspaper seller put it simply to me in Cairo a few weeks ago, “the revolution was great, what followed was terrible”. Indeed, across the Middle East, millions of Arabs, I suspect, now believe that the overthrow of their dictators was a tragedy, that if dictatorship meant political and physical imprisonment, then freedom brought only bloodshed, lawlessness, insecurity and a craving for the old autocrats.

A lot of Arabs, let us speak frankly, desire a return to good old homely police states with plenty of corruption and torture to ease the springs, rather than the brave new world that the West supposedly wanted them to enjoy – and which they deserved to enjoy for themselves. For years, Iraqis have been telling me that they preferred a state of “security” to a state of “anarchy”. My Baghdad driver used to complain to me that if he was riding a bus during Saddam’s rule, he knew what he could and couldn’t say – but that now he could say nothing since he didn’t know the views of the passenger sitting next to him. I tried to argue him out of this view, on the grounds that he would live in perpetual slavery if he did not open his mouth. I failed to convince him.

This weekend, I asked that long-standing, brave nihilist Walid Jumblatt, the leader of Lebanon’s minuscule Druze community and one of Bashar al-Assad’s most constant critics, if he agreed with me. He condemned “the willingness of some people to have police states like before”. And Jumblatt, never one to miss a floral parallel to the iniquities of the region, referred to a “spring” which “had blossomed a variety of unique ‘flowers’ like Isis, Jabhat al-Nusra and so many other exotic varieties. Thanks to climate change, we have remarkable new cactuses, like Maliki and Sisi, plus a new brand of exquisite truffles, with a delicious flavour, newly catalogued as Ghannushi and Morsi.”

Jumblatt’s contempt for all their houses – for the Islamists fighting Bashar in Syria, for the pseudo-dictators Nouri al-Maliki and Abdul Fattah al-Sisi of Iraq and Egypt, for the “elected” Islamist leaders Mohamed Morsi of Egypt and Rashid al-Ghannushi of Tunisia – was in keeping with his scorn for the Syrian President, “expert in ‘botany’ … obliged to safeguard these unique blossoms with some needed ingredients, home-made chemicals blended with phosphorous”.

True to form, Jumblatt ended with a crashing coda for me. “I promise you, Robert, that my next move is to put a wreath of flowers on the tombstone of Lawrence [of Arabia], pay respect to the memory of Peter O’Toole, praise highly Mr Sykes and Mr Picot.” I do not need to explain these characters or this cynicism to you, O reader. “As for Lord Balfour,” Jumblatt concluded, “well, I think he should be very happy with this Arab Spring.”

Probably. Because while Israel buries its Zionist hero, the Arabs who overthrew their own leaders are either fighting each other – to the dismay of their erstwhile American, British and French supporters – or are praying for the return of the “democratic strongman” so fervently sought after by the likes of Daniel Pipes and his fellow neo-conservatives in the US. In the Middle East, the armies are winning, the little men are in hiding or – as in Syria or Egypt – being shot down in the streets or – most shamefully of all – demanding an end to all the liberties they won.

And those famous “Arab masses” who sought dignity and freedom? I do not believe they have run away. The victories of 2011 are there to haunt the autocrats, new and old. But the Palestinians are forgotten. And Jumblatt is right. Lord Balfour should be happy with the “Arab Spring”. Now he’ll have time to chat about it all with Sharon. If they’re in the same place.

Abe’s shame – and that of Britain

The Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has yet again outraged the Chinese by trooping to the memorial shrine of Japan’s war criminals. I’ve been there – it even contains an old Japanese steam train that travelled on the Burma railway.

A cousin of mine – the son of my Dad’s sister Freda, Royal Marine Jim Feather – died building it. Shame on Abe. But Independent reader Arthur Stockwin, stirred by my report of a wartime American journalist’s attempt to tell the difference between Japanese and Chinese racial stock, has sent me an extraordinary quotation from a Chatham House publication, World Today, published in August 1945. Shame is not the word for it.

Signed “TL” and entitled “The Japanese Character”, it says that the Japanese “are of mixed racial origin, a combination of an early Caucasoid stock from north and east Asia, a Mongolian and a Malayan strain … it is the presence of that Malayan blood which is the cause of that intensely exuberant and unbalanced emotionalism so characteristic of the people.”

If that’s not enough, Chatham House informed its academic readers that “the preponderance of … the Malayan and Mongolian [elements] is evidenced in the two distinct types still to be observed in Japan – the aristocratic type representative of the former, the long thin face, the slightly aquiline and narrow nose…” As for “the pudding-face peasant with sunken nose, wide nostrils, high cheek-bones, thick lip and protruding teeth,” these are a Japanese “relic of the Mongolian influx”.

I wonder what Abe thinks about that. Come to think of it, it’s pretty much the same kind of racist stuff the English once used about the Irish.

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