Robert Fisk: Al-Qa'ida cashes in as the scorpion gets in among the good guys


Robert Fisk
Monday 17 September 2012 13:06 BST

A Damascus friend of mine called this weekend and was pretty chipper. "You know, we're all sorry about Christopher Stevens. This kind of thing is terrible and he was a good friend to Syria – he understood the Arabs." I let him get away with this, though I knew what was coming. "But we have an expression in Syria: 'If you feed a scorpion, it will bite you'." His message couldn't have been clearer.

The United States supported the opposition against Libya's Colonel Gaddafi, helped Saudi Arabia and Qatar pour cash and weapons to the militias and had now reaped the whirlwind. America's Libyan "friends" had turned against them, murdered US ambassador Stevens and his colleagues in Benghazi and started an al-Qa'ida-led anti-American protest movement that had consumed the Muslim world.

The US had fed the al-Qa'ida scorpion and now it had bitten America. And so Washington now supports the opposition against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, was helping Saudi Arabia and Qatar pour cash and weapons to the militias (including Salafists and al-Qa'ida) and would, inevitably, be bitten by the same "scorpion" if Assad was overthrown.

My friend's sermon was not quite in line with Syrian government policy. Assad's argument is that Syria is not Libya, and that Syrians, with their history, culture, love of Arabism, etc, did not want a revolution. But the Arab fury at Hollywood's obscene little anti-prophet video has occasioned almost as much rewriting of history in the West.

The US media has already invented a new story in which America supported the Arab Spring saved the city of Benghazi when its people were about to be destroyed by Gaddafi's monstrous thugs – and has now been stabbed in the back by those treacherous Arabs in the very city rescued by the US.

The real narrative, however, is different. Washington propped up and armed Arab dictatorships for decades, Saddam being one of our favourites. We loved Mubarak of Egypt, we adored Ben Ali of Tunisia, we are still passionately in love with the autocratic Gulf states, the gas stations now bankrolling the revolutions we choose to support – and we did, for at least two decades, smile upon Hafez al-Assad; even, briefly, his son Bashar.

So we saved Benghazi with our air power and expected the Arab world to love us. We ignored the composition of the Libyan militias we supported – just as Clinton and Hague don't dwell on the make-up of the Free Syrian Army today. We pay no attention to Assad's warnings of "foreign fighters", just as we largely ignored the Salafists who were moving among the brave men who fought Gaddafi.

Go back further, and we did pretty much the same in Afghanistan after 1980. We backed the mujahedin against the Soviets without paying attention to their theology and we used Pakistan to funnel weapons to these men. And when some of them transmogrified into the Taliban and nurtured Osama bin Laden and the scorpion bit on 9/11, we cried "terrorism" and wondered why the Afghans "betrayed" us. Same story yesterday, when four US Special Forces were murdered by their ungrateful Afghan police "trainees".

The tragedy of this pathetic cycle of events is that the Assad regime is horrible and its secret police thugs have tortured and murdered thousands of innocents, its personnel have committed war crimes and Syria's civil war is consuming a generation who should be building a nation rather than destroying it. And Turkey has now taken on Pakistan's role as an arms funnel and rest-and-recreation centre for Syria's mujahedin. Will Turkey turn out to be the Pakistan of the Middle East?

Syria's war is now taking on the carapace of Lebanon's 1975-90 conflict: sympathise with Palestinians and you were anti-Christian – express Christian fears and you were pro-Israeli. In Syria, the government's brutal snipers are killers of children. On the other side of the front line, the Free Syrian Army sniper is romantic; he gets married to a frontline nurse, only too sorry the family can't attend their nuptials. The mere suggestion that the opposition might be committing the occasional atrocity, and a reporter is asked – as I was – how much he is being paid by the Syrian mukhabarat intelligence service.

So over to the Department of Home Truths. When he was murdered, Osama bin Laden was a has-been. No Arab revolutionary carried his picture. But this wretched organisation has now decided to cash in. Hence this weekend's al-Qa'ida call to Egyptians to continue their protests against the anti-Muslim video. Hence Benghazi. The scorpion has got in among the good guys. All you need then is a Hollywood crackpot. And a bit of hypocrisy. For Washington reluctantly says it can't ban the video since this would endanger free speech – the same free speech which America's dictators forbad their Arab people for so many decades.

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