The Eurasian Politician - Issue 5 (April 2002)
By: Antero Leitzinger, 6th March 2002
This article intends to trace the roots of Islamic terrorism, with special focus on Afghanistan. Notes are added on practical and philosophical problems of world media in finding the right track. From systematic errors in revealing little details, to serious misconceptions about basic facts and principles, we can relatively easily learn how much of "common knowledge" rests actually on superficial research and popular myths. Instead of becoming critical and aware of the traps laid around the issue, both Islamists and Islamophobes fail to recognize how they are manipulated.
Terrorism is not as difficult a concept as some claim. It is a political ideology (-ism) on the use of terror, which is arbitrary, unrestricted and unspecified fear. This excludes traditional warfare against regular armies and police forces, and individual assassinations of public figures.
Neither separatism nor criminal violence as such are necessarily terrorism. To call an act that, we should always ask: Does this really spread blind terror among the general populace? A bomb blown in a market-place, or in a civilian airplane, intends to create common fear among customers and bystanders alike, because just about anybody could become a victim. The victims are typically anonymous, and the very idea of the act was to cause damage or a credible threat. The assassination of a political leader, throwing stones on occupation troops, or bombing of enemy positions during a declared war or after an order to surrender has been given, may be repulsive and kill innocent people, but there is no terror, if no average "man of the street" needs to feel uneasy about his security the next day. No women or children should need to fear, that they could be mistaken as presidents, soldiers, or military installations. Somebody may have bad luck and be targeted accidentally, but if it is terrorism, we will find ourselves asking: Why? What is the object?
Terrorism is rarely the ultimate end itself, as anarchy or communism are thought to be, but merely a method to promote some politics. That is why terrorists represent a political ideology. Even when they are in fact nothing but common criminals or psychopaths, terrorists make efforts to find a political excuse for their acts.
We know, that not every political movement has created a terrorist splinter group, or served as an excuse for terrorism. Actually, terrorism has been the favourite method of extreme socialists only – both of the (left-wing) international, and the (right-wing) national varieties. Since the Jacobins of the French revolution held a "Reign of Terror" in 1794, the international socialists (communists) and national socialists (fascists) have shared a common tendency to use terrorism.
A clear definition of terrorism helps to identify and trace it through history. It can be dated and located. This makes it very real – and thus also possible to be exterminated.
Modern terrorism was born within a year, 1967-1968. International socialists (communists) started the fashion all over the world simultaneously, which should make us suspicious about the common roots. National socialists followed suit, turning Marxists of Muslim origin into Islamists of Marxist origin.
In May 1967, Yuri Andropov took over the leadership of the KGB. The Russian security services evolved into a state within the Soviet state, as become clear when Andropov became the communist party’s general secretary after Leonid Brezhnev’s death, in 1982. During Andropov’s era, which was far longer than that of any other KGB chief, the Soviet secret services supported international terrorism through satellite states and Marxist "liberation fronts". Andropov’s deputy was Brezhnev’s brother-in-law Semyon Tsvigun, who committed suicide in 1979.
In December 1967, a Lebanese Christian, George Habash, who had been a Pan-Arabic national socialist, broadened his field by founding the PFLP, a Palestinian organization. Although it split already by the next year, the PFLP remained the most pro-Soviet Palestinian terrorist group, with widest global ties. It caused the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party to adopt the Palestinian cause in 1968.
On June 2nd, 1967, the Shah of Iran was met in West Germany by violent student demonstrators. All of free Europe was plagued by student demonstrations in May 1968, causing a nearly revolutionary situation in France. Numerous left-wing terrorist cells were formed in Germany, Italy, and other western countries. Their activities peaked in 1977, after which the West German terrorists retired in communist East Germany.
The (North Irish) IRA and (Basque) ETA started their terrorism in 1968, with peaks around 1976.
In Latin America, communist Cuba was the source of revolutionary activities in many countries. In October 1967, "Che Guevara" was executed in Bolivia, becoming a romantic idol for teenage girls. Thirty-four years later, his picture could be seen on the T-shirts of young Palestinian brawlers. In Mexico, the KGB was involved in student riots from July to October 1968, prior to the Olympic Games. Uruguay experienced urban guerrilla activities by the MLN, peaking between 1968 and 1972. Argentine followed between 1970 and 1975. Communists had big hopes on Chile, but were bitterly disappointed by the military coup in 1973.
By the end of the 1970s, communist optimism was definitely on the decline everywhere in the world. At that point, any kind of a boost of revolutionary spirits was desperately needed by the KGB. Surprisingly, the Middle East came to rescue.
The once fashionable airplane hijackings had begun in July 1968. At that time, the Soviet Union, having supported the establishment of Israel and armed its forces until 1950, had invested a lot of resources into the Palestinian cause and Arab Socialism.
"By the summer of 1968, the Soviet Union had progressed far toward converting Egypt into its principal base of subversion against the Arab world." (John Barron: KGB, New York 1974, p. 62) Thirty-three years later, Egypt was the principal base of Islamic terrorists. Soviet Union, however, failed in Egypt. In May 1971, most of KGB agents were wiped out by Anwar Sadat. Nine years later, he paid for this with his life, being assassinated by members of an Islamist group. Sadat’s peace policy toward Israel made it easy for the remnants of the KGB network to ally with the right-wing Muslim Brotherhood. This is the background of Ayman al-Zawahiri, the second man of al-Qaida.
Iraq was in mid-1970s Russia’s most trusted ally in the Muslim world (except for South Yemen, which was already officially a Soviet satellite), and the only nominally non-communistic state, where the KGB ceased its activities, because there appeared to be no need for any supervision. When Saddam Hussein had some Iraqi communists executed, in May 1978, the KGB became worried, but the outbreak of Iraqi-Iranian war in 1980, came as a surprise to Soviet diplomacy. For a while, Soviet Union wavered in whom to support, but when the USA, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia had made their choice for Iraq, the Soviet Union switched sides. Following this, many Soviet-sponsored terrorists had to move from Iraq to Iran, Syria, or Lebanon.
Iran became Russia’s most loyal ally after the Islamic revolution in 1979. This relationship has lasted over two decades, and is still cherished by the Islamists among Shiite clergy and security services. When Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan later the same year, there was only one spontaneous demonstration in Teheran, after which Iran has tamely followed Russia’s actions against neighbouring Muslim people.
Among the closest associates of Ayatollah Khomeini, there were communists who had conveniently chosen the victorious movement. Mostafa Chamran had studied in California and Egypt before he founded a "Red Shiite" secret society. His pupils were later foreign minister Ibrahim Yazdi, oil minister Mohammed Gharazi, and a Lebanese fellow student in Berkeley University, Hussein Shaikh al-Islam, who led the occupation of the US Embassy in Teheran. This occupation, shortly before the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, focused Iranian radicalism into anti-Americanism. (Amir Taheri: Holy Terror, Bethesda 1987, p. 78 and 139-140)
In the Karabagh conflict, Khomeini supported the Christian Armenians, whose terrorist movement ASALA were located in Iran already at the end of 1984, before being returned to Lebanon. (Taheri, p. 112 and 278) They were activated against Azerbaijani Muslims in 1987. ASALA had been originally established by a former Iraqi member of the PFLP, "Hagop Hagopian", and had shared common training camps in Lebanon with the PFLP, from 1977 to 1982. The movement from Iraqi and PFLP protection to Iranian and Lebanese (actually Syrian) custody, coincided with the swift of Soviet sympathy from Iraq to Iran during the Iraqi-Iranian war. (Patrick Seale: Abu Nidal – Der Händler des Todes, Gütersloh 1992, p. 337-338)
Azerbaijan’s contemporary president, former party leader and KGB chief, Heydar Aliyev, was the expert on Middle East, who had soon convinced the Politburo, that Khomeini should be supported by the Soviet Union. (Taheri, p. 218) This assessment caused a permanent division within the Iranian communist (Tudeh) party, because it was instructed to support Khomeini despite the doubts of some Iranian communists.
The "Islamic revolution" in Iran inspired frustrated left-wing Arabs. According to Emmanuel Sivan ("Radical Islam, Modern Theology and Modern Politics", Binghamton 1985, p. 161-168), the Arab world had been demoralized by the 1973 war, by failure to gain enough from the oil crisis, and by the Lebanese civil war in 1975-1976. Even a Christian Marxist like Jérôme Shahin came to the conclusion, that neither Arab Socialism nor Pan-Arabic unity, but only Islam could inspire Arab "masses". Another Marxist, Anwar Abdelmalek, advocated "Political Islam", and described Khomeini as "progressive by definition" because of the innate anti-Americanism of Islamic heritage. The "Abdelmalek-Shahin syndrome" gave suddenly hope to alienated left-wing intellectuals, including Algerians, former champions of the FNL, Bou-Ali (1983) and Ahmed Ben Bella (1984), who had been decorated with a Lenin medial twenty-one years earlier. (Taheri, p. 192-193 and 296)
This conversion from Marxism to Islam was no worse a spiritual problem than the conversion of traditionally deeply Roman Catholic nationalist organizations like the IRA and ETA, into Marxist terrorist groups in the 1960s. German right-wing terrorists of the Wehrsportgruppe felt no problems either in being trained in 1981 by left-wing Palestinians in Lebanon. (Neue Zürcher Zeitung 8.1.1985)
Russia has long traditions in the political art of provocation, dating back to the imperial age, when the secret police finally lost track of its own web of "agent provocateurs", who successfully infiltrated and compromised opposition parties by committing themselves to so serious crimes, that they could just as well be considered revolutionaries in police disguise. Provocations were adopted by the Soviet secret services, and widely used in the "ethnic conflicts" that appeared suddenly in Central Asia and Caucasus, between 1987 and 1993. (See: Caucasus and the Unholy Alliance, Vantaa 1997!)
Provocations were exercised already during the invasion of Afghanistan, as has been recently (in February 2002) revealed by Vasili Mitrokhin, a KGB officer from 1956 to 1984, who prepared a secret report in 1987 and defected to Britain in 1992. He describes "false flag" operations, where "Soviet-trained Afghan guerrilla units posed as CIA-supported, anti-Soviet mujaheddin rebels [Islamic freedom-fighters] to create confusion and flush out genuine rebels". In January 1983, there were 86 such "false bands", trained by KGB officer V. Kikot of the 8th Department of the "Directorate S", who was transferred from Cuba, and was acquainted with training Palestinian terrorists. There were also over 200 agents infiltrated in Pakistan, and over 110 agents in Iran. (Washington Post 24.2.2002; International Herald Tribune 25.2.2002)
Afghan freedom-fighters recognized Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as a KGB provocateur already by 1985. Two-thirds of the conflicts between Afghan guerrilla factions were caused by KGB provocation. (Henry S. Bradsher: Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, Durham 1985, p. 295; Afghanistan – The Great Game Revisited, Lanham 1987, p. 203-227 and 395) This should have been no surprise, since Hekmatyar is told to have spent four years in the Afghan communist party (PDPA) before becoming a "devout" Muslim. (http://www.afghan-web.com/bios/today/ghekmatyar.html) Even an Afghan left-wing feminist group accuses Hekmatyar for participation in an assassination carried out by the KGB in 1985. (http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/3340/rawa.html)
Although Hekmatyar was (like the Taliban leader later) a Sunni Moslem, he regarded Iran as his model, and took refugee in Iran, where he sympathized the Taliban until he was forced to disappear from Teheran in February 2002. A great mystery, wondered by many western researchers and journalists who had observed the Afghan war, was how notoriously anti-American Hekmatyar, despite his bad reputation and terrorist sympathies, became a favourite of the Pakistani ISI (until 1993), and thus a main recipient of US military aid for Afghan guerrillas in the mid-1980s. Several explanations, including KGB infiltration of the CIA (or rather ISI), have been provided by George Arney ("Afghanistan", London 1990, p. 160-161) and ABC News reporter John K. Cooley ("Unholy Wars – Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism", Padstow 1999). As CNN’s reporter Richard Mackenzie has said, Hekmatyar "gained notoriety in Afghanistan for killing more fellow Mujahideen than he did communists."
Although American contribution to the Afghan war has been exaggerated, it remains a dark cloud over the CIA’s credibility. The British were critical about CIA’s policy, and far more efficient by providing Stinger missiles to the legendary commander Ahmed Shah Massoud, who used them to expel the Russians. Hekmatyar sold his Stingers to Iran in 1987. (Cooley, p. 92 and 173)
Russia’s aid for the communist army exceeded all foreign aid to the guerrillas. From 1986 to 1990, the USA sent weapons worth of 5 billion US$, while the Soviet Union provided an arsenal worth an estimated 5,7 billion US$, according to Rubin Barnett ("The Fragmentation of Afghanistan", New Haven 1995, p. 179, according to Reuters 1.4.2001). The USA may have used additional 3 billion US$, and Saudi Arabia 2 billion US$, in the years 1991-1992 ("The Middle East", June 1993). This was, however, perhaps more than equaled by Russia’s shipments worth of 4 billion US$ annually (20-30 daily flights), continuing at least until 1991. (Khabir Ahmad’s report in "Venäjän ja Itä-Euroopan instituutin Tiedonantoja ja katsauksia" 3/2001.)
There are discrepancies between the numbers presented in different sources, but whatever reasons the USA may have had for spending money on Hekmatyar, Russia’s legacy to Afghan communists prolonged the most destructive civil war beyond the official disintegration of the Soviet Union and the fall of Kabul.
Afghan communists have a broad history of "turning coats", or to be more accurate, of growing beards and adopting the title "Mullah" attached to a pseudonym. Prior to the Soviet invasion, the communists had been divided into three factions:
The founder of the Taliban, "Mullah" (without much of clerical education) Omar, was a comrade-in-arms of "Mullah Borjan" in the "Islamic Revolutionary Movement", before they founded a new party of their own, by autumn 1994. Their credentials in the resistance were marginal compared to those of Massoud. The same applies to Osama bin Laden, who arrived in Pakistan by 1984 and may have participated in one battle but boasted as a war veteran to his young idolaters. According to CIA agent Milt Bearden, bin Laden fought a battle in spring 1987, but according to Yossef Bodansky, a couple of skirmishes in 1986 and 1989.
Actually, when the Palestinian organizer of Arab aid, Abdullah Azzam, wanted to send volunteers, money, and arms to assist Massoud, bin Laden had his mentor assassinated in autumn 1989, took over the organization (al-Qaida), sent the volunteers back home (Kabul remained to be liberated, as well as the rest of Central Asia), and let Hekmatyar have the rest. Bin Laden left his base in the Pakistani frontier town of Peshawar in an unexplained panic (telling that Saudi Arabia had hired the ISI to kill him), in 1991, while communists were still in power in Kabul, and just when things started to move in Soviet Central Asia. He had quite apparently no interest in destabilizing the Russian sphere of influence, and in contrary, directed the activities of Arab adventurers against pro-American governments.
During the Afghan war, Arabs hanging around in the region had been of little use (the Afghans detested them because of their religious fervour, lack of respect for traditions, and boasting habit), and they merely pretended to be interested in Afghanistan while in fact hiding in Peshawar from their own police. Most of them were Egyptians in exile, but some Arab countries dumped there common criminals. They were used by Hekmatyar to assist Aliyev and Russian-sponsored Lezghin terrorists in Azerbaijan, in 1993-1994. (Cooley, p. 178-179)
Bin Laden returned to Afghanistan only when in need of refugee for himself, invited by Hekmatyar in 1996, and soon found out, that meanwhile, all his fellow terrorists had defected – alongside the communist generals – to the self-appointed "Mullah" Omar. Bin Laden followed suit.
Post-Soviet Russia faked friendship with the legal Afghan government of Burhanuddin Rabbani (1992-2001), while its "former" communist generals (seven out of eleven) served Hekmatyar, with the main exception of Dostum. According to Peshawar University professor Azmat Hayat Khan, the communist army was divided with the explicit intention of continuing destabilization, and retaining their party affiliations and structures for future use. ("Central Asia" 31/1992, p. 62) The Taliban was, however, sometimes suspicious about its former communists, many of whom may have been purged in September 1998, when three generals, twenty-two officers, and thirty other people were arrested for involvement in a communist conspiracy. (Radio Russia 27.9.1998)
When Rabbani’s defense minister Massoud, the arch-enemy of the KGB, was about to restore peace in Afghanistan by 1995, against all odds, Russia promoted a new rebel movement, the Taliban. Money, arms and technological know-how was channeled not only through the above-mentioned agents, but also directly by flights from Russia, and probably overland through Turkmenistan. This started before bin Laden’s arrival, and bin Laden – through his Egyptian connections, close to Hekmatyar – remained servile to Russian interests.
First of all, Russia was worried about the future of ex-Soviet Tajikistan, which enjoyed a short period of democracy at the very same time when Rabbani and Massoud, both ethnic Tajiks, were restoring order in Kabul. The Russian army restored old communists to power in Tajikistan, fought a bloody civil war, and put pressure on the Afghan government not to tolerate Tajik guerrillas on its soil.
Secondly, Saparmurat Niyazov, the communist leader of Turkmenistan, initiated, in November 1994, a project to build oil and gas pipelines through Afghanistan to Pakistan. (Guardian 3.10.1995) This was further promoted by the mighty Gazprom company, whose former manager Viktor Chernomyrdin is, as its share-holder, one of world’s richest men, and happened to be Russian prime minister from 1993 to 1998. This end of the pipeline project has received little attention from western media, while the other end has produced speculations ever since Californian-based UNOCAL and Saudi Arabian Delta Oil companies were attracted to the project by October 1995. Originally, Argentinean oil company Bridas was involved, but because it would have preferred a routing through Iran, it was dropped out of the project. (Der Spiegel 1/2002)
Gazprom succeeded in having UNOCAL to sign a deal on August 13th, 1996. This became a political nuisance to the USA, and finally, UNOCAL cancelled it. However, neither the government of Turkmenistan, nor the Russian gas giant Gazprom, suffered from bad publicity. They met no political objections to continue negotiations with the Taliban. (International Press Service 30.4.1999; AsiaPulse via COMTEX 31.10.2000) Niyazov personally put on hold the promising alternative, American-sponsored Trans-Caspian Pipeline Project for the export of Turkmen gas to Turkey. (The Monitor 4.1.2001)
While Niyazov and Chernomyrdin had personal financial interests to support the Taliban, US Vice President Al Gore signed the infamous 1995 US-Russian weapons agreement, which exempted Russia from sanctions, although Russia would sell arms to Iran. This secret agreement violated the rules of 1992, by the US Congress. Gore’s excuse was, that Russia agreed upon not selling nuclear technology, and to stop all arms exports to Iran by the end of 1999. This, of course, never happened, and when the failed agreement was leaked to The New York Times in October 2000, Russia declared its intention not to keep it anyway. (Reuters 31.10. and 22.11.2000) The case illustrates, how deeply Chernomyrdin was involved in businesses with Islamic extremists, and how Russia succeeded in having Bill Clinton’s administration participate in shady deals against American public interests. There were also rumours of promised concessions in the pipeline projects, or in financial support to Gore’s presidential campaign. Gore’s loss at the November 2000 elections was a devastating surprise for Russian political establishment.
Thirdly, a KGB officer, Victor Bout (Viktor But), flew arms to the Taliban until 2001. The beginning of this business enterprise would have remained unknown, if a Russian airplane would not have been spotted at Kandahar airport. According to Bout’s explanations, the arms shipment, originally intended to the government in Kabul, was forced to land at Kandahar by a MiG 21, on August 6th, 1995. This happened exactly at a time when the Taliban was about to be routed. Instead of a rapid disaster at this critical point, the reinforced Taliban turned to attack, and took over the town of Herat by September 5th. The Russian pilots were kept as hostages in Kandahar until next August 16th, when they miraculously escaped and were decorated by the Russian president. Soon after, in September 1996, a well-armed Taliban advanced all the way to Kabul.
Victor Bout was born in 1967, probably in Smolensk. He has used also the names Viktor Bulakin and Vadim Aminov. He carries five passports: two Russians, one Ukrainian, and probably one Tajik and one Uzbek. (Guardian 23.12.00) He served as navigator in the Soviet air force, and graduated from the Military Institute for Foreign Languages in Moscow. By 1991, Bout had a career in the KGB, assisted by his father-in-law, who was no lesser a character than the Brezhnev family member Tsvigun. (Guardian 23.12.00)
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Bout served in UN peace troops in Angola. (Sunday Telegraph 22.7.01) He still has a house in Johannesburg, now used as a brothel. In 1995, Bout appeared in Belgium as the owner of a cargo flight company. He flew arms to Afghanistan, since 1997 to East Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, and Uganda, and since 1998 to Liberia and Sierra Leone. Destinations may have included also Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Eritrea or Georgia (the end users are often unknown), Peru, and Sri Lanka (Tamil Tigers). (Jane’s Intelligence Review, February 2002; The Washington Monthly 1/2002)
Bout’s partners were Soviet-trained air force generals of the Taliban. To be closer to Afghanistan, he moved in 1997 to the United Arab Emirates. When UN sanctions forced the UAE to check the cargo going to Afghanistan, in January 2001, Bill Clinton’s administration did its last favour to friendly Russia by allowing an exception for carriers registered in Russia. (Los Angeles Times 20.1.02) For Clinton’s Russia expert Strobe Talbott, Russians were always above any suspicions as sponsors of Islamic terrorism. Once again, the British MI6 was needed to turn CIA’s attention to the right direction. (Sunday Times 17.2.02)
Russian disinformation labeled the Taliban a client of Pakistan, although some observers had noticed already by 1997, that the ISI had surprisingly little leverage on the Taliban. Even if the Taliban were a creation by Benazir Bhutto’s (1993-1996) interior minister, Nasrullah Babar, they had soon freed themselves from any gratitude and dependence. In June 2001, a fax message from Peshawar, revealed by Pakistani intelligence, described Bout’s role as Taliban’s life-line. Arms listed as "fish from Tanzania" should be routed either overland via Turkmenistan, or by air to Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan - the airplanes, flown by reliable Armenian pilots, would then fake emergency landings in Afghanistan. (The Washington Times 11.11.2001)
Bout has 250-300 employees, probably mostly Russians, Ukrainians, and Armenians. According to a Russian newspaper, the Komsomolskaya Pravda, Bout’s main source of arms is Transdnestria, the Moldovan slice of land occupied by Russian army and administered by Soviet-nostalgic communists. (BBC 27.2.2002) This is also where terrorists of the Turkish PKK have found refugee. According to Jane’s Intelligence Review, February 2002, "Pakistani smugglers with ties to Ukraine" escorted possibly up to 200 al-Qaida militants to Ukraine. The "Pakistani smuggler" was, however, Bout’s associate, and the destination probably Transdnestria.
Bout himself owns a five-storey house in Moscow, where he appeared in a radio studio to declare his innocence. Shortly before, the Russian Interpol officer had claimed, that they had searched for Bout for years, and could guarantee, that he was not in Russia! (The Los Angeles Times 26.2.02) Bout’s brother had a house in Islamabad. (The Washington Post 26.2.02)
On 28th February, 2002, the head of the Russian Interpol office proudly declared, that after four years of investigations, Russian law-enforcement agencies could assure, that Bout was nowhere in Russia. At the same time, Bout appeared in the Ekho Moskvy radio programme, saying that he had lived all the time in Moscow. He evaded questions by claiming, that he was a businessman, envied and therefore persecuted by Americans, that he had no ties to Russian intelligence, that he was involved only in air transportation since 1992, and that he never went "into the arms trade as such" - after all, "What does ‘arms trade’ mean?" Bout asked. He repeated the common claim, that "Americans helped in cultivating the Taliban and controlled it through Pakistan." (The New York Times 1.3.2002)
The same night, a Russian Interior Ministry spokesman explained that police were not seeking to arrest Bout, because they had no evidence of any wrongdoing. (The Los Angeles Times 1.3.2002)
Some years ago, Talbott had entertained great expectations because the FBI was allowed to train Russian colleagues to fight terrorism in Moscow. Not only have they failed to investigate the September 1999 bombings, which were pinned collectively on Chechens, but were actually committed by the FSB, as has become evident since then, but both the FBI and their Russian colleagues appear to be unable to apprehend even well-known Russian "merchants of death" in Moscow, despite of international warrants for arrest.
There might indeed be a Chechen connection, but hardly the like Interpol would be looking: the former communist boss of Soviet Chechnya, and Russia’s puppet president (1995-1996) Doku Zavgayev, was appointed as Russia’s ambassador to Tanzania shortly before bin Laden’s associates blew up buildings there. Also, the PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan’s decision to fly to East Africa, in February 1999, may be added to a list of curious coincidences.
We should also remember the career of Yevgeny Primakov, KGB operative in Egypt in the 1960s, chief of the reorganized foreign intelligence service SVR from 1991 to 1996, foreign minister from 1996 to 1998, and prime minister from 1998 to 1999. [Note by the Editor: In 2001, Primakov was appointed the Russian ambassador in Ukraine, and he serves as the actual supervisor of Transdnestria. Transdnestria was also one of Öcalan’s hides before he was arrested in Kenya.]
In this article, I have tried to use consistently the transliteration of names as made popular by English-language media, although it is erroneous and annoying. It is based on Persian pronunciation (f. ex. Moslem, Mohammed, and Taliban instead of more correct Muslim, Muhammad, and Taliban), on the English habit of separating compound words (like Abdul-), and accepting imaginary first names (f. ex. Mohammed in the case of Najibullah and Omar, who are commonly called by their first names, and actually use neither any patronyms nor surnames).
Transliteration would be just an academic issue, if it would not reveal how superficially research and media deal with the Islamic world. The sudden interest on Afghanistan last autumn was not met with broad or deep reportage. Instead, the media repeated each other’s mistakes, and made up myths. Let me start with the most trivial examples:
When the anti-Taliban commander Abdul Haq was killed, all the world learned about "Mr. Haq". To my knowledge, no TV station or newspaper paid any attention to the detail, that his brother was called Abdul Qadir, thus – "Mr. Qadir", or "Abdul brothers"? I have no reasons to doubt the accuracy of this piece of news as such, but it led me to wonder, how little we know and care to know about Afghan political leaders. If we do not even notice the problem of naming when repeated frequently, how would we notice the ease with which long lost communist generals reappear as "Mullah Mohammed X" of the Taliban? Hundreds of western journalists spent weeks in Afghanistan or Pakistan, anticipating some action, but none of them took the effort to establish biographies of the main players. No newspaper referred to Stéphane Allix’s excellent article in Le Monde diplomatique, January 1997, Anthony Davis’s article, published by Reuters 1.8.1997, or the well summarized biographies of Osama bin Laden by Stephen Engelberg in The New York Times 14.1.2001, and Rohan Gunaratna in Jane’s Intelligence Review, August 2001.
No western journalist had time to read Lieutenant-General Kamal Matinuddin’s detailed book, available in English in the book-stores of Islamabad. Instead, every journalist referred to the rather superficial writings of a fellow-journalist, Ahmed Rashid, who was suddenly hailed as the most important expert. The Finnish foreign minister, a left-wing radical of the 1960s, wrote a review of this book, claiming that nothing else had been written on the Taliban.
Against this background, we may understand how easily dozens of journalists – and their Afghan guides – were led to believe into mythical supermen like Chechens fighting for al-Qaida. In past centuries, the same journalists would certainly have reported about the Yeti (Snow-men), Amazons (fighting women), and the white horse Enver Pasha is still supposed to ride somewhere in the mountains. When no Chechen was found, after months of search, the journalists did not take notice of their apparent mistakes, but continued to repeat the same stories. Even Moscow News had to be satisfied by interviewing only a Tatar, an Azerbaijani Turk (presented as a Chechen by the Afghan guards), and a Circassian (who must have had real difficulties explaining his American interrogators the differences of Caucasian nationalities). There were more westerners among al-Qaida prisoners. Al-Qaida records captured in Kabul include mostly Yemeni, followed by Algerians, and individual Syrians, Lebanese, Palestinian, Kuwaiti, and Tunisians. (Jane’s Defense Weekly 30.1.2002)
The nationality of the mostly Saudi Arabian terrorists of September 11th, and the North African (Moroccan, Algerian, or Tunisian) assassins of Massoud on September 9th, 2001, has been somewhat vague. It has been alleged, that most al-Qaida militants in Afghanistan were of Saudi Arabian or Egyptian origin, but passports could be stolen or forged. Al-Qaida’s third man, Zayn al-Abidin Muhammad Husayn Abu Zubaydah, was first declared a Saudi Arabian of Palestinian origin, but then recognized as an Iraqi activist of the Arab Socialist Baath party. (The New York Times 14.2.2002; Der Spiegel 8/18.2.2002) Although they are Arabs all the same, identities could provide clues about political backgrounds.
It should not have taken too much of intellect for a journalist to consider the logical problem with thousands of Chechens (as alleged) fighting in Afghanistan while equally many (alleged by the very same sources) fought in Chechnya. There were also another hilarious paradox: Because Reuters had obviously decided long ago that Taliban was going to be internationally recognized as the government of the country (this expectation alone should rise questions about Reuters’ integrity), the consensus of world media was, despite the recognition by UN and all but three countries (even they had withdrawn their recognition by then), that the legal government of Afghanistan was to be called "opposition", or "anti-Taliban rebels", if not "Northern Alliance". This practice continued even some time after the legal government had retaken the capital. How could the media consider a legal government, well installed in the capital, the "opposition" – to what? Although the US-led coalition was in fact assisting the government of Afghanistan (as it had appealed in vain for years) against a disgusting rebel movement, the media regarded the Taliban as representative of the Afghan people, and criticized the alliance for bombing "Afghanistan" or "Afghans". At the same time, the Taliban were shooting grenades to government-held villages, as they had done for years, but the media did not pay much attention to that.
I would like to know, whether the media would have regarded the Allied liberation of Paris, Rome, and Athens, all in 1944, as morally questionable invasions by the Allied supporting local "warlords" like Charles de Gaulle? Would the bombing of German positions in those times have been reported as critically, counting the collateral damage? Perhaps the media has a somewhat perverted perception of fair objectivity, when it is obsessed about "balancing" US military information by referring to evidently propagandistic terrorist broadcasts.
Beside the inevitable anti-Muslim prejudices, traditionally left-wing pacifism (as if the Afghans would have preferred to remain under Taliban rule, or that it would have ultimately saved human lives), and simple lack of proper knowledge, some media outlets resorted to staging actions. The renowned BBC correspondent, John Simpson, was seen paying for canons being shot while he pretended to report from the trenches about some ongoing battle. Photographers had Afghan soldiers "invading" a village, and when no other means for providing news could be invented, TV reporters simply asked in advance from back home, what rumours they could report as if they had themselves heard them on spot.
European newspapers are used to quoting Reuters, and reprinting articles from two American newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post. Articles published in The Washington Times, or eyewitness reports conflicting with Reuters’ news, are disregarded. Unfortunately, most of the media in Muslim countries follows the same tendency, and lacks ingenuity. Thus some myths live for ever, while some facts never make it to global distribution.
There are a billion Muslims, of whom only every sixth is an Arab. Yet Muslims in Indonesia learn more about Palestine than about the Balkans, Caucasus, Kashmir, or Turkestan. This is because in Jerusalem, western journalists enjoy nice hotels and freedom of speech, but can easily make pictures of small groups burning US flags. On the media, these groups appear not so small anymore. Such news are consistent with popular expectations, and provoke sentiments in America. They sell well. It would be much less rewarding to look for equally interesting and convincing news flashes in places, where more people and more journalists too get killed, and where the travelling discomfort, hotel services, and weather too are less exciting.
The distorted world view of mainstream media provides many Muslims too with a deceptive self-portrait. They start to believe that America must indeed be the worst enemy of Islam, because this is the message transmitted through American media. Because nobody ever watches Russian TV, few Muslims outside the former Soviet empire realize that there are more Tatars than Palestinians. Hollywood presents not only irritating stereotypes of Muslims as backward, fanatics, and terrorists, but it also exercises self-criticism and presents to the world some of the faults of the American society. The Russian media, now again tightly under security police supervision, never makes the mistake of admitting historical injustices or revealing scandals of the communist establishment.
On the highway in South Lebanon, Hizbullah has put up a large sign: "All our disasters caused by U.S.A." (Neue Zürcher Zeitung 7.2.2002; I also saw it myself two years ago.) The proponents of Islamism, or political Islam, are not only agents of world-wide anti-Americanism (against the interests of millions of Muslims), but also psychotic idealists, true followers of earlier forms of totalitarian thought.
There is also something more than the unreliability of the media, which the Muslim world in particular should learn: The Soviet Union was never destroyed, as Osama bin Laden would like us to think! Russia is still the world’s largest colonial power, and a restless empire, with a long history of Islamophobia and genocide on its Muslim subjects and neighbours. In all the 12 former Soviet republics of the CIS, "former" communists are still in power, and Soviet institutions are hardly "former" at all. The KGB may be renamed FSB and SVR, and it may officially renounce communism as state ideology and atheism as state religion, but the same agents are still employed, the same tactics are used, a statue of the mass murderer Feliks Dzerzhinsky has been re-erected [though not the big one in front of Lubyanka], and the Soviet hymn has been reinstated. Russia continues to dream about a push to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, through the destruction of Turkey and Pakistan, as was the strategic utopia for centuries. Muslims are the arch-enemy of the "Third Rome", and communists turned to Islamists serve their masters as blindly as ever.