The Age of Terror
October 9, 2006
“And so on we go with the Middle East tragedy, telling the world that things are getting better when they are getting worse, that democracy is flourishing when it is swamped in blood, that freedom is not without “birth pangs” when the midwife is killing the baby.”
A few days after Lebanon’s latest war came to an end, I went through many of the reporter’s notebooks I have used in my last 30 years in the Middle East. Some contained the names of dead colleagues, others the individual stories of the suffering of Arabs and Kurds and Christians and Jews. One, dated 1991, is even splashed with a dark and viscous substance, the oil that came raining down on us from the skies over the Kuwaiti desert after Saddam blew up the wells of the Emirate. It was only after a few minutes that I realised what I was looking for: some hint, back in the days of dangerous innocence, of what was going to happen on 11 September 2001.
And sure enough, in one notebook, part of a transcript of an interview I gave in Toronto in the late 1990s, I see myself trying to discourage the Middle East optimism of my host. “There is an explosion coming in the Middle East,” I tell him. What was this explosion I was talking about? I find myself writing almost the same thing a couple of years later in The Independent – I refer to “the explosion to come” without locating it in the Middle East at all. What was I talking about? And then, most disturbingly, I re-run parts of a film series I made with the late Michael Dutfield for Channel 4 and Discovery in 1993. Called From Beirut to Bosnia, it was billed as an attempt to record “Muslims growing anger towards the West.”
In one sequence, I walk into a destroyed mosque in a Bosnian village called Cela. And I hear my voice on the soundtrack, saying: “When I see things like this, I think of the place I work, the Middle East… I wonder what the Muslim world has in store for us… Maybe I should end each of my reports with the words: ‘Watch out!’ ” And when I checked back to my post-production notes, I find the dates of all our film sequences listed. I had walked into that Bosnian mosque, watched by Serb policemen, on 11 September 1993. My warning was exactly eight years too early.
Read the rest of it here.