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Q&A: “There Is No War on Terrorism”

Omid Memarian interviews author REESE ERLICH

SAN FRANCISCO, California, Nov 10 2010 (IPS) - “The U.S. intentionally confuses al Qaeda with other groups around the world fighting for their independence or liberation, but it’s [just] a convenient way to whip up support and get people very afraid,” says author and journalist and Reese Erlich.

Reese Erlich Credit: Courtesy of Reese Erlich

Reese Erlich Credit: Courtesy of Reese Erlich

“There is no war on terrorism,” he tells IPS.

Based on original research and firsthand interviews, Erlich’s new book “Conversations with Terrorists” draws fresh portraits of six controversial leaders: Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, Hamas top leader Khaled Meshal, Israeli politician Geula Cohen, Iranian Revolutionary Guard founder Mohsen Sazargara, Hezbollah spiritual advisor Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Fadlallah, and former Afghan Radio and Television Ministry head Malamo Nazamy.

“Some of them I had already interviewed prior to coming up with the book idea. For example, Bashar Al-Assad, Khaled Meshal,” says Erlich. “They are very widely accused of being either terrorists or state sponsors of terrorism in the United States.”

Critiquing these responses and synthesising a wide range of material, Erlich, the co-author of “Target Iraq” (2003) and “Iran Agenda” (2007), shows that “yesterday’s terrorist is today’s national leader, and that today’s freedom fighter may become tomorrow’s terrorist.”

Excerpts from the interview with IPS correspondent Omid Memarian follow.

Q: What can your readers learn from interviews with those who are being accused of being a terrorist or supporting them? A: The theme of the book is to get people to look at who is accused of being a terrorist or might be considered being a terrorist, and what do they really stand for and what’s really going on in their countries.

Q: In one of the chapters, you say that Ayatollah Mohammad Fadlallah is a “CIA victim”. What do you mean by that? A: Well, the U.S. was absolutely convinced that Fadlallah was the mastermind of the Marine Corps [barracks] bombing in Beirut [in 1983]. They hired a Saudi and Lebanese agent to kill him. And this is all revealed in Bob Woodward’s book called “Veil”.

We confirmed it with Fadlallah in the interview. It’s a very well-documented case that was reported at the time. In 1985, an agent working for the CIA blew up an apartment building where Ayatollah Fadlallah lived. It killed 80 civilians but he was out of the building at the time.

Ironically, later it was shown Fadlallah had nothing to do with the bombing actually. That was confirmed to me by Bob Baer [a former CIA operative in the Middle East], who was in Beirut at the time and who was investigating who was responsible. It’s a serious warning that every time you hear in the U.S. press that this militant or this terrorist has been killed, keep a sceptical attitude.

Q: In one chapter you interview Mohsen Sazegara, a former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. What’s your take on this military organisation? A: There is no question that the Iranian government has engaged in terrorist tactics. For example, they assassinated some Kurdish leaders of KDP in Germany; that is a classic terrorist attack outside its borders.

I make a distinction between that and a legitimate group that is fighting for independence of their country or liberation of some form of occupation. If they are supporting groups inside Iraq or in Afghanistan that doesn’t automatically qualify for calling them terrorist, depending on what they are doing.

Q: How about Hamas and Hezbollah? A: I spent some time with both of those groups. Politically, I strongly disagree with them and make it clear that they’ve done some horrific things and if I were Lebanese or Palestinian I would not vote for them in the elections, I would vote for other people that want to see progressive political development in both countries.

But they are also legitimate political forces; they win significant numbers of seats. Hezbollah is a part of the ruling coalition in Lebanon today. Hamas actually won the Palestinian elections, free and fair. So to simply vilify them as terrorists doesn’t do any good. They have to be a part of the political negotiating process.

Q: If a legitimate political group gets involved in killing random people, does it qualify them to be named as a terrorist organisation? A: Both Hamas and Hezbollah have used terrorists’ tactics, no question about it. The Israeli government has used terrorist tactics against Lebanese and Palestinians; I think there is no doubt about that.

But Hamas and Hezbollah are very different than al Qaeda. [The latter] has a borderless campaign that they want to carry out and they are not part of any national liberation movement and they put terrorism at the core of their beliefs and tactics. That’s not the case for Hezbollah and Hamas. And the U.S. knows it, actually.

Q: What is your assessment of the Taliban in Afghanistan, where you interviewed the former Taliban leader, Malamo Nazamy? A: Nezamy saw the Taliban as a legitimate liberation group that was bringing stability, Islamic law and justice to Afghanistan. He certainly wouldn’t consider himself a terrorist. He was the head of Afghan radio and TV and he refused the demand of other Taliban leaders to destroy the country’s TV archives and he is very well known for that.

Today, he has many of the same views about Islam, the ruling government and attitudes towards women and so on. But he is willing to allow the U.S. and the U.S. troops for some time until negotiations can take place and that seems to be enough to make him currently an ally of [President Hamid] Karzai and the U.S.

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