Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondant for the UK Independent, is interviewed by Tony Jones for Lateline about the new Zarqawi video:
TONY JONES, LATELINE PRESENTER: Well, Robert Fisk is Middle East correspondent for ‘The Independent’ newspaper and more than 30 years of reporting from the region makes him one of the most acute observers of the Arab world. To discuss the implications of the al-Zarqawi video, he joins us now from Beirut. Thanks for being there, Robert Fisk. Do you have any doubt at all that these really are images of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?
ROBERT FISK, AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST: They do look like Zarqawi. I think it’s pretty clear that he is alive, which I doubted for some time and that he, indeed, made this videotape. It clearly is a blow to the United States in the sense that they have several times claimed that they’ve killed him, which they obviously haven’t done, and the tape is obviously new. But I think it is part of the bestialisation, if you like, of those people we want to hate, in the sense that I think individuals like Zarqawi or bin Laden don’t actually matter. It’s a bit like, you know, after you make a nuclear bomb, you go around arresting all the nuclear scientists and putting them in prison. It doesn’t do any good. The nuclear bomb exists. Al-Qaeda exists. The organisation which bin Laden has created exists. So, the individuals per se don’t actually matter anymore, but that’s something which I think the Americans don’t yet grasp.
TONY JONES: The last time we spoke, you did indeed think it very possible that he’d actually been killed and no-one knew where he was. So that’s not so surprising.
ROBERT FISK: Yeah.
TONY JONES: You also thought he was a creature invented to fill the narrative gaps. In other words, a creature created, in a sense, by American propaganda. He’s much more than that; isn’t that evident from this video?
ROBERT FISK: Yeah. It is pretty clear. He does exist. He is still alive and that was him on the video. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I watched it several times over and am clearly of the mind that this is the man. What we do need to know, of course, is whether he has actually any real status over and above being a name al-Zarqawi. In other words, does he actually have any real status as a militant, as a resistant, as a rebel, whatever you like to use the word, terrorist, other than just being a person who is to be hated and to be bestialised in front of the television screens. The issue really is, I think, is this a person who is seriously an enemy of the “West” or is this just another person who is popping up on our screens to say this is the latest mad lunatic, the latest fanatic, the latest terrorist whom we have to be concerned about? That is the real issue, you see. Over and over again we’ve had this system where whereby we’ve had Ayatollah Khomeini and Gaddafi in Libya. We’ve had these extraordinary figures in the Middle East, like Nasser, for example, in Egypt in 1956 and people whom we are encouraged to loathe, encouraged to hate and who, ultimately, are just figureheads, who in the end are people who we just are encouraged to loathe, encouraged to hate. People who, at the end of the day, are not per se people who we need to worry about, people who, indeed —
TONY JONES: Robert Fisk, can I interrupt you there?
ROBERT FISK: Yeah, yeah.
TONY JONES: I’m surprised to hear you say some of these things because isn’t it he himself who put these images on the Internet, including make a beast of himself by earlier putting on the Internet images of him with a mask on beheading Nicholas Berg, for example?…
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