Robert Fisk: The lives full of many fears in a land of the free
I was given the chance to talk to 600 Muslim Canadians a few days ago. The dinner was in an Ottawa banqueting room and the guests also included the imam of the Ottawa mosque, the Ottawa chief of police and sundry uniformed Canadian army officers.
The imam sat between me and the Canadian capital's top cop £ a decent guy who wanted Muslim Canadians to regard him as a friend £ and we were even able to joke about the reality of those "random checks" which Muslims of Middle Eastern origin and a certain R Fisk seem to receive at US airports. All well and good, then, until I got up to speak.
I warned the audience they might not like all they heard from me. And sure enough, when I told the audience that they were perfectly at liberty to condemn Israel and America - indeed, that they should condemn both when they abuse human rights, occupy other people's countries and shoot innocent civilians £ but that I wanted to know why I so rarely heard them condemn the vicious police states in the Middle East and other areas of south-west Asia from which they originally came, I was greeted with silence. A smattering of Muslim diplomats sat like statues, thus identifying the cruelty of their regimes. The only immediate applause came when I remarked that the moment Western soldiers started shooting at Muslims in Muslim lands, it was time for the soldiers to withdraw.
Two interesting phenomena emerged from this remark. The first was that, when I finished, both the police chief and the Canadian army officers joined the applause. Canada's hopeless military involvement in Afghanistan is a subject of considerable controversy within the Canadian military. When the politicians have had their say, I've discovered, soldiers usually let us know their views.
Much more revealing, however, was the long car journey I took next day across the frozen tundra of Canada during which two Muslim Canadian men £ yes, yes, they had beards £ explained to me just why their community was so silent about the iniquities perpetrated by their local dictatorships back home. I had suggested that they were rather too beholden to those regimes £ for funding and political support. They agreed £ up to a point.
"Mr Robert, you have to understand something," the driver suddenly said. "They have their 'mukhabarat' agents here in Canada. Whenever there is even a dispute between families, anyone who's angry can report back that his antagonist is anti-regime. We have to remember that we have families still in our Arab countries. They can be arrested. Or we can be arrested when we go back to visit them."
And so I began to learn what it is like to be an Arab Canadian. It takes only a local argument to have an email winging its way back to Tripoli or Cairo or Damascus or the Gulf, informing the local despots that their dual citizen £ Mohamed or Hassan or Abdulrahman or whatever £ is a potential subversive and, ergo, a terrorist. And, so great is the co-operation between our beloved Western intelligence agencies and the torturers of these repulsive dictatorships that this "intelligence" is shared.
So only days after the original message has gone off to the Arab world, the " mukhabarat" privately tell the Canadian intelligence service £ a truly silly institution called CSIS £ that Mohamed or Hassan or Abdulrahman is a "terrorist". At which point, Mohamed or Hassan or Abdulrahman come under observation from CSIS as potentially dangerous terrorists in Canada.
Just as Tariq Ali revealed the darkness behind the Bhutto legend in the London Review of Books last year, so lawyer Gareth Peirce £ she of In the Name of the Father fame £ has now shone her crimson torch upon the British version of these iniquitous goings on.
In the same publication, she has given the most detailed account so far of the fraudulent British promises given to Arabs who chose to return to their homelands £ rather than languish under a form of house arrest in the UK £ that they would be neither tortured nor imprisoned after they went home.
When Benaissa Taleb and Rida Dendani were sent to Algeria, a British diplomat had promised that they would be detained for only a few hours. But they were both beaten for 12 days before being jailed. When Dendani appealed to the British Special Immigration Appeals Commission, the SIAC didn't even bother to reply.
Robert Fisk's new book The Age of the Warrior: Selected Writings, a selection of his Saturday columns in The Independent is out now