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Fear Climate Change, Not Our Enemies

By Robert Fisk

23 January, 2007
The Independent

It was a warning. Scratched, of course after more than 50 years, but a home movie, shot by my mother in colour. But most of the colour is white. Bill Fisk, the 57-year-old borough treasurer of Maidstone, is standing in the garden of our home in his long black office coat, wearing - as always - his First World War regimental tie, throwing snow balls at his son. I am 10 years old, in short trousers but up to my waist in snow. There must have been two feet of it in the garden. You can even see the condensation from my mouth. My mother doesn't appear on the film of course. She is standing in the snow behind my father, 36 years old, the daughter of café proprietors who every Boxing Day would host my own and my aunt's family with a huge lunch and a roaring log fire. It really was cold then.

I think was it Andrew Marr, when editor of The Independent, who first made me think about what was happening. It was a stiflingly hot summer and I had just arrived in London from Beirut and commented that there wasn't much difference in temperature. And Andrew turned round and pointed across the city. "Something's gone wrong with the bloody weather!" he roared. And of course, he was right.

Now I acknowledge it silently: the great storms that sweep across Europe, the weird turbulence that my passenger jet pilots experience high over the Atlantic. Because I have never travelled so far or so frequently, I notice that at year's end it's 15 degrees in Toronto and Montreal - a "springtime Christmas", the Canadian papers announce in a land famous for its tundra. In Denver, the airport is blocked by snowfalls. I return to Lebanon to find so little snow has fallen that much of Mount Sannine above my home is the colour of grey rock, just a dressing of white on the top. The snow is deep in Jerusalem. There is a water shortage in Beirut.

How casually these warnings come to us. How casually we treat them. I suspect that most people feel so detached from political power - so hopeless when faced with a world tragedy - they can do nothing but watch in growing anger and distress. Water levels in the world's oceans may rise 20 feet higher, we are told. And I calculate that in Beirut, the Mediterranean - in rough weather -- will be splashing over my second-floor balcony wall.

I curl down deep in my bed, because the nights are strangely damp and read by the bedside light, Hans von Sponeck's gripping, painful account of his years as the UN's Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq, A Different Kind of War, an analysis of the vicious, criminal sanctions regime levelled against the Iraqi people between 1990 and 2003. Here, for example, is what Sergei Lavrov, the Russian ambassador to the UN wrote in March 2000: "...the scale of the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq is inexorably leading to the disintegration of the very fabric of civil society." It was "a situation where an entire generation of Iraqis has been physically and morally crippled". The French ambassador to the UN, Alain Dejammet, spoke similarly of "the very serious humanitarian crisis in Iraq", a crime that would eventually persuade von Sponeck to resign.

Another warning. I remember how von Sponeck said the very same words to me in Baghdad. So did Denis Halliday, his predecessor. But when Peter Hain - now so desperately anxious to distance himself from US policies in Iraq - was asked to comment, he said that von Sponeck and Halliday were "obviously not the right men for the job". James Rubin, then earning his keep as Madeleine Albright's spokesman, said that von Sponeck "is paid to work, not to speak".

Yet there are all the warnings. Did we really think that after we had impoverished them and destroyed so many of their children; after a generation of Iraqis had been "physically and morally crippled", they were going to welcome our "liberation"? From this wreckage of Iraq was bound to come the insurgencies and the hatreds now tearing its people apart and destroying the presidency of George W. Bush and the prime ministership of Tony Blair.

Yet what do they tell us? They still want us to be frightened. Terror, terror, terror. Now we have Doctor Death, our Home Secretary, telling us that the War on Terror could last as long as the Cold War. Recently, it was the Dowager of Fear in charge of our intelligence services who said that the War on Terror could last "a generation". So that's 30 years? Or 60 like Dr Death claimed? Bush claimed it might last "forever", surely an ambitious goal for an ex- governor-executioner.

What these men know, of course, while waffling about our "values", is that the only way to lessen the risk of attack in London or Washington is to adopt a moral, just policy towards the Middle East. Failure to do this - and the Blairs and the Bushes clearly have no intention of doing so - means that we will be bombed again. And the words of Dr Death were not a warning to us. They were not intended to prepare us for the future. They were intended to allow him to say "told you so" when the next backpacker murders the innocent on the London tube system. And then we will be told that we need even harsher legislation. And we will have to be afraid.

Yes, we must fear. We must wake every morning in fear. We must bend our entire political system into a machine of fear. Organised society must revolve around our fear. Like the terrorologists of old - the Claire Sterlings and Brian Croziers of this world who told us of thousands of terrorists, "bands of professional practitioners dispensing violent death", all trained in Cuba, North Korea, the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe - Dr Death and Lord Blair of Kut al-Amara and former foreign secretary Jack "the Veil" Straw (remember him?) - want us to live in fear. They want us to be afraid.

I think we should be afraid - of what we are doing to our planet. But we should not fear our enemies in the world. They will return. Our western occupation of so many Muslim lands have assured us of this fate. But if we can now end our injustice in the Middle East, Dr Death's 60 years could be over before he leaves his high office. Now there's a thought.

Meanwhile, watch the world and the weather and the turbulence at high altitude. And remember the snow in Maidstone.

© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited

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