Category Archives: September 11

Parsing Obama

So, here comes Barack Obama’s long-awaited speech to the Muslim world, to decidedly mixed reaction.  I am not going to dwell at the moment on the specifics of his Israel policy (for a very pessimistic assessment see this post by Ron Radosh, though there are many Israel supporters who do not share Ron’s endorsement of the settlements).  I also agree that the part of the speech dealing with Iran was rather weak, full of lofty sentiment signifying nothing.  But some of the scathing criticism directed at Obama strikes me as rather misguided.  For instance, Charles Krauthammer found it to be infected by “self-absorption”; but was Obama’s talk of the aspects of his personal story that were relevant to the issues at hand all that different from what, say, Ronald Reagan did?

Does it really matter that Obama never used the words “terror” or “terrorism,” referring instead to “violent extremism”?  The power of the T-word has been somewhat diluted by overuse; besides, to many (non-terror-sympathizing) Muslims it is undoubtedly a red-flag word, due to their common belief that the West looks at a Muslim and sees a terrorist.  I think it was a positive thing to say, and drive home the point, that terrorism by any other name would smell as foul.

The President’s powerful affirmation of the memory of the Holocaust, and firm condemnation of Holocaust denial, was a key part of the speech.  Some believe that, by transitioning immediately to the plight of displaced Palestinians, Obama drew a moral equivalence between the Holocaust and Palestinian displacement.  Re-reading the speech, I see no such equivalence (though someone who wants to believe the two tragedies are equal could read it that way).  I think Obama was simply saying that the Palestinians have their own history of suffering which cannot be denied.  Should he have said more to acknowledge the Palestinian (and Arab) leaders’ own responsibility for perpetuating this suffering?  Probably.  Did he go too far in suggesting that each side’s view of the conflict was equally valid?  Probably.  But here’s an important point: the speech was intended as outreach to the Muslim world.   To say “Israel is 100% right and the Palestinians bear 100% of the blame,” even if it were true (and I don’t believe it is) would not be very productive.  Confronting a Muslim and Arab audience with the fact that Israel’s stiff-necked stance has something to do with “the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond” is a pretty good start.

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Filed under anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, Barack Obama, Iraq, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Muslims, religion, religious freedom, September 11, terrorism, US foreign policy, West

9/11 truthers in Russia — and Russia’s own terrorist bombing conspiracy theory

My Weekly Standard article on the broadcast of the 9/11 conspiracy “documentary” Zero, and the studio discussion that followed, is now up. It expands on my earlier blogpost on the topic, and is based on a viewing of the entire program rather than the last 20 minutes. The first half of the discussion was a little less skewed, but the result was still appalling. The article also includes an interesting quote from an interview (not mine) with the host of the program, Alexander Gordon, when he was asked whether its airing was connected to the deterioration in relations with the U.S.

Last night, after receiving a few emailed from truthers urging me to open my mind, I watched the BBC documentary “Conspiracy Files: The Third Tower.” What never ceases to amaze me (apart from the belief that any group of people in the U.S. government would have the competence, coordination, and diabolical smarts to pull off this kind of vast conspiracy) is the sheer idiocy of truther arguments about the motives for various aspects of this conspiracy. The truthers argue that Tower 7 (which collapsed despite not being hit by a plane) was brought down by controlled demolition, with explosives planted inside. But why? Apparently because that’s where the local office of the CIA was, and was that office that served as the secret control room for the 9/11 plot, and the evidence had to be destroyed. Really? Those plotters were so dumb that they had their super-secret control room in a CIA office right next to the WTC? And couldn’t think of a better way to dispose of the evidence than creating a mystery explosion? If they were that dumb, how could they have possibly successfully carried history’s biggest cover-up?

In my WS article, I refer to “the fairly credible allegations that the FSB, the KGB’s post-Soviet heir, was involved in the 1999 apartment-building bombings in Russia that took nearly 300 lives and were blamed on Chechen terrorists, helping generate public support for the war in Chechnya.” Why do I think these allegations, unlike the ones about 9/11, are fairly credible? Because I’m willing to believe that kind of thing about “them,” but not about “us”? Well, no. As much as I loathe Russia’s ruling clique, I’d rather not believe that they engineered terrorist acts against their own people. Because, if those are the kind of people who rule Russia, we are all less safe.

I think those allegations are vastly more credible than those of the 9/11 “truth” movement because of vast differences between the two situations.

One, the alleged FSB plot is fairly straightforward: explosives planted in apartment buildings. There are no bizarre claims of faked hijackings, nonexistent planes, passengers being taken to secret locations and murdered to supply the bodies, etc. etc.

Two, there was never an independent investigation of the bombings in Russia, only an FSB one; the State Duma voted against an investigation and ordered all documents pertaining to the case to be sealed for 75 years, and several MPs who tried to conduct an investigation of their own had an unfortunate tendency to get assassinated or meet with fatal accidents.

Three, no Chechen separatists ever claimed responsibility for the bombings. Four, at least one officer of the Russian secret services admitted to FSB involvement, though he made this statement in Chechen captivity and later claimed it was extracted under torture.

Five, and most damning, FSB agents were caught red-handed planting explosives with a timer in the basement of an apartment building in Ryazan. FSB director Niklai Patrushev claimed it was an “emergency readiness training exercise.” After that, by the way, the bombings stopped.

Read the full story here.

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Filed under conspiracy theories, Russia, September 11

Russia and 9/11 denialism

In the wake of its war with Georgia, Russia (as represented by Medvedev, Putin, and the Russian foreign ministry) has repeatedly made noises about wanting nothing but friendship and partnership with the West, including the United States, and having no interest in a “new Cold War.”

In light of these protestations, it’s interesting to note that on September 12, Russia’s state-owned Channel One broadcast the “documentary” Zero by Italian journalist Giulietto Chiesa (who served as the Moscow correspondent for the Italian Communist newspaper Unita in the 1970s) and leading French 9/11 conspirologist Thierry Meyssan, which advances the idea that the World Trade Center bombing was an inside job and that no plane ever hit the Pentagon. The broadcast, in the prime-time program ironically titled “Closed Screening,” went largely unnoticed in the West except by 9/11truther” sites.

The showing of the film was followed by a panel discussion before a live studio audience (which included both Chiesa, who speaks Russian, and Meyssan). The host, Alexander Gordon, made no secret of his sympathy for Chiesa’s viewpoint, though he politely noted that the documentary could have used more objectivity. Several other pro-“truther” panelists, including the rabidly anti-American TV host Mikhail Leontiev, spoke at length in praise of the film, complimenting its makers on their courage and insight, ridiculing the official version of the attacks as absurd (in Leontiev’s words, “the ravings of a gray mare” — a Russian colloquialism that means something like “total nonsense”). TV anchor Alexei Pushkov categorically asserted that while we cannot be sure who engineered the attacks, the idea of “19 Arabs directed by Osama bin Laden in a cave” is completely discredited. He and co-panelist Geidar Jemal, the chairman of Russia’s Islamic Committee, also lamented “the death of information” in the Western media and its replacement by “manipulation” — thankfully, with heroes like Chiesa and Meyssan on hand to resist it. Toward the end of the discussion, explicit parallels were drawn between the Western media’s obedient parroting of official lies about 9/11 and their collusion in the “official version” of the Russia/Georgia war.

Giulietto Chiesa

A couple of guests briefly and sheepishly offered opposing viewpoints. Irina Zvyagelskaya, analyst at the Institute of Oriental Studies in Moscow, said that she was “unconvinced” by the film and added that if its premise was true and such a cynical act not only toward one’s own citizens but also toward world opinion could have been perpetrated, “you don’t want to live in this world.” Gordon then sarcastically suggested that, in order to be able to go on living, she was going to “shut out” inconvenient truths such as Chiesa’s film (to which Zvyagelskaya replied that she would question all versions). TV journalist Vladimir Sukhoi, former Channel One Bureau chief in the US, said — looking visibly nervous — that a good journalist should not pursue an agenda or “string facts onto the skewer of his theory,” and criticized Chiesa for doing exactly that. His comment went unanswered. When Gordon turned to the studio audience and asked those who believed in the official “19 Arabs” version of 9/11 to raise their hands, not one hand went up.

Alexander Gordon

Toward the end, Meyssan launched into an impassioned diatribe against brutal U.S. dominance all over the world and noted that Russia, no longer weak as in 2001, was the world’s last, best hope. “Who can stop this huge predator which is ravaging the planet? We expect a great deal from you, from Russia. Only you can stop all this!” he exclaimed, to raucous audience applause.

Thierry Meyssan

It is estimated that the program was watched by 30 million people.

Ironically, on the same day, at a three-hour meeting with the Valdai Club mostly made up of Western political experts, Russian President (or is it Puppet-in-Chief?) Dmitry Medvedev declared Georgia’s military action against South Ossetia on August 8 to be Russia’s 9/11. The similarity, apparently, is that “Russian citizens” (i.e. South Ossetians to whom Russia started issuing Russian passports a few years ago while still formally recognizing South Ossetia as Georgian territory) were attacked on August 8 just as U.S. citizens were on 9/11. On the website Grani.ru, commentator Andrei Piontkovsky caustically noted that when Russian state TV embraces the notion that 9/11 was cooked up by U.S. imperialists as a pretext for war, “our 9/11” sounds “rather ambiguous” coming from the President of Russia.

There are other dangers for Russia in peddling 9/11 conspirology for domestic consumption. Many Russians still have questions about the explosions of two Moscow apartment buildings in 1999, blamed on Chechen terrorists but viewed as an FSB inside job by a number of critics. (Unlike the 9/11 attacks, these bombings were never properly investigated.)

That aside, Condoleezza Rice might want to bring up this disgraceful broadcast — clearly meant to fan the flames of anti-Americanism in the Russian public — next time she has a chat with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

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Filed under Russia, September 11