US intelligence agencies, whose operatives now maintain a strong presence in Arab capitals and rural areas, play a decisive role in determining what organisations, or individuals, are to be classified as terrorists or financiers of terrorism, and therefore prosecuted or banned. The result is that Arab leaders are devoting most of their time to the ‘pursuit of terrorists’, to the neglect of more pressing social and economic issues. Laws relating to security and human rights have been drastically amended, as have fiscal laws, to facilitate the persecution of ‘suspected terrorists’ and ‘al-Qa’ida sympathisers’, and to block the flow of funds to Islamic organisations (even charities) labelled as such. Arab governments are mobilizing Arab Muslim scholars and ‘intellectuals’ to hold meetings to “reinterpret” the Qur’an and ahadith and depict ‘Islamic extremists’ and their backers as ‘terrorists’.
Arab rulers, who openly back the ‘war on terror’, do not feel it necessary to deny the presence of CIA and FBI agents in their countries. Yemeni president Ali Saleh Abdullah, for instance, admits that the FBI and CIA have offices in his country, as they do in other Arab countries. In an interview with ash-Sharq al-Awsat, an Arabic daily, on June 29, he denied that he had given permission to the US to set up a “regional FBI office”, adding that “the agency has only a local office similar to that of the CIA”. He made it clear that many Arab states have allowed similar ones to be established in their territories.
Yemen not only has a regional FBI office butalso hosts US troops helping it pursue “terrorist groups” in the south. The FBI office is regional in the sense that its agents, are active in the pursuit of ‘al-Qa’ida terrorists’ in the Horn of Africa, particularly Ethiopia, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti.
But FBI and CIA agents are also active in other Arab countries, especially Morocco and Saudi Arabia, where attacks on May 16 and May 12 provided a pretext for Washington to establish a strong presence, and take over the running of the security machinery. Washington accused Moroccan and Saudi officials of ignoring warnings that the attacks were imminent, and of failing to take pre-emptive action. Both governments gave in to pressure, agreed to receive FBI and CIA agents, and began unprecedented action against Islamic organisations and activists. This tendency to give in to the Americans has grown since September 2001.
Sana was not so co-operative when the destroyer USS Cole was bombed in Aden harbour in October 2000; all that American officials could do then was grumble about Sana’s non-cooperation. But all that changed in September 2001, and Yemen, like most Arab states, is now a willing tool of the West’s ‘war on terrorism’: i.e. the war against Islamic activists and organisations.
Washington has also decided to place teams of US inspectors at sea-ports in Muslim countries, and in other smaller, strategically located ports, to “help prevent terrorists from using cargo containers to smuggle chemical, biological or nuclear weapons”, US officials say. According to the officials, the department of homeland security plans to place teams of inspectors indefinitely in Dubai, which is an important trans-shipment point for containerised cargo in countries with large Muslim populations. The Americans say that al-Qa’ida has a large presence in Dubai and Malaysia, and that the network uses cargo ships to take its conventional weapons and explosives to its targets. More than six million cargo-containers arrive in the US from overseas every year. The department of homeland security has already placed 130 inspectors as part of the first phase of its programme, with 170 in training.
Many of these 170 will doubtless go to Arab ports, as Arab officials are unlikely to refuse to receive them, judging from the enthusiasm with which they are supporting the ‘war on terrorism’. Arab leaders even warn Washington to beware ‘sleepers’ in the US, who are allegedly lying low until they are ready to strike. President Mubarak of Egypt, for instance, in an interview with the Washington Post, said: “You have several organisations in the US. Now they are all sleeping…as if they are very innocent, until they feel there is some freedom. Then they are going to attack.” He even claimed that those behind September 2001 were responsible for a decade of terror in Egypt, including the attack that killed 58 tourists in Luxor in 1997.
The idea of ‘sleeping terror cells’ is very attractive to American officials. The idea justifies not only security measures already being taken against Muslims in the US and Europe but also those being planned. Action against terrorists also enables European officials to kerb immigration and to deport Muslim immigrants already in their territories. Already legislation is being drafted to withdraw citizenship from Muslims and deport them. Muslim dictators are only too happy to receive Islamic activists, and to see Western countries seize the assets of Islamic activists, who finance many charities in the Muslim world that the dictators prefer to have shut down.
Arab governments also supply information (almost invariably false) that US and European authorities then use against Islamic activists, or against Muslim immigrants generally. They even supply the UN with reports on ‘terrorists’ and on the al-Qa’ida network, as a report issued June 26 shows. According to this disgraceful report, a new generation of al-Qa’ida-trained terrorists, as well as veterans, continues to threaten the “global community”. The report also mentions al-Qa’ida’s potential access to nuclear and chemical weapons, saying that “there is evidence from the network’s training manuals and other intelligence” that al-Qa’ida has investigated “the ways and means of developing weapons of mass destruction”. The continued overplaying of al-Qa’ida’s “threat to world peace” helps to justify the US’s unilateralist imperial policy and programme of ‘regime-change’.
But one of the most dangerous developments is the Arab officials’ call on the ulama to “reinterpret” the Qur’an and persuade young Muslims that belonging to ‘extremist’ Islamic groups is against Islam. On June 19 prince Naef bin Abdul Aziz, the Saudi interior minister, called on “Sheikhs, ulama, thinkers and schools and universities in Saudi Arabia, to keep youths busy, work hard to rectify their beliefs and to protect them against weird and devastating doctrines”. On July 2 an Arab League meeting of interior ministry officials in Tunis, devoted to the ‘war on terrorism’, made similar remarks. Dr Muhammad bin Ali, the secretary-general of the organisation of Arab League interior ministers, underscored the role of religious organisations and centres to “make citizens aware of Islamic teachings which reject violence and value human life”.
It will probably not be long before Arab governments change the school curricula and university programmes to brainwash future generations of Muslims and stigmatise Islamic activism as ‘terrorism’. It is one of the logical next steps after changing many other laws to suit the West’s agendas.