Theater of Cruelty

The sins of the fathers

Want some exciting literature during the Christmas tree this year? Forget Jo Nesbø and Jeffery Deaver. Wish you rather Odd Karsten Tveit and Robert Fisk.


"But he does not let the guilty go unpunished; he haunts the iniquities of the fathers on children, on them in the third and the fourth paragraphs." This ominous quote from the Bible's Fourth Exodus quickly comes to mind as I read political contemporary Middle Eastern history. Not just because God, as we know him, has its roots in the Middle East, but because this part of the world is like a black hole, a political black nova, a centrifugal force that sucks wit and sense, historical and political sobriety out of us all.

Everything is politics in this part of the world – not least history. Naturally. Because when violence breeds violence and suffering breeds fear and mistrust, it is because politics does not arise in a vacuum. In the Middle East, every stone, every word and every thought is literally loaded with history, to a trembling and crackling level where conduction can quickly occur. The tragedy for people living in the region is that their history is unfortunately also part of ours. And it is our – read the West – interpretations that weigh heaviest in the big political game.

Two bricks

NRK's ​​Odd Karsten Tveit and British The Independents Robert Fisk both have almost a lifetime behind them as foreign correspondents in the Middle East. They are about the same age, they have experienced many of the same things, they know each other and refer to conversations with each other as they write. This year, both have left the short-cut news format and decided to write far. And rarely has the concept of "brick" been better suited to two books: Tveit has joined War and diplomacy. Oslo – Jerusalem 1978-96 delivered over 650 brag-award-winning and highly detailed pages on Norwegian Middle East politics between 1978 and 1996. The even more eloquent Fish has written twice as much about nothing less than "The Great War for Civilization" in the book The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East.

We know how it goes – it's no secret that the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993 or that the United States created a political quagmire for all of us by bombing Iraq in 2002. The depiction of the dramatic processes that led there is still almost surprisingly exciting and makes the reading time card. What really happened? What was behind the reviews? What do we know today that was not widely known when the events took place?

Wholeness and consequences

Robert Fisk spans the large canvas, as it sounds, and should be a real-born son of the British Empire. Fish's father was a British soldier during World War I, and fought for queen and fatherland in the trenches in Somme. In the wake of this war, many of today's most contentious boundaries were drawn on the victory lords' drawing boards, not least in large parts of the Middle East.

As a journalist, Robert Fisk has spent most of his time covering the deadly consequences for people, how one conflict has given birth to the next and how one iniquity has nourished his descendant. Bringing out some examples from the book is quick to do violence to the contexts, because Fisk's project is just to show us the whole, by confronting us with the unfortunate web of self-pity and historylessness that has created today's Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine.

Fish has a pen that drips acid when he describes the arrogance of power. Be it British intelligence officer James Bond-like cynicism in Shah Iran, how modern Europe accepts that Turkish authorities still deny the conscious and systematic genocide of the Armenians in 1915 (Fish calls the slaughter of the Armenians "the first Holocaust", pointing out that German Nazis copied and enlarged many of the methods during the Holocaust of the Jews 30 years later), or in part how Israeli top politicians, with Shimon Peres in the lead, demand that the Jews have a monopoly on human suffering. In Fisk's opinion, however, neither British nor French superpower projects can compare with the ignorant non-balance that governs today's fight against "Terror" and for "Civilization", led by an emotional US and with Tony Blair in tow.

Arafat and Oslo

Tveit's project – the story of Norway's involvement in the Middle East – is almost a bit small in this picture. Norway is just a small country on the edge of the world, which since independence in 1905 has mostly tried to stay away from international security policy. Nevertheless, a conviction gradually emerged that we could solve one of the most intricate political knots in world history. What happened to us?

Robert Fisk almost snorts in his description of the Oslo process, which from a Norwegian point of view is surprisingly scarce. He dismisses it all as a failed solo run by a headstrong Yassir Arafat. Instead of going the hard way that negotiators from the West Bank and Gaza were pursuing, the rough fox Arafat a hole that secured him – and the PLO in exile – continued political leadership. Paradoxically, this happened at the expense of the small advances that Palestinian negotiators had, after all, made during the official US-led negotiations.

Arafat would never have gotten as far as the lawn in front of the White House if he had not been greatly weakened, partly because of his unhappy alliance with Saddam Hussein during the first Gulf War. Only a weak and compromise-friendly Arafat was an interesting interlocutor for Israel, and the fact that the more demanding Hamas and Islamic Jihad groups strengthened was one of the reasons why Israel could grant PLO concessions. By negotiating with the PLO, Israel was able to push the administration of the occupied territories away, while remaining relatively undisturbed in building settlements and establishing other "facts on the ground". Despite the euphoric blows of the world press in the fall of 1993, it soon became clear that an agreement that did not deal with the 1948 Palestinian refugees or the fate of Jerusalem was not something the Palestinians could live with. Nevertheless, critics of the Oslo agreement (s) were denounced as opponents of peace for many years.

Norway and the peace

In his book, Robert Fisk does not give much for "a handful of Norwegian politicians, many with no practical experience of the region" to marvel at creating peace in the Middle East. The posterity must be said to have given him the right, but from a Norwegian standpoint it does not make the Norwegian players' choices and judgments less interesting. Nor in light of Fisk's temporal and area-wide canvas.

Odd Karsten Tveit's book is not least based on Norwegian foreign sources. Still, the liberating little umbilical viewer. The Norwegian political game is placed in a larger, international context, and through Tveit's glasses we gain insight into the events and assessments that made it a Norwegian back channel at all. There was no obvious thing. Until 1992, when the Swedish Social Democrats lost the election and Sweden's Foreign Minister Sten Andersson resigned, it was Sweden that was the leading Scandinavian actor. It is one of many facts Norwegians have had easy to forget in the rush to be the world's best peace broker.

B-movie in reality

Two shows us a strong Israel-friendly Norway, which in the 1980s is slowly changing its perception, not least because of Norwegian UN soldiers in Lebanon, diplomatic jerks like Hans Wilhelm Longva and the experiences of Norwegian aid workers under Israeli siege.

A little B-movie-like, we also meet Norway as the arena for both Israeli and Palestinian intelligence services. We are repeating Norwegian intelligence blind faith in Mossad, not least when Israeli intelligence officers were allowed to interrogate as interrogators in interviews with Palestinian refugees in the 1980s. And we gain new knowledge about how Palestinian intelligence seriously considered an attack on Mossad agent Sylvia Raphael in Norway, who, among other things, was responsible for the Norwegian-Moroccan waiter Ahmed Bouchikhi having to deal with life in the event of a misunderstanding. In addition, a washed-out Norwegian agent has been contacted by us, namely Palestinian activist Kari Lindstad, who was hired by Mossad, possibly as a double agent.

Mild light

Two is not critical to the significance of the Oslo Accords to the Palestinians, and the cynicism of Israeli political leaders, both on the right and the left, is clear: Israel's security is paramount, and only Israel should have the right to define what Israel should do. . Below is the fear of becoming a minority, while Israel sees itself as something truly unique, different and better than its neighbors in the region. Overall, therefore, it is Yassir Arafat who appears to be the great compromise friend, almost from the beginning.

In Arafat's version, Arafat appears in a somewhat milder light than in Fisk. Tveit allows us to get closer to the PLO chairman's priorities and assessments as he himself presented them, both to Tveit himself and other Norwegians who knew him. Arafat obviously had a personal desire to stay alive in a Norwegian back channel, something that the Norwegian players did not surprisingly appreciate. But Arafat and the Palestinians are not 100 percent coincidental, although it was important during that period that Tveit describes getting PLO recognized as something more than a terrorist organization. Of course, Two's book touches on this, but maybe it would be interesting to go even deeper into the various political opinions on the Palestinian side, both inside and outside the PLO?

Sober force

Two's narrative voice is withdrawn and descriptive. The presentation is strictly chronological and can sometimes be a bit lexical and upsetting. Especially the negotiating papers, where there are also rumblings of names, can be a lot of hour by hour, day by day. The whole is nevertheless exciting. Two's biggest merit is that he puts the Norwegian assessments into a simultaneous perspective where not only diplomacy has a voice, but where we also get to know what is happening on the streets and in the refugee camps in Lebanon.

Horrific events such as Israel's invasion of southern Lebanon and the Israeli-controlled slaughter of Palestinian refugees in Sabra and the Shatila camp are soberly portrayed and, interestingly enough, it is precisely the sobriety of the language that makes the bestiality of the actions etch the reader's inner gaze.

In the scenes where Tveit either reconstructs the experiences of Norwegian relief workers in Saida or describes his own encounters with piles of swollen corpses after the Sabra and Shatila massacres, he is better than Fisk. Fish is a tireless digging journalist and a gifted and emotional storyteller, but sometimes he shadows for those he wants to defend because he is not always as good at distinguishing what is really important for the reader to know. Without counting lines, it seems that he spends as much space describing an argument with the editor in The Times (where Fisk worked before switching to The Independent), as in the Oslo process itself.

Wise, but scared

At one level I could wish for a Dove who dared to tell even more and a Fish who sometimes imposed a little more self-censorship. On another level it's just pirk. Both books are well written and one thing is for sure: There is little that surpasses the reality of drama, passion, absurdities and outright horror.

In addition, the most important thing about books is that we get wiser from reading them, and we stay here. And scared. Not least, Fisk's book clearly demonstrates that the seed of evil exists in everyone, not least in those who themselves have been subjected to cruel abuse. We create our enemies in our image, regardless of religion, culture and geographical location. Power, on the other hand, is not all for good.

Robert fisk

«The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East»

Alfred A Button 2005

Odd Karstein Tveit

«War and diplomacy. Oslo – Jerusalem 1978-96 »

Cinderella 2005

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