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CNN Live Saturday

Interview With As'Ad Abukhalil

Aired November 10, 2001 - 16:10   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR: He was considered something of an outcast because he took power in a coup, but now he is getting a lot of attention from the White House. As we just heard, President Bush is to meet with Pakistan's President Musharraf in New York this evening.

General Musharraf, as everyone is rightfully saying now, has turned out to be a critical ally in the fight against terror. He spoke last hour at the U.N.


GEN. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PRESIDENT OF PAKISTAN: Consider the analogy of a tree. Terrorists are like so many leaves. You take out some, there will be plenty more, and an unending growth. Terrorist networks are branches: You prune a few, and there will be others and more growth.

The only way to go is to go for the roots. Eliminate the roots, and there will be no tree. The roots, Mr. President, are the causes which need to be addressed, tackled and eliminated fairly, justly and honorably.


MANN: General Musharraf has urged the United States to suspend the military campaign during the Muslim holy month, Ramadan, which starts in a few days. The Bush administration has declined. General Musharraf is under intense pressure at home, and says bombing during Ramadan will create more fallout against the U.S. across the entire Muslim world.

Americans are, through all of this, struggling to understand that kind of intense anger and, in many cases, the hatred of their country. Let's talk now to As'Ad Abukhalil in San Francisco, a professor at California State at Stanislaus. His new book is entitled "Bin Laden and the Taliban: The New American War Against Terrorism."

Professor, thanks so much for being with us. The Bush administration has been very clear: It expects sympathy; it demands cooperation. But how much anger is there around the world among Muslims in particular, getting in the way?

AS'AD ABUKHALIL, CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, STANISLAUS: There's a lot of anger, which is only growing in the wake of the war against Afghanistan. And in fact, there is no issue that galvanizes Arab and Muslim public opinion more than the persistence of Palestinian suffering, to the disregard (sic) of the United States government.

And what we have seen, despite effort at trying to press American propaganda in the Middle East, which has not been working at all -- it's working very well at home but not abroad -- and the answer is because -- I mean, the words of the president of the United States can be used against him.

On the one hand, he says you cannot pick the terrorism you like or dislike, which I think is very true. One should be consistently and universal against all acts of terrorism.

And yet, since September 11, there is another war going on against the Palestinian people, a largely defenseless population. More than 120 Palestinians have been killed by the Israeli military, and some Israelis have been killed too.

But what is astounding to Arab and Muslim public opinion is, with the increasing number of Palestinians dying and being injured on a daily basis, the Palestinians, not the Israelis, are the ones who are being asked to stop terrorism. And people wonder: Why are the primary victims, the Palestinians, being asked to put an end to terrorism of which they are the primary victims?

MANN: Well, let me jump in and ask you a question, because that line is constantly drawn from what happened in New York and what is happening now in Afghanistan, to what's going on between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

Osama bin Laden spent years fighting against U.S. interests without talking about the Palestinians; he brings it up now. But is it seen as a convenient way to rally support? Is it seen as cynical in the Arab world that a man whose principal problem is with the governments of Saudi Arabia and the governments of the United States to now take on the mantle of being some kind of hero to the Palestinians?

ABUKHALIL: Unfortunately -- I mean, you're right. There is no question that this fanatic in the past largely ignored the Palestinian question; did not in any way give any of his large amounts of money to the Palestinian charities over the years.

He is now very much opportunistically exploiting the Palestinian questions for public propaganda purposes. Unfortunately, it is working and it's working because the United States government, with its disregard for Palestinian suffering, it's allowing it to work.

If, on the one hand, the United States government responded to the terrorism with a declared vehemence against any killing of Palestinian civilians, you would have seen the efforts of bin Laden failing.

But when he harps on the issue of the suffering of the people of Iraq and the suffering of Palestinian people on a daily basis, he knows what he is talking about because it is appealing to the hard- core feelings and sentiments of Muslims and Arabs. And we've even seen in Pakistan more anger about the American disregard for Israeli oppression of Palestinians than we've seen before.

MANN: Now it's interesting...


MANN: ... that you're saying all of this, because just a few days ago, I guess it was a week ago, the White House announced that it was going to undertake a whole new campaign to try to rally world opinion so that people who oppose or are apathetic about the war on terror would better understand it.

Osama bin Laden, in that meantime, has issued an interview, we presume, with a Pakistani journalist, and there has been a videotaped statement from al Qaeda. It's not quite a contest, but if it were a contest, it seems like you're suggesting the Bush administration is losing.

ABUKHALIL: It's true. And perhaps those who think if you put American officials on Arabic television to deliver the same messages over and over again that it's going to gain success in the Arab world, I mean, you must think that the Arab audiences are idiots. I mean, they follow the events. They do grieve for the victims of September 11, but they also grieve for their own victims.

And they also see how the French president and the British prime minister are trying to push the American government to pay attention to the Palestinian issue, and to no avail. We have seen the American government is still treating the Palestinian leader with utter disdain and contempt. They're still asking that they have to do more (sic), much more against terrorism, even though the Palestinians are primary victims, as I said.

And when the Palestinian leader cracks down against his own people, arresting people right and left, he is praised. So the more he acts oppressive against his own people, the more he is praised, and the more points he scores in this American war against terrorism.

I mean, for the Arab-Muslim audiences, all this doesn't make much sense, and it certainly smacks of inconsistency, if not hypocrisy.

MANN: As'Ad Abukhalil, author of "Bin Laden and the Taliban," thanks so much for talking with us.

ABUKHALIL: Thank you.