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"WW III? No thanks...!" On-Line Library

What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

The Making of a Master Criminal

David Cornwell 
October 8, 2001. 

The bombing begins, screams today's headline of the normally restrained 
Guardian. Battle joined, echoes the equally cautious Herald Tribune, 
quoting George W Bush. But with whom is it joined? And how will it end? 
How about with Osama Bin Laden in chains, looking more serene and 
Christlike than ever, arranged before a tribune of his vanquishers with 
Johnny Cochrane to defend him? The fees won't be a problem, that's for 

Or how about with a Bin Laden blown to smithereens by one of those clever 
bombs we keep reading about that kill terrorists in caves but don't break 
the crockery? Or is there a solution I haven't thought of that will 
prevent us from turning our arch enemy into an arch martyr in the eyes of 
those for whom he is already semi-divine?

Yet we must punish him. We must bring him to justice. Like any sane person,
I see no other way. Send in the food and medicines, provide the aid, 
sweep up the starving refugees, maimed orphans and body parts - sorry,
"collateral damage" - but Bin Laden and his awful men, we have no choice, 
must be hunted down.

But unfortunately what America longs for at this moment, even above 
retribution, is more friends and fewer enemies. And what America is 
storing up for herself, and so are we Brits, is yet more enemies; because 
after all the bribes, threats and promises that have patched together the 
rickety coalition, we cannot prevent another suicide bomber being born 
each time a misdirected missile wipes out an innocent village, and nobody 
can tell us how to dodge this devil's cycle of despair, hatred and - yet 
again - revenge.

The stylised television footage and photographs of Bin Laden suggest a man
of homoerotic narcissism, and maybe we can draw a grain of hope from that. 
Posing with a Kalashnikov, attending a wedding or consulting a sacred text,
he radiates with every self-adoring gesture an actor's awareness of the 
lens. He has height, beauty, grace, intelligence and magnetism, all great 
attributes unless you're the world's hottest fugitive and on the run, in 
which case they're liabilities hard to disguise. But greater than all of 
them, to my jaded eye, is his barely containable male vanity, his appetite
for self-drama and his closet passion for the limelight. And just possibly 
this trait will be his downfall, seducing him into a final dramatic act of
self-destruction, produced, directed, scripted and acted to death by Osama 
Bin Laden himself.

By the accepted rules of terrorist engagement, of course, the war is long 
lost. By us. What victory can we possibly achieve that matches the defeats
we have already suffered, let alone the defeats that lie ahead? "Terror is 
theatre," a soft-spoken Palestinian firebrand told me in Beirut in 1982. 
He was talking about the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics,
but he might as well have been talking about the twin towers and the 
Pentagon. The late Bakunin, evangelist of anarchism, liked to speak of the
propaganda of the act. It's hard to imagine more theatrical, more potent 
acts of propaganda than these.

Now Bakunin in his grave and Bin Laden in his cave must be rubbing their 
hands in glee as we embark on the very process that terrorists of their 
stamp so relish: as we hastily double up our police and intelligence 
forces and award them greater powers, as we put basic civil rights on hold
and curtail press freedom, impose news blackpoints and secret censorship, 
spy on ourselves and, at our worst, violate mosques and hound luckless 
citizens in our streets because we are afraid of the colour of their skins.

All the fears that we share - Dare I fly? Ought I to tell the police about
the weird couple upstairs? Would it be safer not to drive down Whitehall 
this morning? Is my child safely back from school? Have my life's savings 
plummeted? - they are precisely the fears our attackers want us to have.

Until September 11, the United States was only too happy to plug away at 
Vladimir Putin about his butchery in Chechnya. Russia's abuse of human 
rights in the north Caucasus, he was told - we are speaking of wholesale 
torture, and murder amounting to genocide, it was generally agreed - was 
an obstruction to closer relations with Nato and the US. There were even 
voices - mine was one - that suggested Putin join Milosevic in the Hague; 
let's do them both together. Well, goodbye to all that. In the making of 
the great new coalition, Putin will look a saint by comparison with some 
of his bedfellows.

Does anyone remember any more the outcry against the perceived economic 
colonialism of the G8? Against the plundering of the Third World by 
uncontrollable multinational companies? Prague, Seattle and Genoa 
presented us with disturbing scenes of broken heads, broken glass, mob 
violence and police brutality. Mr Blair was deeply shocked. Yet the debate
was a valid one, until it was drowned in a wave of patriotic sentiment, 
deftly exploited by corporate America.

Drag up Kyoto these days and you risk the charge of being anti-American. 
It's as if we have entered a new Orwellian world where our personal 
reliability as comrades in the struggle is measured by the degree to which
we invoke the past to explain the present. Suggesting there is a historical
context for the recent atrocities is by implication to make excuses for 
them. Anyone who is with us doesn't do that. Anyone who does, is against 

Ten years ago I was making an idealistic bore of myself by telling anyone 
who would listen that, with the cold war behind us, we were missing a 
never-to-be repeated chance to transform the global community. Where was 
the new Marshall plan, I pleaded. Why weren't young men and women from the
American Peace Corps, Voluntary Service Overseas and their continental 
European equivalents pouring into the former Soviet Union in their 
thousands? Where was the world-class statesman and man-of-the-hour with 
the voice and vision to define for us the real, if unglamorous, enemies of
mankind: poverty, famine, slavery, tyranny, drugs, bush-fire wars, racial 
and religious intolerance, greed?

Now, overnight, thanks to Bin Laden and his lieutenants, all our leaders 
are world-class statesmen, proclaiming their voices and visions in distant
airports while they feather their electoral nests.There has been 
unfortunate talk, and not only from Signor Berlusconi, of a crusade. 
Crusade, of course, implies a delicious ignorance of history. Was 
Berlusconi really proposing to set free the holy places of Christendom and
smite the heathen? Was Bush? And am I out of order in recalling that we 
actually lost the crusades? But all is well: Signor Berlusconi was 
misquoted and the presidential reference is no longer operative.

Meanwhile, Mr Blair's new role as America's fearless spokesman continues 
apace. Blair speaks well because Bush speaks badly. Seen from abroad, 
Blair in this partnership is the inspired elder statesman with an 
unassailable domestic power-base, whereas Bush - dare one say it these 
days? - was barely elected at all. But what exactly does Blair, the elder 
statesman, represent? Both men at this moment are riding high in their 
respective approval ratings, but both are aware, if they know their 
history books, that riding high on day one of a perilous overseas military
operation doesn't guarantee you victory on election day. How many American 
body bags can Mr Bush sustain without losing popular support? After the 
horrors of the twin towers and the Pentagon, the American people may want 
revenge, but they're on a very short fuse about shedding more American 

Mr Blair - with the whole western world to tell him so, except for a few 
sour voices back home - is America's eloquent White Knight, the fearless, 
trusty champion of that ever-delicate child of the mid-Atlantic, the 
special relationship.

Whether that will win Blair favour with his electorate is another matter 
because Blair was elected to save the country from decay, and not from 
Osama Bin Laden. The Britain he is leading to war is a monument to 60 
years of administrative incompetence. Our health, education and transport 
systems are on the rocks. The fashionable phrase these days describes them
as "Third World" but there are places in the Third World that are far 
better off than Britain. The Britain Blair governs is blighted by 
institutionalised racism, white male dominance, chaotically administered 
police forces, a constipated judicial system, obscene private wealth and 
shameful and unnecessary public poverty. At the time of his re-election, 
which was characterised by a dismal turnout, Blair acknowledged these ills
and humbly admitted that he was on notice to put them right.

So when you catch the noble throb in his voice as he leads us reluctantly 
to war, and your heart lifts to his undoubted flourishes of rhetoric, it's
worth remembering that he may also be warning you, sotto voce, that his 
mission to mankind is so important that you will have to wait another year
for your urgent medical operation and a lot longer before you can ride in a
safe and punctual train. I am not sure that this is the stuff of electoral 
victory three years from now. Watching Blair, and listening to him, I 
can't resist the impression that he is in a bit of a dream, walking his 
own dangerous plank.

Did I say war? Has either Blair or Bush, I wonder, ever seen a child blown
to bits, or witnessed the effect of a single cluster bomb dropped on an 
unprotected refugee camp? It isn't necessarily a qualification for 
generalship to have seen such dreadful things, and I don't wish either of 
them the experience. But it scares me all the same when I watch uncut 
political faces shining with the light of combat and hear preppy political
voices steeling my heart for battle.

And please, Mr Bush - on my knees, Mr Blair - keep God out of this. To 
imagine God fights wars is to credit Him with the worst follies of mankind.
God, if we know anything about Him, which I don't profess to, prefers 
effective food drops, dedicated medical teams, comfort and good tents for 
the homeless and bereaved, and, without strings, a decent acceptance of 
our past sins and a readiness to put them right. He prefers us less greedy,
less arrogant, less evangelical, and less dismissive of life's losers.

It's not a new world order, not yet, and it's not God's war. It's a 
horrible, necessary, humiliating police action to redress the failure of 
our intelligence services and our blind political stupidity in arming and 
exploiting Islamic fanatics to fight the Soviet invader, then abandoning 
them to a devastated, leaderless country. As a result, it's our miserable 
duty to seek out and punish a bunch of modern-medieval religious zealots 
who will gain mythic stature from the very death we propose to dish out to

And when it's over, it won't be over. The shadowy armies of Bin Laden, in 
the emotional aftermath of his destruction, will gather numbers rather 
than wither away. So will the hinterland of silent sympathisers who 
provide them with logistical support. Cautiously, between the lines, we 
are being invited to believe that the conscience of the West has been 
reawakened to the dilemma of the poor and homeless of the earth. And 
possibly, out of fear, necessity and rhetoric, a new sort of political 
morality has indeed been born.

But when the shooting dies and a seeming peace is achieved, will the 
United States and its allies stay at their posts or, as happened at the 
end of the cold war, hang up their boots and go home to their own back 
yards? Even if those back yards will never again be the safe havens they 
once were.