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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

Is the world's favourite hate figure to blame?

Osama bin Laden

By Robert Fisk
12 September 2001

I can imagine how Osama bin Laden received the news of the atrocities in 
the United States. In all, I must have spent five hours listening to him 
in Sudan and then in the Afghan mountains, as he described the inevitable 
collapse of the US, just as he and his comrades in the Afghan war helped 
to destroy the Red Army.

He will have watched satellite television, he will have sat in the corner 
of his room, brushing his teeth as he always did, with a mishwak stick, 
thinking for up to a minute before speaking. He once told me with pride 
how his men had attacked the Americans in Somalia. He acknowledged that he
personally knew two of the Saudis executed for bombing an American military
base in Riyadh. Could he be behind the slaughter in America?

If Mr bin Laden was really guilty of all the things for which he has been 
blamed, he would need an army of 10,000. And there is something deeply 
disturbing about the world's habit of turning to the latest hate figure 
whenever blood is shed. But when events of this momentous scale take place,
there is a new legitimacy in casting one's eyes at those who have 
constantly threatened America.

Mr bin Laden had a kind of religious experience during the Afghan war. A 
Russian shell had fallen at his feet and, in the seconds as he waited for 
it to explode, he said he had a sudden feeling of calmness. The shell 
never exploded.

The US must leave the Gulf, he would say every 10 minutes. America must 
stop all sanctions against the Iraqi people. America must stop using 
Israel to oppress Palestinians. He was not fighting an anti-colonial war, 
but a religious one. His supporters would gather round him with the awe of
men listening to a messiah. And the words they listened to were fearful in 
their implications. American civilians would no more be spared than 
military targets. Yet I also remember one night when Mr bin Laden saw a 
pile of newspapers in my bag and seized them. By a sputtering oil lamp, he
read them, clearly unaware of the world around him. Was this really a man 
who could damage America?

If the shadow of the Middle East falls over yesterday's destruction, then 
who else could produce such meticulously timed assaults? The rag-tag 
Palestinian groups that used to favour hijacking are unlikely to be able 
to produce a single suicide bomber. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have neither 
the capability nor the money that this assault needed. Perhaps the groups 
that moved close to the Lebanese Hizbollah in the 1980s, before the 
organisation became solely a resistance movement. The bombing of the US 
Marines in 1983 needed precision, timing and infinite planning. But Iran, 
which supported these groups, is more involved in its internal struggles. 
Iraq lies broken, its agents more intent on torturing their own people 
than striking at the the US.

So the mountains of Afghanistan will be photographed from satellite and 
high-altitude aircraft in the coming days, Mr bin Laden's old training 
camps highlighted on the overhead projectors in the Pentagon. But to what 
end? For if this is a war it cannot be fought like other wars. Indeed, can
it be fought at all without some costly military adventure overseas? Or is 
that what Mr bin Laden seeks above all else?