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

A foolish crusade
Following in Lord Roberts's footsteps would be a fatal mistake for the West

Peter Oborne
September 23, 2001

Tony Blair is famously fond of telling Muslim audiences that he reads the 
Koran. To others, he sings different tunes. When interviewed by the Daily 
Telegraph before the election, he claimed that he was greatly enjoying the
memoirs of Field Marshal Lord Roberts, the greatest and most belligerent of
nineteenth-century imperialists, whose most noteworthy achievement was the 
march on Kandahar to relieve Lt General James Primrose in 1879. It took 
Roberts 22 days to move his army 313 miles across Afghanistan's hostile 
terrain. At the end of it, he obliterated the enemy.

Roberts is the only general to have emerged with flying colours from an 
expedition into Afghanistan in the last 200 years. One can only hope that 
his example hasn't given the Prime Minister the wrong idea. Some of the 
simple certainties, not to mention the underlying attitudes, of Roberts's 
campaign have been at large over the last 10 days. President Bush's call 
for a crusade and his demand to get bin Laden 'dead or alive' would have 
chimed with the jingoism of the Victorian empire.

It is hard to tell whether the President really means what he says, or 
what Tony Blair privately thinks. But judging from their public statements,
the strategy of these two men looks 100 per cent wrong. The kind of 
retribution they are talking about seems self-defeating and mad.

The British, of all people, should know that talk of defeating terrorism 
through salutary punishment is hopeless. Our bitter experience with the 
IRA shows that. The IRA survived and flourished because it enjoyed the 
active or tacit support of the Catholic population in Northern Ireland, 
the sympathy of the southern Irish state and financial backing from the 
greater Irish diaspora. Reprisals, however rational or justified by IRA 
barbarity, merely had the effect of making matters worse. Just as the IRA 
enjoyed the support of the wider Irish community, so bin Laden's 
organisation enjoys support in the wider Muslim world.

That is because, whether we like it or not, both organisations are using a
genuine grievance. Peace in Ulster has only become possible now that 
Britain has started to address nationalist concerns. Anyone who thinks 
that Arab terrorism can be defeated until the Palestine situation is 
resolved is dreaming. The thought of the West taking reprisals against bin
Laden without demanding major concessions from Israel makes the blood run 

Clumsy reprisals will simply inflame Muslim opinion and that is bin 
Laden's objective. It is clear that his real aim is not the destruction of
America but the eviction of the pro-Western regimes in Saudi Arabia and 
neighbouring countries.

It is not difficult to envisage a series of popular uprisings sweeping 
aside all moderate Muslim governments. Any attempt by the West to save, 
say, Saudi Arabia, might be greeted by terrorist reprisals that would make
the World Trade Centre atrocity look like an aperitif.

The consequences of such a turn of events are far worse than oil at $100 a
barrel and economic depression. A new Middle East power block would have 
emerged, allying twenty-first century technology with a medieval mind-set.
It would have the wealth to buy nuclear weapons and delivery systems to go 
with them. A new Cold War would have started. But this time, the men with 
their fingers on the button would have a proven disregard for human life, 
including their own. This is one possible future if George Bush and Tony 
Blair miscalculate over the next days and weeks.

In any case, action against Afghanistan and other Muslim powers, while 
appeasing public sentiment in America, would achieve nothing. The great 
point about last week's atrocities is that they were inside jobs. The same
will apply in the future. Many of the hijackers were educated in the West. 
If any country can be accused of abetting terrorism it is Britain, where 
terrorists can use our asylum laws to obtain entry and resist extradition 
through our human rights legislation.

We do not guard our borders effectively and it is inconceivable that fresh
terrorists will not make use of this weakness. It is criminally negligent 
of the Government to allow such a situation to persist.

So Blair and Bush seem to have got it the wrong way round. Abroad, they 
are targeting Afghans and others who present no threat. At home, they are 
failing to take the tough steps that would protect their citizens from an 
insidious deadly menace.

This war, if it is a war, is a conflict between Old and New Testament. It 
is between those who value human life and those who do not. If the West 
goes down the way of revenge, as Bush especially seems ready to do, than 
it will lose. Both the President and the Prime Minister affect to be 
Christians. They might care to contemplate, before they order troops into 
action, how Christ would have reacted.

We have heard plenty of talk about retribution. It would now be fine to 
hear both men say that the West does not believe in taking innocent lives.
That is what the terrorists did on 11 September. If we respond in the same 
way, they will have won.