Magazine article The Spectator

The Creation of a Palestinian State Is Essential for the War against Terrorism

Magazine article The Spectator

The Creation of a Palestinian State Is Essential for the War against Terrorism

Article excerpt

There has never been a greater contrast between the superficial coverage of a war and its true nature. Much of the press would like to see this conflict as a re-run of Desert Storm: Mountain Storm, perhaps. As in the Gulf War, the good guys will use awesome technology to overwhelm the bad guys, and all will be well.

If only. After all, it did not even work in 1991, when we scotch'd the snake, not killed it; Saddam awaits his second round. In Afghanistan, everything is much harder, especially as the West has only a month's bombing time before Ramadan and the winter. Moreover, there is a limit to the power of air war. It would not be difficult to bomb Afghanistan back to the Stone Age, but what would that achieve?

There are also problems on the ground. At the outset, a number of commentators - including me - hoped that any infantry campaign could be subcontracted to the Northern Alliance, assisted by special forces plus ground-attack planes and helicopters. Two problems rapidly emerged. The Northern Alliance would be unacceptable to the Pashtun majority; they would also be unacceptable to world opinion. Last time they took Kabul, there was a good deal of rape, pillage and massacre, and it is unlikely that the Alliance's warriors have spent the intervening years mugging up the Geneva Convention. Perhaps we should not be so censorious of their barbarian mores; it was not so many centuries ago that captured European cities would be given over to the sack. But it would look awfully bad on television.

So it will be necessary to construct a broadly based, rapine-averse anti-Taleban coalition which could be entrusted with the capture of Kabul. It will take time to do this.

But we must not get bogged down in Afghanistan, militarily or mentally. That country is only an accidental battlefield, just as the attacks on New York and Washington were merely a catalyst. The fall of Kabul would only be a minor incident in a long war, in which America, although the first conspicuous victim, is an ally, not a principal. Bin Laden destroyed the World Trade Center in order to signal the beginning of a civil war in the Islamic world, with the goal of promoting an Islamic revival. He wants to emulate the early followers of the Prophet and to lead a united and purified Islam, irrupting out of the desert to great-powerhood and glory. In this, he starts with three interlinked advantages: history, demography and corruption.

Bid Laden is not the only Muslim obsessed by the contrast between the splendours of Caliphate Baghdad and Muslim Spain and the long centuries of later decline, which oil riches have been able to reverse. Throughout the cafes of the Muslim world, hundreds of thousands of young men are saying the same thing. `We have all this oil, yet what happens? It is sold cheaply to Westerners who despise us, in order to pay the nightclub bills of decadent pseudo-Islamic rulers. Given our control of oil, we could squeeze the world economy's windpipe. Yet we have not even been able to dislodge the Israelis from the lands they stole. Our current leaders are wasting our substance and our opportunity; let us rise up against them.' Bin Laden's aim is to compress all that cafe hot air until it explodes.

He has further potential assistance from the millions of young Arabs who cannot afford to go to cafes. Throughout the Muslim world, there is a rapidly rising birth rate, which often means that as many as 60 per cent of the population is under 16. It is not going to be easy to absorb all these youngsters into the labour market, and the militant mullahs will be suggesting alternative goals. …

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