Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

There Is a Bright Side to Terrorism Crisis

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

There Is a Bright Side to Terrorism Crisis

Article excerpt


MONTY Python has much to answer for.

Ever since it gave us the song, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, during the crucifixion scene in The Life of Brian, anyone offering optimism during times of crisis is apt to meet a wall of ironic mockery.

That is the risk I face now.

Plainly there is plenty to feel nervous about. However, the news since 11 September has not been all bad. There is a case for optimism. The terrible spectacle of two aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center has given a number of world problems a much needed jolt out of deadlock, complacency and torpor.

The Irish peace process is the most obvious example. On 10 September the prospects looked bleak. The IRA would not disarm, and the Unionists were threatening to bring down the Northern Ireland executive in protest.

Twenty-four hours later, American sympathy for any group with a terrorist tag was gone. Pressure on the IRA from across the Atlantic became irresistible.

Within days the IRA reopened contact with General de Chastelain. Today, with part of the IRA arsenal now put beyond use, David Trimble is set to resume as First Minister. The peace process is back on track.

Peace has still to come to Gaza and the West Bank, not least because of the assassination of the Israeli culture minister and the reprisal raids. Yet in the days before that assassination, significant progress was being made, again because a shift in American policy. In order to stay friends with as much of the Muslim world as possible, the US at last backed the establishment of a full Palestinian state, and forced Ariel Sharon to accept this objective. An enduring settlement is now possible and, despite the awkward moments, was probably brought closer by Tony Blair's talks last week in Damascus, Jerusalem and Gaza.

A happier future also beckons for the United Nations. Until seven weeks ago, it had only a marginal role in tackling the world's big problems. The US was hundreds of millions of dollars in arrears with its payments, and mocked any suggestion that the UN should help to restore civic society to countries such as Afghanistan.

Events on 11 September changed all that. Congress immediately agreed to hand over the cash America owed. The US sought, and received, authority from the UN's Security Council, to strike back at the terrorists. Now, when Washington ponders Afghanistan after the Taliban, to whom does it look to glue the pieces back together? Why, the United Nations: better the world body, with its global legitimacy, than others who could be tagged as stooges of western imperialism.

In each of those three examples - Ireland, Palestine and the UN - the decisive change has taken place in the US, which has jettisoned policies even its friends disliked. …

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