February 20, 2006

Cue The Bearded One...

As if appearing on cue to emphasize Donald Rumsfeld's recent remarks, that old sly dog Osama bin Laden has again popped up his bearded head to declare that his movement is gaining strength despite the barbaric methods of the USA and its partners.

Rather than devote time and energy to the agendas of either bin Laden or Rumsfeld, however, let's look at something Simon Jenkins recently wrote in the Sunday Times:
Were I Bin Laden I could not have dreamt that the spirit of 9/11 would be so vigorous five years on. I have western leaders still parroting my motto that “9/11 alters everything” and “the rules of the game are changed”. I have the Taliban resurgent, financed by Europe’s voracious demand for oil and opium. I have the Pentagon and Scotland Yard paying me the compliment of a “long war” of indefinite duration. My potency is said to require more defence spending than was needed to contain the might of the Soviet Union...

The 9/11 “changes everything” mantra began as an explanation of a national trauma and a plea for sympathy. It was hijacked to validate the latent authoritarianism of democratic leaders.

America asks the world to believe itself so threatened as to require the kidnappings of foreign citizens in foreign parts, detention without legal process, the curbing of free speech and derogation from all international law. It asks the world to believe that it must disregard the Geneva conventions and employ foreign dictators to help it to torture at random. It uses the same justification for occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. The world simply refuses to agree...

Even America’s most robust champions plead that this is all grotesquely counter-productive. What is frightening is not the evil of much American foreign policy at present but its stupidity; the damage it does to its own objectives...

There never was a “terrorist threat” to western civilisation or democracy, only to western lives and property. The threat becomes systemic only when democracy loses its confidence and when its leaders are weak, as now. Terror attacks are for the police. For George Bush and Blair to demand a “long war” against Bin Laden and, by implication, a long suppression of civil liberty is ludicrous. Western civilisation is not some simpering weakling that cowers before a fanatic ’s might, pleading for leaders to protect it by all means, however illegal. It has been proof against Islamic expansionism since the 17th century. It is not at risk.

The American president and the British prime minister have spent half a decade exploiting Bin Laden for political ends, in thrall to their security/industrial complex. They have relied on terrifying their electorates with new and bloodcurdling threats, with what Runciman calls “spook politics”. But they will pass. The half-baked “message” laws passed by Britain’s limp parliament last week will fall in disuse. The vitality of British and American democracy has always been its ability to produce antibodies when truly challenged by an internal or external menace. The West will rediscover its self-belief and restore the liberalism, properly defined as freedom, that it once exemplified to the world.

Bin Laden is not going to win and never was. But Bush and Blair are giving him an astonishing run for his money.

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