Fiona Watson, the British UN political affairs officer killed in the attack on the UN building in Baghdad went to school in the same town as me. Alhough she was about the same age as me I don’t remember her from my schooldays, though undoubtedly I will know people who did. It’s a very small town with only a couple of schools.
Perhaps it was that fact which led me to follow the UN bombing story more closely than I might have done normally and to think about the way it was reported. The consensus in the British press seems to be that the bombing of the UN building, as opposed to more usual attacks on coalition troops, marked a watershed; and in some ways I agree that it does, to give two examples the Japanese Government appears less keen on providing peacekeeping troops now and the World Bank is reassessing it’s future strategy for Iraq.
But should it really surprise us that Western non-combatants are being targetted as well as troops ? If it is found that the perpetrators of the UN bomb are Islamic “militants” – and there is plenty evidence on the ground that they are active in Iraq and increasing in number – it should not be news to us that the bombers don’t discriminate between men, women, Christians, Jews, combatants or non-combatants.
The fact of the matter is that the people who joined Al-Qaeda and the other Islamist groups are not interested in making that kind of distinction. We know the Bali bombers wanted to target Americans because they thought that all the problems of their society could be blamed on America. When it was pointed out to the chief Bali bomber during the recent trial that the 200 victims had in fact been mostly Australians he appeared unconcerned at his mistake and shrugged that to him the dead were all still infidels.
There is no evidence to suggest that this type of reasoning is unusual among the footsoldiers or the leadership of the Islamist movement, and there is also plenty to suggest that they prefer soft targets. Why take on the US Army when you can blow up UN personnel instead ?
It didn’t seem to matter so much in the past that religous “leaders” in much of the Arab and Islamic world stoked up the congregation by preaching that Jews slaughtered Arab children during their religous ceremonies and that murdering Christians would earn the good Muslim a place in heaven. It matters more now that we know that those who believe this rubbish had the technical ability to organise attacks on the scale of 9/11.
We should also be careful about ascribing sophisticated political motives to the type of people who will still be celebrating the destruction of the UN buildings and the loss of life that entailed. My guess is that they weren’t sophisticated enough to consider whether taking innocent life would solve the Kashmir problem, show solidarity with the Palestinians or improve their home countries. If they were they might have come to a different conclusion.
Sadly I suspect that these deluded specimens are more likely to be the products of the hate-mongers who preach daily in the extremist mosques and madrassas across the Islamic world that ending the lives of infidels is in itself a worthy goal of a good muslim and also worthy of God’s generosity in heaven.
The eventual solution to the political problems in Kashmir, Palestine etc can come about only when the Islamist groups are rendered operationally ineffective and the extremist mosques cease offering the prospect of 72 virgins to gullible young men with sub-standard reasoning powers but access to modern weapons. It should be clear to us they are part of the problem not the solution.
The anti-war protesters opposed intervention in Afghanistan because they believed “there had to be a better way” or that we could successfully negotiate with the type of people who continue to think that those of us who were born Christian or Jewish, Hindu or Shinto were hated by God and He wanted us all buried under rubble. Some of the opposition to intervention in Iraq followed similar reasoning.
Unfortunately the bombing of the UN building demonstrates that those who supported the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were right to do so. It must be clear by now that there is no point in negotiating with a seventh-century brain with access to 21st-century weapons. Doing so only increases the total number of innocent deaths and leads the seventh-century brain to think they can continue their campaign of slaughter with impunity. The argument that the UN shouldn’t have been there in the first place isn’t as attractive as arguing that coalition forces shouldn’t be there in the first place.
Nearly two years ago New York and Washington were succesfuly targeted by terrorists (who had state and some degree of popular in the Islamic world)causing enormous loss of innocent lives. Everyone here thought London was going to be next and the economies of the West went into a downward spiral caused in large part by the fear and uncertainty resulting from the attacks. After that the bombers struck in Bali successfuly bringing misery to Australia as well as America.
Negotiating with the Taleban, Al-Qaeda or their backers and supporters would have resulted in 9/11 and Bali being the start of our problems but because we took the fight to it’s source we have made a good start in destroying the operational effectiveness of those organisations. I think it is possible to say that 9/11 and Bali were the high point of the Islamist campaign against the West’s soft targets. Let’s hope I’m right.
What is worth remembering is that our ability to protect innocent lives did not come about via negotiation but because we took the decision to disrupt the terrorists bases, hunt down their leaders and send the tanks in. States which support terrorism are hastily reconsidering their strategies and extremist mosques are being closed down by countries which want to be seen co-operative. These are some of the successes of the strategy of intervention. There will no doubt be other successes which we can’t know about yet because they are part of the ongoing campaign against terror. The world is a safer place now than in 2001/2002 despite the regular attacks on the coalition forces and NGO’s in Iraq.
I hope some of the people who joined the anti-war marches will have the courage to admit that they were wrong about the strategy of non-intervention. The numbers which attend the coming September “anti-occupation” march in London may provide us with a clue. My hope is that those who preferred, for their own reasons, leaving the Taleban, Al-Qaeda and Saddam in place rather than removing them will show themselves in much reduced numbers when the rest of the country decides not to join them in their selfish and ill-thought out call for an end to the progress made in Iraq.