Tony Blair has been actively and, no doubt, constructively, engaged in an vigorous diplomatic effort to mend bridges between Islam, the Islamic and the Arab world on the one side, and the Western world in general, on the other. And, whether the driving force behind these moves is a genuine recognition of the need to correct an historic abnormality which has long been unduly neglected or, as many suspect, the temporary, urgent and tactical necessity to rally the Arab and Muslim countries’ support behind the US-Britain-led coalition against terrorism, the value of this effort remains considerably significant.
Blair’s invitation to prominent Muslim leaders to 10 Downing Street three weeks ago, and the powerful statement which the prime minister made during the press conference that followed, with Muslim leaders standing on both sides of the pulpit, sent a tremendous message and set clear guidelines which had immediate effect in stopping the anti-Muslim, anti-Arab backlash in most of the Western world following the terrible terrorist attacks in the heart of the US. One, of course, should not fail to recognise the equally effective statements and efforts towards that end made by the American president and many other American officials.
An article by Blair, which appeared in The Jordan Times on Oct. 15, must be viewed as part of this effort. But in fact, and in addition, the article struggles, not flawlessly though, to justify a growingly unpopular war which might end up creating more problems than it initially was aiming to resolve.
Yes, it is true that “there is an unprecedented global consensus against terrorism”, as Blair confirmed in his message. It is equally true that the whole world stood united in its condemnation of the terrorist attacks in Washington and NY; as it was, and still is, united in recognising, in no unclear terms, the right of the US to defend its territory and its people, to track down the perpetrators and those who harboured or supported them; to bring them to justice; and indeed to construct a world front to fight and to eradicate terror from our life once and for all.
The prerequisites and requirements for attaining such cherished goals were persistently voiced and heedlessly ignored. Many wanted to see a thorough, patient, objective and legally guided investigation, the outcome of which would be backed by legally valid, convincing and visible evidence. This would have been the only guarantee that no individual, state, or international effort, would be worthless pursuing, and eventually punishing the wrong target, while the real criminals, the real terrorists, would bask comfortably in their hideouts preparing for their next atrocity.
The evidence previously presented by Blair was described by Stephen Gowan (The Jordan Times, Oct. 7) as “old news stories and leaps of logic” and it was, indeed, not the type of evidence that justifies going to war. Dr A. Tweijri, a legal expert, in a debate on the subject on Orbit satellite TV (Oct. 14), dismissed it outright as totally worthless. Many people all around the world want to see the real compelling evidence, and their views should not be misconstrued as mischievous attempts to obstruct the fight against terror, to imply the innocence of the suspects or to provide them with protection and cover. They simply want to be sure that the real terrorists are identified and rightly hunted down.
The vital point is that justice, pure justice, should be the focus of any international action of this magnitude and significance, and justice will be seriously compromised, if not entirely betrayed, once the need for anger-guided revenge dictates haste, away from the path of truth, legality and firm reliance on solid evidence.
The claim, therefore, that the undesired military solution was a foregone inevitability, since the “preferred by all” diplomatic solution was never possible as suggested in Blair’s article, is fairly debatable.
It is quite possible that the Taleban were not serious when they requested evidence linking Ben Laden to terrorism as a condition for handing him over. Why was this possibility not explored, even if any possible gain would be no more than exposing Taleban and calling their bluff. Many have questioned the wisdom of not dealing with an issue which, is essentially criminal in nature as such, and why extradition was not sought in accordance with the normal legal procedures whether it is just Ben Laden or any number of collaborators in his terrorist network who would add up to the list of wanted suspects.
To avoid a major military operation of this magnitude, and its devastating consequences, a war which is already reaping innocent civilian lives and scaring away hundreds of thousands of homeless hungry refugees; a war which will sow more fear, uncertainty, regional instability, poverty, injustice, bitterness and despair; a war that on top of all these woes may miss its primary target and prove counterproductive and futile; to avoid such a war, an extension of the diplomatic efforts to any lengths is justifiable and humanely required.
During 38 years of diplomatic service, out of which I spent 22 in European countries, and eight between Washington and NY (at the UN), the resort to the use of force was never accepted, under any circumstance, as an option for recovering occupied territory or restoring lost rights during any discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The standard advice was constantly urging negotiations, and negotiations only, as the correct, internationally acceptable, peaceful means for settling conflicts.
It is extraordinarily stunning to draw a contrast, in hindsight, between the pacifist wise counsel and the swift rush to waging major wars in Iraq, the Balkans and now in Afghanistan, when superpower interests were involved. More notorious still was the bombing and the total destruction in 1998 of Al-Shifa Pharmaceuticals in Sudan without even warning the Sudanese authorities, on pretexts that proved entirely false. And with Iraq, the language of dialogue has long been entirely left to the US and British air forces, delivering their messages through air to ground missiles.
Of course, the situation in Afghanistan is miserable, tragic and abnormal. But that is a logical outcome of using Afghanistan for over two decades as a battleground, and the Afghani people as battle fuel, for settling superpower rivalries.
The Taleban regime is truly as terrible as described in Blair’s article. That is why it has been shunned and rejected by every other state in the world, except one. (In the best cases there were two more.) Consequently, and in response to Blair’s questions, no Muslim or non-Muslim country “wants to live under the sort of regime we see today in Kabul… as Ben Laden and Al Qaeda want….”
The problem, with Taleban, however is not their badness or their archaic reactionary and dangerously fanatic nature. As far as the established coalition is concerned, the specific case against Taleban is their harbouring of Ben Laden and his terrorist network.
Undeniably, the two issues are related, and if that reality adds some weight to the argument in favour of a total war against Afghanistan, it does not erase any doubts about the effectiveness of a war which may hit hard on the unrelated innocents, and miss most, if not all, of its intended targets, a war which would neither annihilate the terrorists nor be able to install a democracy in Afghanistan, particularly if the Northern Alliance, “the confederacy of warlords, rapists and torturers and their gangster leader Abdul Rashid Dostum” (as described by R. Fisk) would be, as apparently the plan is, part of the arrangement.
What is true of Taleban is equally true of Ben Laden. He does harbour extremist and dangerous ideas. He repeatedly declared his hostile intentions against many regimes in the region, as well as against the presence of foreign forces on “the land of Islam”. He did support the terrorist attacks on US targets in September, after denying involvement, but recently he threatened more when he warned certain people against living in high-rise buildings or flying, a clearly implicating threat.
And while Ben Laden pretended that he was speaking for the Palestinians and that he is driven by faith, his real intentions and motivations, as Blair believes, were “power, power that he wields through terror”; Blair also believes that the power game he is playing is to install Taleban-type regimes in other countries.
All this could be very true, but again, the specific case against Ben Laden is his responsibility, and his organisation’s, in the recent terrorist attacks in NY and in Washington or in any previous terrorist activities. For this he and all those who work with him should, unquestionably, be brought to justice and their danger should be abolished.
The unnecessary exaggeration of his capabilities and power is making of him a dreadful monster spreading unjustified fear and panic in most of the Western world, while many, as we have been witnessing in anti-war demonstrations in many Muslim countries, started to see him as a great hero, possibly as an expression of their rejection of the US policy and the war, rather than their endorsement of Ben Laden’s position.
Regrettably, the war which was not fully justified by the publication of clear convincing evidence, which is not “a new kind of war” as promised, and which, in its second week, is only destroying, is accelerating the feeling that it is, once more, a war of revenge guided by anger and arrogance, targeting vulnerable rather than legitimate aims. That is exactly what the world does not need amidst this deep crisis. What we all need is a precise and sober plan to fight terrorism, only terrorism, all terrorism, and nothing but terrorism.
The writer is former Permanent Representative of Jordan to the United Nations. He contributed this article to the Jordan Times.