A few much-needed observations cutting through the dhimmitude of officials such as Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres, and showing the hollowness of the idea that all this awaits a political solution, from David Aaronovitch in The Observer, with thanks to Nicolei:
In the face of this ruthless exploitation of the softest of soft targets, do we (do the Russians) talk, shoot or give in? Which do we do in Iraq, when faced with hostage-taking by what are usually now called ‘insurgents’?
Sometimes you aren’t given the option, of course. Last week 12 Nepalese workers for a Jordanian construction company were killed by an organisation calling itself the Ansar al-Sunna Army. On video one was beheaded (‘The blindfolded man moaned and a shrill wheeze was heard. The masked man then displayed the head to the camera before resting it on the decapitated body.’) and the other 11 were shot (‘Blood seeped from their bodies onto the sand’). The accompanying statement read, ‘The ruling of God was implemented on 12 Nepalese who came to Iraq to fight against Muslims and to serve the Jews and Christians. They are from the Buddhist faith.’ Nepal has no troops in Iraq.
In the same week al-Jazeera, which has allowed itself to be co-opted as the publicity arm of such organisations, aired a clip from a Zarqawi video showing three Turkish lorry drivers seated in front of some gunmen. Later the men were found dead near Samarra. Turkey has no troops in Iraq.
There were demands, however, made in the case of Enzo Baldoni, the Italian journalist and Red Cross worker, kidnapped and his driver killed by a group called the Islamic Army in Iraq. When the Italian government refused to withdraw its troops from Iraq, Baldoni was murdered.
The same group has been holding the two French journalists, Georges Malbrunot and Christian Chesnot, whose appeals to the French government to repeal the school hijab ban were broadcast on al-Jazeera. The French have naturally refused to comply with the repeal demand, but they did something else instead. Communications Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres appealed to the kidnappers, arguing that, ‘We do not understand why journalists (were taken hostage … when our country, in terms of Iraq, expressed with immense force in the United Nations the necessity of respecting international law to restore peace.’
I sympathise entirely with the desire to free these two men from the threat of death, but isn’t de Vabres’s position essentially that he quite understands why these groups kill Italians, murder some miserable Nepalese and execute a few Turks, but that it just isn’t fair to do it to the French?
So the Islamic Action Front of Jordan (currently attempting to prevent proper penalties against so-called ‘honour killers’ in that country) says that the journalists’ lives should be spared ‘Because of France’s distinguished position in rejecting the Anglo-American occupation of Iraq.’ Not because you shouldn’t murder journalists. A Hamas spokesman in Gaza agreed, arguing that freeing the Frenchmen would increase the isolation of Israel and the US. Not because you shouldn’t kill journalists. The French argument, regrettably, amounts to the same thing.
Or, to put it another way, if you leave well alone you should be able to avoid being terrorised. Yesterday, in the wake of the Beslan school horror, the historian Corelli Barnett more or less blamed the crisis on the war against terror itself. His thesis was that, since September 11th, the actions of the West (and particularly the Americans) had made things far, far worse.
The problem with this is the simple one that the war with terror was declared by terror itself. Declared in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi in 1998, declared in New York on 11 September. It wasn’t until 11 September, however, that we began to appreciate the scale of what was already happening. The idea that, had we negotiated with the Taliban, left Saddam in place and put more pressure on Sharon to settle, kids would now be safe in North Ossetia, is just wishful thinking.
In Saturday’s Guardian Isabel Hilton gave a more interesting explanation. This is an era, she pointed out, of asymmetric warfare in which – regrettably – outgunned insurgents eventually come after kids, journalists and Nepalese cooks. What else (she implied) are they going to do? But wasn’t Gandhi’s situation asymmetric? Did he take over schools and kill the kids? Did Mandela? Is it really the case that what we have here are outgunned liberation movements?
On Thursday night Channel Four showed the drama The Hamburg Cell, which attempted to get inside the minds of the young al-Qaeda operatives who carried out the 11 September hijackings. What the film showed was a classic cult in operation, with young men – pampered and envious, frustrated and egotistic – urging each other on to more and more pitiless acts of violence. The film not only explained the Twin Towers, it inadvertently explained Jonestown and the mass suicide in the Guyanese jungle.
It was also interesting to see how they provided intellectual justification for their actions. Everything was read in one direction: how Muslims were forced to suffer. So, for example, the West’s inaction in Bosnia was thrown into the balance, but not its intervention on the side of the Muslims of Kosovo.
I finished watching The Hamburg Cell to find an email waiting. It was from a named professional in a British provincial city. He was complaining about a couple of anti-Muslim articles by men called Browne and Cummins, run in The Times and the Sunday Telegraph. Part of it read, ‘I presume you are also a Jew because it is Jews who have lost their marbles and shoot themselves in both feet and legs…. You can’t escape the conclusion that most of the commentators are Jewish and their primary aim is to get the Christians to beat the hell out of Islam and Muslims. But do not be expecting me to shed tears as the same bullies would turn on Jews again and may be there would be a final holocaust against them, invited by themselves.’
Where do I even begin? By pointing out that Browne and Cummins are not, on the face of it, Jewish names? How do I mollify a man whose every sentence is so flawed, yet so certain? Let alone a man who believes that God has instructed him to kill Nepalese cooks, or will absolve him if he shoots a fleeing child in the back?
I am not saying that the only answer is in security. In the case of Chechnya I take the argument of those who point out that, until five years ago and Moscow’s reoccupation of the province, there was no significant terrorism there. It seems to me that an absolutely necessary part of the battle for a safer world consists of cutting away as much as you can of the potential support for terrorists.
The logic of this is not, however, to concede to terrorists. Much of what they want we can never give them, and much of what they want lies in the act of terrorism itself. And it as false a trope to say that there are usually political solutions to terrorism as to say that there are always military ones.