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Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Getting Over It

Very frequently I read something that makes me mad, and I spend a lot of time writing about it. Then, when it's about done, I decide that 1) nobody cares, 2) it's just another "fisking", of which there are plenty in the world, 3) I've wasted too much time already, 4) the expiration date of the original piece has passed (and hence, nobody cares), 5) I'm tired of it, 6) nobody cares.

The result is that I write a lot of stuff, and it never gets published. I was just wading through some of it today---good stuff (well, for me), and more importantly a lot of time spent writing it, all for naught.

And so it was going to be with this drivel from Guardian driveller Joan Smith. A few other people mentioned it, InstaP for one (who sounds as if he took it personally). But I was just going to let it go, until I saw "Tom Paine" from Silent Running growling and tearing at it, and I decide I must worry it a bit as well.

It's about time the US got over 9/11
09 February 2003

If anyone had told me, in the autumn of 2001, that we were less than 18 months away from what might become the world's first nuclear war, I would have thought they were insane.

Nuclear war, uh huh. Bear this sentence in mind when you are reading below about the unreasonable paranoia of Americans.

In the half century since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no one has been that reckless or indeed that stupid...

Does October, 1962, ring a bell? No? Thought not. What about last year---India and Pakistan? Kashmir? No, they didn't go to war, but that was a lot closer than this.

So the question I am going to ask, at the risk of causing great offence, is this: when is the US going to get over the events of 11 September?

About the time winged pigs ice skate in Hell, or when no one with the wherewithall thinks a repeat performance would be a good idea, whichever comes first. Around about the same time Joan Smith joins a convent and takes a vow of silence.

I am not ... referring to the millions of decent Americans who are just as opposed to war with Saddam Hussein as I am.

People opposed to an Iraq war---for whatever reason---don't need to get over it. (This is good, because I know an anti-war American in Australia who would belt ol' Joan upside the nose at the suggestion.) The millions of decent Americans who think that war with Iraq is better than the alternative can just suck it up.

What I am challenging is a mindset that sees al-Qa'ida or Saddam behind every tragedy, from the Oklahoma bombing to the murder of a detective in Manchester and the loss of the space shuttle last weekend. It is a measure of the paranoia afflicting parts of the US that officials deemed it necessary to announce, only hours after Columbia blew up in the sky over Texas, that a terrorist attack was not suspected. I know Saddam is a cunning old brute, but is it really likely that his agents have penetrated Nasa?

Tell me about it! Like for example all those stupid people who thought that perfectly natural synagogue explosion in Tunisia was the work of Al Qaeda. Synagogues explode all the time, ask anybody. And that Bali blast---the people who thought that was terrorism were sure idiots, weren't they? And how about that bloke who was alleged to try to blow up an airliner en route to New York? Idiots! Poor fellow just badly wanted a smoke, and he just happened to have one in his shoe, so...

(I admit that the destruction of the Shuttle was extremely unlikely to be terrorism, but it's what everyone was thinking. I thought of it. Terrorist-appeasing Niles thought of it. It was best to put speculation to rest as soon as possible.)

And those idiots who think terrorists might operate in London---bah!

Strange, then, that not a single member of my vast circle of friends in London has experienced any of these events [gassing, raping, murdering] within living memory. We have not been infected with anthrax either, although some of us got a flu-like virus at Christmas that turned out to be - well, flu.

Ha! You really stuck it to those morons who would believe there are ricin plots in every mosque.

It is not that I don't take the threat of terrorism seriously. I am quite prepared to believe there are al-Qa'ida cells in European and American cities, but it is important to keep things in proportion. My guess is that most of us are more likely to be run over by a lorry than die in a terrorist attack,

And nobody takes that seriously, do they? I mean, no one would go to the effort of looking both ways before they cross the street. No one lobbies for special truck driving licenses, or speed limits, or drunk driving laws, right? Nobody would take repeat driving offenders off the road. That would be silly.

and I certainly do not want people in this country to reach the advanced state of paranoia reported in some American states.

The other night, a car with two men in it sat for quite a long while outside our apartment, with its engine running. Cars almost never park at this end of the street. We thought about calling the cops, although we didn't, because we figured we'd look pretty foolish.

But it wasn't fear of terrorists that made us consider it. It was the fact that nine years ago one of the neighbors was murdered on his doorstep by a man who ran out to the street to a waiting car. We heard the whole thing. But that couldn't ever happen again here, right? So we never have to be suspicious of cars parked out on our street late at night.

In the same way, Americans never have to wonder if 9/11 could have been prevented by just one tip from an alert observer, never have to worry that it might happen again.

Paranoia is not the only problem. The administration's war against the Taliban was neither a great military success (huge areas of Afghanistan are still in the hands of vicious warlords)...

Hmm, true, insofar as I don't call it a great military success when I squish a cockroach (oh, OK, that's not true: I do---but that's just me). Yes, huge areas of Afghanistan are in the hands of vicious warlords, and some of them are attacking our troops. But Al Qaeda is not using Afghanistan as its base anymore.

As for those warlords, you might want to talk to the Pakistanis about that. (I'll just point out that this is another episode of the world's most popular soap opera, The Americans Are to Blame. The Pakistanis supplied these warlords, supplied the Taliban, yet it was American omission rather than Pakistani commission which is to blame. Everywhere you look, you see this.)

Note, also, that this is the administration's war, Bush's war:

President Bush needs an enemy and Saddam fits the bill nicely, even though no one with an ounce of common sense credits Colin Powell's claims last week about an alliance between Iraq and al-Qa'ida.

No one with an ounce of sense seriously believed a real connection with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, did they? No.

She finishes off by saying she doesn't know whether Bush's war is supported by a majority of Americans. Well, if she'd check a poll or two, or maybe reflect on last November's elections, it might come to her.

I bring you some choice Joan Smith from days gone by:

From 9/16/01: The terrible question that America must ask itself

...the US needs to address the causes of terrorism if it is to achieve the security it urgently seeks. There is not much evidence that it is doing so, which is why Nato's offer of support to the President is morally wrong and a gargantuan political error. It will make things worse, and may well put more European lives at risk.

The NATO support she's talking about was the invocation of Article V after 9/11, not Iraq today (where one could argue that NATO does not properly have a role). Notice that again we have support to the President, not to the US. It's only Bush's war, you know.

The suggestion of it being a "gargantuan political error" for NATO to support the US---its most prominent member, the member which has done most of the heavy lifting---when it was attacked, betrays such a lack of awareness of reality that one wonders why anyone pays this woman for her commentary. Yes, yes, there can be and have been disagreements, as we're seeing now; but, as we're also seeing, it's the hold-outs who seem to be making the political error (though it's true that it's a bit early to tell). But as I said, one could argue that NATO has no business in this (except to protect its members---i.e. Turkey) matter; 9/11 was a different story.

On 9/23/01: Exposed! My shameful life as a 'salon terrorist'

What a terrible person I am. Up and down the country, people are ashamed of me. I make them embarrassed to be British. The trouble is, you see, that I just don't know the difference between right and wrong. I am, apparently, in favour of the murder of innocent men, women and children.

How unilateral of her. If many people were offended, shouldn't she spend some time considering whether she may have been in the wrong? But no, she mocks them.

10/28/01 The spoils of war - a load of maps and some mules

Motherlode here, ya got yer brutal Afghan winter, yer dead children, yer silent genocide, yer it's-all-about-the-polls, and:

[Senior UN officials] "are understandably angry at the prospect of having to clean up whatever mess the Americans leave behind in Afghanistan..."

Ah, the all-knowing, all-seeing UN, always having to clean up our messes. How weary they must be of it!

12/23/01 Dinner at Amiel's leaves a bad taste

You'll remember that Barbara Amiel, wife of Telegraph owner Conrad Black, wrote that a European ambassador had lamented that all the trouble in the world was over "that shitty little country", Israel. The ambassador was subsequently revealed to be the French ambassador to Britain, Daniel Bernard.

Joan Smith is shocked, shocked. This just isn't done:

...both sides in this game understand that you don't exploit someone's hospitality by getting other guests into trouble. The exception to this rule, in my view, is when someone behaves with gratuitous rudeness or in a way that amounts to bullying. When Sir Robin Day lost his temper with me at a dinner party, going very red in the face and shouting "balls" and "bollocks" across the table, I had no hesitation in writing about it. I did the same when Amitai Etzioni, an adviser to President Clinton, responded to a perfectly civil question by shouting abuse at me. On both occasions, I also told them exactly what I thought at the time."

Let me translate: "It's wrong except when I do it."

1/06/02 The bishop got it right: the bombing must stop

...I recalled remarks made by the Bishop of Winchester in a recent sermon. Michael Scott-Joynt said that, evil though they were, the events of 11 September had to be understood as a "judgement" upon the West. Scott-Joynt was not, like some evangelical Christians in the United States, blaming gays and feminists; he was making a point about the way Western governments have failed in their responsibility towards poor countries. "

Now, class, who can tell me what is the difference between a right-wing religious crank saying that 9/11 was due to gays and feminists, and a left-wing religious crank saying that 9/11 was due to insufficient charity? Anyone? Timmy, there, in the back...

"It's a trick question! There's no difference!"

Wrong, Timmy. You get to sit over in the corner and wear the dunce cap. This is the third time I've caught you using logic in this class. I'm afraid I'm going to have to send a note home to your parents.

So, who knows? Ah, yes, little Sarandona...

"The right-wing religious crank is wrong, but the left-wing religious crank is right! Er, I mean, correct! God does not exist, but karma does. Everyone knows that!"

Very good, dear.