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THE ELECTRONIC LIVEIBIZA

Weekly Edition 030: Saturday 22th September 2001

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Commentary
by Gary Hardy

 
What Will Become Of Our World?
 

I feel honour-bound to state that our sincere condolences and sympathy here at LiveIbiza goes out to all those unfortunate victims and their grieving relatives and friends of the innocent people who lost their lives when they perished in the tragic disasters recently in North America.

I would expect that every single person on this planet will have heard, read or seen on television these ghastly disaster sites of the twin towers of the World Trade Center at Manhattan in New York, the Pentagon in Washington and the woods and fields of Pennsylvania.

However, I’m wondering whether folk out there will have had time or the opportunity to read or have heard of certain news stories and features of interest that may have got lost amongst the small print in the middle pages of a better quality broadsheet newspaper.

It is horrendous, a terrible palaver and in self-defence I don’t want to draw a vail over these psyche-babblings that are tentatively expressed in issues of this week’s publications of The Daily Telegraph.

I’m convinced it will not be a complete waste of time to include several of these piquant articles in my column of this week, purely for the benefit of those who might want to try and make sense of the deaths and explain to our fellow human beings the “fin-de-siècle” sensation of a would-be Messiah.

A scene of military disasters

By Will Bennett

(Filed: 15/09/2001)

THE British Army has never forgotten its incursions into Afghanistan, which led to some of the worst military disasters in the nation's imperial history.

The Battle of Maiwand is still commemorated annually by the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment.

In 1880, a British force of more than 2,500 men was attacked by a much larger Afghan army and lost almost 1,000 men killed.

Of these 288 came from the 66th Foot, later the 2nd Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, which fought with stubborn courage against overwhelming odds. Many of the British troops were cut off from their line of retreat and finally 11 soldiers were left alive. They fought to the last man.

Britain's Afghanistan involvement was born out of fear that the Russians might cross the country and invade British-ruled India through the Khyber Pass.

When the Shah of Persia, supported by the Russians, invaded Afghanistan in 1837, the British decided to install a former king of Afghanistan as a puppet on the throne in Kabul.

A British army invaded Afghanistan and made him king. Rebellions broke out and the invaders found their position untenable.

Eventually the British signed a deal by which they would leave Kabul if the Afghans spared their lives. On Jan 6, 1842, 4,500 British and Indian troops and 12,000 camp followers marched out of the capital.

The Afghans had no intention of honouring the agreement and swarmed around the column. After days of slaughter one man, an army surgeon, Dr William Brydon, made it to safety, his escape etched on the Victorian imagination by Lady Butler's painting The Remnants of an Army.

Russia warns of unwinnable conflict

By Carey Schofield

(Filed: 15/09/2001)

WHEN the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in Christmas 1979, its army questioned the wisdom of the move. The politicians foresaw no great difficulty.

By the end of December, an entire airborne regiment was installed at Bagram, north of the capital Kabul, with GRU military intelligence and KGB specialists, many in civilian clothes, swarming all over the country.

The 80,000 Soviet troops who poured across the border from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan in the first few days after the takeover believed that the operation would be over in weeks.

But the war lasted 10 years and cost the Soviet Union the lives of 14,000 soldiers. In that time the Soviet-backed Kabul government was never able to subdue more than one fifth of the country.

The limited success the army enjoyed owed more to exploiting Afghan internecine rivalries than to the exercise of military power. The army's greatest asset was the inability of the mujahideen to put aside personal differences for the common good.

The war in Afghanistan was punctuated by a rolling series of local ceasefires, brokered by Russian officers who commanded the respect of warlords.

These deals were fragile and they were perilous: an officer who drove into the mountains to meet a rebel chieftain was more likely to end up dead than wearing the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union.

But this was the only way to secure any agreement in a country where the stab in the back is a way of life. Russian commanders knew that the mujahideen used these ceasefires to regroup and re-arm.

But, unlike the old men in Moscow, they realised early on that war in Afghanistan was unwinnable and that they should simply aim to get their own men back home in one piece.

Russian officers commented at the time that the war they found themselves fighting reminded them more of Tolstoy stories of 19th century campaigns in the Caucasus than of anything they had learnt at military college.

The Afghan rebels' greatest assets were their suicidal bravery and their endurance. "Their assessment of the cost of an operation, in time, manpower and blood was beyond our comprehension," a Russian officer said after the war.

"There is an old Pashtun saying to the effect that an Afghan might wait 100 years for vengeance and curse himself for his impatience."

When eventually the Soviet army had to withdraw from Afghanistan the parallels with the experience of the British empire, in its Afghan wars, were unmissable. Again a superpower had been humiliated by bands of supposedly primitive tribesmen.

Experienced Russians caution the United States against any attempt to subdue Afghanistan.

A battle-scarred Spetsnaz colonel told The Telegraph yesterday that despite current widespread sympathy for the US, an invasion would unleash unprecedented ferocity.

He said: "There is no doubt that the military could do the job. But would the politicians be prepared to allow them to do it?

"At the moment global sympathy is with New Yorkers. But this would change as soon as the Americans start killing Afghan women and children.

"If the Army then back off, the terrorists will have won. If the US continues its operation it will spawn an entirely new wave of fundamentalist terrorism that will threaten us all."

Action against bin Laden 'will start holy war'

Muslims will have a duty to fight if America attacks the Taliban, Alex Spillius is told in Peshawar

(Filed: 15/09/2001)

AS Maulawi Gul Rahman prepared for lunchtime prayers yesterday, he donned his ragged scholar's robe, stroked his tangled beard and pondered the question of what the affects of American military retaliation against Osama bin Laden would be.

The maulawi, a senior priest, who considers himself a moderate by the region's standards, said: "Muslims around the world, from north, south, east and west, would wage war against the United States. It would be holy war, our duty."

They were not empty words. Anyone in any doubt that reprisals against the Saudi exile and his Taliban hosts would do anything other than bolster anti-Western Islamic militancy need spend no more than a few minutes in the sinuous bazaars and dusty religious schools of Peshawar.

To many here, bin Laden is an icon. He is seen as a pious man defending Islam against combined Israeli and American aggression. As a just and holy warrior he could not have killed so many innocent people in New York and Washington.

The attack is blamed on a conspiracy to defame Islam or vague notions of natural justice for previous American offences.

The name Osama has become a popular choice for parents wishing to bestow Islamic virtues upon the newly-born, as was Saddam in the wake of the Gulf War. A man selling posters bearing bin Laden's image on a pavement said he had sold all his stock since Tuesday. "It's my number one seller," he said.

The capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province is the gateway to the formidable Khyber Pass leading to Afghanistan. The majority of Peshawar's population is drawn from the same Pashtun tribe that dominates southern Afghanistan and makes up the Taliban leadership.

A few miles outside Peshawar there are thriving markets in guns and contraband household goods.

Foreigners must negotiate the Khyber Pass in the company of a Pakistani soldier and not stray from the main road into the lawless hills that were the graveyard of thousands of Britons during three Afghan colonial adventures.

The government of Pakistan, like the Moghul emperors before them, knows better than to interfere with the ferociously-proud Pashtuns. The tradition of melmastia, or hospitality, allied to Islamic comradeship, lies behind their passionate approval of the Taliban's refusal to consider handing over bin Laden.

"To sacrifice him would bring us shame, would go against all our principles," said Gul Yusuf, 25, a student at Maulawi Rahman's White Mosque. "Osama is our guest and in our history we have never given up a guest."

Temur Shah, one of the million or so Afghan refugees who have settled in Pakistan since the 1979 Soviet invasion and ensuing conflicts, said that if the Americans produced evidence of bin Laden's guilt, then he should be tried by a Pashtun jirga, or elders' council, which adjudicate everything from petty theft to murder cases.

"But they have no evidence, and if they attack it will be an act of terrorism, and once again Afghans will suffer," he said to the fervent approval of a crowd outside the mud and brick Kamwal mosque at an Afghan refugee camp.

They are keen to remind a Western journalist that American cruise missiles aimed at bin Laden's hideouts across the border in August 1998, in revenge for the bombings of two US embassies in Africa, missed their target and killed innocent citizens.

"We think what happened in New York is wrong, but if the Americans attack we will defeat them like we defeated the Russians," said Mohammed Al Jamal who was only 14 when the Soviet invasion ended in 1989, unable to break down the Islamic guerrillas.

That resistance was backed by a Cold War America keen to thwart Soviet expansion. It is widely held that among their military trainees in camps in Pakistan was a young Osama bin Laden.

"He is a man of America, they pampered him and now he is against them but he is their creation, their problem," said Maulawi Israr, the camp's religious leader.

"America supported us against Russia and now they have abandoned us. Afghanistan has always been a game to the big countries, including you British. Everybody is drawn by the beauty of our country, and then they bomb it."

Bin Laden's hideout will prove hard to find

By Michael Smith, Defence Correspondent

(Filed: 15/09/2001)

AFGHANISTAN is a country rich with targets for aerial attack by American bombers and cruise missiles. Western intelligence knows the locations of Osama bin Laden's many training bases and hideouts around the country.

The problem it faces is discovering where bin Laden is hiding. He is unlikely to have remained in his known hideouts in Afghanistan with the threat of United States action looming.

Taliban claims that they are holding him "incommunicado" have been dismissed as unlikely and he may already have disappeared into the lawless border areas around the former Soviet central Asian republics.

With only sketchy ideas of where he might be, attacks aimed at killing him would inevitably be regarded as failures and risk killing innocent civilians, leaving America looking at best impotent and at worst no better than the terrorists.

A more realistic approach would be to assist the forces aligned against the Taliban in their attempt to regain control of the country for the former government.

Aerial attacks aimed at bolstering the loose coalition, which was effectively controlled by Ahmed Shah Massoud, widely believed to have been killed in a bomb attack orchestrated by bin Laden, would be just as effective and less dangerous.

Even if Massoud is dead, as the Afghan news agency reported yesterday, his Jamiat-i-Islami movement is still the strongest force in the opposition to the Taliban and already has a strong stand-in leader in Gen Muhammad Fahim.

Despite recent advances by the Taliban forces, which are assisted by Pakistani military advisers, the coalition is unlikely to be dislodged from its stronghold along the Panjshir Valley, once a killing field for Soviet troops.

Assisting the opposition against the Taliban would allow America to build up a strong coalition for action that would include Iran, China and Russia, all of whom see the Taliban as a threat.

China and Russia also bitterly oppose bin Laden. His Al'Qaeda network has spread its influence into the Chinese province of Xinjiang, where there is a large Muslim population.

It is also fomenting trouble among the Muslim populations of the Russian republics of Dagestan and Chechnya and the central Asian republics of Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

If America allied itself with the Afghan opposition forces it would be able to gain their assistance in inserting small teams of special forces to provide more sophisticated weaponry and to gather vital intelligence.

An aerial bombardment of the Taliban positions, combined with technical assistance to the opposition forces would provide time and space to allow bin Laden to be tracked down.

American pressure on Pakistan is likely to ensure that the Inter-Services Intelligence, which has more information than any other agency on bin Laden, assists in that process.

Once his location is known for certain, a special forces snatch team could go in and remove him together with his leading henchmen so they can be flown to America to face trial.

India has given American intelligence detailed maps and information on terrorist training camps inside Afghanistan, the television news network Star News said in New Delhi yesterday.

Bin Laden is wanted: dead or alive, says Bush

By Toby Harnden in Washington

(Filed: 18/09/2001)

PRESIDENT Bush said yesterday that he wanted Osama bin Laden, the Saudi exile, "dead or alive" in some of the most bellicose language used by a White House occupant in recent years.

President Bush: remarks will not win favour with Arab allies

"I want justice," he said after a meeting at the Pentagon, where 188 people were killed last Tuesday when an airliner crashed into the building. "And there's an old poster out West that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.' "

He then seemed to temper his remarks by adding: "All I want and America wants is to see them brought to justice. That's what we want."

The blunt, Texas-style rhetoric, delivered off the cuff, came a day after Vice-President Dick Cheney said he would willingly accept bin Laden's "head on a platter". Some advisers said that although the comments might be popular in America, they would not be welcomed by European or Arab allies.

Mr Bush had just received a briefing on the call-up of military reservists and plans for Operation Noble Eagle, the name given to the "war on terrorism" that the president has vowed to prosecute.

Striking a sombre tone, he told Americans they should expect further casualties. "The United States military is ready to defend freedom at any cost," he said. "We will win the war and there will be costs."

Mr Bush indicated that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan would be punished if it continued to support bin Laden.

"All I can tell you is that Osama bin Laden is a prime suspect, and the people who house him, encourage him, provide food, comfort or money are on notice. And the Taliban must take my statement seriously."

Some 35,500 reservists are being called up for domestic protection, supporting combat air patrols over major cities and increasing staff levels at bases across the country.

As he shook hands at a Pentagon cafeteria, a woman in a civilian dress began singing God Bless America quietly. Before long, Mr Bush and everyone else there had joined in.

Mr Bush also met the pregnant wife of one of the Pentagon victims, hugging and talking to her before giving her a kiss.

17 September 2001: Support surges as Bush becomes the President the people have yearned for

16 September 2001: Hesitant Bush draws strength from his 'iron triangle' 

15 September 2001: Support for Bush rises as the nation unites 

15 September 2001: 'The rest of the world hears you' 

15 September 2001: Bush leads nation in prayers for strength and retribution 

14 September 2001: Father defends Bush's flight from danger 

13 September 2001: Bush fails to capture nation's mood

Fears that jets carried another deadly cargo

By Ben Fenton in Washington

(Filed: 19/09/2001)

AS the dust started to settle after the destruction of the World Trade Centre's twin towers, the least-recognised of emergency workers were burrowing in the rubble with test tubes, not shovels.

Public health officials in New York and Washington DC had been alerted by the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta that the hijacked aircraft may have been carrying a cargo even more deadly than thousands of gallons of aviation fuel.

They were looking for traces of smallpox, anthrax or other epidemic-causing diseases, perhaps packed in the luggage of the hijackers.

For years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, which with America was the leading developer of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, there has been a growing fear of what terrorists could do with the planet's most terrifying technologies.

Urgent action by the Americans, working alongside British and other intelligence agencies, is believed to have reduced the chances of a terrorist obtaining the machinery and material necessary to produce a nuclear weapon, although the programmes of rogue states such as Iraq and North Korea remain a significant threat.

But much more worrying to many scientists and defence experts in America is the threat from "bio-terror", the spreading of lethal diseases through the air or in water supplies.

The diseases usually mentioned are anthrax, which is widely available but very hard to keep alive as a "useful" biological warfare agent; smallpox, which is a tougher germ, but hard to obtain; and one or other of the most virulent forms of plague, which is relatively easy to cure with antibiotics once detected.

Smallpox is probably top of the list because of reports that the former Soviet Union had developed techniques to keep the germ alive in an aerosol form that would resist destruction by fire or explosion.

Western populations today, unlike previous generations, are not widely inoculated against the disease because it is supposed to be extinct, except for those phials of smallpox that America and Russia kept for "experimental purposes". American experts believe that Russia cannot account for all its supplies of smallpox.

"The events in New York and Washington were tragedies beyond what anyone had previously imagined, but the potential of biological terrorism is far greater in terms of loss of life and disruption," said Michael Osterholm, director of the University of Minnesota's Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

Many experts play down the likelihood of a biological attack, citing the difficulty of cultivating and keeping alive enough disease germs and distributing them with the vagaries of wind and weather.

But as a measure of concern in America, the CDC has contracted two biotech companies to make and stockpile 40 million doses of smallpox vaccine, compared with the seven million now available. The first batches are not expected to be ready until 2004.

Old enemies of Saddam point finger at Iraq

By David Graves in Kuwait

(Filed: 19/09/2001)

ABDULAZIZ al Awadi took a long sip of his black coffee and thought deeply. "You know," he said, measuring his words carefully. "I can't help but think that all this will lead back to Baghdad, and it will mean the end of Saddam Hussein at last."

The Kuwaiti businessman, out for a genial lunch with friends at a lavish hotel in Kuwait City, spoke for many in the oil-rich state, invaded by Iraq 11 years ago and liberated by an international coalition seven months later.

"There is unfinished business to do, and the world will not be safe until Saddam goes forever," he said. His friend, Anwar al Madina, 52, was equally reflective. "Osama bin Laden and his group may have carried out the attacks in the United States, but who is behind them?

"I am sure, that when the Western intelligence services have done their investigations, the trail will lead back to one place . . . Baghdad."

While the Kuwaiti government has been one of the most hawkish Arab supporters of the new war against terrorism, many hope that the military campaign will lead ultimately to Baghdad and the eventual toppling of Saddam.

A senior diplomat said: "The Kuwaitis would love for Saddam to put his head above the parapet, so the US and its allies can blow it off." Significantly, Saddam has been the only Arab leader to praise the hijackers who wreaked such devastation in New York and Washington.

The Emir of Kuwait, who relies on US and British forces stationed in his small, but economically vital, country to defend it against a renewed invasion by Iraq, was one of the first Arab leaders to offer unequivocal support to America and give authorisation for the state to be used for any military operations in the Middle East.

Kuwait will also supply refined petroleum products to be used by the American war machine. An oil tanker has already been chartered by Washington to take 235,000 barrels of marine diesel fuel from Kuwait to the Diego Garcia air base in the Indian Ocean.

A personal message of support will be passed from the Emir to the British Government today when the new Kuwaiti Defence Minister, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Sabah, meets Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary, in London.

They will discuss the crisis and the potential role of the RAF detachment which operates Tornados from the Ali al Salem air base in the country. For the Kuwaiti government, the spectre of Saddam close to the north is a continuing shadow hanging over the country.

The Kuwaitis would have preferred that the coalition forces who invaded southern Iraq in 1991 to have continued to Baghdad and toppled Saddam. Instead, the multi-national force abided by United Nations resolutions and remained in the south.

Although Kuwait, using its enormous oil wealth, has been essentially rebuilt since its liberation, and luxury cars and designer shops are as ubiquitous as they were before the invasion, there is a strong feeling that the country will never be entirely at peace until Saddam goes and is replaced by a more moderate government in Iraq.

A continuing scar of the war is the unknown fate of more than 600 prisoners captured in Kuwait by the Iraqis. The Kuwaitis maintain that many are still alive in Iraqi prisons, 10 years on from the end of the war. Despite pressure from the UN, no information has been forthcoming from Baghdad, which claims it has no information on them.

"We have made it quite clear where we stand, and we stand against terrorism," said a leading Kuwaiti government official. "If the Americans decide Saddam was implicated in this vile act and attack him, we would welcome it."

Although the unequivocal stance by Kuwait has been welcomed in Washington and London, it will inevitably set it at odds with extreme Islamists. Sheikh Jaber accepted that when he said Kuwait and other moderate Arab states were already "terrorist targets" themselves, because of bin Laden's crusade to oust US troops from the Gulf.

Ordinary Kuwaitis have also shown their support for America and its allies by placing a carpet of flowers and wreaths outside the US embassy. Crown Prince Saad al-Abdullah al-Sabah, the Prime Minister, visited the embassy and the Kuwait Red Crescent has donated £360,000 to the US Red Cross.

Full-page advertisements, expressing condolences, have been taken out by Kuwaiti companies in leading American newspapers. As part of its support for America, Kuwait will also take action against more than 100 "Islamic charity groups" operating in the country, which collect what they call zakat, or alms.

Officials said the government had often "turned a blind eye" to the groups, some of which are suspected of raising funds for extreme Islamic terror groups.

Redneck America puts its faith in law of the gun

By Peter Foster

(Filed: 20/09/2001)

THERE is what passes for a joke doing the rounds in some of the less broad-minded communities in America. It goes something like this:

"Did you see the latest weather report from Kabul?"

"No, I must have missed it."

"Oh, they're forecasting light winds from the west this morning, blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70s . . . this afternoon expect dense mushroom-shaped clouds, temperatures in excess of 7,000 degrees, winds 1,000mph in all directions."

At Big Al's Gun and Pawn Shop on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale, southern Florida, the owner collars every new customer with that same line.

Big Al - a great slug of a man swathed in gold bracelets whose real name is Richard Spizouco - seems to find it funnier with each repetition.

His customers laugh, too, as they head for a counter festooned with M16 assault rifles, Kalashnikov copies and pump-action shotguns.

"Everyone is tooling up," Big Al says appreciatively. "It's been like a zoo in here since Wednesday morning. Sales are up 300 per cent.

"We sold more guns in the past five days than in the whole year to date. It's even bigger than before Y2K when everybody wanted a gun."

The FBI is reported to be investigating at least 40 attacks on American Muslims following last week's atrocities, and to listen to Big Al chat with his customers they have reason to be scared.

Talk centres on what reprisals America should take for the terrorist attacks. As gun enthusiasts and supporters of the constitutional right of American citizens to bear arms, Big Al and his customers are proud to be Republican voters.

They have a clear idea of what they expect from President Bush. "Cook 'em. It's as simple as that," says Al.

"You should buy up some pictures of Kabul because they are gonna be real valuable next week. Iraq too. The time for pussy-footing around is over."

Big Al's soliloquies, punctuated by bam-bam sounds of Americans practising their skills on the ranges overhead, receive frequent nods of approval.

Behind him on the wall is a picture of Osama bin Laden, his face in the cross hairs, above a sign saying: "Wanted, dead or alive".

His assistant, a Gulf war veteran with a pistol in his hip holster, does not want to give his name "for security" reasons but chips in anyway.

"I'm with you, Al. I just think we should have done the job properly after Desert Storm.

"Maybe the President will take up from his daddy and finish the job. He's a cowboy and I like cowboys. And if he doesn't? He'll never get my vote again."

Another customer comes in, recently returned from a holiday in Italy. He shares his snaps with Big Al, showing some of the great frescoes in Venice.

"Look at the grandeur, so bootiful. This war is about civilisation. The Taliban want to blow all this stuff up. Remember what they did to those big Buddha statues?"

Big Al fingers the ornate gold crucifix around his neck. "Didn't you hear the President? He said this was going to be a crusade.

"We will finish the job of the Coeur de Lion, Richard the Lionheart, one of your English kings, am I right?

"You tell me, what have the Arabs ever done for the world? Name me a single famous Arab?

"We should give them no place to go. Raze the place, that's what I say and there's plenty that'll agree with me."

Terror strike 'a work of art'

By Toby Helm in Berlin

(Filed: 19/09/2001)

THE German composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose electronic music inspired the Beatles, caused uproar yesterday after describing last week's air attacks on New York as "the greatest work of art ever".

The 73-year-old leader of the avant garde studio music movement quickly retracted the comments made to journalists and asked them not to report them. But last night, after they were made public, two concerts featuring his work were cancelled in Hamburg.

Christina Weiss, Hamburg's culture senator said: "In the current situation the public will not understand his remarks. They are cynical and amoral."

According to the German press agency, DPA, the composer was asked about the attacks during a press conference on Sunday night and replied: "What happened there is - they all have to rearrange their brains now - is the greatest work of art ever.

"That characters can bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practise madly for 10 years, completely fanatically, for a concert and then die. That is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos. Against that, we, composers, are nothing."

The Zeit foundation, which was the main sponsor of the concerts, issued a statement yesterday saying that despite his retractions "a performance of Stockhausen is not acceptable any more".

DJs attack radio 'censorship'

By David Sapsted in New York

(Filed: 20/09/2001)

DISC jockeys in New York claim that the nation's largest commercial radio network is trying to stop them playing some of the world's most popular songs for fear of upsetting listeners following the World Trade Centre attack.

The songs range from John Lennon's Imagine to Frank Sinatra's New York, New York and include some considered in more obvious bad taste, such as Carole King's I Feel the Earth Move and Peter, Paul and Mary's Leaving on a Jet Plane.

In an atmosphere of strained sensitivities, where comedians and chat show hosts are studiously avoiding jokes about the attacks, the disc jockeys maintain that the Texas-based Clear Channel is attempting to impose a "national no-play list" on their 1,100 American stations.

Though Clear admits that it did send out the list of 150 songs, the company says it was not an attempt to ban them, merely to offer guidance to stations on what might be considered poor taste.

The 'Writers' who let their words get in the way as tragedy unfolded

By Sam Leith

(Filed: 20/09/2001)

'THESE aren't hacks," my old colleague Lucretia used to say of the people she commissioned, with a wobble of the chin that expressed infinite respect. "These are Writers."

Alas, it is some of those very Writers - among them our brightest and best novelists - who have responded most bathetically and self-importantly to last week's events in America.

Their pieces appeared quickly and were heartily blurbed. Often short, they abounded with unexpected phrases and 10-dollar words, were suffused with an awed and angry sense of occasion, and generally ended with an ostentatious copyright line.

There were some, of course, who did write well; and some seemed wiser than others. But few had special knowledge of the politics of the event; few had first-hand experience; and none had much time to think. All they brought to the party was their prose.

The results have, in many cases, provided a comical example of the dangers of what Tom Paulin, referring to Hazlitt, called "writing to the moment".

Wisely, perhaps, Philip Roth refused to write anything about the attacks, and Bret Easton Ellis said that he was too depressed to start making phrases.

Others have fallen face-first down the open manhole. Martin Amis, writing for the Guardian, saw the collapse of the World Trade Centre as "the apotheosis of the postmodern era".

He also ruminated on "world hum" and "species consciousness" and, coining a curious neologism, declared that the glint of the second plane was "the worldflash of a coming future".

Lest we be underwhelmed by that, Amis portentously recorded the date as "the eleventh day of the ninth month of 2001 (the duo-millenial anniversary of Christianity)", and summed up the damage with flip machismo: "Manhattan looked as though it had taken ten megatons."

As a "utopian" retaliation, he suggested that the Afghan people be bombarded with food parcels marked "Lendlease - USA", oddly echoing a Thai MP who has been urged to resign after suggesting that Afghanistan should be carpet-bombed with pork fat.

If Amis sounded self-parodic, consider Jay McInerney, who laboured beneath a "plume of pearl grey smoke".

He seemed pleased that a dust-covered survivor had recognised him as "the author of Bright Lights, Big City", but worried because the cover of his latest book featured the twin towers.

He consoled himself by bringing his friend Bret (Easton) Ellis a hamburger, and later went on, he informed us, to drink several bottles of " '85 Lynch Bages".

And then there was Jeanette Winterson, also in the Guardian: "Touch me. Kiss me. Remind me what I am. Remind me that this life is one we make together . . . The immensity of this event can only be mirrored by the immensity of what we are.

"This tiny blue planet is home to something special and precious - ourselves. We are all human. We are all nothing and everything. The best we can do to begin again is to forgive."

Some common themes emerged. After an afternoon watching CNN, Ian McEwan was able to report "colossal explosions, fierce red and black clouds" and dust "engulfing the streets". Amis saw "vampiric reds and blacks".

Their conclusions? McEwan: "The world would never be the same." Blake Morrison: "This is the last week of the world as it was." Amis: "In that instant, America's youth would turn into age." Paul Auster: "And so the 21st century finally begins."

It's not the first time that literary heroes have muddied their feet when writing about current affairs. A succession of well-regarded Poet Laureates have fallen flat with occasional poems, commissioned or volunteered (remember Tennyson's terrible Ode on the Death of the Duke of Wellington?).

Even the all-rounder Clive James, noted for his non-fiction, provoked more embarrassment than empathy with his famous essay on the death of the Princess of Wales.

After the events in Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s, George Steiner's attempt to rise to the occasion led him to pronounce that "the apocalypse of hope has been started by one man", that "we are back to the enigmatic pulsebeat of the Messianic" . . . "What will step into the turbulent vacuum?" he added nonsensically.

The best hacks - threadbare though their prose may be - serve the story. In some of the pieces that have appeared over the past week, the story is serving the writer. Rather than reporting on or even responding to events, they seem to be competing with them.

The impression is of a graceless scramble to be the first Writer to plant, as it were, a flag atop the rubble.

Hardliners stand beside bin Laden

By Ahmed Rashid in Lahore

(Filed: 21/09/2001)

WHATEVER Osama bin Laden plans over the next few weeks, leaving Afghanistan is unlikely to be among them.

Despite yesterday's decision by Taliban clerics to request his departure, bin Laden is unlikely to abandon his safe haven of his own volition. The Taliban said that his removal would take "some time".

Every neighbouring state is now opposed to the Taliban, has joined up with the US alliance and closed the borders with Afghanistan.

If he tried to fly out of Afghanistan to Yemen - his country of birth and where he has considerable support - the plane would be likely to be shot down by the US. There are already UN sanctions on flights out of Afghanistan and air traffic controllers would see the plane leaving.

Bin Laden could try to seek shelter among the extremist groups in Pakistan that support him but that would be extremely dangerous and place Pakistan's military regime in an embarrassing position. Anyway, security on Pakistan's borders with Afghanistan has been tightened even further since the clerics' decision.

Another option would be to seek shelter with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is based in the northern Afghan city of Mazar-e-Sharif and whose 2,500 guerrillas fight for the Taliban. The IMU has launched guerrilla attacks against Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan over the past two years and has declared jihad or holy war against the Central Asian Republics.

However, the IMU is the principal target of Russia and the Central Asian states, who are likely to offer bases to US forces and are expected to line up with Washington in its attack on the Taliban. They are keen to wipe out the IMU and bin Laden's presence would make that more likely.

Asked where bin Laden could go, Amir Khan Muttaqi, the Taliban education minister, said yesterday: "You know, he has a lot of opponents and he will look and choose for himself a suitable place. It cannot be done that he goes on the street and takes a taxi and goes to another roundabout."

Earlier this week many of bin Laden's 3,000 Arab fighters took an oath of loyalty to him, swearing that they would defend him or die. Bin Laden is unlikely to leave them in the lurch by trying to seek shelter in a foreign country and he is likely to stand by his friend, Mullah Mohammed Omar, the Taliban leader.

All of which indicates that the decision to recommend bin Laden's departure is designed to forestall a US attack on Afghanistan. But it is likely to fail. The US will not be satisfied by a simple request that leaves bin Laden at large and fails to address both the issue of his Arab bodyguards and his al-Qa'eda organisation.

The US has spent the past three years trying to negotiate with the Taliban about bin Laden's extradition but the talks have always foundered on a long list of Taliban conditions. Although these conditions have now been removed, the Taliban appear to have passed the buck to bin Laden.

Over the past few days tough talking by Pakistani generals to Mullah Omar in Kandahar and to Islamic scholars in Kabul have shifted the Taliban's position.

Equally significant has been the growing rift between the hardliners who surround Mullah Omar in Kandahar and the moderates who form the government in Kabul and have had to deal with the international community and the growing humanitarian crisis in the country.

The moderates are fellow travellers with the Taliban hardcore and do not subscribe to the harsh ideological edicts issued by Mullah Omar, such as the destruction of the two giant Buddha statues in Bamiyan earlier this year.

They do not like the increasingly powerful political role that bin Laden and his Arabs have come to play within the Taliban decision-making process.

It was not clear yesterday whether Mullah Omar would support the decision by the scholars, although a spokesman said he would. Having been given the title of Amir ul Momineen, or Commander of the Faithful, in 1995 by the same gathering of Islamic scholars, he has the right of veto.

Ultimately, both bin Laden and Mullah Omar are confident that they can suck the US into a war it cannot win if it attacks Afghanistan, just as the Afghan mujahideen did to the forces of the Soviet Union after it invaded in 1979.

So the decision by the scholars also to call for a jihad if the US attacks Afghanistan is ominous, because it uses the same language as the religious edicts against the Soviets.

What the mullahs had to say

(Filed: 21/09/2001)

The following are extracts from the text of a verdict by the Grand Council of ulema, or clerics, yesterday recommending to the ruling Taliban that they persuade Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan:

The nation of Afghanistan has always referred major issues to honourable ulema for a solution. The honourable ulema have always endeavoured to find a solution to problems.

The ulema of Afghanistan, in the face of their heavy responsibility for the solution of the problems and in the light of Islam's holy religion, endorse the following decision and verdict:

The ulema voices their sadness over deaths in America and hopes that America does not attack Afghanistan but exerts complete patience and accuracy and investigates the issue in its totality.

The ulema demands of America that the United Nations and the Organisation of Islamic Conference investigate, independently and precisely, the recent events to clarify the reality and prevent harassment of innocent people.

The UN and the OIC deliberate over the utterances of America's president who has said that this war will be a crusade. This news has hurt the feelings of Muslims and has posed a major threat to the world.

In order to avoid the current tumult and also similar suspicion in the future, the high council of the honourable ulema recommends to the Islamic Emirate to persuade Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan whenever possible and chose another place for himself.

If, in the light of the above-mentioned decisions, America does not agree and attacks Afghanistan then, in the light of the sacred Shariah (law) the following verdict is presented:

All books of our religious persuasion say that, if infidels attack the soil of a Muslim country, jihad becomes an order for the Muslims of that country.

If infidels invade an Islamic country and that country does not have the ability to defend itself, jihad becomes an obligation on all Muslims.

If infidels attack the soil of Muslims they can, in time of need, ask Islamic and non-Islamic governments for help.

If at the time of America's attack, any Muslim, whether an Afghan or non-Afghan, co-operates with infidels, becomes an accomplice or a spy, that person is also punishable with death like the foreign invaders.

US prepares for war on the ground

By Toby Harnden in Washington, Alex Spillius in Peshawar and George Jones in New York

(Filed: 21/09/2001)

AMERICA was preparing last night for a lengthy ground war as Tony Blair signalled that he was ready to send British troops into action.

The Pentagon underlined its intention after the White House rejected as inadequate a Taliban call for Osama bin Laden to leave Afghanistan of his own accord.

It insisted that the prime suspect in last week's terror attacks be surrendered immediately. With American troops on the move, the Pentagon said it was preparing for "sustained land combat operations".

Against the backdrop of American mobilisation, Mr Blair gave the strongest indication yet that he was ready to send forces into action against bin Laden's network.

While flying to New York for a memorial service for the British victims of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, he spoke of the "heavy and huge responsibility" he faced in taking such a decision - possibly within days.

He said he would not "flinch" from it. Britain was fortunate in having "some of the finest armed forces in the world". Mr Blair said that bin Laden must be handed over and that other groups in Afghanistan had to be crushed.

An edict, or fatwa, issued by a council of Afghan clerics said that bin Laden should be "persuaded to leave whenever possible". But pointedly it did not order his expulsion.

"This does not meet America's requirements," said Ari Fleischer, President Bush's spokesman. "This is about much more than one man being allowed to leave voluntarily, presumably, from one safe harbour to another one."

He added: "The president has demanded that key figures of the al-Qa'eda terrorist organisation, including bin Laden, be turned over to responsible authorities and that the Taliban close terrorist camps in Afghanistan."

In an address to Congress early today, Mr Bush told governments around the world that "freedom and fear are at war". They faced the choice: "Either you are with us or with the terrorists.

"We will direct every resource at our command: every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence and every necessary weapon of war to the disruption and defeat of the global terror network."

The Prime Minister had flown from New York to Washington for talks with Mr Bush before the president's address.

Speaking in Paris earlier after meeting President Chirac, Mr Blair said: "One of the most important and significant aspects of what has happened in the days following those terrible attacks in the United States has been the strength - indeed, I would say the growing strength - of the coalition right around the world against terrorism."

There was concern among some British diplomats that Mr Blair's visit to New York was much less full than that of President Chirac, who on Wednesday became the first foreign head of state to inspect the devastation.

Mr Blair had only a brief meeting with Rudolph Giuliani, the city's mayor, and did not visit the trade centre site. The Muslim clerics' proclamation on bin Laden, whom Mr Bush has said he wants "dead or alive", came as a surprise and was seen by American officials as a sign of some possible movement.

But while their edict may have suggested willingness to compromise, it also declared that Muslims should launch a holy war, or jihad, against America and any of its helpers if they attacked the Taliban's fighters.

A Taliban spokesman said that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the radical Islamic movement's spiritual leader, who summoned the clerics, would act on their recommendation.

But he added that the departure of bin Laden, who has been sheltered by Afghanistan for five years, "would take some time". About 800 clerics travelled to Kabul from across the war-ravaged country to attend the council.

Their statement appeared to be a compromise between hard-liners and those who wanted to rid the country of the threat of a devastating international military attack after 21 years of conflict and recent famine.

In a further indication that America was planning major attacks that would inevitably lead to casualties on both sides, Thomas White, the army secretary, said: "We are ready to conduct sustained land combat operations as determined by the secretary of defence and the president.

"We are ready to deliver it across the whole array of force structure: heavy, light, airmobile, airborne, special operations - all of the combat capabilities."

The number of people missing at the World Trade Centre is now put at 6,333, with 241 confirmed dead.

'Offensive' codename axed

By Toby Harnden in Washington

(Filed: 21/09/2001)

AMERICA abandoned Operation Infinite Justice as the codename for its war on global terrorism last night after concerns that it might deter Muslim nations from joining the coalition it is leading.

Islamic scholars said that Muslims found the name deeply offensive because the Koran said that only Allah could grant infinite justice.

Donald Rumsfeld, the American defence secretary, was clearly uncomfortable when asked about the codename. He said: "I do not know that those words have been adopted. I think they are probably under review.

"Obviously, the United States does not want to do or say things that create an impression on the part of the listener that would be a misunderstanding - and clearly that would be."

The codename for the domestic campaign against the terrorist threat is Operation Noble Eagle. President Bush has already offended Muslims by his use of the word "crusade" in describing his plans to eradicate terrorism.

The White House said that the codename Operation Infinite Justice had been leaked without authorisation and would not be used again. It was not known what the new name would be.

Limitation: Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow that you keep your words soft and sweet, just in case you have to eat them.

I’m so happy that I live in Ibiza.  

 
Gary Hardy
garyhardy@liveibiza.com
 

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