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Blog 15/Sep/2001

The events of last week make everything else pale into insignificance. I did not directly know anybody who was in New York or Washington on Tuesday. I did not wait anxiously by the telephone for the news that a loved one was okay. I did not even know about the tragedy until several hours after it occurred.

That is not to say that I was not deeply affected by the events of September the eleventh. Watching the unbelievable pictures on television horrified me, disgusted me. Every time I was carrying out a mundane task and I remembered what had just happened, the scale of the destruction brought me out in goose pimples. I know that that is a cliché: but, like so many clichés, it is quite true.

Some people take the opinion that Tuesday's attacks have been matched by atrocities in other parts of the world; that the media are deifying Americans, whilst ignoring the plight of millions more. I disagree with that on two counts.

Firstly, it is natural for an attack on America to create a larger furore, because, using the same justification, the terrorists could attack Britain. The news becomes far more important when we could come under similar attack.

Secondly, Tuesday saw not only the worst terrorist attack on America: it was also the single worst terrorist attack on British citizens. I do not wish to be misconstrued as racist, but I believe that, a British death is far more relevant than the death of someone in a foreign country. I think that this is basic human nature, and quite understandable.

Many people feel that the attacks were justified, because of America's past foreign policy. I cannot claim to understand the complex issues that abound in the Middle East, but I do not think that they, in any way, provoked this assault on innocent people.

It is clear that religion is largely responsible for (or the justification for) these attacks, and it seems that the hijackers were Muslim. This is unfortunate, because it tends to stereotype all Muslims as anti-Western fundamentalists. Here, perhaps, the media have been out of order: their portrayal of celebrations in a Palestinian village created the impression that all Muslims were celebrating.

The religious justification for the attacks has shown itself to be hypocritical, however. On Channel 4 News, the leader of the Muslim Youth Organisation said that an attack on any Muslim was an attack on Muslims everywhere. When Jon Snow suggested that there were certainly Muslims killed in the attack, he could only muster, "That's not the point," as an answer. I hope that his interpretation of the Koran is not universal.

Then there are the people who dislike America, and delight in the destruction of the most potent symbol of its wealth. The people who sit making jokes about the attacks, safe in the knowledge that they have not been affected by them. The people who "satirise" the hijacking of an aeroplane, and the collapse of an office building. The middle-class suburbanites whose "politics" allow them to approve of murder. I would like to see what happens to their "politics", when one of their relatives is killed in a terrorist attack.

Actually, that isn't true at all: I do not want to see anyone else being killed, and that statement was part of the exaggerated desire for revenge that is stirred by such senseless acts. I admit that I was initially in favour of all-out war, bombing Osama bin Laden's training camps in the Middle East; bombing Kabul until the Afghans gave him up.

I have now realised that this will solve nothing. The potential suicide bombers care not what they do in this life; they seek a route into heaven. As an atheist, I find this concept ridiculous, but I realise that these people would almost be happy to be slaughtered. What sort of person, after all, is content to suicide-bomb? In the flawed view of these people, martyrdom is the surest route to heaven.

I am certain that not all Muslims feel that way. However, the innocent people who would inevitably be killed in airstrikes are the ones for whom death is not their goal. And, no doubt, seeing a loved one killed would convince many borderline extremists to join with bin Laden's holy warriors, and sacrifice their lives to kill many more Westerners.

Since violence is an unworkable solution, what can the Western world do to stop similar attacks? America should try to extradite Osama bin Laden from wherever he is hiding, with a minimum of violence. It could use intelligence to locate and, somehow, capture him; although this has proved impossible in the past. It could offer aid to Afghanistan, much as it did to Yugoslavia, to get the government to hand him over.

If he were tried and found guilty, he should not be executed, so as not to be made into a martyr. He should be given a life sentence, and, indeed, his life should be prolonged as much as possible. Making him into a martyr will only strengthen his cause, and give rise to further support. As cynical as it sounds, sending propaganda into the Middle East, showing bin Laden enjoying "sinful" Western life, may cause his followers to question their support.

Many security measures have also been suggested. I do not understand the claims of lax security at American airports for domestic flights, because I have flown on domestic flights within America, and the security checks (i.e. metal detectors, X-raying hand luggage) appear to be the same. Perhaps I am being naïve. Certainly, security could be stepped up, but there comes a limit, at which point airlines will not be able to run the level of services that they do today.

The suggestion, which I read today, that armed marshals should be put on board all flights, is clearly unworkable. This seems like the suggestion of a second-rate Hollywood director, for the single reason that you cannot discharge a firearm in a pressurised environment, because there would be catastrophic decompression. This may not matter to a suicide bomber, who intends for the aeroplane to crash anyway, but it would not aid in the overcoming of a hijacker. Furthermore, on an international flight, which country supplies the marshals?

There is some more merit in the concept of isolated cockpits, but this would prove a logistical problem. Every commercial aeroplane would need massive adjustments, which make the suggestion uneconomical.

In addition, should all prominent buildings be strong enough to withstand similar attacks? I do not believe so. Coupled with the astronomical cost of retrofitting every tall building in the world, the bare statistics suggest that this will never happen. I don't think that a terror war will continue in this vein. The terrorists clearly have too much imagination to simply continue flying commercial aeroplanes into tall buildings.

The next attack will be much different, and possibly much worse. I hope, for everyone's sake, that these terrorists are not allowed to continue holding the world to ransom, but I hope that peace is achieved without unnecessary bloodshed.

Derek Murray.

 
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