Slaughter of the innocent bolsters view that this is war against Islam
15 October 2001
In Baghdad we had the bunker where our missile fried more than 300 people to death. In Kosovo we had a refugee column torn to pieces by our bombs. Now in Afghanistan, a village called Karam is our latest massacre.
Of course it's time for that tame old word "regret". We regretted the Baghdad bunker. We were really very sorry for the refugee slaughter in Kosovo. Now we are regretting the bomb that went astray in Kabul on Friday night; the missile that killed the four UN mine clearers last Monday; and whatever hit Karam.
It's always the same story. We start shooting with "smart" weapons after our journalists and generals have told us of their sophistication. Their press conferences produce monochrome snapshots of bloodless airbase runways with little holes sprinkled across the apron. "A successful night," they used to say, after bombing Serbia.
They said that again last week and no one – until of course we splatter civilians – suggests going to war involves killing innocent people. It does. That is why the military invented that repulsive and morally shameful phrase "collateral damage". And they are always ready to smear the reporters on the ground.
At first, Nato claimed its aircraft had not butchered the refugee convoy in April 1999. Once we found the bomb parts, with US markings, they changed their tune.
The new tune went like this: "If we killed the innocent we regret it, but why don't the reporters 'break free' of their Serb minders and see what else is going on in Kosovo?" We might be asked the same again, now we are involved in what, historically, is for us in Britain the Fourth Afghan War. What are we journalists doing giving succour to Mr bin Laden and his thugs?
There is one big difference this time round. In 1991, we had a real Muslim coalition on our side. In 1999, we so bestialised the Serbs that the death of their innocent civilians could be laid at the hands of Slobodan Milosevic, and anyway – in theory at least – we were trying to save the Albanian Muslims.
No doubt some idiot general will tell us this time round that Karam is Mr bin Laden's fault – idiot, because this is not going to wash with the hundreds of thousands of Muslims who are outraged at our air strikes on Afghanistan.
And here's the rub. In every Middle Eastern country, even tolerant Lebanon, suspicion is growing that this is a war against Islam.
That is why the Arab leaders are mostly silent and why the Saudis don't want to help us. That is why crowds tried yesterday to storm a Pakistani airbase used by the American forces.
It reveals a dislocation of thought among Arabs about the crimes against humanity in New York and Washington, a disturbing disconnection that allows them to condemn the atrocities in America without reference to America's response – and condemn the response without reflecting on the carnage on the other side of the Atlantic.
The Muslim world now sees innocent Muslims who have died in Western air strikes on Afghanistan. If Karam turns out to be as terrible as the Taliban claims, all of Mr Blair's lectures and denials that this is a religious war will be in vain.
The Prime Minister can now only reflect upon the irony that an obscurantist sect that smashes television sets and hangs videotapes from trees is now using television and videotape for its own propaganda.