Press Column

The first thing to note, as both remarkable and domestic, is a sensible and lucid letter from Tim Stevens, the Bishop of Leicester, in the Guardian, responding to the silliest piece on religion that Richard Dawkins has ever written. And in any other week, the silliest piece that Richard Dawkins has ever written about religion would itself be a matter for awe-struck contemplation. But we live in terrible times, and the folly of Richard Dawkins is eclipsed, Iím afraid, by the far more influential folly of a host of less clever people.

The most important British paper this week was the Daily Telegraph, because only there can you feel on your own cheek the hot breath of madness spreading like a fireball across America from the ruins of the World Trade Centre. Some of it was (unintentionally) quite funny at the time: Lt-Col the Lord Walsingham wrote on Friday "SIR - I have this advice for President Bush. Declare war on Afghanistan at once for harbouring Osama bin Laden, with the warning that peace will not follow until he is captured and tried by the UN in the United States.

"Issue an ultimatum that any nation succouring or supporting Afghanistan will be treated as having declared war on America. Prepare an invasion force and occupy the country. A single division well supported in the air should be sufficient. More occupation troops may have to follow. If bin Laden escapes, declare war on whichever nation harbours him.

"Although elderly, I am still remarkably fit, engaging in hard manual labour. I should be pleased to serve as a foot soldier in any invasion force. Those of us with experience of Nazism know how to respond."

But I am writing on Tuesday morning, when it appears that this really is going to be American policy, with or without the Lieutenant Colonel in their ranks. It isnít funny any more. As a satirist I am used to moral language being used to cloak immoral actions. Nor, for that matter, do I think that a war on terrorism is immoral. I think itís moral and necessary. I want to win. That is why it is so frightening to see moral language being used as a cloak for stupidity; and the right-wing American commentators on the Daily Telegraphís op-ed page this week will be still read in a hundred yearsí time ó if anyone then alive can still read ó as unsurpassed examples of a kind of blithe wilful disregard for reality that quite transcends stupidity, and certainly defeats any hope in the underlying rationality of human nature.

Here is Barbara Amiel (the proprietorís wife). "We will not tolerate a distinction between terrorists and those states that subsidise and harbour them. Such states must cease to do so in a convincing way and hand over designated terrorists and their apparatus, or join the list of the enemies that have tried to destroy us and will themselves have to be destroyed."

Note that this doctrine allows the US to bomb any ally even slightly reluctant, including the readers of her article. As she wrote earlier: "Britain is also a safe haven for some of the most dangerous of terrorists, Britain probably has more extreme Islamic terrorists than any other country in the West. (this may be a lesser problem than that the Foreign Office has the largest number of Islamic sympathisers in the world)."

Well, you may say, we donít support the terrorists. Amiel as an answer for that, too: "Terrorist states may well have populations that would not emotionally support terrorism, but, if that prevents us from dealing with the population as our enemy, it is at our own peril."

Whose peril, again?

Then there is Daniel Pipes a columnist for the Jerusalem Post, (which Conrad Black also owns) explaining to Telegraph readers that "Islamists constitute a small but significant minority of Muslims, perhaps 10-15% of the population. Many of them are peacable in appearance, but they must all be considered potential killers." His aria ends when he hits another Telegraph classic note, revealing the hidden hands behind the Manhattan atrocity. "Universities., media outlets, churches and government bureaux have some hard soul-searching to do; their experts on Islam and Muslims have [sic] an influential group of apologists. One recent example is the BBC with its week-long BBC programming [always the worst sort] on Islam. They have counselled against every one of the steps outlined here. These specialists bear some of the responsibility for the unpreparedness that led to this weekís disaster."

Again, letís leave aside morality for the moment. The single shining fact about Israeli policy against terrorism is that it has failed. It has produced neither peace nor security. Does anyone really believe that treating British Muslims as if one in eight were a potential suicide bomber would make this country more peaceful or more secure?

The reason I have quoted the Telegraph at such length is not just a kind of fascinated horror. It is because little that was written there would seem at all remarkable in the US, where the decisions about war are actually been made. Richard Perles, the last of these quotable experts, actually served for six years in Ronald Reaganís cabinet. In the course of an attack on the "Vichyite defeatism" which queries the usefulness of invading Afghanistan and doesnít see that "Those countries that harbour terrorists Ö must themselves be destroyed", he writes. "No coalition to defeat terrorism can include countries that countenance campaigns of hate and vilification. Countries that tolerate the incitement to kill civilians ó Americans, Britons, Israelis and others ó have no legitimate role in the war against terrorism."

The Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, writing in the New York Post said: "Airports scrupulously apply the same laughably ineffective airport harassment to Suzy Chapstick as to Muslim hijackers. It is preposterous to assume every passenger is a potential crazed homicidal maniac. We know who the homicidal maniacs are. They are the ones cheering and dancing right now. We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. We weren't punctilious about locating and punishing only Hitler and his top officers. We carpet-bombed German cities; we killed civilians. That's war. And this is war."

Front Cuts Book Back

This stuff written and copyright Andrew Brown. If the page looks bad, that's my fault, unless you're using Netscape 4.x. Then it's yours. Upgrade, and do yourself a favour.