If Kandahar Burns, Will We Feel Safer?

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Do you feel safer? Has the war against Afghanistan (or onslaught, given its one-sideness) made you feel more secure? Some parents feared sending their kids out on Halloween. Is that because of something being plotted in Kandahar?

Our main problem is the terror cells in North America. They are relatively autonomous, don’t require direct orders from headquarters, their funding is dispersed, some of it self-raised, it certainly doesn’t come from Afghan banks. They meet and co-ordinate in places such as Hamburg. Their training camps were in Sudan in the past, and can be moved again. Their networks were not created by nor are they dependent on the Afghan government, though the reverse might be true. In other countries — Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt — they have support despite governments in power there that oppose them. Furthermore, the anthrax scare in the U.S., says The Washington Post, is now attributed by U.S. intelligence to “domestic” sources and not al-Qaeda! So since when did the Afghan regime become such a focus? What is the value of this very conventional attack against it?

On the other hand, it is doing clear damage by creating outrage in the Muslim world and drawing recruits to terror. A plausible outcome could be the overthrow of governments in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia or Algeria by fundamentalists with terror links. What would the U.S. do then — nuke ’em all? And what about Canada? So far, we’ve been safe, since we are not seen as the Great Satan, or even the Medium Satan. But what if misery in Afghanistan increases as this war drags on, we’re now told, into next year; the border gets harder to cross for those like Ahmed Ressam, and they choose to attack (perhaps U.S. targets) here?

Is the alternative to do nothing? No, it is to strike only at criminals, not innocent people, not even as “inevitable” (U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the apologists) collateral damage. Surely that is what was so vile about September 11: they killed the innocent, with a sense of justification, since so many innocents on “their” side had already died.

We are at a point where there may be no security for anyone in the world unless there is security for all. That used to be rhetoric; now it’s close to literal truth. The deaths of more innocents will lead to the deaths of more innocents. In the Gulf War and Kosovo, this was not so; the concerns were “merely” moral. Now self-interest is involved, too. The laying of blame for civilian casualties in Afghanistan — on Osama bin Laden, U.S. policy, the Taliban, the oil companies — is irrelevant, even self-indulgent. Innocents are innocents, and the fewer who die, the less fuel is added to the pyre.

The staleness of rhetoric. Let me take as an example of an endless, pointless blamefest, the oldest: Israel/Palestine. In yesterday’s Globe and Mail, Norman Spector wrote that Foreign Affairs Minister John Manley “failed to challenge” Syria and Iran, which “glorify” suicide bombers when “they blow up mothers and kids,” yet say “Israel is a terrorist when it responds."

Of course those on the other side will respond that Israel isn’t just responding; it has occupied Palestinian land, killed mothers and kids, assassinated leaders, bulldozed homes of innocents etc. Israel started it, they will say.

What is the point of making these points at this point — especially by a former Canadian diplomat in the region? Does he think it will help if Canada’s foreign minister adds to this cacophony? Maybe a debate would have been useful in the past, maybe it will be in the future. But right now everyone agrees on the solution: two “viable” states with security guarantees. So get on with it, force it if the sides are too blinded by historic hatreds or love of rhetoric to do it themselves. And yet there are people (I’m not including Norman Spector) who would rather win the argument, or continue it forever, than even, so it seems, survive.

Where is political correctness when we need it? “That whole wearying business about PC would have been worth it,” sighed a friend, “if it had even a tiny impact on the treatment of Muslims now, but it doesn’t.” Me, I never believed political correctness existed in any serious sense. It had no address, no funding, no official voices. It existed mainly as an object of derision in the mainstream media. Yet now I feel nostalgic.

A National Post editorial says Muslims ought to explain to non-Muslims “why so many of their co-religionists believe such vile things and support such vile murder.” As if Christians need to explain why other Christians bomb abortion clinics. Or sports fans have to say why soccer hooligans riot. Others lecture on how pro-Muslim the U.S. has been by, for instance, liberating Muslim Kuwait (while decimating Muslim Iraq). And in the Globe, William Johnson thunders that “an answer is imperative” regarding “the role of Islam in contemporary states.” Who demands to know? The anglo-rights guy from Quebec?

Ah, political correctness, we hardly knew ye.

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