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September Editorial



If the tragedy of New York makes us question our values now perhaps some good may come from the evil.

It's a remarkable thing. we are in October and the world is still here. America has not fired one shot in anger and shown maturity and wisdom that perhaps no one, even themselves expected. Today, as I write this another bomb has exploded in Israel, killing many, there is talk of trying to assassinate Arrafat , Northern Ireland is in turmoil and one has the feeling that the world is returning to normal; hatred and jealousy rule. One hates to think what the dictator Mugabe is doing in Zimbabwe whilst the world isn't looking.

The world has changed though. The number of jobs lost as the ripple effect of the Manhattan tragedy spreads out like a tidal wave across the world in increasing. With every conference that is canceled there are flights not made, hotels not booked, staff not hired. Every individual decision not to travel 'until this has passed', is like a butterfly wing on the breeze , it destroys another airline. Yet, in the UK today they have announced that house prices in the UK had their biggest rise since the housing boom began, but these reflect decisions made prior to September 11th. I have a feeling that October figures will show a significant change.

The newspapers are full of gloom and talk of global recession, but on Friday and Saturday in London at least, every bar was full, every restaurant had a queue, the crowds were drinking, spilling out into the streets and the stores were packed with people buying on the Sunday, just as they were before the New York attack. The garbage was out on the sidewalks all over the city and we no longer seemed so frightened that this deleterious could be hiding terrorist bombs. So either we are heeding our leaders calls to shop and keep the economy going or people in general have already discounted the shock and are doing what we always do, getting on with our lives.

The day after the New York attack people the world over turned to watch the US President and look for reassurance. The use of the words 'them folks' for the terrorists did not inspire. Luckily as he cried before the cameras, we could see that he was genuinely shaken and everyone quickly forgave his strangled utterances about 'evildoers', because in the end, that is exactly what these terrorists are. Practicing evil doers. It might have seemed to many that in those first few days Mr. Bush looked like a rabbit caught in some cross hairs and for a moment that he would not be up to coping with the 'event'. With over 6000 Americans and other nationalities dead from the two attacks, it is an event like no other in peacetime and there is little to guide him or us on how to respond.

Now, weeks on from that world changing disaster he is running a 90% approval rate with the American people and the wisdom is seen in surrounding himself with experienced men such as Vice President Cheney and General Powell. The speechwriters have caught up and now, some people, mostly Republicans it must be said, are calling him Churchillian and the best President of all time.

But people are afraid. A sample of that fear comes from The Boston Globe, USA.

''It's the stuff of urban legends and folklore that two drops [of some poison] are going to wreak havoc,'' said Fred Laskey, head of the MWRA. ''To contaminate a water supply is so difficult it would border on the impractical. But we can't ignore it. And we have two threats: the contamination and the physical threat'' to dams and pipes.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, water officials have received dozens of phone calls, some frantic, worrying that a crop duster or determined hiker with the right chemical could turn faucets into poison dispensers. ''We know people are worried, and we are doing everything we can,'' said Laskey, acknowledging water's unique importance. ''Everyone drinks the water; it comes into your house and you use it. It's got a psychology.''

Naturally during a war you want to get behind your team captain and square off with the enemy, but there's the problem, the enemy is much harder to see than last time. It's a bit inconvenient that not only does the alleged ringleader live in the most inhospitable place on earth, but his followers are wining and dining at the local Holiday Inn in Florida or San Diego. It's galling to most Americans to discover that fellow American's unwittingly trained these people to kill.

In the UK we remember that 22 SAS Regiment were sent into Afghanistan in the 1980's to train them how to kill the enemy, which at the time were Russians. Another unintended consequence of the Wests' intervention back then was that the war continued for years longer than it would otherwise have done and to pay for the weapons they bought from the west, they grew more opium and that is still their principal export. (Despite denials to the contary) Afghanistan not only attacks our towers of capitalism, but it also contributes to the destruction of our young who consume the drugs made from opium.

The UK has woken up to discover that our new devotion to European Human Rights legislation means that terrorists can hide in plain sight in London and incite their followers via prayer meetings or the web to bring down capitalism and destroy our way of life. We also house them and teach their children and give them money and free health care (which has been abolished back in Afghanistan). According to The Sunday Times 23.09: more than 20 Islamic terrorists and their families wanted for the murders of over a 100 people have been granted 'political asylum' here. They quote Abu Hamza who runs the Supports of Shariah from Finsbury Park mosque who has called for a holy war against 'unbelievers' and calls for his followers to '...crush his head in your arms. So you can rip out his throat...' The radical Al Muhajiroun organisation advocates muslims should violently overthrow democracy and claims 7000 supporters in the UK.

Can we ask them to leave? Probably not. Does that mean that Mr. Bush will be sending Cruise missiles to attack London, to take out these organisations and us, who harbour those who are against capitalism and a democratic way of life? Probably not. But should we not be questioning why we won't allow people who are wanted for questioning for terrorists acts in other countries to be extradited? Should we let them continue to spawn hatred and train new converts to extremist behavior?

Everyone says that America is prepared to take losses, but is that really true. Will you go? Will you volunteer? Already the peace rallies have begun. One of our own contributors Kelvin Mason is organising peace rallies in Denmark and attracting TV attention. Students will soon be on TV in the States burning effigies of Bush and it is clearly apparent that just the threat of war is causing millions of Afghans to flee to Pakistan, creating a huge humanitarian disaster. The Guardian October 1st edition leads with pictures of starving children who will die in weeks if they don't get food or shelter before winter. The Taliban probably will not care, one has the feeling they will be happy to rule over a country of corpses and they will even devise rules for the dead to obey.

They have at last admitted they know where Bin Laden is hiding - how soon before they admit he is in fact leading them? Yet if he surrendered to us and would be handed over to the European court, we, unlike them, would ensure he had a fair trial, was quartered in comfort (in the cell next door to the Serbian tyrant) have a court appointed lawyer and all debate would be conducted in public. This is something not given to the aid workers on trial there at the moment. If he surrendered we would then have to offer proof of his guilt. He may yet call our bluff.

Is war necessary? Well certainly something is necessary, but terrorism is a slippery chimera and doesn't stay still so you can swat it. Worse, the more you attack and kill, collecting collateral damage on the way, the more martyrs you create, the more violence you will spawn. In case you forgot what hatred looks like, remember in September, broadcast on TV around the world, the distorted faces of Protestant Northern Irish parents spitting at Catholic children on their first day at school in Belfast. Hatred is anywhere where religious intolerances are taught and over there they teach it well.

One interesting phenomenon stemming from this event is a sudden awareness of politics among people of 25 or more. The generation that lives for pleasure has discovered that their bourgeois lifestyle is suddenly under threat. The news can really affect them and their holiday plans. Perhaps if there really is something good to come out of the New York tragedy and it's violent aftermath will be a generation awakened to take an interest in their destiny. Perhaps students will begin to read newspapers and even discuss world events, just like they used to thirty years ago.

For years now, there has only been certain topics of discussion by all classes in the UK; property prices, mortgages, and of course vacations. We have lived a life of plenty in low inflation for a while and naturally in a country that has virtually abolished the teaching of history we think this can go on forever. Doomsayers, Cassandra's and plain manic depressives like me are shunned. 'Oh you are always predicting a recession'. Well it's here. In fact when it comes to property, the smart money is getting off the ladder pretty quick and the late comers with their four-five-six times joint incomes are going to find the steps taken away, last one out's a sucker. Greed knows how to get a good laugh. Sure interest rates are coming down, but people are going to start losing their jobs pretty fast now in the high paying careers of media, advertising, and consultancies. You might say it is all panic, all will return to normal. But I am not so sure. Ask people in the airline industry or tourism.

During the first days of New York's misery I was struck by Mayor Giuliani's determination to tell people to get past this, go out, go to restaurants, go to the movies, shop, go back to normal. But Americans have not rushed to do this. They are in genuine shock, traumatised. Sure some bargain basement sales might tempt them out, but the layoffs are coming at them from all sides and they know, at least the older ones know, that this is the time to pay off the credit card. We have shopped till we dropped already.

However. with the airline and related manufacturing companies such as Boeing doing pre-emptive strikes against their employee's, to the extent that 100,000 people were laid off in the first week after the attack, how long will the consumer stay confident? Will car sales boom or bust this October? The test will be what people buy and how safe people feel about travelling this Thanksgiving within the States. Can we really go back to normal? Think of the chaos at Thanksgiving now so many aircraft are grounded and Amtrak is already asking for investment money as they can't cope with the increase in demand from people who will no longer fly. This is not a nation living in normal times. It is a nation that has to reevaluate everything it does and thinks. America may be a nation that goes to church, but few live 'spiritual' lives. There may well be a resurgence of church going, but it's a value thing that needs to be taken up. Neighborliness is the key. The isolating suburban nature of the average American life militates against a sense of community and it is that that needs to be reignited and rebuilt. A society worth protecting has to be a society that is worth living in.

It's worse here in the UK where we don't even go to church anymore. (Less than a million people are regular churchgoers - the largest and growing congregations are Muslim or Hindu.) Personally I am all in favour of societies without cruel religious dogma distorting our lives, as it plainly does in Northern Ireland, and northern towns like Bradford. As for community? If it isn't the church, it is no longer the dance hall, it is the out-of-town mall. When we placed the mall and consumerism as God's replacement, it was never going to feed the soul and in the end, the soul needs nourishment. I'm all in favour of people not returning to a 'normal' life if that means they are going to question what it is they truly value. So many of us work too hard, some never get the opportunity to work at all. Friendships and relationships suffer. We need to relearn how to enjoy 'time'. Reflection and contemplation for all. We allow our kids to obsess about computer games that teach them that killing in large quantities is OK, or how to steer a jet filled with passengers into tall buildings. There was a time, generations ago, when parents knew what their children were reading and thinking. But that has long gone and generations are growing up without moral, spiritual or value guidance. All they know is they must consume, worship labels and of course ingest quantities of alcohol or 'mind liberating' drugs. (Nearly 8 Billion pounds spent last year on illegal recreational drugs in the UK) Source: UK Government .

What is the point of liberating a mind that has not been trained to enjoy or focus or even learn from the experience? Once, long ago, we had a society that was in tune with the weather and environment. People lived by the seasons and traditions were sacrosanct. Moreover, there was respect for individuals and their trades, not matter how trivial or seemingly unimportant. Of course there were highwaymen and people who took short cuts and just as now, there were the rich landowners who exploited everyone and lived feckless lives. Was a pre-industrial society more in touch with the land and traditions a better place to live than now? Was there ever an Arcadia? If the answer is yes, what have we lost? Can it be regained? If the answer is no, then is this a perfect world? I don't think so. So if the tragedy of New York makes us question our values now perhaps some good may come from the evil.

The Taliban denies and degrades women, praises murderers in the name of religion and denigrates physical work. Woman are not allowed to work or be educated. This alone is a crime against humanity. They have destroyed the infrastructure, debased human life and sheltered the enemies of western democratic society. On top of this a three year drought has brought famine. It seems that when the gods are angry they get real mad. We naturally feel sorry for the ordinary Afghan citizen caught up in this terror, but sympathy is tempered when we see them here or elsewhere in refugee camps celebrating America's loss or generally making trouble and seemingly supporting the Taliban.

We used to assimilate refugees and immigrants into our society, starting with the Flemish 500 years ago. Even our ancient enemies the Vikings and then the Normans when they conquered us were assimilated. In all cases people mixed, married and forged a common history and language. To make a nation where Muslims can educate their young in separate schools and practice apartheid is a madness. America was the melting pot, but there too, the new refugees and immigrants are living separate lives, in Canada also. The seeds of racial urban civil strife are growing fast, fed by religions that do not speak of tolerance for other faiths. Each religion believes it is unique and only it knows the truth. A sure recipe for trouble. The Koran preaches peace, but just like the Bible, it can be misinterpreted to preach hate. They have mad mullahs, we have the Reverend Jerry Falwell who blamed New York's tragedy on 'pagans, abortionists, feminists and the gays and lesbians'. The truth then is what is under attack. Afghanistan, even without Bush pulverising it has already experimented with Year Zero, like Pol Pot's Cambodia before it and the result will be starvation and death.

We shall also be living in a world of unintended consequences. We are confused. Ask people to define freedom and they answer that we are we living for the right to buy Nike products and shop for groceries 24 hours and use as much gas as we like on the roads, to hell with anyone else. Is there nothing else we value? Philip K. Dick used to write about parallel worlds, places so close yet completely different to our own world with differing values, and now Philip Pullman does so as well in his Northern Lights trilogy. You might think these are just fantasies, but they exist alright and you don't need a sharp knife to see them. Contrast the USA against Mexico, Europe besides the Balkans or Albania. Vibrant Johannesburg against disintegrating Harare. The world is full of parallels and we can fly from a first world to a third world and beyond to the Stone Age in just hours. Fly from the towers of Malaysia to the tribal natives of Indonesia in just three.

'We are a Faustian age determined to meet the Lord or the Devil before we are done, and the ineluctable ore of the authentic is our only key to the lock' Norman Mailer 1971

Can it be fixed? Will life ever be fair?
This October, as people die on both sides and reason is wanting, remember revenge has a price and in the end we all risk becoming barbarians at the gate.

© Sam North - Managing Editor

© Carine Thomas - Publisher - A Brighter Image Company

More on this subject by Michael Levy


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