The Editorial Page
Like attacking a flu virus
with a sledgehammer

When we learned of the tragic events of Sept. 11, we were horrified; we felt ill; we wept. Like most Americans, we Canadians also sought to know the perpetrators; justice must be served.

For a while it appeared that President Bush, despite his wild rhetoric about revenge, was allowing wiser thoughts to prevail. Eventually, however, the bombs were dropped.

We were horrified; we felt ill; we wept.

How does it serve justice to pound an already demolished country and its starving people with bombs in an effort to find one guilty man and his Taliban associates? As one journalist put it, it's like attacking a flu virus with a sledgehammer.

As words like "revenge" and "retaliation" get bounced back and forth, to what perpetual fear of terrorism are we on this side of the world being sacrificed? If Osama bin Laden lived in Switzerland and that country, waving its historic neutrality, refused to deliver him up, would the U.S. be dropping bombs on Switzerland today? It's difficult to imagine.

A phenomenal number of stories have crossed our desk since the events of Sept. 11. We print but a few of them in this issue. Among the stories we do not print are those that outrageously allege that the U.S. government (or some members of it) had knowledge of, co-operated in, even organised the suicide attacks -- to make its citizens receptive to new legislation that would curtail civil liberties, as well as to the attack on Afghanistan which, together with the cleaning up and rebuilding of the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, puts incredible amounts of dollars in certain pockets. Hogwash! Some also see the war as a golden opportunity to further entrench America into positions of power in the Middle East and its oil fields.

Other wild theories suggest that Israel is behind the attacks, orchestrating events that would cause the U.S. and its allies to gang up on its enemies in the Middle East. Although Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is reported to be trying to set up the "centre of international terror" of Lebanon for a bombing run or two, along with Yasser Arafat's "little garbage tip down in Gaza where the Israelis have discovered, mirabile dictu, a 'bin Laden cell'" (Robert Fisk in London's Independent, Sept. 25), one could never believe them guilty of such terrorism against their best friend, the U.S. It is sad, though, to see them jumping on the "terrorist-hating" bandwagon in their recent assaults on the Palestinians.

It is even suggested that the attack on Afghanistan is but a stepping stone to a subsequent one on Iraq, followed by the destruction of the Lebanese Hezbollah, then the humbling of Syria, the humiliation of Iran and yet another "peace" process put in place between Israel and Palestine. We won't close the door on this possibility.

Such terrible stories might be halted if Bush would show the world his proof that Bin Laden is the dirty culprit. We have little doubt that he was the mastermind behind the attacks on the U.S., but wouldn't we feel better if all doubt was removed? Some people go so far as to suggest that the Taliban's offer to deliver Bin Laden into the hands of a neutral country for trial is being refused by the West simply because there is not sufficient evidence to convict him. And if there is not sufficient evidence, what is the U.S. doing in Afghanistan? Tony Blair seems convinced there is proof -- others claim it is fabricated.

The U.S. says it will not negotiate, despite the Taliban's seeming conciliatory shift of position of late. It may very well be a delaying tactic -- so be it. Has talking and negotiating not always been the first path to take amongst civilised peoples? Surely war is not the preferred action to the justice of an international trial if there is any smallest possibility of having one? So call the Taliban's bluff.

It's all well and good to decry any questioning of the U.S. position in this conflict, labelling it "anti-American". But in any just society, in any democracy, citizens must not follow blindly. We must have the right to question who and what and how and, yes, why. The terrorist attacks did not occur in a vacuum. And whatever Bush would have us believe, it was not religious fervour and a hatred of liberty and democracy that brought them about -- however much religious fervour may have facilitated these particular deeds.

Throughout the Middle East, there is serious anger -- and, yes, hatred -- because of U.S. policies and activities there over past years. However much the American government tries to control the media on the "why" of the Sept. 11 tragedies, they cannot change reality. And there they are, demonizing themselves in the eyes of the Middle East once again, proving to the world of Islam that which they had already suspected, if not believed.

The latest massacre of the inhabitants of the village of Karam, if true, will help cement a growing suspicion in every country of the Middle East -- that this is a war against Islam. This suspicion is why mobs riot on some streets. This is why the Saudis held back their help. This is why so many Arab leaders have so long maintained silence.

The U.S. asked its allies to help them fight "world terror". That would have been believed if, when they began their onslaught on the Taliban, they had included other terrorists in their quest in a show of even-handedness. But the quarry consists only of U.S. enemies -- and, once again, innocent people are "collateral damage".

The American government is building air castles if it thinks the capture of Bin Laden, and/or the destruction of the Taliban, will solve their problems. Certainly, the world would be a better place without such terrorists. But, just as certainly, there are a great many more Bin Ladens ready to spring up, to organise a new Taliban, to fulfil their missions. And they would do so with yet more hatred and additional excuses to incite hatred. This war and the anti-American feeling it continues to engender in the Middle East will bring a multitude of followers to the terrorists' cause. It seems obvious that Bin Laden has already won, whatever happens now.

There is yet another aspect we must look at. Why is the United Nations not leading this attack on Afghanistan? Some charge that this war is breaking international law, that it is an American war against American enemies and that other countries should not be involved.

Clearly, the U.S. role might have been to seek out a way to apprehend Bin Laden for trial in an international court. If this was not a realistic goal, they might have considered sending in undercover men to pick off the bad guys surreptitiously, one by one -- even if it took years to accomplish. While not a laudable action to promote, it seems preferable to the action taken -- and not, perhaps, beyond the scope of some U.S. departments. And couldn't relief money be better spent than dropping in food that could as easily be feeding the Taliban as anyone?

Make no mistake, the United States is probably the most enlightened and most generous country in the world. What other country, after fighting a war, has ever helped its enemy rise from their ashes? Their generosity to both Japan and Germany following the Second World War was unparalleled. And whatever their misdeeds, they pale in comparison to those of such other super powers as China and Russia. That is why we say nothing about Chretien's decision to send military assistance to this war effort. The U.S. is our friend and we are thankful for that. We must stand by our friends, even when we believe they err in judgement.

Rather than continue its mission of destruction, the U.S. might better spend its dollars on what it certainly does so well: rebuilding Afghanistan, feeding the starving millions there, helping them to help themselves. Some hold the theory that, had they done so to begin with, many who now support the Taliban out of fear and to fend off starvation would have deserted the Taliban -- that they might even have provided the eyes and ears to deliver up the perpetrators of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

Such positive action might have won the U.S. more wars and more friends throughout the Middle East than anything else they could have done.

SP