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Nine Years, Two Wars, Hundreds of Thousands Dead – and Nothing Learnt
Did 9/11 make us all mad? Our memorial to the innocents who died nine years ago has been a holocaust of fire and blood . . .
Did 9/11 make us all go mad? How fitting, in a weird, crazed way, that the apotheosis of that firestorm nine years ago should turn out to be a crackpot preacher threatening another firestorm with a Nazi-style book burning of the Koran. Or a would-be mosque two blocks from "ground zero" - as if 9/11 was an onslaught on Jesus-worshiping Christians, rather than on the atheist West.
But why should we be surprised? Just look at all the other crackpots spawned in the aftermath of those international crimes against humanity: the half-crazed Ahmadinejad, the smarmy post-nuclear Gaddafi, Blair with his crazed right eye and George W Bush with his black prisons and torture and lunatic "war on terror". And that wretched man who lived - or lives still - in an Afghan cave and the hundreds of al-Qa'idas whom he created, and the one-eyed mullah - not to mention all the lunatic cops and intelligence agencies and CIA thugs who failed us all - utterly - on 9/11 because they were too idle or too stupid to identify 19 men who were going to attack the United States. And remember one thing: even if the Rev Terry Jones sticks with his decision to back down, another of our cranks will be ready to take his place.
Indeed, on this grim ninth anniversary - and heaven spare us next year from the 10th - 9/11 appears to have produced not peace or justice or democracy or human rights, but monsters. They have prowled Iraq - both the Western and the local variety - and slaughtered 100,000 souls, or 500,000, or a million; and who cares? They have killed tens of thousands in Afghanistan; and who cares? And as the sickness has spread across the Middle East and then the globe, they - the air force pilots and the insurgents, the Marines and the suicide bombers, the al-Qa'idas of the Maghreb and of the Khalij and of the Caliphate of Iraq and the special forces and the close air support boys and the throat-cutters - have torn the heads off women and children and the old and the sick and the young and healthy, from the Indus to the Mediterranean, from Bali to the London Tube; quite a memorial to the 2,966 innocents who were killed nine years ago. All in their name, it seems, has been our holocaust of fire and blood, enshrined now in the crazed pastor of Gainesville.
This is the loss, of course. But who's made the profit? Well, the arms dealers, naturally, and Boeing and Lockheed Martin and all the missile lads and the drone manufacturers and F-16 spare parts outfits and the ruthless mercenaries who stalk the Muslim lands on our behalf now that we have created 100,000 more enemies for each of the 19 murderers of 9/11. Torturers have had a good time, honing their sadism in America's black prisons - it was appropriate that the US torture center in Poland should be revealed on this ninth anniversary - as have the men (and women, I fear) who perfect the shackles and water-drowning techniques with which we now fight our wars. And - let us not forget - every religious raver in the world, be they of the Bin Laden variety, the bearded groupies in the Taliban, the suicide executioners, the hook-in the arm preachers, or our very own pastor of Gainesville.
And God? Where does he fit in? An archive of quotations suggests that just about every monster created in or after 9/11 is a follower of this quixotic redeemer. Bin Laden prays to God - "to turn America into a shadow of itself", as he told me in 1997 - and Bush prayed to God and Blair prayed - and prays - to God, and all the Muslim killers and an awful lot of Western soldiers and Dr (honorary) Pastor Terry Jones and his 30 (or it may be 50, since all statistics are hard to come by in the "war on terror") pray to God. And poor old God, of course, has had to listen to these prayers as he always sits through them during our mad wars. Recall the words attributed to him by a poet of another generation: "God this, God that, and God the other thing. 'Good God,' said God, 'I've got my work cut out'." And that was just the First World War...
Just five years ago - on the fourth anniversary of the twin towers/Pentagon/Pennsylvania attacks - a schoolgirl asked me at a lecture in a Belfast church whether the Middle East would benefit from more religion. No - less religion! - I howled back. God is good for contemplation, not for war. But - and here we are driven on to the reefs and hidden rocks which our leaders wish us to ignore, forget and cast aside - this whole bloody mess involves the Middle East; it is about a Muslim people who have kept their faith while those Westerners who dominate them - militarily, economically, culturally, socially - have lost theirs. How can this be, Muslims ask? Indeed, it is a superb irony that the Rev Jones is a believer while the rest of us - by and large - are not. Hence our books and our documentaries never refer to Muslims vs Christians, but Muslims versus "The West".
And of course, the one taboo subject of which we must not speak - Israel's relationship with America, and America's unconditional support for Israel's theft of land from Muslim Arabs - also lies at the heart of this terrible crisis in our lives. In yesterday's edition of The Independent, there was a photograph of Afghan demonstrators chanting "death to America". But in the background, these same demonstrators were carrying a black banner with a message in Dari written upon it in white paint. What it actually said was: "The bloodsucking Zionist government regime and the Western leaders who are indifferent [to suffering] and have no conscience are again celebrating the new year by spilling the red blood of the Palestinians."
The message is as extreme as it is vicious - but it proves, yet again, that the war in which we are engaged is also about Israel and "Palestine". We may prefer to ignore this in "the West" - where Muslims supposedly "hate us for what we are" or "hate our democracy" (see: Bush, Blair and a host of other mendacious politicians) - but this great conflict lies at the heart of the "war on terror". That is why the equally vicious Benjamin Netanyahu reacted to the atrocities of 9/11 by claiming that the event would be good for Israel. Israel would now be able to claim that it, too, was fighting the "war on terror", that Arafat - this was the now-comatose Ariel Sharon's claim - is "our Bin Laden". And thus Israelis had the gall to claim that Sderot, under its cascade of tin-pot missiles from Hamas, was "our ground zero".
It was not. Israel's battle with the Palestinians is a ghastly caricature of our "war on terror", in which we are supposed to support the last colonial project on earth - and accept its thousands of victims - because the twin towers and the Pentagon and United Flight 93 were attacked by 19 Arab murderers nine years ago. There is a supreme irony in the fact that one direct result of 9/11 has been the stream of Western policemen and spooks who have traveled to Israel to improve their "anti-terrorist expertise" with the help of Israeli officers who may - according to the United Nations - be war criminals. It was no surprise to find that the heroes who gunned down poor old Jean Charles de Menezes on the London Tube in 2005 had been receiving "anti-terrorist" advice from the Israelis.
And yes, I know the arguments. We cannot compare the actions of evil terrorists with the courage of our young men and women, defending our lives - and sacrificing theirs - on the front lines of the 'war on terror". There can be no "equivalence". "They" kill innocents because "they" are evil. "We" kill innocents by mistake. But we know we are going to kill innocents - we willingly accept that we are going to kill innocents, that our actions are going to create mass graves of families, of the poor and the weak and the dispossessed.
This is why we created the obscene definition of "collateral damage". For if "collateral" means that these victims are innocent, then "collateral" also means that we are innocent of killing them. It was not our wish to kill them - even if we knew it was inevitable that we would. "Collateral" is our exoneration. This one word is the difference between "them" and "us", between our God-given right to kill and Bin Laden's God-given right to murder. The victims, hidden away as "collateral" corpses, don't count any more because they were slaughtered by us. Maybe it wasn't so painful. Maybe death by drone is a more gentle departure from this earth, evisceration by an AGM-114C Boeing-Lockheed air-to-ground missile less painful, than death by shards from a roadside bomb or a cruel suicider with an explosive belt.
That's why we know how many died on 9/11 - 2,966, although the figure may be higher - and why we don't "do body counts" on those whom we kill. Because they - "our" victims - must have no identities, no innocence, no personality, no cause or belief or feelings; and because we have killed far, far more human beings than Bin Laden and the Taliban and al-Qa'ida.
Anniversaries are newspaper and television events. And they can have an eerie habit of coalescing together to create an unhappy memorial framework. Thus do we commemorate the Battle of Britain - a chivalric episode in our history - and the Blitz, a progenitor of mass murder, to be sure, but a symbol of innocent courage - as we remember the start of a war that has torn our morality apart, turned our politicians into war criminals, our soldiers into killers and our ruthless enemies into heroes of the anti-Western cause. And while on this gloomy anniversary the Rev Jones wanted to burn a book called the Koran, Tony Blair tried to sell a book called A Journey. Jones said the Koran was "evil"; Britons have asked whether the Blair book should be classified as "crime". Certainly, 9/11 has moved into fantasy when the Rev Jones can command the attention of the Obamas and the Clintons and the Holy Father and the even more Holy United Nations. Whom the gods would destroy...
11 Sept 2001
The World Trade Center and the Pentagon are hit by airplanes hijacked by al-Qa'ida terrorists. George Bush says that America will stand with "all those who want peace and security in the world".
7 Oct 2001
The US and Britain launch air strikes against Afghanistan.
13 Nov 2001
The Northern Alliance liberates Kabul from the rule of the Taliban.
11 Jan 2002
The first prisoners arrive at Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
9 Jan 2003
Top UN weapons inspector Hans Blix tells reporters that "we have now been in [Iraq] for some two months and? we haven't found any smoking guns".
15 Feb 2003
Protests are held across the world against impending war in Iraq.
20 Mar 2003
US-led coalition launches invasion of Iraq.
9 Oct 2003
Toppling of statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad is taken as symbol of coalition triumph.
11 Mar 2004
A series of bombs explode within minutes of each other on four commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people and wounding a further 1,841.
29 Apr 2004
Photographs emerge showing the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US soldiers at Abu Ghraib, inflaming anti-US feeling.
2 Oct 2004
Video footage appears of British hostage Kenneth Bigley being beheaded by Iraqi militants.
2 Nov 2004
Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh is murdered after making a film about violence against women in Islamic societies.
7 Jul 2005
Four suicide bombers kill 52 passengers and injure almost 800 others in a series of attacks on London's transport network.
30 Sept 2005
A series of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohamed are published in a Danish newspaper. The pictures are reprinted elsewhere amid widespread outrage and violent protests in the Muslim world.
30 Dec 2006
Saddam Hussein is hanged in northern Baghdad for crimes against humanity.
21 Sept 2009
A leaked report by Gen Stanley McChrystal, commander of US forces, suggests that the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan could be lost within a year unless there are significant increases in troops.
29 Nov 2009
A ban on building minarets is voted in by the Swiss public, reflecting a hostile attitude to the country's rising Muslim minority.
21 Jan 2010
43 per cent of Americans say they feel some negative prejudice towards Muslims, according to a poll by Gallup.
1 Sept 2010
At the end of a month in which 295 civilians were killed by violence, Barack Obama declares that the US combat mission in Iraq is at an end.