A Cathy Fincher wrote to me last week in response to my column of last Wednesday ('Afghans the Victims of US Terrorism') criticising the American bombardment of Afghanistan. She wrote: "Too bad you were not in the World Trade Centre on September 11th at 8.45 a.m." A Mr Nelson also wrote: "I read your article and all I have to say is: go f**k you f***ing queer butt f***ing . . . I hope the US bombs Assolastan until every rag has been killed . . . Hope you get AIDS f***er".
There were tens of other such responses, in all 339 e-mails, almost entirely from the United States from people who had read the column on the Yahoo.com website, where it was posted. The response was overwhelming vituperation offering an insight into part of the mind of America at this time. Of the 339 responses only about 30 were supportive of the views expressed.
The column had concluded: "The bare reality now is Afghanistan is being devastated and hundreds are being slaughtered on the net issue of bringing bin Laden and his associates to justice in America rather than in an agreed third country". On reflection, I think I understated the point. The victims of the bombardment of Afghanistan are not just those slaughtered by the bombardment - there are also the thousands who will die and are dying as a direct result of the halt to food aid caused by the bombing.
I asked what was the point of the exercise since, it seems obvious, the terrorism that caused the abominations of September 11th were planned and executed far away from Afghanistan (for instance in Germany and Florida) and, possibly, had no link with Afghanistan.
A Mr Foley wrote: "True, we are ravaging their country (Afghanistan). I'd personally like to see them enslaved for the rest of their lives." A Mr Wiberg wrote: "You deserve to live as a Taliban woman". "We'll be waiting to dispatch you to whatever afterlife you believe in" (a Mr Stifflemire). "This is what us Americans like to call 'payback'. Come on the militant Muslim that killed 5,000 of our citizens. By the way, Iran, Iraq, Syria, you next" (Mr Carter). "Your paucity of critical thought, madam (for surely you are a woman) is exceeded only by your moral obtuseness. On the other hand I am forced to concede that you Irish know a thing or two about terrorism" (Perry, North Carolina). "So the Dublin Times sympathises with the Afghan terrorists - probably because they also support the IRA and sympathise with terrorism." (R371@aol.com).
"Before spouting off about the US and their policies abroad, maybe you should clean up your own back yard with the IRA's impressive record over the decades in murdering people" (Alachua@hitmail.com). "You f*** with the US and you will pay" (Mr Kotz). "We should take your ass out to Afghanistan and let them kick the shit out of you for your liberal beliefs" (Mr Chavarria). "Right or wrong, America will continue to bomb whoever they chose and there isn't a damn thing we can do about it. Just as it should be" (Mr Larson). "You make me ashamed of my Irish heritage" (Mr Monaghan).
Many of the responses were thoughtful. Some made the point that what else was there to do but take action against the organisation in Afghanistan that is known to have been responsible for the September 11th atrocity and against the Taliban regime that was harbouring them? The suggestion that bin Laden could have been extradited to a third country was ludicrous - the Taliban would have agreed to extradite him only to a country where he would have been treated sympathetically. The US response was measured - if it had wanted to, it could have used far greater military force but it had forsaken that to protect innocent lives. What was the evidence of "hundreds" of civilians being slaughtered other than the discredited word of the Taliban? The suggestion that there was moral equivalence between what the terrorists did on September 11th and what George Bush and Tony Blair are now doing was monstrous.
A brief reply to these responses.
What should the US have done? It should have avoided violence and the inevitable killing of innocent civilians at least until negotiation had failed. It did not exhaust negotiation on the extradition of bin Laden et al, indeed it did not negotiate at all. Second, it should use (and no doubt is using) its vast investigatory powers (the FBI and CIA) to identify those behind the bombings as it did following the Lockerbie bomb and the previous attack on the World Trade Centre. Thereby, it might be able to cope with the real threat of terrorism emanating from within western societies. It should seek to quieten the rage of much of the Islamic world by sponsoring a fair settlement in Israel, withdrawing its forces from Saudi Arabia and ending the sanctions on Iraq.
The bombardment of a country is not measured. We know from the assaults on Yugoslavia and Iraq and the previous attack indeed on Afghanistan that the claims of the precision of "surgical strikes" are false. Indeed, on CBS news on Monday evening last, viewers could see for themselves American planes bombing their allies (Northern Alliance troops) instead of Taliban, and this occurred in broad daylight. Bombing involves the infliction of terror and slaughter on innocent people and that is an abomination. Those responsible for such abominations deserve to be called terrorists for they knowingly inflict terror on innocent people.
But as I have suggested above, it is worse than that. Bombing Afghanistan at a time when it is known that millions of people are on the verge of starvation is itself a heinous act.
© 2001 ireland.com