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twisty turny thing

Registered: Jul 2000
Posts: 7236
Some more Comment. (Quite Long Again)

Brian Viner: Sometimes your prejudices can frighten you

On Tuesday afternoon I caught a flight from London Stansted, having for once been grateful for a two-hour delay. It enabled me, like many other passengers, to watch the horrifying news from New York and Washington DC unfolding on a monitor in the departure lounge. I am not a nervous flyer, but nevertheless, it was not the best prelude to a flight, and there was palpable relief when the plane touched down in Edinburgh.

The following afternoon I caught the return flight. Security had been stepped up considerably. The airline, Go, did not allow anyone to take hand luggage aboard, which was an inconvenience as I only had a briefcase, yet also reassuring.

All passengers were then subjected to an unusually thorough search; further reassurance. And while I waited my turn, I remembered the word "frisk" entering the vocabulary. That was in the early 1970s when terrorism, then principally embodied by Black September, Baader-Meinhof and the IRA, went global. I remembered how my father used to talk, almost with excitement, about having being frisked at London Airport.

Not only was I comprehensively frisked on Wednesday (except for my shoes – might not a weapon be hidden in a shoe?), the security chap at the X-ray belt even flicked through the paperback that I had just bought. It was Inishowen, by Joseph O'Connor, and if the security chap had lingered at page 17, he would have read: "The skyscrapers glistened, orchid cream, watery silver, sapphire blue. Off to the south he could see the Twin Towers, their upper storeys disappearing into the mist."

I then sat in the lounge. I noticed from my boarding pass that I had been allocated seat 13E. I am not superstitious, but I decided that I would rather have been given 14E, the more so when I found that alongside me, in 13F, was a young man of Middle Eastern appearance, looking, it seemed to me, a trifle nervous. I noticed, without any inward titter of irony, that he was wearing a bomber jacket.

I'm sorry to report that tolerance and common sense crumbled pretty much immediately. The rational part of my mind told me that a hijacker was hardly likely to target a flight from Edinburgh to Stansted, but it was outshouted by the irrational, which bellowed that someone, on another aeroplane 24 hours earlier, might have glanced at the suspicious man next to them and concluded the same of Boston to Los Angeles.

As we took off, my neighbour muttered a little prayer. I noticed that his hands were sweating. On a scale of conviction of one to 10, I hovered around nine, just less than it took to make a real fool of myself by jumping on him. I still tore a page out of my notebook and surreptitiously scribbled a message to my wife, which read: "I think the man next to me might be a terrorist. I love you. Give the kids a big kiss." I suppose I was applying Viner's Law: if you work hard enough to convince yourself that something awful is going to happen, it won't.

Nevertheless, by the time we reached cruising altitude I remained sure my neighbour had terrible intentions. So I did what I should have done all along, I engaged him in conversation. He was 28, and from Afghanistan. He had sought asylum in Britain eight years before, and worked as a minicab driver in London. He also did courier work, hence his journey to Edinburgh.

We talked about the carnage in America. It was, he said, "wrong, wrong, wrong". Nevertheless, he seemed to find some satisfaction in America experiencing the horrors for so long visited on the Third World, horrors that "American weapons helped to inflict". He suggested America was controlled by Jews. He talked passionately about the Koran.

And when I mentioned Osama bin Laden he said that in Afghanistan there exists the fierce belief that if you give someone shelter in your home, you will defend him to the death. He then added that his cousin was picking him up at Stansted, and could he offer me a lift home?

By now I had realised three things: first, that he was not a terrorist; second, that he did conform in some ways to the racist stereotype that I had tarred him with; and third, and most disturbingly, that the racist stereotype had come so irrepressibly to mind. It is no consolation to know that other minds, in these coming weeks, months, even years, will behave in similar fashion.


Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: We share your grief. You must share our concerns

I'm not writing this because I feel guilty about all the things some incandescent e-mailers have accused me of, mainly of being "anti-American" and cruelly indifferent to those who died in the US and those who will have to survive after them. They chose not to hear what I said on BBC's Question Time (when I appeared with Paddy Ashdown, Tam Dalyell and the admirably thoughtful Philip Lader to discuss what the US and the rest should do next) and in my column yesterday.

I have said many times over that these murders were grotesque and inexcusable. Some sections of the media are already whipping up anger against the BBC programme, claiming it was gratuitously "anti-American". It was not. We talked in a grown-up way about how America had to go in for a period of reflection now about its image and how in a globalised world the only superpower would have to be more self-critical and respectful of others.

So may we not even say such thoughtful things about the US without being branded in this way? Is this the meaning, then, of freedom of speech, which I am very grateful, of course, to enjoy, living as I do here and not in Saudi Arabia or Iran. How can I be anti-American? All the people who inspired me when I was young were American people such as the Kennedys, James Baldwin and those in the civil rights movement.

My best friend is American, also Muslim and Asian like me, but married to a Jewish American. Their children are called Adam, Sarah and David and I love them as my own. They live in Pittsburgh and we were distraught for hours after the planes crashed. I belong to two influential networks, which bring together American and British systems, and through these I have come to know and like many key players in the US – bankers, writers, chief executives and others – and I am not yet sure if any of them were killed or maimed by the actions of young men who look like my son.

No, I have not lost a loved one and those which have must feel an agony which completely overshadows my anxieties – but please don't insult me by saying that I have not paid any attention to the pain of America. It is 11am on Friday and the silence to remember the dead physically hurt me: the images of the people who died, such as the lovely 4-year-old Julianna McCourt and her mother, Ruth, who must have clutched her so tightly as they died. Or the African American flight attendant CeeCee Lyles and all the others that perished and who will not easily be forgotten.

I am overcome with hate when I see the faces of those who it now seems highly likely were to blame. We should all know that unless we can force ourselves beyond this hate and think about the invisible forces which have set the world alight and try to understand what kind of soil, what poisons, made these men and women and many more similar people to come in the future. It might seem too soon for this analysis, but maybe we can only do this now while we are so shocked. Muslims worldwide need to think of how we have been silent when Muslim leaders carry on brutishly.

All Muslims, young and old, who unthinkingly damn the West (sometimes while living in the West) should examine the effect of such a diet of prejudice on their young. Jewish people of conscience should be thinking today of how much hatred Israel's recent policies are sowing. It should be obligatory for enlightened Jewish people to challenge any view of Palestinians as vermin. The former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak, has trotted out so much prejudice that it was hard to feel any sympathy for Israel even amongst open-minded Muslims.

Equally, Palestinians and others should be confronting their own demonic anti-Semitism and feeling shamed that some of their people were seen laughing at the dead. Europe has to examine its long history, and superiority and hostility to the non-Christian worlds. And America, the victim country, has much work to do even as it decides on its course of action, which will of necessity have to be tough, of course.

The former US Assistant Secretary of State, James Rubin, has talked a good deal this week about the United States as a uniquely civilised nation. The idea of America and only America as civilised or free or democratic is simply helping to distance Americans from the rest of the world. More questions need to be asked about why this country, the United States of America, has supported so many bloody tyrants in recent history, and to remember that others too suffer from terrorism: after all, bin Laden's actions killed more than 250 Africans in Kenya and Tanzania.

Only with this massive universal self-examination can we move towards a global civilisation. We share your grief, America – totally. But you must share our concerns. Encouragingly enough, I received 300 e-mails yesterday from American citizens who replied to my column and who seem to agree that this is essential.


Tariq Ali: Getting used to the idea of double standards

On a trip to Pakistan a few years ago I was talking to a former general about the militant Islamist groups in the region. I asked him why these people, who had happily accepted funds and weapons from the United States throughout the Cold War, had become violently anti-American overnight. He explained that they were not alone. Many Pakistani officers who had served the US loyally from 1951 onwards felt humiliated by Washington's indifference.

"Pakistan was the condom the Americans needed to enter Afghanistan," he said. "We've served our purpose and they think we can be just flushed down the toilet." The old condom is being fished out for use once again, but will it work? The new "coalition against terrorism" needs the services of the Pakistan Army, but Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf, will have to be extremely cautious. An over-commitment to Washington could split the armed forces and lead to civil war in Pakistan. A great deal has changed over the last two decades, but the ironies of history continue to multiply.

In Pakistan itself, Islamism derived its strength from state patronage rather than popular support. The ascendancy of religious fundamentalism is the legacy of a previous military dictator, General Zia-ul-Haq, who received backing from Washington and London during his 11 years as dictator.

During his rule (1977-89), a network of madrassahs (religious boarding schools), funded by the Saudi regime, were created. The children, who were later sent to fight as mujahedeen in Afghanistan, were taught to banish all doubt. The only truth was divine truth. Anyone who rebelled against the imam rebelled against Allah. The madrassahs had only one aim: the production of deracinated fanatics in the name of a bleak Islamic cosmopolitanism. The primers taught that the Urdu letter jeem stood for jihad; tay for tope (cannon), kaaf for Kalashnikov and khay for khoon (blood).

The 2,500 madrassahs produced a crop of 225,000 fanatics ready to kill and die for their faith when asked to do so by their religious leaders. Dispatched across the border by the Pakistan Army, they were hurled into battle against other Muslims they were told were not true Muslims. The Taliban creed is an ultra-sectarian strain, inspired by the Wahhabi sect that rules Saudi Arabia. The severity of the Afghan mullahs has been denounced by Sunni clerics at al-Azhar in Cairo and Shi-ite theologians in Qom as a disgrace to the Prophet.

The Taliban could not, however, have captured Kabul on their own via an excess of religious zeal. They were armed and commanded by "volunteers" from the Pakistan Army. If Islamabad decided to pull the plug, the Taliban could be dislodged, but not without serious problems. The victory in Kabul counts as the Pakistani Army's only triumph.

To this day,the former US Secretary of State Zbigniew Brezinski remains unrepentant: "What was more important in the world view of history?" he asks with more than a touch of irritation, "the Taliban or the fall of the Soviet Empire? A few stirred-up Muslims or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?" If Hollywood rules necessitate a short, sharp war against the new enemy, the American Caesar would be best-advised not to insist on Pakistani legions.

The consequences could be dire: a brutal and vicious civil war creating more bitterness and encouraging more acts of terrorism. Islamabad will do everything to prevent a military expedition to Afghanistan.

What is more likely is that Osama bin Laden will be sacrificed in the interests of the greater cause and handed over, dead or alive, to Washington. But will that be enough? The only solution is political. It requires removing the causes that create the discontent. It is despair that feeds fanaticism and it is a result of Washington's policies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The orthodox casuistry among factotums, columnists and courtiers of the Washington regime is symbolised by Prime Minister Tony Blair's personal assistant for foreign affairs, ex-diplomat Robert Cooper, who writes openly: "We need to get used to the idea of double standards."

The underlying maxim of this cynicism is: we will punish the crimes of our enemies and reward the crimes of our friends. Isn't that at least preferable to universal impunity? To this the answer is simple: "punishment" along these lines does not reduce but breeds criminality, by those who wield it.

The Gulf and Balkan wars were copy-book examples of the moral blank cheque of a selective vigilantism. Israel can defy UN resolutions with impunity, Turkey can crush its Kurds, India can tyrannise Kashmir, Russia can destroy Groszny, but it is Iraq which has to be punished and it is the Palestinians who continue to suffer.

Cooper continues: "Advice to post-modern states: accept that intervention in the pre-modern is going to be a fact of life. Such interventions may not solve problems, but they may salve the conscience. And they are not necessarily the worse for that." Try explaining that to the survivors in New York and Washington.


I thought I was the walrus.

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Old Post 09-15-2001 08:04 AM
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I have to admit I have found myself noticing Muslims and such more in the streets now. This is not a good thing at all, but it is in the back of mind at the moment

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Old Post 09-15-2001 10:26 AM
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Smug Git
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Registered: Aug 2001
Location: Hilbert Space
Posts: 36297

The Evening Standard showed a picture a couple of days ago of a sikh being arrested at a US airport. What relevance did his arrest have? Sikhs don't like muslims at all, as a rule (in Southall, there is effectively sporadic gang war between the two groups); an old sikh was harassed in England, mistaken for.. well, for what? An islamic fundamentalist? Some people are complete fucking tits, that's for sure.

People do definitely have to understand why it is that this thing happened if we are all to reduce the risk of something like it happening again. Most of us (including me) are undereducated on the issues (and their causes) which are of importance in the middle east.

I want to live and I want to love
I want to catch something that I might be ashamed of

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Old Post 09-15-2001 10:49 AM
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I'm not saying I treat them any differently, but I am becoming more aware that it is a muslim whereas before I wouldn't have conciously differentiated.

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Old Post 09-15-2001 10:57 AM
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Blarg. I'm dead.

Registered: Jan 2001
Posts: 1163

Be very careful, Rav. To be Muslim is not a question of skin colour or ethnic look. My sister is white and was born in London to two white, Londoner parents. She's Muslim.

Don't fall into the trap of visual stereotype.

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Old Post 09-15-2001 02:34 PM
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Spot on Lightbulb.

gay for mugtoe

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Old Post 09-15-2001 02:48 PM
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