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The real damage has been done outside Afghanistan

The real damage has been done outside Afghanistan

Author: Alice Thomson
Publication: The Daily Telegraph, UK
Date: November 16, 2001

Mad Mullah Omar can urge his troops to stop scattering like slaughtered chickens, but it's nearly over. The roses at the embassy in Kabul are being pruned to receive the first British ambassador in 21 years. Food is floating into Afghanistan on barges. In Kabul, the men have shaved off enough facial hair to supply all the journalists with soft mattresses. The women are stocking up on lipstick and the children are playing football in the stadium where only days ago heads were rolling.

The Northern Alliance has so far refrained from too much rape and pillage. Unlike the last time that Mazar-i-Sharif was overtaken, prisoners haven't been run over by tanks or been decapitated and set alight. The kidnapped aid workers have been freed. The Taliban have been shown for what they are - "students" all talk and little action.

The new world order isn't looking too bad, either. Mutually assured destruction between Russia and America isn't on the menu. It's been replaced by barbecued catfish which Presidents Putin and Bush have been sharing on the American's ranch. In New York, the most infectious substance has been niceness. More people have died from sniffing cocaine than anthrax. Even the Irish peace process has made another Lazarus-like leap from the grave.

True, Osama bin Laden is still at large. But now that Tony Blair has gone on Afghan radio to host Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? some Bob the builder will surely remember reinforcing a cave near Kandahar to claim the $25 million prize.

Osama bin Laden may try to escape by going to Burqa King and sneaking into Pakistan, but John Simpson's blown that disguise. And the terrorist's face is pretty distinctive; bin Laden T-shirts are selling at half-price in the markets of Quetta and Peshawar.

Admiral Sir Michael Boyce, the Chief of Defence Staff, who in October predicted the war would last 50 years, looks a little pessimistic. The Nor-them Alliance may prove to be a rotten rabble but the West is feeling pretty good about itself. It bombed only 0.0002536 per cent of the country. This is keyhole rather than invasive surgery. So far the allies haven't left many scars on the civilian population, just the taste of peanut butter in the food parcels. Unicef still managed to vaccinate thousands or children last week. Paul McCartney is now singing Give War A Chance.

The allies are up there with Alexander the Great. Rejoice. We can now go back to worrying about why the brazil nuts always end up at the top of the muesli packet.

Not quite. The most worrying side of the past two months has been the East/West divide; the antagonism between Muslims and Christians. We haven't begun to win the war of hearts and minds. The US and Britain claim to have the support of most Middle East governments in the war against terrorism, but they haven't convinced the Arab people.

Earlier this week I was in Bahrain, the most progressive of the Arab states. The women wear Armani suits and drink vodka and tonics they fight in the armed forces and have the vote. The Emir, who was educated in Britain, told me the allies should be praised for their "great war of liberation".

Yet his people are furious with the West. It wasn't just taxi drivers and waiters, but also businessmen, doctors and journalists who lined up to denounce America and Britain. It's nothing personal, they would say, before reeling off the West's misdemeanours.

At a drinks party, Dr Fadheela al-Mahroos, a paediatrician, explained: "Bin Laden may be an extremist Muslim, but Bush is an extremist Christian. They're both dangerous and mad and must be stopped before they murder more innocent people."

But surely, when she saw the Twin Towers collapse, she felt some sympathy for the West? "I thought of the American pilot on the television who came back from bombing Baghdad. He laughed as he explained that he had turned the city into a Christina's tree. The West is always killing Muslims; now you see what it is like," she said. "Bin Laden killed only 5,000 people 142,000 have been murdered in Palestine."

Her friend, Alice Thomas Samaan, a Christian, added: "All Arabs feel the same. The British didn't bomb Belfast to stop terrorism. I don't know who I feel more alienated from: the Taliban or the Americans."

She was backed up by Hassan Ali Radhi, a lawyer: "I am drinking whisky, I am a liberal and I enjoy a Western way of life," he said. "But America has alternately abused and ignored Afghanistan for 20 years. It created the Taliban in the first place. As for Tony Blair, he is just the PR man for Mr Bush."

Adel Fakhro, who owns the McDonald's franchise, is also sick of the West. "Your Daisy Cutters are nearly as bad as nuclear bombs. We had no sympathy with the Taliban until this war started. The Americans have only invaded Afghanistan to have access to oil. You will be responsible for the rise in fundamentalism if you keep being so antagonistic and move on to Iraq or Syria."

Next it was Anwar Rahman, the editor-in-chief of the Gulf Daily News. "I used to think of Britain as a second home, but not after September 11," he said. "Now I will not buy anything made in Britain or America. My wife is begging me to sell our house in Oxford. I won't go there again, it's too dangerous. Your property business will do badly from Arabs. We don't like being called 'towelheads' by your newspapers."

Another woman added: "You say the women in Afghanistan are oppressed but it's just as bad in Britain. Girls are forced to show off their legs and compete for attention. They are drugged and raped in nightclubs, they are pregnant at 13. Myself, I would prefer to wear a burqa."

It's not just in the Middle East. In Britain, a poll of Muslims for the BBC suggested that 80 per cent were against the war in Afghanistan. This is what worries me most. Trying to heal all these divisions in going to make the humanitarian effort look simple, and creating a post-Taliban government in Kabul appear easy.
 


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