Leading article: Listening for victims through the vitriol

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The Independent Culture
THREE DAYS after the horrendous bombings of the US Embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, the most important sound is the softest: the hope against hope that more survivors may yet be found in the rubble. The loudest sound inevitably is the demand of "Whodunnit?" and "How can they be punished?" - the game of spot the terrorist and name the organisation, and even the state, behind him. But it is the small voice that should be heard - the cry of the survivor and the still voice of the victim. These outrages are outrages precisely because of what they do to the innocent: the passer-by, the typist working in the Embassy, the cleaner in the building next door.

Not that the politics aren't important. The finger of suspicion hovers over the Sudanese, the Saudi fundamentalist Osama Bin Laden and the Jihad group in Egypt. They all have the motives and means to take revenge or vent their anger against the US and its symbols.

Before anyone jumps the gun, however, it is as well to remember that we still don't know who was responsible for Lockerbie. The West has conveniently forgotten that President Reagan, with Margaret Thatcher's help, launched a bombing raid on Libya that killed Colonel Gaddafi's daughter, in retaliation for a night club bombing in Rome that proved to have had nothing to do with him. Now we have allegations that the British Secret Service tried to kill the Colonel and blew up a car-load of the wrong people instead.

Revenge is a dish that shouldn't be eaten at all; certainly not by a state. The Israelis have always pursued it as a policy of deterrence as well as populist satisfaction. But can anyone really say Arab terrorism has decreased as a result? The opposite is probably true. For the moment, the world and the West has to accept that terrorism is part of political life and global communication has spread it worldwide. Faced by the military superiority of a superpower or a police state, groups will see attacks on civilians as a means of demonstrating an ability to fight back and bringing their cause to the attention of the world.

As the British know better than most, the only method of defence is a combination of intelligence and protection. If these outrages were committed by the unknown groups now claiming responsibility, Washington has to ask itself why it didn't know more about them - and ask its allies. These may be crimes committed against one country, but they are also crimes committed against the international community and need to be pursued and brought to justice as such.

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