No guilt, no responsibility at this perverse gathering of Islamic kings and dictators

War against terrorism: Arab Summit
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The Independent Online

Listening to the speeches of the Muslim leaders at the Organisation of the Islamic Conference emergency summit on Wednesday, it was possible to believe that Osama bin Laden represented Arabs more faithfully than their tin-pot dictators and kings.

Please give us more evidence about 11 September, asked the Emir of Qatar. Please don't forget the Palestinians, pleaded Yasser Arafat. Islam is innocent, insisted the Moroccan Foreign Minister.

Everyone – but everyone – wished to condemn the 11 September atrocities in the United States. No one – absolutely no one – wanted to explain how 19 Arabs decided to fly planeloads of innocent people into buildings full of civilians.

The very name of "bin Laden" did not sully the Qatar conference hall. Not once. Not even the name "Taliban". Had a Martian landed in the Gulf – which looks not unlike Mars – he might have concluded that the World Trade Centre in New York was destroyed by an earthquake or a typhoon.

Was it not President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt who said, back in 1990, that the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait would blow over "like a summer's breeze"? Thus delegates condemned to a man the slaughter in America without for a moment suggesting why this slaughter might have taken place.

Like the Americans, the Arabs didn't want to look for causes. Indeed, the conference hall was a strangely perverse place, in which introspection included neither guilt nor responsibility. Mr Arafat demanded an international force – a good idea for a new Afghanistan – but it quickly turned out that he was talking about an international force to protect Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza which, according to the map, is about 1,800 miles from Kabul.

Of course, he condemned the World Trade Centre massacre. So did Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar, and Mohamed bin Issa, the Moroccan Foreign Minister, and Abdul-Aziz Bilqazeez, the Islamic Conference's secretary-general. But that was about it. Indeed, the collected speeches amounted to a collected theme: please don't kill innocent Afghans, but – whatever happens – don't bomb Arab countries. Indeed, for much of the day, Afghanistan appeared a far away country of which they knew little – a mendacious thought, given that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were midwives to the Taliban – and wanted to know even less.

Only Farouq al-Sharaa, the Syrian Foreign Minister, stated frankly that attacking Muslim states was "forbidden". This meant, he said, "that all Arabs and Muslims will stand with the country that is attacked". Which must have made them shiver in their boots on board the US carriers in the Gulf.

There was the usual rhetoric bath from other conference delegates. The communiqué from the 56 conference members claimed that they rejected "the linking of terrorism to the Arab and Muslim people's rights, including the Palestinian and Lebanese people's right to self-determination, self-defence and resisting Israeli and foreign occupation and aggression". Translation: please, America, don't take the Israeli side and bomb Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Lebanese Hizbollah, Damascus, Tehran et al. "Resistance is not terrorism" has become as familiar a slogan in the Arab world as "war against terrorism" has in the Western world.

There was little that George Bush or Tony Blair would have disagreed with. Retaliation "should not extend to any but those who carried out those attacks [which] requires conclusive evidence against the culprits," Sheikh Hamad pronounced. "The Islamic world was the first tocall for the dialogue of civilisation." This might have been scripted for Mr Blair.

But the Qatari Emir got off one quick biff at the Americans. The world should not, he said, fall "into conflicting sects, camps and clashing dichotomies based on the principle of 'If you are not on my side, then you are against me'." Mr Bilqazeez made the point that Afghans had suffered two decades of war and should suffer no more – and that they should decide the future of their country for themselves. He neglected to mention that the West seems set on doing the "deciding" bit for the Afghans and that the Americans had funnelled almost as many weapons into Afghanistan as the Russians had done.

The Islamic American organisations, represented by Jamal Bazranji, wanted it known that they represented 2.5 per cent of the American population, that their role was to "bridge civilisations" and that they were Americans "with no other homeland" – an argument which Mr bin Laden would no doubt disagree with.

Wasn't Israel the real problem, the delegates tried to ask? Principle among them, of course, was our old friend Mr Arafat. Of course he condemned the attacks in America. Of course he felt "solidarity" with the American people – the old socialist "solidarity" being put to an original new use. But Israel was using these attacks as an excuse for its increased aggression against Palestinians and there must be an international observer force in Palestine to oversee the Mitchell report and there must be condemnation of Israel.

Money was to be had in a good cause. Qatar opened a fund for the Afghans and the Saudis put in $10m (£6.8m), the United Arab Emirates $3m, Oman $1m. But what the delegates wanted was evidence – "conclusive evidence", according to Sheikh Hamad – that Washingtonhad identified the culprits of 11 September.

This at least allowed him to avoid the fatal words "bin Laden". Indeed, it allowed everyone to duck this annoying, dangerous, frightening man who is calling for the overthrow of almost every single one of the Islamic delegates.

An interesting day, then, for the Islamic conference. We're sorry about 11 September, they said. Please don't bomb Afghanistan more than you have to. Please don't kill the innocent. And please don't bomb us. You couldn't put it simpler than that.