Mark Steel: Russ Abbot may be interned before this war is over

'Every day I read the papers and try to think through rationally what all the sides are up to'
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The Independent Online

The reporter from Sky News, commenting on the scene of villagers killed by a cruise missile, said: "This may be part of an elaborate plot by the Taliban.'' That's it. The country with a gross national product of fourpence put together a scene from Saving Private Ryan to fool Western journalists into believing that cruise missiles can kill you. They probably had a director screaming: "OK, let's have everybody on set, we're going for a take. Shepherds with severed limbs over here, please. Come on, come on let's get under that rubble, we don't want this to go past half past six or we run into double time for the camera crew.''

The actors will be getting excited. "Oh my God, I've just had a call from my agent," one says. "Saddam Hussein's office just loved my close-up, and they want me to audition for the part of a young boy dying in an Iraqi hospital with no medicine.'' While all around are cries of: "Make-up, can we have more shrapnel in this leg, please.''

Because the bombing is working. We know from the before/after photos, which look like those puzzles you get in children's magazines and local papers. When newspapers print these things they should put a caption underneath: "At first, these two pictures may look exactly the same, but look more closely and you will find that there are 10 small differences between the two. Why not see if you can spot them!''

The bombing's clearly working because we've managed to blow up a Red Cross warehouse full of food. This strategy owes a great deal to JM Keynes, who argued that an economy could be kick-started by paying people to dig a hole and fill it in again. Except this is a modern version, and we all send food to a warehouse and then bomb it.

Equally convincing was the chap who went on Radio 4 to defend Jo Moore following her unfortunate e-mail. His argument was that as her e-mail was sent after the planes had flown into the towers but before they collapsed, she wasn't aware of the scale of the tragedy. Because up until they collapsed it looked such a trivial incident, didn't it? Name a day when two planes don't fly into skyscrapers. So she saw the pictures and didn't realise that this was a tragedy. She must have assumed that everyone on the planes was thinking: "Ah, this is handy, it saves me getting a cab from the airport back into town.''

The rest of us have turned to jumping on to chairs, like the maid in Tom and Jerry, at the sight of any powder. One scare led to postmen being rushed into a decontamination unit before it turned out the source of the panic was spilled Ovaltine. So while the leaders of the free world swear daily that we will not be cowed by terrorism, the entire hemisphere is ready to dive for cover at the sight of a popular night-time beverage. It's a good job we weren't like this in the Second World War, because back then everything was powdered. Hitler wouldn't have needed the Luftwaffe, just a catering size pack of Horlicks and the whole country would have retreated to the Isle of Skye.

Then yesterday an argument began about the proposals for a law against "incitement to religious hatred", between the Home Office and Rowan Atkinson, who wrote a letter to The Times, saying "I have spent a substantial part of my career parodying religious figures from my own Christian background".

Absolutely. I've always thought that Mr Bean was packed with subtle references to the Virgin Mary, and the episode where he got soaked by walking into a car wash made us all re-evaluate our attitudes towards the Last Supper. It must be even money that before this war is over, it will have involved the internment of Russ Abbot.

Throughout this, the complaints continue that bin Laden is using his videos to "send coded messages to his supporters". Hmm. So when he says "Death to all Americans", we need to carefully decode each syllable to see if there's a terrorist message in there somewhere.

He's churning these videos out at an impressive rate, maybe in the hope that someone will put a dance track to one of them and give it an airing on MTV. Surely he could try and reach a larger part of the Asian world by doing one of them as a Bollywood musical. He could appear as one of a line of blokes in purple silk shirts on horses, singing "The time has come to murder all infidels". Then a woman would emerge from behind a tree wearing a bright-green dress and singing in response: "Murder only some infidels, Osama, to leave some time to care for me.''

But neither Osama nor the Taliban could apply such a tactic. For this is a government that says its people: "You're not allowed to dance or play music. And you're not allowed to drink or enjoy sex or watch television. In fact, the only indulgence you are allowed is to grow a field full of heroin. But that's it.''

Every day I read the papers and try to think through rationally what all the sides in this conflict are up to. But some days I can't manage, and come to the healthier conclusion that they're all just sodding mental.

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