Mark Steel: We're going wobbly (and the Taliban are cheating)

'Look at the state of this lot. Five-niiiil to the cluster bomb, five-niiil to the cluster bomb'
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The Independent Online

So, are we all reassured by Tony Blair's "never forget" speech? Did he think people were uneasy about the war because they'd forgotten? So, all round the country people were saying "What was that thing in the news a while back? You know, somewhere in America. Oh you must remember, something to do with aeroplanes."

Or was he aiming specifically to reassure the senile? In which case he should have leaned into the camera and said "You know – Mr bin Laden. Bin Laden. The one with the beard who you don't like. Yes, we're trying to find him."

Anyway, when Blair said "Never forget how you felt on that day", some of his supporters must have thought: "I remember, it was a marvellous day for burying bad news."

Still, as it's "never forget" week, two weeks ago the US military announced they had "run out of targets" in Kabul. But this weekend they announced that Kabul had been subjected to "the two heaviest nights of bombing so far". So they suddenly found some targets, did they? They looked at their maps and said: "Oh what clots we are. There's about 50 tank factories here, we've been mistaking them for post offices. And a suicide-bomber recruitment centre, you can only just see it on the crease in the A-to-Z."

Or might it be that the Taliban hung opposition leader Abdul Haq, and in revenge we had to bomb something? That would explain the array of frazzled civilians, although Tony Blair had another explanation. "The Taliban do quite deliberately make sure that they have their military hardware in areas where there are bound to be difficulties to bomb." The cheating bastards. If they had any decency they'd put all their military hardware in an airship and float it over the US navy, and their troops in a fairground under a sign saying "Kill a fundamentalist and win a beach ball."

One reporter, on Sky News, said the US attitude to civilian casualties was: "We suffered thousands of civilian casualties in New York and Washington." So maybe that's the idea, to even it up and then everyone will feel better. CNN should have a big chart with the current tally, like they have on Comic Relief. Then the American version of Gaby Roslin can shriek: "Ooh, someone's rung in from Kandahar to say a family of six has been blown up, which takes us close to the thousand mark. But there's a long way to go so remember, keep those casualties rolling in."

As each week passes, the war enthusiasts get less bothered about these deaths. The Sun yesterday denounced Fergal Keane as a "complete wobbler" because he "almost sobbed his way through reports of bombing in Afghanistan". If he was doing his job properly, he'd have pointed at the scorched children and yelped: "Wahey, look at the state of this lot. Five-niiiil to the cluster bomb, five-niiil to the cluster bomb."

Alongside the bombing, we're assured, lurks a coherent strategy. For example, George Bush announced: "Let the terrorists be warned – if you stay one day after your visa has expired, you will be arrested." So if you're a terrorist, make sure you carry out your bombing before the visa runs out. After all, if you're caught blowing up a skyscraper you'll be in enough trouble as it is.

Throughout this, the enthusiasts for war maintain one consistent line – what would you do? So columnists insist we mustn't lose our resolve. What resolve is that then? The resolve to write a column. Halfway through there's the temptation to watch Call My Bluff instead, but they stiffen their resolve and see it through to the last paragraph.

And the chances are that somewhere in that column will be the words "What would you do?". They sound like people arriving at a burning house with no water, and yelling: "Well throw petrol on it then. At least it's something."

Because terrorists can't terrorise without support from a section of their community. If someone launched a terrorist group demanding independence for the Isle of Sheppey, it would never take off, because it's obvious that all of Kent is a tip and not just that bit. Terrorists aren't born, they're made. There's no terrorist gene. If those suicide pilots had been raised in an English village, they wouldn't have grown up thinking: "I don't know why but I've got an urge to join a hang-gliding club and steer myself into the church spire."

Since the bombing began, bin Laden has never been so popular. So anyone supporting the war should ask themselves this question: has the war made it less likely or more likely that there will be terrorist attacks in the future?

Whereas a fraction of the effort that's gone into bombing the place could have saved lives rather than destroyed them, unsettled tyrants rather than secured them and undermined the support for crackpots like al-Qa'ida. Instead, right now in the Middle- East there will be someone howling: "They've bulldozed our houses, murdered our children, supported dictators, now they're bombing civilians. It's all very well you condemning bin Laden – but what would you do."

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