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Nafeez Ahmed: Bush's macabre dance of death with bin Laden

The world cannot be turned into two giant enemy camps

There is a "War on Terror", we are told, but who is winning? Since the 9/11 assault, terrorist attacks in Bali, Casablanca, Istanbul, London, Madrid and elsewhere, have killed and injured thousands. Bin Laden has depicted the fear and devastation wrought by such atrocities, fuelling suspicion and hostility against Islam worldwide, as a legitimate Muslim response to "a new crusade led by America against the Islamic nations". Bin Laden's actions have thus been hugely successful in exacerbating an inexorable polarisation between "the Islamic world" and "the Americans and their allies".

Yet oddly, bin Laden's rhetoric bears unnerving similarities to that of his most ardent opponents, and he has successfully bogged down the United States, Britain and the rest of the West in a series of dubious imperial military adventures in the Middle East and Central Asia. By now, coalition casualties in both conflict zones have soared, with up to 20,000 US troops sufficiently wounded to have been evacuated.

Iraqi and Afghan civilian casualties, however, have also done the coalition no PR favours. A widely-cited survey by Marc Herold, professor of economics at New Hampshire University, found that at least 3,767 Afghan civilians were killed by British and US bombs between October and December 2001. In Iraq, as reported in this paper's Terror Special today, 50,100 civilians have died.

The reported destruction lends undeserved credence to bin Laden's portrayal of a West at war with Islam. These nations were targeted, he said, solely because they are "Muslims and non-American". Therefore, the Americans felt it was "their right" to "annihilate" them.

But simultaneously, bin Laden's 9/11 provided precisely the ideological capital White House policymakers needed to implement questionable strategies that would otherwise have received little public support. In September 2000, the neoconservative Project for a New American Century - many of whose members joined the Bush administration - advocated "the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf", to be achieved by the Defense Department moving "more aggressively to experiment with new technologies and operational concepts".

But this process of transformation, it lamented, "is likely to be a long one, [without] some catastrophic and catalyzing event - like a new Pearl Harbor". Thus, with 9/11, bin Laden sealed the neoconservative grip on power by seemingly proving their point - that Islamist terrorism was an unprecedented new threat, requiring unprecedented global policing.

Since then, the policies and pronunciations of Bush and bin Laden have repeatedly rebounded off each other in an increasingly macabre dance of death. "These events have divided the whole world into two sides", declared the al-Qa'ida emir on 8 October 2001: "The side of believers and the side of infidels." As if to confirm the accuracy of this statement, the US President warned the international community the following month that "they will be held accountable for inactivity. You're either with us or against us in the fight against terror."

But, alas, life is not so simple. The world cannot be compartmentalised into two giant enemy camps doomed to global conflict. Five years on, there are no winners in this war, only hundreds and thousands of losers - Muslim and non-Muslim victims of neoconservative and Islamist terrorism.

While the rhetoric and actions of the fundamentalists serve to reinforce each other, they ignore the common principles of human rights, justice, and freedom that unite the authentic Islamic and western European heritage, and which the vast majority of Muslims and non-Muslims alike hold dear.

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed is the author of 'The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry' and 'The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism'. He blogs at nafeez.blogspot.com