Count me out of this anniversary

For the families of the September 11 victims, I wonder what it feels like to have Bush hijack their grief for his election
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The Independent Online

Sound and fury start to rumble as the most fetishised remembrance day of our times fast approaches. It is about to be that month again when I just want to disappear down a shaft, into some quiet, contemplative darkness away from the politicians and media maniacs who still cling to the conceit that the appalling attacks on 11 September 2001 were worse than anything that has happened in recent history, incalculably worse even than the deaths of thousands of innocents who have been killed since in retribution.

Sound and fury start to rumble as the most fetishised remembrance day of our times fast approaches. It is about to be that month again when I just want to disappear down a shaft, into some quiet, contemplative darkness away from the politicians and media maniacs who still cling to the conceit that the appalling attacks on 11 September 2001 were worse than anything that has happened in recent history, incalculably worse even than the deaths of thousands of innocents who have been killed since in retribution.

Over the next days the whole world, rich and poor, will feel obliged to line up and offer up such affirmations to please the hyperpower, even though many believe it is a travesty. Muslims, of course, feel this most strongly, but others do too. I spoke at the Greenbelt Arts festival yesterday, a gathering of 18,000 Christians at the Cheltenham racecourse. When I said I could not bear to participate in this politically orchestrated woe, hundreds clapped.

Later a feisty American woman came up and confessed she is so ashamed of the circus that she now claims she is from southern Canada, while one young mother from Frome, Somerset, said to me: "It is nauseating - the column inches, the parade of heroes, the endless coverage, the demand that we must show that we agree this was the worst thing ever... my American husband works among Africans who have nothing and he is just as revolted by this. How many have we killed since then?"

For the families of the victims senselessly murdered on that day, I wonder what it feels like to have Bush hijack their grief for his re-election campaign. He evokes that moment constantly (as does his chum Blair) to panic both countries into blind hatred of anyone they label terrorists.

Al-Qa'ida leaders and other Muslim extremists brainwash eager young recruits so they develop a raw, visceral, meaningless but lethal loathing for the West. Two men suspected of plotting to blow up subway trains have just been arrested in New York, and they are described as men who "hate America". In response, in the UK and US we are encouraged to feel revulsion against faceless foes who have no backgrounds, no human characteristics. How ironic. But will we see the irony?

Readers know that I have never flinched from slamming the Islamicist Stalinists who are creating havoc around the world in the name of our faith. But I want to know these people better; I feel I must learn more about what drives them to such acts and such a terrible pessimism. But to say this, or to attempt to understand, is no longer permitted because it re-humanises the enemy.

Just witness the response to the forthcoming Channel 4 drama- documentary The Hamburg Cell (to be shown this Thursday), co-written by the remarkable Ronan Bennett and Alice Pearman. The programme explores the lives of some of the key men who carried out the 11 September attacks. Bennett says that they wanted to know who these men were. The shorthand descriptions of the hijackers as fanatics, cowards and evildoers were inadequate.

Surely this is what we must find out if we are ever to turn round the dangerous confrontational situation we are in today. Common-sense really. What good will it do to remain wilfully ignorant, wilfully ill-prepared for the forces ranged against us in the West?

Why the shock that there should be men in New York who hate US power and hubris? I hate US power and hubris. Millions around the globe, even those in countries which purport to be allies, hate US power and hubris. It is a privilege to live in the West, to have basic freedoms, untold opportunities and democratic rights, and to assume the rule of law. But for millions of us Westerners, there is also guilt and agony to witness our elected leaders carelessly disregarding fundamental ethical principles and crushing human lives and aspirations.

Not for a century has the world felt so imbalanced, so offensively unfair. As Diana Francis, the peace campaigner, writes in her book Rethinking War and Peace, the US in particular and the West in general has patently and increasingly flouted the rule of law, respect for human rights and democratic processes, and projected its own forms of violence outwards on to the rest of the world; the violence of economic exploitation and political hegemony enforced by military might (including weapons of mass destruction).

With advanced technological communication, the injustices blaze across the globe - the lies of Bush and Blair, the Iraq war, the irrefutable evidence of torture and killings by UK and US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, the criminal negligence of the world's poor, the corruption and weapons we export, the institutionalised hypocrisy which underpins US and UK foreign policies, the ruthless and greedy exploitation of natural resources, the fact that better human rights are demanded of other nations while human rights violations are unquestioned if perpetrated by America, Britain, Australia, Israel, Russia and other friendly countries, and so on and on.

Young Muslims, and others too, watch this and their rage swells, enough sometimes to turn them into people who think they can save the planet by blowing us all up. Thanks to our immoral Iraq crusade, untold more warriors are joining up across the world. We are told by our politicians that a wish to destroy our Western civilisation is what prompts these soldiers of evil. Maybe this is true for some. But many more, I reckon, truly believe the West is determined to annihilate their civilisations and hopes.

My Muslim acquaintances and contacts in Europe universally praise Muqtada al-Sadr for what they say is his audacious stand against the military might of the occupiers. He is their latest hero, someone who stood up to white power. We can only understand this (and we must) if we can emerge from the political and cultural solipsism that has gripped us since 11 September 2001.

Perhaps Bush and Blair can use this anniversary to come clean and apologise for the misguided war in Iraq (in my dreams, I know.) That would have a profound effect on the Muslim world. They would forgive our arrogance with one iconic show of humility.

We must also start to deal with potential recruits to terrorism with more intelligent analysis, maturity and sophistication. And don't, for heaven's sake, lie to them any more. This isn't about public relations, but about how we can behave with integrity even when we are as terrified as we are today.

Although I understand the need for special powers in these perilous times, some of the more pernicious anti- terrorism laws in the US and UK are not helping us to fight terrorism, only encouraging it. I could not face crossing over into the US from Canada this summer because so many of my nice, middle-class American Muslim friends warned me that they feel they are living under a new McCarthyism, fascism even.

We must engage with angry young Muslim men - who have many good reasons to be angry - and give them back some faith in genuinely held and lived Western values. Only this will stop them believing that the West is always against their interests.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

The author's collection of articles. 'Some of My Best Friends Are...' is published by Methuen this week

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