Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: I couldn't sleep for worrying about the future

'When Bush'n'Blair say they have nothing against Afghanistan's people, I do not believe them'
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The Independent Online

I don't want to sound like a woozy peacenik, because I am not, not at all. In fact I was well relieved when the Western allies used their military might in Kosovo.

I can't, however, throw myself into the protective arms of President Bush – because I don't trust him. His platitudes on Sunday about America being a "peace-loving" nation ready to defend "the freedom of people everywhere" were hollow and grossly dishonest. Even young teens in jeans in the Third World won't buy this kind of US self-puffery any more. I hate the new sinister censorship whereby all criticism is branded as "anti-American".

This is what happened when "Communists" were hounded by Senator McCarthy, who said in 1952: "McCarthyism is Americanism with its sleeves rolled up." Today the US has rolled up its sleeves again, so watch out. Cowboy America now grimly calls us all, nations and individuals, to declare whether we are with them or against them.

Now the cruel and manipulative bin Laden emerges from his lair and makes his unspeakable demands on us Muslims. He pronounces: "Every Muslim after this event should fight for their religion starting with the head of international infidels. The matter is very clear."

No it isn't. Most of us detest this Islamist and his pitiless actions against thousands of victims, mainly Afghans but also the East Africans killed in the Nairobi and Dar-es-Salem bombings and the citizens of all nationalities killed on 11 September. You cannot terrorise people into following a faith. Millions of ordinary Muslims are disenchanted and frightened. They are suffering terrible fatigue having to battle at once against Islamaphobia and against the fanatics who have hijacked their religion. We have nothing in common with bearded men who beat up shrouded women and we despair of the army of apologists who never hold Muslims to account. And, like Tony Blair, we wish that the adherents of al-Qa'ida were not described as "Islamic terrorists", a term favoured, ironically, both by Islamaphobes and Muslim fanatics.

I am intensely worried, though, that a significant minority of British Muslims will react to bin Laden's statement with supportive noises (or more) because he appears to them a charismatic leader supporting the cause of the small man against the hugely powerful, a noble ascetic (and doesn't he just look it). They will have been affected by his statement about dying children in Iraq and the plight of the Palestinians. I confess I was moved by these, too. But beware. These are traps. We must fight to end the discredited sanctions against Iraq and to attack the fearsome policies of Sharon's government. These are legitimate responses for Muslims and others who want a fairer world. But to jump from this to the side of a "pure Islamic" cult which is truly fascistic is morally indefensible.

So where do I stand? Tony Blair is right to say that inaction is worse than action. But am I sure that what is being done to Afghanistan will get rid of the Taliban, who have gouged out the souls of the country's inhabitants, especially women?

As I pointed out in a column 24 hours before the 11 September attacks, the world has paid no attention to this at all. The US forgot Afghanistan as soon as the Soviets were out, and Britain and the European Union were only interested in keeping out "bogus" asylum-seekers from that hellish land. Worse, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Malaysia, Kuwait and almost all other Muslim states (except poor Pakistan, which has always been pulled like a forced bride into the bed of Afghan politics) remained silent all these years, never offering to help the victims.

What if the next lot is as bad or worse than the Taliban? What if the West gets the terrorists but then abandons the humanitarian project, leaving the country to fester?

I worry about the calculated levels of "collateral damage" (ie dead civilians). I don't believe Bush'n' Blair when they say that they have nothing against the people of Afghanistan. This is the refrain we still hear about Iraq, where the people die and Saddam gets ever more powerful. Will bin Laden's supporters start destabilising Muslim communities in the UK? What if they try to kill Muslims who stand out against them publicly?

I could not sleep much on Sunday night because these question were driving in and out through my aching head. When daylight came one idea appeared like a miracle to rescue me from this madness.

If and when these bombings lead to the collapse of the Taliban, the Allies should arm and train the women in Afghanistan. Some enormously brave women have formed secret resistance movements. Get these bravehearts to call some of the shots even if the chaotic Northern Alliance is to inherit that damned earth. They could revive the fortunes of the country and we western Muslims, pulled in so many directions, could then feel that some good did come out of the bloody time we have just entered.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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