A few months ago while watching a James Bond movie I crankily grumbled to my girlfriend that this stuff was an insult to people’s intelligence. Every 007 film had the same tiresome plot - a sinister villain of immense wealth and power planned to unleash an unspeakable disaster on the civilized world and bring it to its knees. Yet nothing even remotely close to this had ever happened in real life, or would ever happen. Fiendish cleverly villains like Dr. No and Goldfinger who have a grudge against the world and continually plot to destroy western civilization simply do not exist.


Well so I thought until the World Trade Centre was obliterated. For the most fantastical aspect of this incredible disaster was the man suspected of being its mastermind, Osama bin Laden. Here was a reported multi-millionaire - the 17th of 50 sons of a billionaire no less - who had turned his back on wealth and comfort to become a guerilla fighter in the world’s most rugged country. Who had worked with the CIA in Afghanistan against Russian invaders and then become a bitter enemy of America when its troops occupied his homeland of Saudi Arabia. Who ran a terrorist network in 60 countries so sophisticated that no one knew who belonged to it or exactly where its headquarters were. And who to top it all was a striking six foot three figure with dark penetrating eyes and a languorous feline grace. (“He may be cruel”, I heard one woman say “but he’s a good looking man! I wonder what he’s like in bed?”) Surely not even Ian Fleming in his most drunken stupor could ever have envisioned such a character without immediately rejecting him as utter implausible. Who would ever believe that such a figure could exist? But here he was in living colour giving videotaped shooting demonstrations and poetry readings.


Now bin Laden is a ruthless man responsible for thousands of innocent deaths and a threat to everyone who believes in freedom and democracy. We would all be better off if he was behind bars or even dead. Yet moral considerations aside, it is impossible not to admire in some ways a man who rejected luxury to pursue in hardship what he considers a higher cause, and is moreover a brilliant strategist of proven bravery. “Courage is a quality so necessary for maintaining virtue” said Samuel Johnson “that it is always respected, even when it is associated with vice”.


Indeed some view bin Laden as a sort of hero, a modern day real life Robin Hood fighting against an unjust oppressor. I do not share this view. But one friend who does puts it this way. “Was what he did any worse than what the Americans did at Hiroshima? Sure many innocent people died in the World Trade Centre. But a lot more women and children were killed by the atom bomb, and 6,000 dead is much less than 80,000. Yes America was at war with Japan. But isn’t bin Laden fighting against a country which is occupying his homeland by force? Didn’t American cruise missiles kill harmless bystanders in Afghanistan? People talk about the Taliban being a fundamentalist dictatorship which deny all rights to women. But Saudi Arabia is no different except that it has a lot more money. How can America say it is protecting democracy when its own troops guard such a corrupt regime? I guess it would be too risky to have a true democracy in a place it depends on for oil! Defender of freedom my foot! The US only defends is its own economic interests!”.


There is some truth in this. Innocents die in every war. And America would probably pay as little attention to the Middle East as it does to Africa if Arab oil wasn’t so crucial to its economy. But every country acts in its own self-interest. And even if you accept the moral equivalence of the means in bin Laden’s war with the US, from my viewpoint there is none about the ends. I have no desire to live in a fundamentalist theocracy. Whatever else it may be, America remains the great bedrock of liberal democracy and I am on its side.


We live in an uncertain world of relative values, but I know this much for sure – democracy is best form of government ever invented, those who defend it are good, those who would destroy it are bad, and anyone who treasures it must support those who fight for it. And this is my vantage point on all political affairs. Even when both sides in a conflict have equal claims to being right, I will always favour the more democratic entity.


Take Israel and Palestine for example. Looked at objectively both have compelling moral arguments in their favour. I certainly understand how people who saw six millions of their own uprooted from their native countries and exterminated in concentration camps would want to have a land of their own from which no one can expel them and be willing to defend it by any means possible. But I also understand why a people ejected from the land of their fathers would keep fighting ceaselessly to regain their birthright.


If I were Jewish I would feel that no matter what the cost the holocaust must never again happen. But if I were Palestinian I could never accept that I should suffer for the sins of others and be dispossessed by force of the earth my forefathers tilled. Now both sides have inflicted atrocities. The Israeli Irgun gang who bombed the King David Hotel in 1946 was no more morally defensible than the Palestinian terrorists who slaughtered Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics. I certainly have great qualms about the way Israel treats the West Bank Palestinians, and hope that a solution acceptable to all can be found. But if none exists and one side must prevail by force, my heart is with Israel. For all its faults, it remains the only real democracy in the Middle East, the only one which has true multi-party elections, the rule of law and a free press. There is much to dislike about Ariel Sharon. But at least the majority of his people have voted for him in free and fair elections, which cannot be said for Yasser Arafat.


Democracy demands equality of all before the law and the peaceful resolution of disputes, but only so far as these are compatible with self-preservation. For even the best of all political systems must at times invoke the necessities of war and be defended by blood, and its triumph is not necessarily pre-ordained. Many have been the righteous causes overwhelmed by morally inferior forces with stronger armies. History is written by the victors, and the hard lesson of the past is that might is right. The great lesson of September 11, 2001 was one stated by Vegetius over 1600 years ago. Qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum - let him who desires peace prepare for war.

Comments (0)

Post a Comment
* Your Name:
* Your Email:
(not publicly displayed)
Reply Notification:
Approval Notification:
* Security Image:
Security Image Generate new
Copy the numbers and letters from the security image:
* Message: