War, but with whom?

ON Monday, it will be five years since an event, and a date, seared more strongly into our public consciousness than any other of my lifetime.You will know where you were when you first saw or heard of the attacks of September 11, 2001, even more surely than older readers will recall where they first heard of the JF Kennedy assassination.

ON Monday, it will be five years since an event, and a date, seared more strongly into our public consciousness than any other of my lifetime.

You will know where you were when you first saw or heard of the attacks of September 11, 2001, even more surely than older readers will recall where they first heard of the JF Kennedy assassination.

When news reached the Evening Star newsroom that a plane had hit the World Trade Centre, we assumed it was a horrific accident.

Then as we watched the live news coverage, we saw the second plane coming. The shock struck us even before the plane itself struck the building.

Almost the immediate thought was: We are now at war.

Then the question followed: Who are we at war with?

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And, shortly afterwards: Who exactly are “we”?

For much of the world, much of the past five years has been about trying to answer those two questions.

And while we may not have been plunged at once into the kind of global war many feared, there can be little doubt that the world is now a more dangerous place than it was before. If not more dangerous, then at least scarier.

The half-witted aggressive response of the US government, enthusiastically supported by our own, has cranked up tension, distrust and fear everywhere.

But it is not only in the White House and Downing Street that the mania resides.

Here is something worth thinking about: “The current situation is not good for either the West or for the Islamic world. The two civilizations should cooperate because hostility against the West increases parallel to the rise of Islamophobia.”

Those are the words of Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Turkish secretary-general of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, a kind of United Nations of Islamic states.

Ihsanoglu is a promoter of democracy, which can't be said of every leader in the Islamic world.

Sadly, not all would agree, either, with his insistence: “There is no place for weapons within democracy. Islamic principles as well do not accept rebellion, arms or coups d'etats.”

The urbane Ihsanoglu likens the rise of Islam-hatred in the West to that of anti-semitism in Europe in the 1930s.

That is a chilling spectre, but also a gross misrepresentation. The similarities between the two situations are in fact barely skin-deep.

Ihsanoglu's organisation represents 57 Islamic or mostly-Islamic countries. In the 1930s, not a single state could reasonably be called Jewish.

Today there is one. It exists in a precarious position, surrounded by potential enemies.

And in addition to its responsibility to its own people, the government of Israel bears a wider responsibility - to that greater number of Jews still living elsewhere.

It is an almost impossible responsibility to bear for a government described in the Jerusalem Post this week as “scandal-ridden”, “irresponsible” and “disastrous”. It would be unbearable even for a good government.

Only the ignorant and bigoted could hold the actions of Israel against Jews anywhere else.

Unhappily, though, the world is full of ignorant bigots.

There is no other explanation for the rising tide of anti-semitic attacks in Britain and elsewhere since Israel's recent war in Lebanon.

Verbal abuse, graffiti and physical attacks on British Jews have tripled since the bombardment and invasion began.

Star reader Karen Harradine was worried that my recent column condemning Israel's war-making might stoke up such irrational hatred.

She wrote me an interesting, reasoned letter, which concluded: “One of the lessons of history that Jews have had to learn is that anti-semitism emerges in the nicest of places.

“I hope that articles like yours do not lead to an upsurge in anti-semitism here in Ipswich.”

Amen to that, Karen.

I would say, though, that it is the action of the Israeli government that leads to anti-semitism, not those who report or comment on it.

She also supports the right of Israel to defend itself. And with that, too, I'd agree - except that bombing Lebanese villages was no form of defence against Hezbollah.

In fact, it merely led to hundreds of casualties of innocent people on both sides of the border - and handed a huge PR victory to Israel's enemies.

In such circumstances, I would not feel safe or comfortable living in Israel just now.

Yet the Jerusalem Post also reports this week that immigration into Israel from Europe - especially France and Britain - has risen as anti-semitism increases in those countries.

Karen Harradine wonders why Israel gets so much attention when larger conflicts in Somalia, Darfur and the Congo get so little.

There is 2000 years of history behind that. That little strip of semi-desert between the river Jordan and the Mediterranean is, after all, the Holy Land to both Christians and Muslims as well as Jews.

In the world post-9/11, the relationship of those great religions is as vexed as ever.

And so is the position of Jerusalem as their point of origin and focus.

****

THE lyrics of an old song by The Clash have been in the head these last few days:

“If I go there will be trouble;

If I stay it will be double.”

I'd like to dedicate my rendition of Should I Stay Or Should I Go to Tony Blair, who at time of writing was still this country's prime minister.

One of his spin-jockeys was talking this week about creating “euphoria” over Blair's years in office.

Euphoria at his departure I could understand.

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