I lost a friend in the Twin Towers. We don’t need any more victims

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Series Details Vol.7, No.34, 20.9.01, p6
Publication Date 20/09/2001
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Date: 20/09/01

By Gareth Harding

At midday last Friday Europe came to a standstill in honour of the thousands of innocent victims of America's worst terrorist attack. At Schuman Square, in the middle of Brussels' EU district, there was an eerie silence as traffic stopped and construction workers downed their tools.

It was a scene repeated all across the continent, from the bomb-pitted streets of Belgrade to the seismically split city of Belfast. As with the assassination of John F Kennedy, it took an event outside Europe's borders to unite the continent in grief.

So far, Europe's response to last week's outrages has been perfectly pitched. Union states have been quick to offer whatever support they can and the messages of sympathy from European leaders have been heartfelt.

But as EU leaders meet to prepare their response to last week's carnage, they are beginning to realise that there is a world of difference between being united in sympathy and united in action. There is enormous pressure on European heads of state to offer unconditional support for any American move. They should resist this because, quite frankly, some of the options being considered by Bush and his advisers are as dangerous as they are dim-witted.

Targeted cruise missile strikes have rarely worked in the past. Search and destroy missions by commandos are unlikely to succeed. Before sending troops into Afghanistan, perhaps American generals should talk to their Russian counterparts who spent a decade in the country bogged down in a war they could not win.

Last week's strikes do not amount to a declaration of war against western civilisation, as Tony Blair claimed last week. Nor are they an attack on Europe or any other part of the world. They were pinpointed strikes against the symbols of US capitalist and military might and Americans must begin to question why they were targeted.

To be at war you need an opponent. The problem is that the US has yet to decide whom it is fighting. If it is Osama bin Laden, then it needs to provide some evidence that it was the Saudi millionaire who perpetrated the attacks before it can expect the rest of the world to follow.

If it is terrorism in general, does this mean that we are about to wage war against the IRA, ETA and the rest of the world's spaghetti soup of terrorist organisations? And if we accept that countries which harbour terrorists are also targets, then what action will the US take against Britain, Belgium, Germany and other countries where bin Laden's supporters live?

This is not a plea for inaction. I lost a good friend in the attack on the Twin Towers. She was an innocent who did not deserve to die so young nor in such appalling circumstances. But there would be thousands more innocent victims if the US decides to launch a land invasion of Afghanistan.

Instead of cowboy talk about bringing back bin Laden "dead or alive", EU leaders would do better to better to urge restraint and respect for the rule of law. Slobodan Milosevic was another butcher responsible for the deaths of thousands; through applied pressure and patience, the western world got its former enemy number one behind bars. The same tactic should be employed against bin Laden, or whoever else is responsible.

If this fails, some form of targeted military action should not be ruled out, but unleashing the dogs of war on the world's most unstable region could have devastating consequences. It would also bring western countries down to the level of the callous terrorists who carried out last week's attacks.

When asked what he thought of western civilisation, Gandhi replied: "I think it would be a good idea". For the past 50 years, European nations have been busy civilising themselves after centuries of blood-letting. A measured response to last week's atrocities would do much to cement the values the EU is built on. A hysterical reaction that involved slaughtering innocent civilians and curtailing our own civil liberties would do much to undermine them.

Commentator discusses how Europe should react to the terrorist attack in the US, 11 September 2001.

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