Maybe bin Laden will turn up on 'Stars in their Eyes'
By Mark Steel, The Independent UK, 27 September 2001
'They clearly don't have a clue where he is, which is why there are hourly meaningless rumours'

Here we go. A war's round the corner so it's time for the traditional orgy of irrationality. To start with, hardly anyone seems to have questioned whether Bin Laden would actually, in his present predicament, send out a fax. If so, why didn't the CIA just dial 1471 and, bingo, they'd know where he was. I suppose his next move will be to send a text message "It is duT of IsLM 2 rise in holy Ghad. Praise 2 LR the almiT."

Then, on Tuesday, it was announced with a fanfare that his Western bank accounts were being closed down. Just as he was about to get his gold card as well. And knowing what banks are like, I bet the bastards charge him for the letter that informs him about this. Presumably, before this week, the Americans were letting him stroll into his Kabul bank and rearrange his standing orders. And occasionally they'd send him a circular saying: "Congratulations Mr. bun Looden, you yes YOU have been entered into our grand PRIZE DRAW."

This is all to assure us they're doing something, though from the way they keep screaming about being "tough" and "decisive", it seems they haven't grasped the central point about suicide bombers. Because unless you can come up with something tougher than blowing them up, they're not likely to be that impressed. You might as well tell them :"Stop doing that or I'll suicide you in a minute."

Their other problem is they clearly don't have a clue where he is, which is why hourly there are meaningless rumours he's "in a cave" (albeit a cave with adequate office facilities including power points and fax machine). Or he's "ridden off on a horse". There have been suggestions that he's left in disguise. So on top of everything else he's a master of costume change. Maybe he'll turn up as Shirley Bassey on Stars in Their Eyes.

There's nothing like a war for making drivel acceptable. So everyone nodded when Blair, running through the reasons for supporting military action against the Taliban, added "this is a regime... in which women's rights are non-existent". Unlike our allies, Saudi Arabia, of course, which is a veritable cauldron of modern feminism. You can hardly move in Riyadh market for stalls selling Virago books and T-shirts saying "a woman needs a man like a camel needs a bicycle". If a sheikh so much as pats his harem on the backside he's up before the sultan on a charge of harassment, and every local authority is on strict orders to announce "Public stoning of woman for adultery" and never "birds", "tarts" or any other term that may be considered sexist.

There's a consensus that American politicians have performed a magnificent hand diplomatically, despite the genius involved in asking Islamic countries to back a "crusade" called "Operation Infinite Justice", terms deeply offensive to Muslims. Which makes you wonder what was rejected. It's not too hard to imagine Colin Powell resting a hand on Bush's shoulder and saying: "I'm not sure that 'Operation Divine Towelhead-Blast' will be all that helpful, George."

The reaction to the bombings is like that of the teacher who doesn't know who's drawn a rude picture on the blackboard and keeps the whole class behind after school. At first the reasoning is that some pupils know who did it so are just as guilty as the child who did. Then, after 20 minutes when this gets nowhere, it's clear the only justification is to make the teacher feel better. American and British governments might as well have said: "Own up or I'm keeping in the whole geopolitical region."

Meanwhile the news channels love every moment. Sky News has re-named its entire output as "Terror in America", so the next stage will presumably be a channel called "New York Disaster Gold" offering repeats of your favourite moments.

But the most peculiar aspect of the consensus is why no one questions characters such as Vladimir Putin, sorrowfully mourning the New York victims despite having slaughtered 10 times as many civilians in Chechnya.

Perhaps one morning a radio presenter will announce: "And now, adding to the extraordinary unity that has swept the worlda, I'm joined by Doctor Harold Shipman, who has condemned the terrorists, deploring 'this appalling disregard for human life'. Harold, thank you so much for joining us this morning."

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