Next They'll Tell Us bin Laden's Learnt to Live Under Water
By Mark Steel, The Independent, 8 November 2001
A subtle change took place in the war coalition's strategy this week, when the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw referred to Osama bin Laden not as "evil" but "psychotic and paranoid". So maybe they're planning to sort it out by getting him to see a shrink. He could lie on a couch listing the reasons why he imagines someone might be out to get him, and the psychiatrist could say "Hmm, I don't think cluster bombs are the real issue here, Osama."
However, if he said a triangular ink blot reminded him of his mother, it wouldn't mean he was mad because ALL women in Afghanistan look like that.

How can you be paranoid when the President of the United States has announced he wants you dead or alive? Perhaps he's claiming 30 daisy-cutter bombs are landing an hour, when in fact there are only 25. But Straw isn't on his own with this analysis, as French President Jacques Chirac and George Bush have both used the same words this week. Coincidence? Or are they synchronizing their insults? The trouble is they've already used all the good ones up. Next week they'll be saying: "He stinks, he does. Like a polecat, apparently."

There must also be a hierarchy with these names. Because while the leaders used the official "psychotic", lowly Peter Hain in the Foreign Office had to call him boring old "murderous". Backbenchers were probably told to say "He's a ruddy menace, and that's swearing."

Bill Clinton, to show he's not out of the loop, said Americans weren't cowards like bin Laden because "we don't hide in caves". Which ignores the fact that a) there are no caves in Washington, and b) none the less George Bush tried as hard as he could to find one when the 11 September attacks took place.

Bush also claimed this week that bin Laden could soon have nuclear weapons. What's he talking about? So far their weaponry has amounted to a set of knives. It would make more sense to say: "If we don't stop them now, in a few years they'll have a tin opener."

The evidence Bush offered for this nuclear bomb revelation was: "I wouldn't put it past him." The next item of proof will be Tony Blair adding: "That's just the sort of thing he'd do." This is as convincing as a bloke down the pub. Maybe Jack Straw joins them and says: "I tell you what I've heard, they reckon he's learnt to live underwater. He pops up once a week to take a breath and make a video, then whoosh, back down he goes. My brother told me, and he's in the Territorial Army."

I'm no scientist, but don't nuclear bombs require power stations and processing plants and technical experts and vast launch-sites with millions of buttons? You can't just buy a lap-top one that works off a battery in a cave.

There ARE nuclear weapons in dangerous hands in that region, like Pakistan. And Israel. But the Americans have just dealt with that worry by offering the Israelis a further $2bn of military aid, so they can parade the very latest in shiny new missiles. Whereas the annual parade of the Taliban army must involve their defense secretary announcing "Look what I've found, everybody", before unveiling a really huge stone.

If the Afghans ARE mad, they must have a surplus of madness they've been posting to the West. Newspapers show photos of smiling troops under the headline "Ready to Fight". Which is handy. As opposed to normal armies in wartime that say "What, NOW? But I haven't washed my hair. Ring up and say we'll be over about nine."

Most hurtful of all, Bush told Chancellor Schröder that America had no greater friend than the Germans. The hussy. We can only hope Tony doesn't find out or he'll be devastated. Maybe that's why he's nipped over to Washington, to say: "George, how could you? All those things you said and then I hear you've said the same to another country. But I forgive you. Oh I'm sorry for being cross, let me make it up to you. I'll go to Syria again, anywhere you like."

And all of this to replace the Taliban with the Northern Alliance, led by a bloke called Dostum who is not only as bad as the Taliban, he's been in the Taliban.

In fact he's swapped sides several times and clearly has the attitude of a Premier League footballer. He'll be two days from taking Kabul, then his agent will announce a press conference and he'll be holding up a bin Laden shirt and kissing it for the Taliban's fans. Then he'll make a short statement: "This is a fantastic opportunity and the motivation isn't money but the chance to play alongside some of the finest terrorists in the world."

There's already a hint of this with approaches being made to the "moderate" members of Taliban. What on earth is a moderate Taliban? Do they let you have a small shandy? Or allow kite-flying in certain restricted areas or women to expose a nostril on a hot day?

Or maybe they're all talking cobblers, and as soon as the new lot's in we'll discover they're all evil stinky paranoid psychotics and have to start all over again.

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