Friday September 21, 2001

The prime minister’s “we are at war” statements are irresponsible in the extreme. It is said that some of his senior officials understand this, as do many MPs: thus the messages of “restraint” now being whispered to journalists.

Tony Blair is endangering the people of this country as well as Britons abroad. His willingness to join Bush’s “crusade” and use military force will neither avenge nor bring justice to nor honour the memory of the ordinary people who died so terribly in America last week because this will almost certainly lead to a gratuitous slaughter of more innocents in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. It also risks nurturing a new generation of suicidal killers. Two years ago, Denis Halliday, the assistant secretary general of the United Nations who resigned over the Anglo-American-imposed embargo of Iraq, told me: “We are likely to see the emergence of those who may well regard Saddam Hussein as too moderate and too willing to listen to the west. Such is the desperation of people whose children are dying in their thousands and who are bombed almost every day by American and British planes.”

Blair’s wanton disregard of this threat has been demonstrated in recent years. On a bogus pretext, he joined America’s all-out assault on Iraq in 1998 and backed Clinton’s missile attack on a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan. The following year, his “moral crusade” with Clinton against Yugoslavia killed hundreds of innocent civilians. This summer, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported the Bush and Blair governments had privately “given Sharon a green light” to invade Palestinian territories. With each of these actions, and now his bellicose declarations, Blair increases the risk of terrorist attack against British citizens.

Blair’s being “shoulder to shoulder” with Bush means allying this country to a willingness to kill large numbers of non-Americans in pursuit of uncertain immediate goals that has long been a feature of US policy. This list is long. Remember, if you can, the “free fire zones”, including the use of chemical weapons, that killed as many as 50,000 civilians every year in Vietnam; the bombing of Cambodia that killed 600,000 people; the unnecessary slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqis during the 1991 Gulf war, the beginning of a silent holocaust that has since claimed half a million children, according to the UN. For Blair and Bush to say that war has been declared upon America is rich.

During my lifetime, America has been constantly waging war against much of humanity: impoverished people mostly, in stricken places. Moreover, far from being the main perpetrators of terrorism, Islamic peoples have been its victims – more often than not of an American fundamentalism and its proxies.

Blair is acting like a schoolboy who has never seen war and what cluster bombs do to human beings. He and the Queen shed tears for the victims in America; they have yet to shed tears for his – yes, his – victims in Iraq. Nor will St Paul’s cathedral be reconvened to mourn the innocents who will die when he and Bush attack the shadows of Osama bin Laden.

In these surreal days, there is one truth. Nothing justified the killing of innocent people in America last week and nothing justifies the killing of innocent people anywhere else.

For the prime minister to behave responsibly, he would have to speak out with a very different voice. He could say: “Our response must not be to sink to the level of this criminal outrage and kill for the sake of killing.” He could seize this extraordinary historic moment and call for the redirection of western politics away from war and towards peace – specifically peace in those regions of the world where one type of terrorism is the product largely of imperialism, old and new. Britain is deeply implicated. As John Cooley writes in Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism: “It was only Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s British government which supported the jihad with full enthusiasm.” The CIA passed responsibility for backing mojahedin terrorism to the British – much of it coordinated by an MI6 officer in Islamabad. Osama bin Laden was given “free rein” in Afghanistan.

After more than a century of invasion, plunder and bombing (since the 20s by the RAF), we in the west owe the people of Afghanistan and the Middle East peace. The start of peace would be the establishment of a Palestinian homeland, as laid down in international law by a 34-year-old UN resolution; the lifting of the horrific embargo on the civilian population of Iraq; and the careful, negotiated ending of Afghanistan’s isolation.

A tall order, yes. But these are the root causes of a grievance and rage we can barely imagine, and there is no other enduring solution than peace with justice. Unless real politics replaces the autocratic impositions of power, the understudies of those who murdered so many in America will appear and act; nothing is surer. They cannot be bombed into oblivion. Only justice for the millions of ordinary people, who are not murderers, will bring the peace and security that is, after all, a universal right.

By John Pilger