Bush should learn from the restraint of Saladin rather than the blood-letting of the crusaders
Special report: Terrorism in the US
l Monday October 1, 2001
George Bush, who referred initially to the war on terrorism as a "crusade", would do well to learn from the actions of the Arab warrior, Saladin, rather than the Christian crusaders. In 1099, when the Christian crusaders took Jerusalem, they slaughtered every Muslim and Jew - men, women and children - beginning in the afternoon and carrying on thro ugh the night. One of the crusaders wrote about walking knee-high through corpses in the city's narrow streets.
When Saladin took Jerusalem in 1187 he spared everyone and the next day allowed followers of each religion to worship at their holy places within the city.
Mr Bush and Tony Blair need to lean more towards Saladin-like restraint than the bloody retribution of the crusaders. They need to defeat Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network but spare the people of Afghanistan as much as possible and resist the calls to take the fight to neighbouring countries.
In the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, Mr Bush did demonstrate restraint. The need is to maintain that restraint in the coming days, weeks and months.
Mr Bush, backed by Mr Blair, set an overly ambitious objective after September 11: nothing less than a world-wide war to eliminate terrorism. Since then, Bush and Blair have heard the advice of their foreign policy advisers and some of their soldiers, who have told them such a goal is not achievable.
As the military and diplomats go into more and more detail, more problems are thrown up - and Bush and Blair have had to scale down their objectives.
The advice from Britain to the US is to try to limit military action to within Afghanistan and to minimise civilian casualties as much as possible. Firing off cruise missiles will not achieve much, other than increase the risk of hitting the innocent.
The main action will involve US and British special forces. It will require weeks and months sitting in hiding, gathering intelligence, even if an early strike of some sort has to be made this week against the Bin Laden network to satisfy the desire in the US for action.
The death of Bin Laden's men will go unmourned, at least in the west, but it will throw up a problem for those with a liberal conscience. As the bodies pile up, is it right that it is left to the special forces to determine whether those shot are members of Bin Laden's organisation? In the heat of conflict, few will care but there is a need for consistency: if it was wrong for British forces to adopt a "shoot-to-kill" policy in Northern Ireland and for Israel to make "pre-emptive" strikes against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, then can it be right for the special forces to act as prosecutor, judge and jury in Afghanistan?
There is a more serious international law dilemma. The US and Britain can claim to have backing from the United Nations for their fight against Bin Laden's network. But there is no such backing from the UN for attacks on the Taliban. A Taliban force facing US firepower on open ground would be slaughtered. Few would miss them, but the sight of those bodies might raise questions about the legitimacy of the action.
Terrible as its human rights record is, all that the Taliban has been guilty of in this case is of giving succour to a wanted man and his organisation: that is not sufficient for waging war against them.
If harbouring terrorist or guerrilla organisations is a crime, then the list to be dealt with is long, beginning with Pakistan for backing two terror groups in Kashmir. Having destroyed the Taliban in Afghanistan, the logic of the US position would be to try to solve the problem next door - Kashmir - and then the next one. But Bush and Blair cannot act as the world's policeman in the whole of the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent, never mind dealing with terrorist groups in Africa or Asia.
Where the US most needs to demonstrate restraint is over spreading the war to Iraq.
The case being put forward by the Pentagon is strong. If Saddam were removed, there would no longer be any need for the US and Britain to have no-fly zones and maintain sanctions. And the US could also bring home its troops stationed in Saudi Arabia. Two of the main reasons for hatred of the US in the Middle East would be removed, leaving only the Israeli-Palestinian dispute to be dealt with.
But, tempting as the removal of Saddam would be, there is still a need to operate within international law. There is no established link between Saddam and Bin Laden, much as the US and Britain would love there to be one.
The maxim hopefully governing the actions of Bush and Blair over the coming days should be: Does this make matters better or worse?
The crusaders' massacre made things worse. Stephen Runciman, in a three-part history of the crusades, concluded that relations between Christianity and Islam suffered for centuries afterwards: "It was this bloodthirsty proof of Christian fanaticism that recreated the fanaticism of Islam."