Christopher Hitchens: Are we, or are we not, "safer" than five years ago?

September 21st, 2006

Would It Be Safer Not to Fight Back?
The Day That Changed The World
By Christopher Hitchens

ARE we, or are we not, “safer” than five years ago? What this question means in practice is, has the Bush/Blair foreign policy exposed us to more danger or to less?

The answer depends on how you define the threat. You can either believe that September 11, 2001, was the opening shot, or the most shockingly palpable shot, in a war waged by Islamic fanaticism against “the West”.

Or you can believe that it was part of a stubborn resistance to an unjust global order largely led and organised by the US, with Britain as its servile, junior partner. If you take the first view, then the main priority is to take the war to the enemy and to deny things such as “safe havens” to his suicidal warriors. Any risk involved is preferable to continued passivity. If you take the second view, then every such action undertaken will only incite and justify further acts of terrorism.

The classic division here was expressed after the London bombs last July and has surfaced since then in the controversy over the High Wycombe arrests. There are those who say that these actual or potential atrocities are to be expected, as a reaction to an “anti-Muslim” foreign policy. And there are those who say that the violence is caused by the preachings of a depraved ideology. Actually, both of these positions are simplistic. There obviously is a connection between our foreign policy and the activities of people who think it their holy duty to commit mass murder. They are doing so in solidarity with other mass-murderers, in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere, who want to destroy democracy or prevent it from emerging. The last identified casualty of the King's Cross bombing last July was, aptly, a young Afghan who had fled his homeland after many of his family had been killed by the Taliban. He'd been under the illusion London was “safer”.

YOU may take the view that resistance to jihadism only makes its supporters more militant and there must be some truth to this. But the corollary is a bit disturbing – the most prudent course of action then seems to be compromise or surrender. This is rather contemptible and also overlooks the fact that the jihadists don't seem interested in compromise. Indonesia and Canada, to take two very different countries, both opposed the Iraq war. But both have been targets of vicious terrorist attacks, as have Turkey and Morocco, which likewise opposed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Speaking of the latter, he only ever made one self-criticism. After his expulsion from Kuwait, he admitted to his followers that he had made a mistake. He should have built his nuclear bomb first and only then invaded his neighbour. In 1990, in other words, as the world was celebrating the end of the Cold War, a mad dictator had both a nuclear reactor and a plan to occupy another country and annex a huge quantity of the world's oil.

So 1990, in retrospect, was a year of living safely. And if you can believe that, then you can feel blissfully safe cultivating a vineyard on the slopes of Mount Etna.

Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair.

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