During my visit to Oman and Egypt I have been struck by the force of the condemnations that I heard there of the Sept. 11 attacks on America. Everyone I have met has told me that these attacks were contrary to all the tenets of Islam and the teachings of the Koran. Everyone wants to see those who carried out the wholesale murder of innocent men, women and children, brought to justice.
Of course, nobody wants military conflict. Of course, we would all prefer a diplomatic solution. But we have to ask ourselves: was one ever possible?
We gave the regime in Kabul four weeks to hand over the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 attacks. The US has been seeking Osama Ben Laden’s extradition for years for other terrorist attacks. As part of the diplomatic and political effort I myself have travelled to Russia, Pakistan, India, the United States, Switzerland, Oman and Egypt. Jack Straw, the British Foreign secretary, has travelled to the Middle East including Iran. There is an unprecedented global consensus against terrorism. And yet despite all this diplomatic pressure, Kabul still refused to hand over Ben Laden to face justice.
We also have to ask ourselves: What will the world look like if we don’t stop Ben Laden and people like him?
Ben Laden likes to pretend that he speaks for the Palestinian cause. He likes to pretend that he is driven by faith. Neither of those claims, it seems to me, are true. They are a cover for his real motivation, which is power; power that he wields through terror. The power game that he is playing is to install Taleban-type regimes in other countries. Let nobody believe this is about religious faith, when in the pursuit of his goals he has been willing to murder innocent women and children, including Muslims.
Ben Laden’s real objective is to undermine Muslim governments who seek world peace and order and replace them with militant regimes who seek chaos. He has already succeeded all too well in Afghanistan. He has claimed to have direct influence over the Taleban government and there is no reason to dispute that. All reports suggest that he is a real power behind the scenes; and that it was he who organised the assassination of Ahmed Shah Masood, a Muslim hero of the anti-Soviet resistance and the main opposition to Kabul. This was part of his payment to the Taleban for harbouring and supporting him. Ben Laden and the Taleban regime are two sides of the same coin.
The question Muslims around the world have to ask themselves is: do you want to live under the sort of regime we see today in Kabul? Because that is what Ben Laden and Al Qaeda want for you.
We in the West realise the Kabul regime emerged out of the chaos that ravaged Afghanistan after the Soviet army withdrew. Initially many Afghans believed the new regime could restore order to the country. But let us make no mistake about the sort of people they are. Public administration is chaotic and getting worse. The country is desperately poor and getting poorer because of the regime’s policies. Teachers, doctors and other educated Afghans have been forced to flee or live in terror. Because the Kabul regime has so badly mismanaged the economy, the Afghan people are starving.
Virtually the only arm of civil government that functions effectively is the Ministry of Enforcement of Virtue and the Suppression of Vice. This ministry enforces strict observance of all Taleban decrees on social and moral behaviour which bear scant relationship to the teachings of Islam. But they are ruthlessly imposed.
Most government resources go on the war effort and internal security. Corruption has returned. To raise further funds, they have now turned to growing and trafficking heroin. The regime has become increasingly extreme. The decision to destroy ancient Buddhist monuments earlier this year was symbolic of their increasing intolerance. Yet historically, Islam has been very tolerant of other religions. The Muslim world was a beacon of civilisation and tolerance when Europe was in the dark ages.
Along with terror, this is the kind of intolerant, backward-looking regime Ben Laden wants to export throughout the Muslim world: in permanent conflict with the world and with anyone who disagrees; against any form of modernisation and economic progress; ruthless in suppressing any opposition and other ways of life; women treated abominably; denouncing Muslims who live and work in the West as traitors; supporting of the most extreme interpretation of Islamic law imaginable.
Let us be clear. If we don’t take a stand against Ben Laden and his puppet regime in Kabul, he will seek to overthrow other Muslim states and put in place regimes of fear, terror and intolerance.
It is always possible for the TV cameras to get pictures of people protesting at military action. But I do not believe the majority of Muslims in any country on earth want a Kabul-type regime in their country. Whatever sympathy they may feel for the people of Afghanistan, and we feel it too, they are the victims of Ben Laden and the Taleban. Whatever the cultural and historical links, when the people look at their incompetence as a government, when they look at the way that even their most basic rights are denied, when they look at the basic cruelty and viciousness of the regime, is that really something that they would want in their own country? I do not believe that it is.
I believe we all, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, wish to live in peace, not under the daily threat of terrorism. That is what we are now working so hard to achieve.
Mr. Tony Blair is British Prime Minister.