Charles Moore dares to say in the London Telegraph what few would dare even to think on this side of the Atlantic, and with which perhaps only the British can fully sympathize: that the war on terror is boring. -- Moore is a somewhat eccentric freelance journalist who has published in about 40 English-language magazines and newspapers over the past dozen years on a wide variety of disparate topics that he finds interesting, which he summarizes as follows: ìcomputers / politics / culture / religion / philosophy; powerboating and sailing / the marine design, shipbuilding, and commercial fishing industries / health and wellness / and other topics. He does his best to plug the Macintosh platform wherever and whenever he can in his writing.î ...
THREE YEARS ON, AND WEíRE BORED TO DEATH WITH THE WAR ON TERROR
By Charles Moore
September 11, 2004
Orson Welles famously said that the only two emotions one feels on an aeroplane are boredom and fear. On the third anniversary of "9/11," these two emotions predominate, competing with one another in the same breast.
Fear is obvious. That is why terrorism is called terrorism. It is the ideology of fear -- the belief that you can and should advance your cause by terrifying people. Boredom is less obvious, but it is a tremendously powerful weapon for fanatics to deploy against public opinion in the West.
For years and years, I used to wonder at the stupidity of the IRA. It seemed to believe that Britain was passionately concerned to hold on to Northern Ireland. As a result, it couldn't think of any way to weaken our hold on the province except by "war."
At last, it began to realize that the biggest single British mainland feeling about Northern Ireland was boredom. If we could decently sneak away from it, we would. So clever republicans, such as Gerry Adams, preserved the weapon of fear ("the Armalite in one hand"), but added the weapon of boredom, becoming droning, self-righteous players in a "peace process" that we could all agree to pretend was the real thing. We grasped it gratefully, and turned our attention to other matters.
Boredom is an even greater factor in our reaction to Islamist terrorism. How many non-Muslim British citizens, when they turn on the news and see men with black beards and head-dresses, shouting and shaking their fists in front of piles of rubble, really want to know what they are shouting about? It could be Baghdad, Gaza, Beslan, Kandahar, Jakarta, even Bradford, but we, the somnolent majority, would rather not know about it.
Partly it is a matter of names. Christian Westerners have a first name and a surname, which is easy, to us at least. With Muslims, it seems to be different: is calling Saddam Hussein "Saddam" like calling Mr Blair "Tony", or is it, in fact, his surname? And when people are all "al" this and "bin" that, and use a wide variety of spellings, and often seem to have different names at different stages in their lives, we tend to give up. How many Islamist terrorists and their sympathizers can we identify, name to face? Only, I would suggest, Osama bin Laden and (except we can't always quite manage the name) the fellow with the hook.
You might think that this lack of interest would help -- a robust, if ignorant, refusal to be impressed by fanaticism. I fear not. If we do not know who is doing the talking and why, we are very susceptible to the idea that the Muslim who makes it to the screen speaks for Muslims.
Do you know the difference between the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain, and which, if either, speaks for many or is "moderate"? Here comes someone from the London-based Committee for the Defense of Legal Rights.
Bet you didn't know that he is part of a Saudi "takfir" movement -- one that makes a particular point of calling for the death of Muslims who disagree with them. You've heard of al-Qa'eda, but it simply means "the base." Built on the base are hundreds of shifting, amoebic grouplets who may, for all you know, be living next door to you in Luton or Burnley.
The ones who shout the louder will seem, to the inattentive, to be "more" Muslim, and therefore there will be a tendency to give in to them. Thirty years ago in Britain, very few Muslims demanded the right to wear headscarves in school or to days off on their holy days, or complained about public representations of pigs.
Most seemed content with non-Islamic banking. Perhaps many were pleased to have come to a country where secular law prevailed. Today it is those who demand more and more of these religious rights who get attention, and most of us assume, without knowing, that they speak for their own people. We, the bored, tend to think that, wherever possible, we should give them what they want in the hope they will go away. But they won't go away.
Boredom also makes us half-fatalistic and half-insouciant. How often I hear people say, "What's the point of all these precautions? If terrorists want to kill us they will find a way and there's nothing we can do about it." And I also hear -- often, oddly, from the same people -- "What is this war against terrorism, anyway? The resources of the West can easily defeat whatever primitive maniacs can throw at us. Life goes on."
Yet neither is true. Precautions, vigilance, intelligence can and do stop numerous attempts to kill, and every such interdiction helps to dishearten the killers, who depend on a fairly large amount of death for their power. There are quite a lot of MI5 agents and police officers and co-operative moderate Muslims all round us who are saving our lives by the information they report. If we controlled our immigration policy properly, we could achieve much, much more.
And while it is obviously the case that the West can defeat its enemies in battle, in cash and in technology, Islamist terrorism knows this, and develops strategies to get round it. Al-Qa'eda can't take power in a Western country, but its actions can change the government, as happened in Spain earlier this year.
Bin Laden probably wouldn't collect more than 200,000 votes in a presidential election in any Western country, but he has done more to reshape European attitudes to America, and American attitudes to Europe, than anyone since Hitler and Stalin. He sees decadence, lack of will, in our boredom -- and exploits it.
The final effect of boredom is resentment at those leaders who keep telling us about the danger. The natural temperament of British people bored by fanatics is to take comfort in Chamberlain rather than listen to Churchill. People seem angrier with Blair and Bush than with the murderers they seek to combat. One of the narrative voices in David Hare's new play about the Iraq war, Stuff Happens, rips into the way we sit round at dinner parties, our faces reddening with wine, complaining about "the exact style in which [in freeing Iraq] something was given to those who had nothing." It strikes home.
In our Sussex village in May 1940, my grandfather met an elderly neighbor on the green. "I'm afraid the news from France is very bad, Mrs X," he said. "Oh, I never bother my head with that sort of thing," she answered. There was something reassuring about that remark: it emerged from a fundamentally peaceful and confident society.
That is the sort of society that one should defend to the death; but if one is not careful, death becomes the operative word. We were warned about that three years ago today, but already we are forgetting.