Melanie Phillips

15 March 2004

A war not of our choosing

Published in: Daily Mail

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On the videotape which purported to claim responsibility by al Q'aeda for the carnage in Madrid, one line in particular sounded an absolutely chilling and authentic note. 'You love life', said the speaker, 'and we love death'.

Last night, the shattered citizens of Spain threw out their government. They were angry that it had apparently cast suspicion on the Basque separatists Eta to avoid taking any blame itself for making Spain a target by supporting the war in Iraq.

But although we still don't know for sure, there are obvious pointers to al Q'aeda involvement. The sheer scale of the inhumanity which targeted so many Spanish innocents for death demonstrated what we understood on 9/11 -that we are up against an enemy of a kind we have not seen before.

This is not the IRA-style terrorism with which we are wearily familiar. In al Q'aeda and its associates we are dealing with a death cult, enemies of life and of humanity itself, who have said: 'We are not fighting for you to offer us something, but to eliminate you'.

Indeed, it is vital to grasp that - despite the tape's claims over Iraq and Afghanistan - those who say Madrid was targeted only because Spain supported America are grievously mistaken. The facts indicate we face something far bigger and more terrifying.

Months before the Iraq war, al Q'aeda issued a stream of pronouncements listing Turkey, Spain, Italy and Vienna for attack - because these were once Muslim fiefdoms and are now 'occupied territories'. Radical Islamists refer in their sermons to the 15th century loss of Muslim Spain to Catholicism- which is why the Madrid attack had such resonance.

These are people for whom historical defeats have the same salience as current events. So Osama bin Laden has even blamed Britain for destroying the Ottoman empire after World War 1. The purpose of the jihad is nothing less than to re-establish the Muslim empire which once stretched across much of the globe.

This means al Q'aeda's sights are set on Africa, Asia, India and China as well as large chunks of Europe. This is why it has supported Islamist terror in Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and other Asian provinces of the former Soviet Union; or in the Chinese province of Xinjiang, or against India in Kashmir.

For al Q'aeda is waging a war of religious conquest. Its fundamental aim is to purge the world of heretics and infidels, whom it defines as anyone who doesn't uphold the Islamic faith as laid down by itself.

As Rohan Gunaratna records in his authoritative book Inside Al Q'aeda, it started by attacking moderate Muslim countries. Only when these detained, tortured and killed its adherents and seized its finances did it start to target the western backers of these states.

Its long term strategy is to build an array of Islamic states to wage war on the US and its allies, in order to defeat the western values by which it feels mortally threatened. It is therefore an explicit attack on democracy. One of its key strategists, Dr Ayman al-Zawahiri, has said democracy is a new religion that must be destroyed by war, and anyone who accepts it is an infidel.

This is why the argument that Madrid was targeted because of Iraq is so profoundly off the mark. As Singapore's former Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew has observed, the inroads made by Islamist terror in his own country, where Muslims have prospered, demonstrate the fallacy of thinking that if the west never acted against any Muslim state, al Q'aeda would leave it alone.

Indeed, the jihad has attacked many countries -Morocco, Algeria, Malaysia, the Philippines - which had nothing to do with the decision to wage war on Iraq. Last week saw a human bomb attack on a Masonic lodge in Istanbul; the week before, Shia pilgrims were slaughtered in Karbala and Baghdad.

In 1995, associates of bin Laden plotted to murder Egypt's President Mubarak; in 1994, a plot was foiled to hijack an Air France jet and crash it into the Eiffel Tower. And so on, and horrifically on.

The video says Madrid was revenge for Afghanistan as well as Iraq. But we only fought the Taleban because they had promoted al Q'aeda which perpetrated 9/11. The 'revenge' argument is totally twisted. Al Q'aeda presents its own terrorist attacks as self-defence against an illusory threat by the west against Islam. So any attempt by the west to defend itself from such attacks is falsely characterised instead as another anti-Islamic onslaught.

The west was attacked long before it went into Afghanistan or Iraq. Indeed, for years it did nothing at all to combat the terror being waged against it. On 9/11, we saw where that approach had led us. That was why on that date everything changed.

For 9/11 demonstrated that, rather than being inflamed by western aggression, terrorism had been emboldened by evidence that the west had no stomach for the fight.

As Spain's foreign minister has said, however, terror is terror. It cannot be divided up into terror that is fought and terror that is appeased. Its sponsors form an intricate world-wide web, in which alliances transcend cultural divisions on the basis that my enemy's enemy is my friend.

The way to defeat it is by solidarity. The key intelligence effort will be greatly enhanced if we realise that all peace-loving, free people are in the direct line of attack: Christians and atheists, Jews and Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs, believers and non believers.

We must also make new rules to deal with a phenomenon that doesn't correspond to either conventional terrorism or war. This is not easy; we must not allow our core values to be overturned, but at the same time we must not allow those values to bring about their own annihilation. For common-sense to be stymied at such a time by the alien 'human rights' culture is just plain crazy.

Even worse, 'Londonistan' - where Islamist extremists are still at liberty to disseminate propaganda, recruit and raise funds - is still the centre of terror; and through losing control over our borders, we have no idea who is entering or leaving the country. In short, we are still not taking this threat seriously enough.

But as Lee Kwan Yew also said, this war can ultimately only be won by moderate Muslims. Accordingly, America, Britain and their allies should do everything in their power to support and protect those enormously brave Muslims who are taking their lives in their hands to push their culture towards reform and defeat the tyranny that acts in their name.

Too many people, though, still don't grasp the nature of what we are all up against. Instead, they complain we are now no safer than before - which is a bit like blaming the Blitz on the fact that we went to war against Germany.

Despite the obvious differences, we are in a war now. It was declared upon us, and we must defend ourselves. It is not possible to sit it out on the sidelines. It can and must be won; but that will only happen if we all stand shoulder to shoulder, not just with the people of Spain but those of all countries and all faiths who are now under attack.

About Melanie

Melanie Phillips is a British journalist and author. She is best known for her controversial column about political and social issues which currently appears in the Daily Mail. Awarded the Orwell Prize for journalism in 1996, she is the author of All Must Have Prizes, an acclaimed study of Britain's educational and moral crisis, which provoked the fury of educationists and the delight and relief of parents.

Read full biography


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Melanie Phillips
Daily Mail
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Contact Melanie