Jobs @ MG
Learn from the restraint of Saladin rather
than the blood-letting of the crusaders
By Ewen MacAskill
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
through 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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."
(The Guardian, London) q