Election time…change is in the air
There’s an election on but is anyone bothered? Well, I for one hope people are very bothered because we really need to consider the gravity of the situation our country is facing. If the election battle buses weren’t enough of a giveaway; we’ve had the prime time TV election debates and the coy answers from each leader refusing to answer a question directly even more so than usual and then things really got into full swing this week with each leader boring us all to death with the launching of manifestos indicating ‘change’ is on the agenda. Yawn…sigh….long outward exhale. Change?! I hope they mean it. Change really needs to be top of the agenda and I mean beyond the usual rhetoric and lip service. The country is in a pretty poor state after thirteen years of Labour and people are worse off now then they were on that fateful day when Blair and his babes swept into power in 1997.
What’s the difference?
The problem is that for all this talk of change, many people think it is largely academic and they have heard it all before. The electorate feel so disillusioned and alienated from it all, that there is likely to be a fairly poor turnout with most people not knowing who to vote for. So they may just stay at home and put the TV on and let it all wash over them with the company of David Dimbleby and Jeremy Vine. What is the difference between the options we have? Well, let’s start with obvious some similarities. Both Labour and Tories are full or corrupt, self seeking, power hungry, out of touch, anti public servants. Each of the recent scandals of expenses, cash for lobbying and non-declared holidays have been across all the mainstream parties. Any credible opposition now would define the differences and see off Brown and his bandits without even breaking sweat. Is Cameron leading a Conservative opposition that is a credible pretender to the government throne? I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Tory or Labour: Would Sir preferring kicking or punching?
Someone asked me the other day who I would be voting for and who I wanted to win the election? The issue with that question is it is rather like asking one if they would rather be punched in the face or kicked in the knee? Neither are rather appealing options so the alternative is to run away and ignore it all. Not good though, as things will catch up with you. Going to have to face up to the pain and take one for the team. Both a punch and a kick are going to result in pain in the short term and are really going to hurt. They are going to hurt in different places and the pain will last longer in one of them and the pain in the other will subside as the injury heals. I would still rather decide if I am kicked or punched and make the choice myself though than be rudely awakened on a lovely May morning to be punched in the face without any say in the matter.
The lesser of two evils
This is the question people need to answer. Things are going to get worse after the election and very tough decisions are going to have to be taken. There are some key issues where both parties are refusing to be drawn on and backed into a corner. We will see the results of those untouched issues come the second week in May. If the Conservative Party are elected, VAT will go up, public spending will be cut dramatically and unemployment will go up. If Labour get in, we will most likely see more stealth taxes and election promises will be broken and NI contributions will go up if they complete another term.
The parties can’t please everybody but what we should not see is people complaining over the next few years that they aren’t listened to and we need change. Now is the time for peoples’ voices and opinions to be counted to instigate change. We live in a democracy (most of the time) and at least we have the power to elect who represents us even if once they’re in, they lose any ounce of maturity and integrity they once had.
So, France are going to the World Cup. Keane and co can begin booking their summer holidays for 2010, as they are not going anywhere. The Football Association of Ireland has lodged a complaint with FIFA asking for their World Cup play-off against France to be replayed. Good luck getting Michele Platini to sign that one off! Ireland are out though. That is final. The result says so. And FIFA will not intervene and reverse the result or call for a replay.
In case you haven’t already heard, Thierry Henry broke Irish fans hearts’ last night by scoring in extra time to send France to the 2010 World Cup. As if there hadn’t been enough injustice in the lead up to the World Cup playoffs with the seedings debacle, Ireland were outdone after being arguably the strongest team in their two legged playoff match with France. They battled for 180 minutes across and after being beaten in Ireland showed tremendous courage in beating France 1-0 in Paris to force extra time.
Step up on Monsieur Henry. A double handball hand ball later in the penalty area and a pass to William Gallas who put the ball into an empty net sent Les Blues through 2-1 on aggregate. Irish protestations obviously followed but nothing came of it. A referee never changes his decision. In a statement today, football’s world governing body said: “As stated in Law 5 of the Laws of the Game, and also in Article 13, paragraph 6 of the Regulations of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, ‘no protests may be made about the referee’s decisions regarding facts connected with play. Such decisions are final, unless otherwise stipulated in the Fifa Disciplinary Code.'”
The media reaction and the reaction in Ireland has been phenomenal. A sense of injustice is being felt and the arguments will ramble on all the way to South Africa next summer where the finals are being held. The Irish FA and even the Irish government (who have been heavily involved today) should ask themselves what they would have made of it Robbie Keane scoring a similar goal at the other end of the stadium to take Ireland to the World Cup? Robbie Keane would not have turned round and told the referee he had handled the ball and there should be no goal. This simply does not happen. Football begins as a level playing field each match and some decisions will go with and some will go against your team. Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland’s manger is hugely experienced and knows very well that if it had been the other way round that he would have thought it was hard luck the French but there is nothing that can be done. Trapattoni is a realist and said after the game, he does not expect a replay. “When a referee decides a game has finished I know it is impossible to replay the game,” said the Italian.
Some pundits, like Tony Cascorino, a former Republic of Ireland international have suggested that Henry should have done the gentlemanly thing and owned up to the referee that he had controlled the ball with his hand. This is ludicrous. We cannot get to the stage where players have the power to overturn referees decisions even for the better. Self regulation of a football match by players will lead to chaos and the referee will not have a clue what is going on (which by the way is often the situation now anyway) It would be a case of the lunatics running the asylum. Not all players will own up to the referee on diving or handling the ball, some might but others (most) won’t.
But can we follow Cascorino’s train of thought and blame Thierry Henry for not owning up to his indiscretion? The simple answer is no. If Ireland’s talismanic striker Robbie Keane had scored in similar fashion at the other end, he would have run off towards the Irish fans and done his trademark cart wheel in celebration at the thought of playing on the world’s biggest stage next summer and being the Irish hero who had sent them there. The Irish FA have cleverly introduced mind games by lavishing praise on Henry’s talents as a footballer before pointing out that his legacy will be tainted with this scandal. But it won’t, as Henry is protected by the fact that the decision was not his to make. Henry knows he hand balled it but jurisdiction for this decision was not his. It was the match officials’ choice and that is where the buck stops; unfortunately for the Irish fans.
Henry obviously did something wrong if he deliberately handled the ball and deceived the referee. This is cheating. But the simple way to eradicate this is to introduce technology to stop it. These things happen in sport and they will happen again. It goes back to the famous 1966 World Cup Final where England benefited from a dodgy Russian linesman. What would have happened in 1986 if one Diego Maradona had so, ‘oh hang on a sec, I didn’t head that in, I used my fist.’ England may have won the 1986 World Cup. But Maradona was never going to own up to it in the same way Henry wasn’t going to. The stakes were too high. Whether they should have owned up could take another entire blog post. But it is Football as a sport that is in the wrong by remaining in the dark ages of technology. Other sports have demonstrated how easy it is to incorporate technology that aids the fair outcome of a sporting tussle. Look at how hawk eye has been introduced into Tennis Grand Slams. Video replay technology has been introduced into international Rugby for try decisions and is used in Cricket to decide on run outs. Football is big business and the amount of money the Irish FA are going to lose out on in sponsorships and endorsements is huge considering how easy it would have been to ensure they had a fair chance of realising their World Cup pot of gold dream.
The game last night is undoubtedly more evidence for the need for technology to aid the match officials for goal line decisions or penalty area decisions but not all over the pitch. It won’t spoil the game and will vastly improve it. Had it been introduced this year and France were beaten on penalties, Monsieur Henry may well be at home now flicking through holiday brochures for next summer as he wouldn’t be going to South Africa.
It was announced today that Barack Obama has become the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize Winner. It is a decision that has shocked the world and led many to question what on earth he has won it for and whether he will even accept it? While statesmen and dignitaries across the world congratulate him on his accolade and wonderful ‘achievements’ (I use the word in its loosest terms), the rest of the world look on and see a Commander in Chief overseeing two wars, crises on the domestic front and the worst international economic crisis ever. But admittedly he didn’t start any of those events himself.
The decision shocked the world including none other than President Obama himself, who was awoken to the news by the White House press secretary. Mr Obama had no early indication he was to receive the award and only found out about it when his press secretary called at 6am, which was just an hour after the decision was announced in Oslo, to break the news.
It must have come as a huge shock to Obama. Firstly, as he did not deserve it and secondly because he was asleep and clearly not expecting to receive the call. Obama being asleep could be construed as his humble nature and not expecting the award but really it was just that he didn’t have any idea he was going to win. If I were ever in the running for a Nobel Peace Prize then I would have been pacing the room waiting for ‘that call’. However, Obama was happily tucked up in bed, probably dreaming of what he can achieve in the next 4 years of his Presidency and maybe 5 years beyond that with re-election. Obama would have been dreaming of bringing the Iraq War to an end and bringing the American troops home, restoring stability to Afghanistan and bringing peace to the Middle East while passing legislation on healthcare reform on the domestic front and restoring the world economy to prosperity with a US led recovery.
In Obama’s dreams, at the end of that distinguished list of achievements, he would have been hailed as one of the greatest statesmen ever to live by stated heads, academics, the media and the American people and maybe even given the nod for a Nobel Peace Prize. I would not have been surprised if on hearing the news of his award, Mr Obama would have awoken somewhat confused and could even have been excused for thinking that he had slept straight through to 2016 when he might actually warrant being considered for the achievement more seriously.
After rubbing his weary eyes and letting the achievement sink in, Mr Obama had to react to the news and in an address at the White House said that he was, “surprised and deeply humbled” by the award. Or that could be code for, ‘what the hell have I done to win this? I’m pretty embarrassed. Maybe I should check what I have won it for?’ From 1901 to 2009, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded 90 times to 120 Nobel Laureates – 97 times to individuals and 23 times to organizations. Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho is the only person to have declined it.
To clear up the ambiguity and shock, which came with the decision of who the winner was, the Nobel Committee were good enough to point out why he had won it, which was for “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and co-operation between peoples”. Note the precise choice of language here. It was for his ‘efforts’ and not his ‘achievements’. This decision is politically motivated and could prove a very clever decision in the long term. Obama has been granted his annual financial bonus at the start of the year before hitting his targets. The Nobel Committee are telling Obama to make sure he stands up and delivers against his promises. End the Bush wars, reduce nuclear weapon stockpiles, bring peace to the Middle East, pacify North Korea and bring some agreement and cohesion on climate change. Any one of these accomplishments could warrant a Nobel Prize but Obama has not completed or even really started out on the road to sorting out many of these issues.
So it is a pat on the back and a well done so far but much more work to do and don’t let us down. Defending the decision to grant the prize to Obama, Nobel Committee head Thorbjoern Jagland said, “It was because we would like to support what he is trying to achieve”. Hopefully Obama can live up to the hype, hope and promise of his campaign of ‘Can we do it? Yes we can!’ It seems that the Nobel Committee have been swept up in the hope, rhetoric and promise of change. Remember he has only been in power 8 months and a lot of Americans are beginning to question if they were wrongly swept up in the same furore that brought Obama to power. Obama must have been added to the shortlist of nominees almost within his first two weeks in office, in which time all he had time to do was choose his Presidential desk and change the curtains George and Laura Bush had in the Presidential bedroom.
It is a shame that such a well respected coveted prize has been reduced to a political tool such as the move to pick Obama as winner demonstrated. Former Polish President Lech Walesa, who won the prize in 1983, questioned whether Obama deserved it now. “So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far. He is still at an early stage. He is only beginning to act,” Walesa said.
And as a former winner, Walesas’ comments point out the distinguished company he finds himself in now as a winner of the Peace Prize. But he should not be there yet. Obama is being held in the same esteem as 1979 winner; Mother Theresa who devoted her life to charity and missionary work, Marin Luther King, who won in 1964 and was the leading figure in the civil rights movement and Mikhail Gorbachev who won in 1989 for helping bring the Cold War to an end, a war that could have brought the world to an end through the promise of mutually assure destruction. And then there is Obama, a former Senator only eight months into his Presidency.
Obama is the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize since the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. There were a record 205 nominations for this year’s peace prize. Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Chinese dissident Hu Jia had been among the favourites. Now, if we take Morgan Tsvangirai, he would have been excused for pacing around waiting for a phone call from Oslo while Obama slept well in the White House. Tsvangirai has battled tirelessly against the despotic Zimbabwean regime led by Mugabe. Tsvangirai has been arrested, beaten, threatened with assassination and has kept hope and brought change, something that Obama is yet to achieve. On 11 February 2009, Tsvangirai was sworn in as the President of Zimbabwe. We have to remember that Obama already looks like a Saint (which might come soon at this rate) compared to his predecessor. The change between Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy and Obama’s world outlook has maybe also had an influence on the decision.
So eight months into a so far undistinguished Presidency, this may be a wakeup call for Obama (quite literally in this instance) to stand up and take account and start acting. There is a lot of work to do and I, as well as many others believe Barack Obama could be the man to bring the international community together through multilateralism, end the Afghan and Iraqi wars, bring a peace resolution to the Middle East and lead the world out of the economic quagmire it has found itself in. But he has not done any of that yet. Who knows, if President Obama achieves even just a few of the things on that list, he could well win a second Nobel Peace Prize?
Yesterday, friends, family and colleagues gathered at Durham Cathedral to pay their last respects to a sporting legend. Sir Bobby Robson died 31st July, aged 76 after losing his fifth battle against cancer. It was fitting that it took place in Durham, the heartland of Robson’s beloved North East where he grew up and close to Newcastle United where he enjoyed a successful managerial spell around 10 years ago. Sir Bobby was a football icon, playing for England in a successful playing career before managing some of the biggest clubs in the world including Barcelona and nurturing the talent of household names, such as Romario, Ronaldo and Alan Shearer. Robson was not only a footballer’s man but he was also a gentleman and a fair man.
Robson’s achievements in football included winning European trophies with Ipswich Town and taking England to the semi finals of Italia 90 and a posts width away from a place in the World Cup Final. He also won numerous competitions with Barcelona, PSV Eindhoven and Porto. He was an early mentor to one Jose Mourinho at Barcelona as well. But his efforts stretched beyond sport where he used his high profile status in his great efforts in raising money for cancer and the Cancer Trials Research Centre he helped set up at Newcastle’s Freeman hospital. Once he had to give up football coaching he set himself another stretching target, which was target of raising £1.5m for the new unit, and reached that sum in eight weeks. We need more Robson’s in the world.
In the summer when a great sporting man died, sport has been dragged through the mud yet again with scandal after scandal. The early summer saw 1980’s football hooliganism return in the shape of rioting Millwall and West Ham fans in a Carling Cup match at Upton Park. The pitch was invaded four times and outside the ground was a scene reminiscent of an evening out in downtown Baghdad. A great image for our bid to host the 2018 world cup and for onlookers seeing how we are preparing for the 2012 Olympics. Then just in the last week, Manchester City have been embroiled by disciplinary issues. Firstly Emmanuel Adebayor playing aginst his old club Arsenal put the boot in, quite literally.
Adebayor stamped on Robin Van Persie’s face and could have blinded him. I suspect Robson would have had a thing or two to say to Adebayor in the dressing room, which would have been a little firmer than Mark Hughes’ pathetic defense. Hughes said I looked him in the eyes and asked him if the did it on purpose? He said he didn’t and I believe him. Come on now Mark, is he really going to tell you he was trying to re arrange his face because he hated his ex-teamate?! Robson would most likely have apologised to the fans and put Adebayor on the transfer list. You only have to cast your mind back to what he thought of Craig Bellamy and Kieron Dyer fighting each other on the pitch when they were teammates. Robson’s eventual efforts to get Dyer out of the club led to a fans backlach against him, however, it was the right thing to do. Hughes and Adebyaor have let themselves and the fans down. Then in the Manchester derby just this weekend, a Manchesater United fan ran onto the pitch to celebrate a goal with the players (which he must have thought was allowed or have been blind drunk or both) and Carig Bellamy (him again) slapped the fan in the face.
But these issues of bad sporting etiquette extend beyond Robson’s realm of football. I wonder what Robson would have thought of Falvio Briatore’s diretive to Nelson Piquet to deliberately crash his Formula 1 multi million pound car into a wall so his teammate could win the race? Don’t forget that Briatore is also asscoiated with football in his capacity as a director at Queens Park Rangers. Not for long I suspect.
What Reanult did wasn’t just playing hard and doing everything you can to win. This is plain cheating. There is no two ways about it. And how do the FIA try to uphold sporting and fair play standards? By giving Renault a suspended two year ban. Yeah that’s a real deterrent. Great job.
And then there is the gentlemen’s game and a real man’s game that is Rugby Union. But what would Robson have made of Dean Richards instructions to wing Tom Williams during the Heineken Cup quarter-final against Leinster in April to fake a blood injury while he was in charge at Harelquins? Richards asked one of his players to bite down on a blood capsule so that he could leave the field and they could make a subsitution that would have otherwise not been allowed to get a kicker on in the final minutes of the game? Can’t imagine Robson would have thought much of that. Real blood injuries…fine…man up and get on with it if you can. I’m not sure Robson could have even fathomed what a calculated, deliberate fake blood injury could even be.
The point is that we need influential people like Robson at the top of the sporting game and with the ability to influence and uphold the standards to keep sport moving in the right direction. We need less Adebayors and Briatores and more Robsons. Sport shames itself week in week out across Football, Rugby, Formula 1 and even Tennis. But it is how people are punished and how sport learns from its mistakes as a community that we will move on from these issues. Overturning Eduardo’s ban for blatent diving because FIFA are scared of Arsenal’s mite in world football does not send the right messages to the grass roots of the game and it’s not the way to go. Sporting associations need to take more of a stand against violence, corruption and cheating in sport. It would be easy to stamp out (no Adebayor pun intended) all the issues mentioned above. Fine Renault £1 million and ban them from competing for a few races. Then see if one of their drivers ever miraculously drives into a wall again. Ban Adebayor and arrest him for assault and fine Manchester City an exhorbitant amount of money (they can afford it). Otherwise in fifty years time there will be no more memorial services to celebrate the lives of sporting legends and people like Sir Bobby Robson.
The terrorist attacks on New York and Washington on September 11th 2001 became synonymous with two simple numbers and from then on the attacks were simply known as 9/11. But why did Al-Qaeda choose the United States of America? Why didn’t they choose the United Kingdom, France, Brazil or China for their most devastating attack ever? The subject of this blog post will explore the reasons why 9/11 happened. They are not excuses for an inexcusable, unfathomable series of events that took place 8 years ago this week. They are objective explanations seeking clarity around the chain of events spreading back twenty-five years, which culminated in America being subject to the attack. By looking to the past we can learn why things happened and maybe even take lessons from that to stop the cycle happening all over again in the future. Adding to this the fact that American policy in Afghanistan is currently yielding fairly disastrous results and regular casualties for all the coalition forces, this is an appropriate time to question why the 9/11 attacks happened and whether American can take any lessons for the future from how we got to 9/11?
How was Cold War policy linked to the 9/11 attacks?
The term blowback has been associated with this idea that the costs and consequences of U.S interventionist foreign policies and military overextension have made life more dangerous for them. In a 1998 fatwa, issued by bin Laden, he announced that the American actions in the Middle East were a, “clear declaration of war on God, his messenger and Muslims.” It is important to understand the contextual importance of U.S foreign policy in the Middle East in this era. Richard Clarke, a disillusioned member of the Bush administration, argued that to understand why the Islamic movement has chosen America as its target, it is necessary to analyse events form the last twenty-five years and particularly, American actions influenced by the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the impact of the Iranian Revolution.
A proxy war in Afghanistan against the Soviets: ISI given too much control rather than CIA?
Much has been made of the funding doled out by the Interservices Intelligence (ISI) agency of Pakistan and whether the U.S should have maintained stricter role in the supervision of that funding. The CIA and ISI cooperated very closely during the Regan years and over the conflict in Afghanistan and it is important to note that all CIA funding was channelled through the ISI. CIA personnel were not allowed to enter Afghanistan. There are three criticisms of the U.S policy, which can be linked to the 9/11 attacks here. Firstly, the U.S was not forward thinking enough in allowing the ISI to recruit anyone from anywhere in the world to fight against the Soviet’s. Secondly, the ISI had too much control and used the funding to arm the most extreme and radical of the Mujahideen groups. Thirdly, the United States did not consider what the proxy army of Arab fighters they had helped create would do after the conflict.
The CIA and ISI were willing to recruit Islamic extremists to a cause that was not theirs, although they adopted it. Funding to the ISI in 1982 was only $35 million and by 1987 it had reached between $600 and $700 million. Involvement of the Saudi’s was seen as a prudent move by Regan to reduce the financial cost of the conflict, as the Saudi’s matched U.S aid equally. However, as I have noted, it had consequences in leading to the 9/11 attacks. The ISI was given the role of helping the U.S to win its proxy war and defeat the Soviet’s. The U.S engaged in drafting in a proxy army. Fighters were engaged from all over the world including Saudis, Egyptians and other Arab states. America helped seek the importation into Afghanistan and Pakistan of an army of Arab fighters
There was no monitoring or regulation of who was in Afghanistan fighting on behalf of the Americans. During the jihad, anyone was welcomed with open arms. There was negligence on the part of the U.S in turning a blind eye to the recipients of the aid and the background of the fighters who were recruited. The CIA and ISI effectively privatized the recruitment of Islamic extremists through Islamic charities and religious bodies. The U.S were responsible for allowing particular sights in the U.S, including the al-kifah refugee centre in New York to be turned into a key centre for, “recruiting and fund raising for the Afghanistan jihad.” Among the lead recruiters were Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman and Sheik Abdullah Azzam. Azzam went on to found Hamas.
Furthermore, the CIA was too dependent on the ISI and they had too much control over allocation of resources. Saudi and U.S assistance was funnelled through the ISI who helped distribute arms and train the fighters. Considering the financial backing the U.S and the Saudis were providing, they should have had more of a say over where the funds went. Beyond the ISI connection to Wahabbism, like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan had a fear of Pashtun-driven Afghan nationalism and wanted social order in Afghanistan and wanted a strong Islamic state. The autonomy the U.S gave the ISI over funding meant that they could aid their causes while also trying to help the U.S win the war. It was a case of coincidental causes.
The ISI favoured arming the extremist group, Hizb-I-Islami, the group headed by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. That group was the primary beneficent of the ISI’s system of allocation of aid and was a vehemently anti-American group. I think this was short sighted of the Americans to help aid extremist Islamic groups. In the same way the U.S forged a World war II alliance with Stalin but was still wary of his actions, and sought to contain him after the end of the war, the U.S should have realised how pragmatic their approach was an been more aware of the consequences. Hartman explained that the nature of the U.S Cold War alliances ensured that the, “U.S money and weapons programmes would solidify the growing pan-Islam movement, more commonly referred to as Islamism.” I agree with state department Afghanistan specialist Eliza Van Hollen, who argued that the CIA should have held firm against the ISI and not allowed it to direct its weapons to favoured groups.
However, some commentators including Jason Burke have defended the U.S role in using the ISI for its proxy war. Jason Burke claims that American funding went exclusively to the Afghan Mujahideen groups and not to the Arab volunteers. On top of this, as little as 25% of the money for the Afghan jihad was actually supplied directly by states. Money was supplied from sheiks emirs, princes and devout businessmen throughout the Gulf. It is difficult to analyse this defence, as there is little published information on the pattern, scope and method of the CIA’s international recruitment and allocation of resources to the jihad. Form my reading, I concluded that the ISI funded Arabs fighter in part as well as the Afghan resistance. However, even if the U.S did not fund the Arab part of the resistance, they were still willing to allow and encourage their recruitment and participation in the war, which damages Burke’s defence.
Thirdly, the American Cold War policy of being overly transfixed on the Soviet threat left the United States expose to even greater dangers in the future. There was little consideration to what would happen to this huge army of recruited Arabs once the fighting was over. The United States did nothing to help with post-war assimilation back into society. Many of the fighters had come from countries thousands of miles away and had no homes to return to. The United States should have foreseen they would need a new role and a new cause. The United States should not have allowed and helped the ISI to recruit anyone willing to fight the Soviets from anywhere in the world, as it left an assembled group of ideologically charged Islamic extremists. Now moving on, I will analyse the role of bin-Laden.
Recruitment of bin-Laden
Another highly documented element of the U.S role in the Afghanistan-Soviet conflict is the link between bin-Laden being supported by the U.S and later striking in the 9/11 attacks. Unsurprisingly, the 9/11 Commission Report discounts this line of thinking. “Bin-Laden and his comrades had their own sources of support and training, and they received little or no assistance from the U.S.” However, Mamdani argues that bin-Laden was recruited by Saudi intelligence to lead the jihad and this was done with the approval of the CIA. It is widely agreed that Bin Laden was predominantly a financier and a logistics expert during the conflict. Between 1979-1984, bin-Laden spent his time split between Saudi Arabia and Peshawar, focusing on fundraising and raising the profile of the jihad. From the mid-1980’s onwards he began spending more time in Afghanistan.
However, bin-Laden was not funded by the CIA. This was not possible give the structure of the funding that General Zia Ul-Haq had in place in Pakistan. What is possible though is that due to the CIA using the ISI as it a proxy service for allocation of funding is that bin-Laden received support despite what the 9/11 report states. Hartman argues that bin-Laden, as a prominent Saudi, was heavily patronised by the ISI and was involved in recruitment, transportation and raining of Arab national who volunteered to fight. Therefore, if American’s only defense is that they did not directly fund bin-Laden then this is a weak argument and it can be possible to see even greater link to 9/11. However, having said this, it is important to question whether bin-Laden and other Arab fighters really contributed that much in the conflict?
Afghan and Arab fighters
There is an important separation to be made between the Afghan resistance fighters and the Arab fighters, a point that Burke was trying to make in defence of allocation resources. A line of argument that some would make would claim that the Arab Mujahideen fighters had gained legitimacy and prestige from defeating a superpower in Afghanistan and they had the confidence and ability to turn its attention the America. The Arab fighters gained a lot from the war and I believe some of these factors helps explain the 9/11 attacks but to argue that they won the Afghan-Soviet conflict and therefore moved on from there is a weak argument and is incorrect, as it discounts the major role of the Afghan resistance.
Estimations of how many Arab fighters participated in the conflict vary hugely. The official estimation from former CIA officials stationed in Pakistan at the time say it was, “a maximum of 25,000.” This may have been slightly on the low side, explained by what some of the Arab volunteers went onto participate in during the future. Conservative estimations are in the region of 35,000 Muslim radicals. However, some have made much higher estimates of towards 100,000. Relating back to the lack of U.S intelligence on the Arab fighter’s this makes it difficult to predict numbers of Arab participants in the conflict. However, even if it was a high figure, it is important not to merge the effect of the Arab and Afghan resistance in defeating the Soviet’s. Cooley in particular is an advocate of the large role played by the Arab fighters. He seems intent on ignoring indigenous Afghan resistance when in fact most of the resistance against the Soviets was carried out by Afghans who received nothing for their efforts. Whatever role the Arab volunteers played in the conflict, I see a link to the 9/11 attacks, as the war created an opportunity for a number of ideologically charged Muslim fighters to come together and discuss future causes
The creation of jihad
The U.S Cold War policy of proxy action in Afghanistan had a huge effect on creating a jihad that would lead to the 9/11 attacks. One of the most subversive effects of the privatized jihad was on the madrassahs, many of which were turned into politico-military training camps. Thousands came to study at the Saudi financed camps in Pakistan. These camps became a foundation for promoting pan-Islam fundamentalism and a place for forging tactical and ideological links. The international Muslim fundamentalist coalition that assembled provided a perfect recruiting ground for bin-Laden’s terrorist group that was responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
The jihad produced an opportunity for a huge number of radical Muslims to come together and have legitimacy to be there in the U.S’s eyes. Therefore, they were not subject to intelligence reports and it led to the chance for bin-Laden to recruit them to al-Qaeda, which struck on 9/11. Although the Arab fighters, in my opinion cannot be credited with winning the war alone, they certainly did end the war having gained experience and the Afghan jihad had given them as Mandami put it; “organization, numbers, skills, confidence and coherent objectives.” The jihad continued after the U.S withdrawal and fighters went to Kosovo, Bosnia, Chechnya and some eventually took part in the terrorist atrocity on 9/11. The United States helped to create the jihad for a contemporary political objective; however, it backfired and led to the creation of an infrastructure of terror.
An infrastructure of terror
Cold War American policy does help to explain the 9/11 attacks. The actions of the U.S helped create a jihad that would later terrorise the U.S and the west all over the world, form New York to Madrid, from Bali to Istanbul and London to Riyadh. What makes American policy help explain the 9/11 attacks is the infrastructure the war put in place for the future terrorists. A Los Angeles Times team carried out an investigation into the Afghan war and found that the key leaders of every major terrorist attack, including 9/11, veritably turned out to have been veterans of the Afghan war. Mandami thinks that the real damage the CIA did was not in providing arms for the resistance but “the privatization of information about how to produce and spread violence – the formation of private militias capable of creating terror”.
The U.S helped provide and ideological infrastructure by allowing like-minded radicals to meet and rub shoulders and discuss the jihadist movement. They also helped with an actual material infrastructure, from which bin-Laden would later conduct his operations. Construction of bases was part of the ISI program in Afghanistan, under the direction of the CIA. One of these bases was in a natural cave complex in the Tora Bora Mountains. It was reported that this is where bin-Laden was hiding when he planned the 9/11 attacks and where the U.S unsuccessfully attempted to find him in the Khost complex in October 2001.
The end of the Afghan conflict and the U.S withdrawal
The United States final Cold War policy that proved to have disastrous consequences was the rapid withdrawal of assets and resources from Afghanistan at the end of the conflict and this indicates culpability for 9/11. The United Sates largely abandoned the country to its own fate and following the Soviet withdrawal in 1989; the Afghan factions fought each other. The power vacuum left by the U.S meant that Afghanistan became a haven for fundamentalist Muslim radicals.
The birth of al-Qaeda and the rise of the Taliban
Pakistani intelligence used its power and influence to bring order out of the chaos and bring the Taliban to power. The Saudi’s and Pakistanis sponsored the Taliban takeover in 1995/1996 on an agenda of promising peace and security. Bin-Laden was allowed to return to the country in May 1996 despite having been ally of the Taliban’s enemy Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Arab Afghan veterans and many North Africans, Asians, Saudis, Palestinians and Egyptians began to come to join bin-Laden and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The U.S is definitely culpable here for withdrawing too quickly, despite war wariness towards the end of the Cold War, they should have had the foresight to analyse the role the Arab veterans may play in the future. Leaving such a power vacuum in Afghanistan meant the Taliban coming to power and giving refuge to a terrorist group who knew the country well, where they could plan strikes against the U.S from which culminated in the 9/11 attacks.
Conclusion and why this is not the full picture in explaining the 9/11 attacks
The 9/11 attacks were partly precipitated by America Cold War policy. However, it does not give us a holistic explanation. Other factors also help explain the 9/11 attacks. These include, the legacy left by colonialism, some would even go as far back as the crusades. Also weaknesses in U.S intelligence leading up to the attacks partly explain why it happened and a degree of explanation can never be defined as it was such a barbaric callous attack which went against the grain of human nature.
I have just spent a couple of days in London with work and I am currently writing this blog post sitting on my very comfortable Virgin Train service back up to Birmingham New Street. My numerous journeys on the Tube while I was in London were comparatively less comfy. After a few days in the hustle and bustle of one of the world’s foremost business and economic centres, it made me think about London as a place. London is a weird, wonderful and remarkable place and perhaps even the most famous city in the world. It was voted just this week as the 14th best place to visit for tourist purposes on the planet and was only beaten by places such as New York and Mauritius.
What is London?
London. Home to the Prime Minister and the Queen. The skyline is dominated by some of the globes most easily recognisable landmarks like Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, the Gherkin and Canary Wharf. London is also a gastronomic capital with the finest eating establishments in the Michelin guidebook and home to chefs, such as Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing. And then there’s the shopping and the hotels, Harrods and The Ritz. And not forgetting the sport and world-renowned venues like Wimbledon and Wembley, and of course, London as the forthcoming host of the 30th Olympiad in 2012. But this blog post is not an advert for why to visit London. For me, what really defines London and sets it apart from other British cities is its other 8 million inhabitants speaking a combined total of well over 300 different languages or ‘Londoners’ who live there besides the Queen and the PM.
‘Londoners’ are busy people. London is a city on the move, all the time, both day and night. This brings me on to the main topic for this blog, which is human observations about travel in London, and particularly Tube etiquette.
Now, one area where Londoners are easily distinguishable from Brummies, Scousers or Mancunians is there approach to the daily work commute. Are Londoners actually busier than their brethren from the wilds of the North? Are there fewer hours in the day south of the Watford gap? Does London operate on a 23-hour clock? London is a cultural microcosm where patterns of behaviour are learned and people are conditioned to behave like Londoners.
So how would one pass as a Londoner if they were moving to the city from a faraway place, such as Newcastle (which I guarantee very few Londoners could even locate on map) and had never visited before? Well there are some very simple steps to take to pass confidently as a fully-fledged Londoner for a newcomer.
Firstly, Londoners under no circumstances look where they are going, especially when using public transport. It is quite normal to barge into people and then mutter something under your breath like it was the other persons fault for blocking your Napoleonic march. It is most unconventional to look where you are going or apologise for bumping into someone. I have not been fortunate enough to witness the phenomenon of Tube rage first hand but I am told it can be quite common at peak travel times. So be on your guard when squeezing into the tube at the last minute before the doors close. Make sure you don’t make someone else pop out at your expense as you step on. This could cause issues.
Secondly, you must always be reading when making your way to or using public transport (particularly the tube) Again, you must read even if this means sacrificing your eyes for their traditional use of assisting you in navigating your way through the inevitable crowds of fellow commuters. It is perfectly normal to actually read while you are walking along in London while in a city like Leeds this may lead to stares from people wondering what the hell you are doing or envious looks from others at your remarkable multiple tasking abilities. While others in Liverpool will nod knowingly to themselves and think you must be one of those ‘Londoners’ up on business for the day. Now, back to more pressing matters……the choice of reading material. This may vary from books to magazines and newspapers such as the Metro, Evening Standard and the London Paper are all popular choices. It is acceptable to collect a free paper on the way to The Tube purely because it is free and you like a bargain and then never read it. Most unread papers are left behind the seats or at the bottom of escalators. Adventurous Londoners will even patronise their Netbooks or Laptops while engaging in the daily commute.
Thirdly, a new Londoner must participate in the fun and games of the escalators and stairs, which are obviously inescapable in the underground. One has to remember that we deciphered earlier that Londoners are either busier than others or they operate on a shorter daily clock. It is only in London where people would walk down the escalators at a break neck pace to cheat the kinetic and inevitable motion of the escalator and beat the stationary non-movers on the escalators down by at least 7 or 8 seconds. But these precious seconds could prove vital to a Londoner. Outsiders should only stand stationary on the left hand side of the escalators at their peril blocking our budding Usain Bolt’s from steaming past. If you were to stand stationary on the left hand side of an escalator, beware; this could cause extreme huffing and puffing from the blocked commuter. Whereas in Birmingham New Street, for example, which I might add, it is the busiest train station in the country, there are no designated escalator express lanes and it would be unclear whether the right or left hand side is the ‘express’ route.
Finally and most importantly to avoid injury to yourself, you must beware of anyone standing on the tube with a suitcase. Do not stand near them…sit with the Londonders at this stage. If a traveller has a wheelie suitcase it usually means they are in London for a holiday or for business overnight from another city. Beware of them particularly when the tube comes to a stop or departs a station with a sudden jolt of motion. They are the ones who will fall over, grab anything they can including an innocent stable bystander to stop themselves collapsing in a heap on the tube carriage floor or even, most entertainingly; actually fly halfway down the carriage when there is a particularly forceful jolt.
Learned or needed?
Obviously this post has been written from a slightly sarcastic standpoint. However, I love London and have many friends who are Londoners. Also many Londoners do need to make their way in a quick march as the transport network can be so congested it can take an age to get to meetings and appointments. Also many Londoners don’t adhere to any of the behavioural triats discussed and potter along at their own weary pace. Sometimes though I find myself in London and slowly being conditioned into the ways of the masses. I might sometimes hurry my steps even though I am not in a hurry but I am following the herd mentality. So what baffles me is whether these behavioural traits I have mentioned associated with Londoners are a necessity of completing the journey to and from work or social events or if this is a conditioned behaviour? I think it is learned. It is not particularly important whether these traits are the result of social conditioning or whether Londoners actually are busier but I thought I would note down my observations either way. What does seem obvious to me though is why many people my age only ‘do’ London for a few years and that is because they are simply fed up and worn out from the commuting!