Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where we were and where we should be

I was driving home from work, around 5pm British summer time, when I heard the news. The car swerved a little, my shocked response roused a shattered 4 year old experiencing his first days of formal schooling and when I went to the supermarket to pick up some essential supplies, everyone else seemed subdued and zoned out. We couldn't believe it, and the whole series of attacks which we watched over and over and over as our TV screens, governed by broadcasters as dazed and mesmerised as the rest of us, seemed like shots of a Hollywood movie. What did it mean? What were the implications and ramifications?

They weren't what I'd hoped for, that's for sure. I still can't believe that we rolled over so the Bush and Blair administrations could shaft us royally with the phony dossiers and 'war on terror' garbage. I still can't believe that Afghanistan is more of a basket case than ever. I still can't believe that the US voted Bush back in four years ago so he could oversee the shelling out of billions more dollars to his war contractor buddies and the melt-down of the US banking system. Yeah, I know that sub-prime and the collapse of Bear Stearns are not the direct responsibility of the US government and the Bush more properly known as Bozo the Clown. But my, wouldn't the US have been better equipped for the inevitable downturn in the housing and financial markets if they hadn't had several hundred billion dollars of war debt slung round their necks?

When I read Rory Stewart's fascinating trek across Afghanistan, The Places in Between, I was captivated by his depiction of a country which at last, post-Taliban, seemed to have some chance for revival. The book is set in 2002, and Stewart (clearly bananas) goes for quite a long 6 week walk across the centre of Afghanistan. Afghanistan as others have pointed out, is a place that exerts a strange and potent fascination, a remote place, unconquerable and opaque, a possible home to some Shangri-La valley apart from its opium, its appalling human rights record, its worse women's rights record...Of course, where we should be is a world where instead of distracting us with Saddam Hussain, the US and Nato actually tackled Afghanistan with a long-term development plan reinforced by troops who did not bomb the natives when they tried to get married/go to the market/head for the mosque, but actually built things and encouraged legitimate trade and public debate and the opening of schools, the revival of women in the workplace and the integration of Afghanistan into the global economy. Instead we had Iraq.

Today, I read Lucy Carrigan's moving words over at the Huffington Post ( and I wondered whether the majority of Americans might not just possibly reject the morally and fiscally bankrupt policies of McCain and the Republicans who are pulling his strings, and opt for a team which will make it their priority to get America financially and economically back on track, and make America a country that the rest of the world can admire rather than distrust, fear and even loathe.

And I urge those who have forgotten what 9/11 was really like to go to Youtube and look up Rufus Sewell and his touching reading of Simon Armitage's poem written to commemorate the fifth anniversary, "9/11: Out of the Blue".

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