Tuesday 3 May 2011

Obama gets Osama, but the war goes on

How would the global media have coped if Obama had finally caught up with Osama on Friday rather than Sunday?

I reached page 24 of my broadsheet newspaper on Saturday before I found a single mention of anything other than the royal nuptials. That was a story about the need for larger than expected hospital cuts, released by some strange oversight when all eyes were on Westminster Abbey. Even an ardent monarchist like myself could not help wondering whether a sense of proportion was being lost.

For me, the most remarkable thing was not that dress, or the maid of honour’s striking figure, or even the alleged billions who watched the ceremony on TV. It was the hundreds of thousands who turned out in person to snatch a passing glimpse of this piece of history and to roar their approval of those kisses on the palace balcony, even though they could have seen far more in much greater comfort on their sofas at home.

I am glad to live in a country where huge crowds turn out to rejoice in a royal love match. The hatred that motivated the flag-waving crowds celebrating the death of bin Laden in Washington and New York yesterday was entirely understandable, but still demeans those taking part. Just as the footage of Palestinians whooping in the streets at the fall of the Twin Towers provides one of the most revolting memories of 9/11.

I have friends who are currently climbing Mount Everest. It sounds like hell on earth. Still, at least I had been consoling myself with the thought that bin Laden and his sidekicks must be enduring similar discomforts in a filthy Stone Age hiding place high in the Hindu Kush. Instead it turns out that he had been living comfortably about 800 yards from the Pakistani equivalent of Sandhurst, and presumably receiving regular deliveries from their version of Ocado (as he would surely have raised an eyebrow or two if he had been regularly pushing a trolley around the local answer to Tesco).

Clearly the solution for William and Catherine, in their quest for privacy, is not a remote cottage on Anglesey but a floodlit palace in the centre of London with soldiers marching up and down outside.

No doubt we will find out in due course what contribution Britain made to this belated triumph against al-Qaeda, whether through the intelligence services of GCHQ or the lessons Northumbria Police were able to provide from the search for Raoul Moat. And perhaps the question may also be asked why our forces are in action in Afghanistan when the chief instigator of the terrorism we are supposedly fighting was holed up a completely different country.

If President Obama had acted 24 hours earlier, he could have claimed the scalp of his public enemy number one on the anniversary of the suicide of Adolf Hitler. But that truly was an ending. The demise of bin Laden is just another act in a saga of death and destruction to which no one can see a conclusion.

We can be sure that cruel retribution will follow, and the victims are unlikely to be well-protected heads of state. It could be me. It could be you. We can do nothing but be vigilant. The traditional way of ending terrorist campaigns, like the IRA’s, is to give in to their major demands. But the Islamist movement, fuelled by perverted religion, has no rational goals that the secular and materialist western world can even begin to comprehend, let alone discuss.

The bottom line is this: love is good, hate is bad. That is why we were right to celebrate on Friday, and the Americans wrong to rejoice on Sunday. Not least because, like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s marriage, the war with terror has only just begun.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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