November 15, 2009
VOL 26 NO 46
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AS IRAQI jihadists threatened last week to behead the British captive Kenneth Bigley, the word 'terrorist' was everywhere. If I could ban any word in the English language, it would be that one. Here's one example of its lop-sided use. A fortnight ago, Chechen jihadists murdered more than 300 children in Beslan.

They are "terrorists". Since 1991, Russian troops have murdered more than 40,000 Chechens. They aren't "terrorists", they're "our allies".

The term "terrorism" simply means "violence we don't support". In the adult world, each individual act of violence needs to be discussed on its own merits and in its own context. Some of the people who howl "terrorist" most loudly admit that they use the term as an attempt to shut down debate.

Richard Perle, the neoconservative guru, says we need to "decontextualise terror".

"Any attempt to discuss the roots of terrorism is an attempt to justify it. It simply needs to be fought and destroyed."

It's necessary to look at recent history to understand how foolish this is. When the Soviet Union fell, the Chechen people sought independence from Russia, the country that had battered them for over a century. They have a separate language and culture, it was a perfectly reasonable demand but the exit door was quickly bolted shut. Chechnya is an important source of access to the region's oil and gas reserves.

No Russian government was going to let its people go.

So the Chechens launched a campaign of limited violence. In response, Russia levelled Chechnya. A quarter of the population has "disappeared" in the attacks. In 1996, the Russian government finally grew tired of bombing rubble and being bombed in return. They granted Chechnya de facto sovereignty. The violence stopped. For three years, peace prevailed.

But, when two bombs exploded in a pair of Moscow apartment blocks in 1999, and killed 200 innocent people, Vladimir Putin was quick to claim this as proof that no compromise would appease the Chechens.

There's a snag: several respected journalists discovered that an identical third bomb was planted in a nearby apartment block.

The perpetrators were captured . . . and released by police when they discovered that they were Russian secret service agents.

There is considerable evidence that Putin relaunched the Chechen war, destroying the region's fragile peace, for his own political and strategic ends.

Who are the "terrorists" in this scenario? How does that label help us to understand this conflict?

Perle would say that even to offer this context is to apologise for it. Imagine saying this about any other historical event. There is a consensus among historians that the injustices contained in the Versailles Treaty contributed to the rise of Nazism. Are all these historians pro-Nazi?

The term "terrorism" . . . as used by the press and politicians today . . . invites us all to participate in a strange, wilful ignorance of cause and effect. How can this ever be a serious response to our problems?

When there are violent attacks, we need to understand why they are happening. If we do not, we are left flailing about in a historical void and powerless to prevent further attacks.

It is nonsense to describe the battle we have been engaged in since 11 September 2001 as a "War on Terror". This misnomer has allowed any tin-pot dictatorship to target its own unhelpful minorities as "terrorists".

The battle we really are engaged in is against a particular brand of Wahabi Islamic fundamentalism.

They believe in exterminating minority groups like homosexuals, Jews and even other Muslim sects. They believe that death is in many circumstances preferable to life . . . and they are prepared to take plenty of people with them who don't agree.

It is precisely because this philosophy is so dangerous that we cannot afford a nocontext-please approach. We need to understand the factors that makes jihadism so appealing to so many young men or we will never be able to prevent it. It is not inherent to the Islamic faith.

There are few jihadists in stable, prosperous Muslim countries like Turkey, or among the Muslim populations of Europe and America. No; jihadism is a virus that spreads in conditions of poverty, humiliation and butchery.

Where there are legitimate grievances being exploited by jihadists, they must be dealt with urgently.

There needs to be an independent Chechnya, a free Kashmir, a Palestinian state and an end to the revolting House of Saud.

Of course, granting all of these will not send every last jihadist back to his cave but it will whittle down their support and make it harder for them to recruit a new generation of supporters.

If we are all settling down into a long, dangerous fight against jihadism then we need to start extinguishing these fires of rage. It is only once these proper grievances have been dealt with, once it is clear that there is no justice on the jihadist side, that our leaders can build a consensus to fight the remaining shards of Islamic fundamentalism.

There should be no illusions. Most jihadists will carry on fighting long after we have mopped up concerns Western liberals can share. Many of their grievances simply could not be accommodated without surrendering our own values.

Look at the jihadists who took Kenneth Bigley hostage in Iraq. They are demanding the release of Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons expert, among others. How can this grievance . . . a desire for the return of Saddam Hussein's regime . . . be dealt with, other than with bullets? Call them Saddamsupporters; call them monsters. But please, don't reinforce one of the stupidities of our age and call them "terrorists".
2004-09-26 12:00:00
THE script is so familiar, all the actors can no doubt recite their lines by heart.

A US president complains about Airbus subsidies. Hurried meetings are staged between European and North American trade officials. The corridors of Brussels and Washington buzz with chatter. There are dark mutterings of a trans-Atlantic trade war.

The film? The longrunning wrangle between Chicago-based Boeing and Toulouse-based Airbus over whether the European plane maker has received government subsidies unfairly.

European negotiators should try to break away from the familiar old lines.

They should say to their counterparts across the Atlantic something like: Airbus makes better planes that airlines like to operate and people like to fly in. The Americans should get over it and move on. And the best thing anyone in Washington could say to Boeing is that it should stop complaining, and start repairing its business.

The argument over aerospace subsidies has gone on for too long and is damaging to both sides.

Airbus is now the world's leading maker of passenger aircraft. It plans to deliver more planes this year than Boeing. It has a bigger backlog of orders - Airbus's was 1,396 planes at the end of August, compared with 1,087 for Boeing. According to JPMorgan Chase, Airbus has a 58% market share for wide-body aircraft currently in backlog for delivery in 2006, and 77% the following year. Airbus now dominates the industry.

The issue is whether that's because it's a better company, or because it has been unfairly helped by tricky European governments. Observers of this ritual may notice that, curiously enough, US presidents are most bothered by Airbus when they make speeches to aircraft workers in election years.

True to form, the latest outbreak of Airbus bashing was started by President George W Bush, during a speech to a Boeing plant in suburban Philadelphia last month. Bush told his audience he planned to "get rid" of Airbus subsidies which he said make it difficult for Boeing to compete. The Bush administration later indicated it wanted to scrap a 12-year-old agreement that allows EU members to subsidise Airbus, which is controlled by European Aeronautic, Defense & Space.

The actors all snapped into their roles. Ten days ago, after a meeting between the two sides, the EU said it rejected any change to the existing agreement. Now the US is threatening to bring the issue before the World Trade Organisation.

Yet nobody who monitors the industry expects any dramatic concessions on either side. "While such rhetoric is unhelpful for sentiment towards the sector, and while a trade war would potentially be very damaging to Airbus, we do not see a realistic possibility of this happening, " Credit Suisse First Boston said in an analysis last month. It said Airbus has stuck by the 1992 trade agreement - and that the US has few grounds for complaint.

It would be tempting to dismiss the latest round of political wrangling as nothing more than an unfortunate byproduct of a close US presidential race. Tempting, but wrong.

In reality, the endless trans-Atlantic battle between the US and Europe over the aerospace industry is damaging to both companies and both continents. Everybody loses.

Here's why. One, it stops Boeing from addressing its real problems. Any history of global business in the 20th century will have a chapter on Boeing. It virtually invented the modern era of cheap, massmarket plane travel with aircraft such as the 707, the 737 and the 747. Yet, since Boeing brought out the 777 in the early 1990s, it hasn't come up with anything.

In British politics, there's a saying: "Oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them". That's true in business, too. Airbus only won the leadership of its industry because Boeing surrendered it.

Yet the world needs at least two big plane makers.

Given Boeing's current dismal performance, the company risks shrinking into a niche player. Nobody will be better off if the vast majority of commercial planes available in the world have the words "Made in Toulouse" stamped on their undercarriage.

Two, it stops Europe from understanding how Airbus has succeeded. So much noise comes from the US about subsidies, most people could be forgiven for imagining the plane manufacturer was kept afloat only on a diet of government handouts.

That's not the case.

Airbus was indeed founded with public money (but everyone gets start-up capital from somewhere).

And it's had government loans, though it insists they are on commercial terms.

Yet plenty of industries have had both and then flopped.

Airbus has succeeded because it concentrated on giving the market what it wants. It builds technologically advanced, reliable planes, designed for an era in which air travel is a dull, often unpleasant, yet efficient way of getting from place to place. Europe urgently needs more Airbuses. Anything that obscures what made Airbus successful is unhelpful.

Three, it sours a trading relationship that should be one of the closest and most productive in the world.

Europe and the US have more in common than any other two economic regions. They are both developed and wealthy, and between them they have the two major global currencies, the dollar and the euro.

The Americans should worry about how Boeing can be turned back into the great company it once was.

Europe should worry about how it can create more Airbuses.

And trade negotiators on both sides of the Atlantic should move on to discuss something more important.

The subsidy debate has grown stale.

For everyone's sake, the Boeing/Airbus subsidy row shouldn't be allowed to start another reel.
2004-09-26 12:00:00
THE BRITISH primeminister's advisers have come up with a new "unique selling point" as they try to repackage the Blair brand for another party conference, another election and even another full term. It is to present Blair as the man with the experience and the courage to address the big challenges facing Britain.

He will identify some of these big themes for a third Labour term in his speech to the party's annual conference in Brighton on Tuesday.

The options being kicked around this weekend, as he writes his speech, include the looming pensions crisis and Labour's unfinished business on welfare reform and education. With growing evidence that people's educational prospects are decided by the age of seven, we can expect a major push on help for the under-fives.

Another possible goal is to do more for the 50% of youngsters who will not go to university, even if Labour achieves its target of ensuring that the other half does.

Blair wants the Labour conference to be dominated by policies to improve the lives of Britain's "hardworking families". One big idea to be trumpeted next week will be universal but flexible childcare, for which the better-off would pay but which the poor would get free. More help for first-time buyers struggling to enter the housing market is also on the cards.

Many middle-class people feel they have "lost" Blair to Iraq in his second term. The danger for him is that his best-laid plans to address their concerns could be scuppered by the terrible events unfolding in Iraq. The security problems would have been a bad enough backdrop to the conference.

But Ken Bigley's harrowing plea to Blair to save his life has ensured that Iraq will dominate next week.

While trying to devote most of his speech to domestic policy, Blair will have to address Iraq. To warm the cockles of his own party, he will promise action to tackle Africa's problems when Britain holds the G8 presidency next year. But it will be a very tricky balancing act.

I have lost count of the number of times I have written that the cloud of Iraq has returned to haunt Blair.

But it happened again last week: he had that haunted look in his watery eyes. His advisers are nervous and uncertain about the impact of the hostage crisis. They believe the British people will understand the government cannot give in to terrorist demands. But they fear some people will blame Blair for getting Britain into the Iraq mess in the first place.

The conference was meant to provide the stage to show that the New Labour project, and Blair personally, have not run out of steam for a third term. There is much talk of him getting a "second wind". He now apparently wants to go "on and on" and is ready to tell the voters he intends to serve a full third term if he wins another election.

If he is to do so, Blair needs to reconnect with his own party. The Brighton conference may not be representative of the party in the country. Blair's critics fear it will be a pre-election rally. But even his friends accept Blair needs to get his party behind his project.

Patrick Diamond, a Downing Street special adviser and editor of a new book called New Labour's Old Roots, warns: "A party of blind obedience and mindless loyalty has no long-term future." He says New Labour must "furnish the party with a stronger, more confident social democratic doctrine".

After seven years in power, Labour has not matched Margaret Thatcher's "offer" to individual voters, who understood how her "less state, more individual" philosophy translated into council house sales, a shareowning democracy and lower taxes. Labour hopes new "radical" policies such as universal childcare will provide its missing anchor.

The Blair camp says the prime minister is his own master after his dramatic reshuffle two weeks ago. His decision to install Alan Milburn in the pivotal election role previously held by Gordon Brown will, I suspect, prove a defining moment of his premiership.

It seems odd that Blair wants to sideline Brown, who has built the rock of economic stability without which Labour would surely be 10 points behind in the opinion polls. The Blairites claim the prime minister's patience with an obstructive Brown has finally snapped, and that he is determined to be his own man for the rest of his time in Downing Street.

The Blair camp is anxious about how Brown will play it when he makes his conference speech on Monday. Some Blairites calculate that Brown cannot make another "real Labour" speech which distances himself from Blair, because he did that last year.

But there are dark warnings from the Brown camp to expect an explosion at some point; the only issue is when.

Blair needs to find a new modus operandi with his chancellor. But their once-strong relationship can never be the same again.
2004-09-26 12:00:00

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