(In this topsy-turvy world in which Israeli commandos are perceived as pirates, and terrorists and “aid workers” armed with clubs are seen as innocent victims, I thought I would share a speech I delivered to young students at a Hertfordshire college as part of the Institute of Ideas conference on the war on terror.)
I have agonized over how to address this major issue of our time to a young audience. It seems like yesterday I was your age. When I came to the UK, I was just 22. I am still living in the same tiny flat into which I moved when I was a graduate student! One minute you are 22, and the next minute you are, to use a Yiddish phrase, an alter gephumpheter of 56. That translates as old fogey. In fact, though it is still a few years away, I am counting the calendar pages until I get my senior citizen bus pass.
When I first came to this country, it barely resembled the Britain of today. In fact never have I seen a country alter itself as I have seen Great Britain do so in this generation gone by since my arrival in January 1976. When I was a student, you would be turfed off a bus if you spoke in a loud voice or made a noise; at the very least you would be reprimanded by the neatly dressed conductor. On the other side of the coin — literally — a bus ticket was sixpence and you could go upstairs and smoke to your heart’s delight. When I went to someone’s house for dinner I would be yelled at for using a fork to eat my cake. Behaving in a proper British manner was de rigeur. Multiculturalism was not on anyone’s agenda; my American accent made me very much a foreigner. In those day the iceman cameth, and the junk collector clattered into my mews once a week in his pony trap. Taxi drivers called my dad “guv’nor”; men tipped their hats to ladies.
Thirty-five years on, Britain is a brash, in-your-face multicultural cavalcade.
So, what has all of this to do with the war on terror? Let me explain: at last night’s “Question Time” at Queen’s School, there were many accusations being thrown about that had no foundation in fact, and what pained me was the idea that very young people, whose brains are like sponges, were not being provided with an historical perspective. So here is why I mentioned my early years in Britain: in the 1970s, the IRA — Irish Republican Army— dominated life in this country.
Wherever one went a bomb might go off. Although on most occasions the IRA sent warnings ahead of bombings, many civilians were killed on the British mainland. I will never forget my mother calling me from Philadelphia every time she heard a news flash on American TV saying a bomb had gone off in London.
I will never forget coming out of the Tesco supermarket in Church Street market and hearing an almighty boom — it was the Harrods bomb of December 1983. It was so massive that I heard it so many miles away. I will never forget sitting in my office at Anglia Television in Park Lane and being thrown from my chair when the bomb went off in Hyde Park. We were sent home from work that day, but when I got home my phone was ringing — it was my mum telling me another bomb had gone off in the bandstand in Regents Park.
When Lord Mountbatten was killed by the IRA in August 1979, my neighbor Dr. John Miles-Thomas stormed into my flat and berated me for “sponsoring terror!” Americans in Boston were funding IRA actions, and every American got it in the face at that time. And so on and so on. I have only limited time today to talk, but my point is that thirty years on I hardly think about the IRA anymore. U.S. Senator George Mitchell was instrumental in bringing the two sides to the table, and a rocky but remarkable peace was at last achieved after a hundred-year conflict.
Some of the greatest acts of terror of all time have been those perpetrated in the name of Christianity and against Jews: the medieval blood libels in this country; the shameful York massacre — to this day, Jews will not reside in York — and the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290. There were the Crusades against Muslims and Jews as well as the Inquisition, the Chmielnicki massacres and the massive anti-Jewish pogroms in Russia culminating in the Holocaust.
Then some will say that the young Jews who survived the Holocaust and fought for a Jewish homeland were also terrorists — but lest we forget that one of those youths, Menachem Begin, eventually hugged Anwar Sadat and made peace with Egypt in1979. To me, one of the most heinous terrorists of all time was Yigal Amir, assassin of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, whose murder wrecked the Oslo peace process, an achievement on the verge of transforming the Middle East. To bring things up to date, three weeks ago a young Asian plumber came to fix something in my flat, and launched into a scary tirade at me about America perpetrating 9/11 and telling me that America is the world’s number one terrorist state. Interestingly, he said that there are no terrorists, only Americans, who are the true terrorists.
The Muslim feminist writer Yasmin Alibhai Brown made a remarkable observation about the wave of suicide bombings across Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq — a daily occurrence in which Muslims are killing scores of other Muslims in mosques, schools, and police stations; in Iraq angry young radicals are turning hospitals into torture chambers. She attributes a great deal of young Muslim anger to arranged marriages and the despair suffered by so many young men in loveless unions. Likewise, in 2006, a man from the White House who had come to hear me speak in Washington actually said: “You know, Carol, many of these guys are just full of testosterone and have no outlet for that energy.”
To conclude: we do not need a “war on terror.” There will always be angry young men and women, be they the Farc in Columbia, the Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, ETA in Spain, or in my day the IRA, PLO, and Baader Meinhof in Germany. Young terrorists feel they have to wage their own war because their leaders have failed them. What the world needs, and most particularly the Arab and “Palestinian” entity, is exceptionally inspiring and forgiving leaders — the likes of Lincoln, Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Mandela, and Gandhi. Then there will be no need for a war on terror.