On waking, we think about life. Bin Laden thinks of slaughter

By Arnold Wesker. Sir Arnold Wesker, playwright, has just published his first novel Honey (Simon & Schuster) (THE TIMES, 16/09/06):

Dear Prime Minister, I write to you on the fifth anniversary of 9/11.

Because you are a leading world statesman, and I think your decision to reveal the date of your retirement from office in your own time was the right one, may I presume to suggest that now is the time to make a big speech addressed personally to Osama bin Laden.

No world statesman has attempted to challenge this aberration of humankind into debate. We have only ever heard platitudinous adjectives such as “uncivilised”, “murderous”, “mindless fanatic” and, recently, “Islamofascist”; but no one has thought to suggest to bin Laden in simple language that Islam could be suffering from a profound inferiority complex. The threat facing us all both East and West is an irrational and infantile belief that this inferiority complex can only be assuaged if the supremacy of Islam is imposed upon the world, no matter what large parts of it have to be destroyed in the process.

When we wake up in the morning most people’s first thoughts (speaking with poetic licence) are to do with improving life; when bin Laden wakes up his first thoughts are to do with slaughter; our instinct is for what can be built, his instinct is for what can be destroyed.

These contrasts need to be seared into world consciousness. The conflict is not between civilisations or cultures but between builders and destroyers.

I do not believe the twin towers were targeted because they were symbols of capitalism but because they thrust themselves into the sky as symbols of genius and achievement. It is not the corrupt West that bin Laden hates, it is the colourful West that he hates, colour as an image of joy, energy and creativity. There is something about other people’s happiness and sense of free spirit that irrationally rouses the wrath of certain mentalities, whether in the school playground or the religious/political arena.

It may be thought that this menace comes from only a few fringe fanatics; but though they are the activists, I fear there exists a vast rank-and-file support for them — hence the disturbing revelations that there are potentially thousands who might, from a sense of inadequacy, be involved in terrorism in the UK. And so I do not believe the debate should be about politics but rather more about psychiatry.

One of the most impressive Muslims to emerge in these times is Wafa Sultan, the Syrian-American psychiatrist from Los Angeles (see her profile in the New York Times of March 11, 2006). Perhaps she has already been brought to your attention. She has been interviewed on al-Jazeera and seen by millions, since when she has been applauded by progressive Muslims and threatened with death by reactionaries. But she has struck the right note saying that the world’s Muslims, whom she compares unfavourably with the Jews, have descended into a vortex of self-pity and violence; and that the world was not witnessing “a clash of religions or cultures, but a battle between modernity and barbarism”.

Speaking of the Holocaust, she said: “The Jews have come from that tragedy and forced the world to respect them, with their knowledge, not with their terror; with their work, not with their crying and yelling . . . We have not seen a single Jew blow himself up in a German restaurant. We have not seen a single Jew destroy a church. We have not seen a single Jew protest by killing people . . . Only the Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches, killing people and destroying embassies. This path will not yield any results. The Muslims must ask themselves what they can do for humankind, before they demand that humankind respect them.”

And last month Ahmed Zewail, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1999, declared: “We should have confidence in ourselves and in global participation, and not blame others for current calamities or use religion for political gains. The responsibility of the individual for self and societal improvement is clearly stated in the Koran: ‘Indeed! God will not change the good condition of the people as long as they do not change their state of goodness themselves’.” Both these highly intelligent Muslims are also talking about the conflict between building and destruction.

Forgive the length of this letter, but “building or destruction” seems to me an important theme for our times. As the poet W. H. Auden wrote: “Nothing is now so horrid or silly it can’t occur.”

Respectfully, Arnold Wesker.