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The Quiet American

Thirty five thousand feet above Tehran and I am attempting to wirelessly edit my journal from my seat as I watch The Quiet American.

I realised over dinner last night why the American military is so different to anyone else's army.

Listening to one of the pilots telling his companions how he had lost his best friend when the F18 he was flying skidded off the side of the carrier, it occurred to me that the young men and women enjoying their Chinese meal were not service people, they were part of a corporation, all the way down to their slacks and polo shirts.

They could have been from Microsoft or Oracle or any other hi-tech company but they were not. Instead, they were members of the greatest military power the world has ever seen but had exchanged laptops for much larger and more deadly toys.

Behind me lies Bahrain and the newspapers have picked up my comments on the future direction of Middle eastern government.

Saudi Arabia was only a stone's throw across the Causeway and one of the people I met at the conference tells me that the Saudi government have down-played the death toll from last week's bomb in Riyadh.

According to my source, whose wife was in the process of travelling to Saudi Arabia, the death toll is closer to 100 and includes one of his close friends.

His friend, he tells me, was caught by one of the blasts but survived and staggered from the compound covered in blood. What happened next in this tragedy, was that one of the Saudi security guards shot him dead, mistaking him for a surviving bomber.

For me, at least, this isn't too hard to believe. One of my own teaching colleagues was attacked and murdered by a group of men twenty years ago in Jeddah, for reasons that never became clear at the time. The story never made the papers, as after all, there is little or no crime in the Kingdom.

One final thought from my aircraft seat as the credits roll.

What struck me most from this visit was an Arab world in denial. In the Arab mind, the events of 9.11 like the Apollo Moon landings never happened in the way we imagined here and there's evidence to prove it or so I'm told. The world is clearly split between those who clearly believe that the attacks on America were part of some elaborate plot with the express purpose of framing the Arab people and those of us, who believe, with equal conviction that Al Qaeda threatens the existence of our own society and its cultural icons.

Sadly, the complete absence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq only serves as fuel for the Arab world's conviction that they are the victims of harsh injustice and a campaign of lies. This will only strengthen the hand of the extremists and a growing collective view that Islam is once again the target of a crusade from the West.


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