It is far too easy, when things are so grim, to invent demons, or to exaggerate wrongdoing and ill-intent. Few of us have the comprehensive reference points needed to make sense of what is going on at the moment.
Ideology, blind faith, cynicism-none of these really help. The only honest approach to the current crisis is to reinvent your feelings about it on a regular basis. We need to read, watch TV, listen to radio and above all else, talk.
So we sit in Nepal, or Pakistan, or London or America and stay up far too late, agonising, laughing and crying. Anyone who hasn't changed his or her mind many, many times during the past weeks isn't to be trusted. The sheer horror of the attacks on the United States have yet to really hit home for most of us. What I can't yet come to terms with is that how little convergence there has been between worldviews.
I have long felt, with the intensity of religious faith, that the "clash of civilisations" was a gross oversimplification that overlooked the role of money, development, modernisation and circumstance. Yet 11 September was a powerfully direct challenge to that view.
As I watched the World Trade Centre towers collapse in Delhi, I was surrounded by people I thought I knew very well. I was devastated to hear some of them say, even as the buildings went down and thousands died, that the Americans deserved it, that faulty foreign policy in Washington somehow justified what was happening in New York. Middle class people who work for organisations espousing Western values-Westoxicated, in the words of Indian sociologist Dipankar Gupta-were somehow gaining satisfaction from the actions of intensely violent men who assume the right to maim and murder for political reasons-terrorists, by the classic definition of the word.
Friends in Turkey, Brazil and elsewhere in the developing world reported similar reactions, within themselves as well as without. I felt the western liberals' version of that. I wanted to blame Israel, Ariel Sharon, the oppression of the Palestinians, American swaggering and ineptitude in world affairs-things external and perversely rational. But no, I think not. As much I'd love to see Ariel Sharon on trial for the war crimes of Sabra and Shatila, as much as I have long felt that Israel's behaviour towards the Palestinians is cruel and-ultimately-against it's own self interest, that's not what is behind the attacks on America.
Nor is American affluence, arrogance or ignorance to blame, not at all. On the contrary, a picture is emerging of horrible clarity-the men at the controls of planeloads of screaming passengers, the planners and back room boys who laid the groundwork, perhaps even Osama bin Laden in his cave in Afghanistan, these people pulse with hatred in the same way as North American racist militiamen or the twisted and alienated rich kids who joined the Baader Meinhof gang in Germany in the 1970s. They hate, and they act on that hatred.
I defy anyone who has espoused the cause of the Palestinians or the downtrodden anywhere else in the world to find common ground with the perpetrators of the acts of 11 September. Have the Americans done anything similar to anyone else? No, they haven't. They have backed a catalogue of villains around the world, they have leapt in and out of troubled, complex situations usually to the detriment of all concerned. But they haven't flown planeloads of innocents into buildings. They are not angels-far from it. But they are accountable, eventually, and not just before their version of God. The press, Congress, human rights activists, the opposition, sceptics like Chomsky and Said, all hold the powers-that-be in America to account. Eventually. Who, save Rumsfeld, Bush and others are holding al-Qaeda to account?
No, I still don't think it's right to bomb Afghanistan further into the Stone Age. I still feel politics should have been given more time to topple the ghastly Taliban regime, that money, dollars, should rain down on Afghanistan and every other hellhole that spawns hatred. They-the Americans-need to wrap up this somewhat pointless military campaign sometime soon and this time, spend as freely on schools, roads and irrigation as they did on Tomahawks.
But they need to defeat Al Qaeda and every other group that thinks it's right to kill the innocent. And we-the people-need to build consensus on that point around the world. We could start by behaving with logic, generosity and justice, everywhere and at all times.