In all the arguments about al-Qaida terrorism and what we should do about it, there is the general assumption that bin Laden is 'evil personified'. With this starting point it isn't surprising that the right and 'pro-war' left can argue that Islamist terrorism has not been influenced by the West's bombings and invasions in the Middle East and therefore there is no alternative to the 'war on terror'.
But what is the difference between bin Laden's sanctioning of civilian deaths now and Mandela's sanctioning of civilian deaths up until the ending of apartheid.
If you doubt that Mandela did sanction the killing of innocent civilians then here is the evidence.
But the cause of black majority rule in South Africa was a good one, I hear you cry! However does that actually make any difference. A lot of people would argue that bin Laden's cause of one Muslim state in the Middle East is a just cause. Certainly it is undeniable that there have been a lot of Western backed dictatorships which have repressed democracy there.
Now I would argue that both bin Laden's current motives and the West's previous motives in the Middle East have been anti-democratic. This anti-democratic meddling by the West has allowed extremists like bin Laden to develop and foster his movement by giving him a legitimacy he otherwise wouldn't have had.
Of course the added complication here is the power of the Islamic religion, which unlike Christianity has largely not adapted to modern values and is stuck in some 8th Century timewarp (although some Christians in the West are similarly misguided).
The big question is can Islam adapt away from Sharia rigidity or do we have to persuade Muslims to turn their back on Islam altogether.
Like all irrational beliefs, Islam is dangerous, but like Christianity it also has contradictions and different interpretations of its texts. Christianity has largly been pacified and Islam can be too. Because Islam has many professions of peace within its scriptures as well as dodgy stuff about stonings (the same as Christianity does), then I believe that religion is not the driving force here. If a similar religion like Christianity can be pacified then so can Islam.
So if Islam is not the core problem, what has been the driving force for bin Laden and his large support amongst Muslims.
The answer, as was the case with Mandela and in Northern Ireland, is political injustice. Now this is something that does give us an alternative to the relentless never ending 'war on terror' which is proving so obviously counter-productive. Just like hard line tactics didn't defeat the ANC and the IRA, we are losing the battle against the notional al-Qaida and the Islamist terrorists they inspire.
Mo Mowlem advocated negotiation with al-Qaida, she realised that the situation was no-different to Northern Ireland. It would be better to negotiate now than to wait until the situation develops beyond our control. In the 1960's Mandela winning the Nobel Peace Prize and being President of South Africa was as unthinkable as bin-Laden around the negotiation table. Just because we are taking a hardline with bin-Laden now, don't be surprised if he is as lauded a Statesman as Mandela in the future.
This re-writing of history that our governments do, was one thing that Orwell got spot on when he wrote 1984!