A war to save civilisation - or
carry on lap-dancing?
PRESIDENT George W Bush has officially designated
2002 a "war year", so it might seem facetious to wish readers a
Happy New Year. God knows what horrors and hilarities lie ahead.
In the United States people are building nuclear
shelters. At Atlanta Airport random shoe inspections have been
introduced, following the alleged attempt - let's keep this legal -
by my halfwit cousin Richard Reid to bring down an American Airlines
767 with an exploding boot.
It can't be long before Secret Service commandos
again board a sugar tanker in the English Channel, cutlasses between
their teeth, and fail to discover a thermonuclear device, or
whatever it was they were looking for a couple of weeks ago.
This is not the time, and certainly not the place,
for what my friend Christopher Booker calls clever-dickery, and yet
I find myself so angry and disturbed by (what I see as) President
Bush's dangerous mixture of triumphalism, hubris and uncertainty
that I occasionally yield to cynicism and even to sarcasm.
The other day I caused my American wife to shout
tearfully at me: "Do not speak of my country in that way." I later
apologised, by e-mail.
Poor old Uncle Sam, though: damned if he does, and
damned if he doesn't. All sane and decent people agree that America
has the right and the duty to avenge the slaughter of September 11.
But it cannot be denied that, as American
commentators are noting, there has been a disturbing increase in
anti-Americanism in Europe since the Islamofascists hit New York and
Washington. Much of it is irrational.
Whatever its cause, it goes without saying that
knee-jerk anti-Americanism is as disgusting and silly as, say,
knee-jerk anti-Iranianism. All ethnic prejudice is repulsive, even
when it is directed at Albanians.
But this is not a one-way street. Anti-Americanism
may be on the increase, but so is pro-Americanism, especially, but
not exclusively, on the liberal Left.
You'll hear scarcely a word against the war on
terrorism from such figures as Polly Toynbee, Henry Porter, Ben
Bradshaw, Sir Elton John, David Aaranovitch, Christopher Hitchens,
Geri Halliwell, Julie Burchill, or Sir Paul McCartney (who made a
heroic stand for his new single, Freedom, at Madison Square Garden,
and issued this warning to terrorists: "If you want to take my kids
out - oh well, screw you. Come and talk about it, right in my face,
Right now the Left-liberal warriors (and those on the
right) are crying yah boo sucks to the dissidents questioning the
orthodoxy in Washington and Whitehall: that America has won its war
in Afghanistan and that the world is consequently a better and safer
place, or will be when America has taken out all the other rogue
states (about half the known world). The crowing of the hawks is
The Americans have so far failed in their stated war
aim: to bring Osama bin Laden and other leaders of al-Qa'eda to
justice. Bin Laden has not been captured, dead or alive. (I gather,
however, there have been reported sightings in Cleveland, Ohio). The
al-Qa'eda network has not been destroyed (though, according to the
FBI, it is active in the United States).
All that has happened is that the Taliban have been
defeated and replaced with a broad-based coalition of
Hampstead-style thinkers and Nazi-style warlords. Women continue to
wear burqas in Kabul, and to be whipped.
What sort of victory is this? Apart from allowing
Afghan farmers to grow opium poppies - an enterprise outlawed by the
Taliban - the coalition government is unlikely to add much to the
gaiety of nations. The world is certainly not a better or safer
place as a result of America's latest deployment of B52s.
On the contrary. The war against terrorism, we are
told, may go on for 50 years. It will spread, perhaps to Iraq,
perhaps to Somalia; perhaps even to Switzerland, if the Swiss remain
neutral and ignore George W Bush's clear warning that those states
who do not support America will be treated as supporters of
terrorism, and pay the goddam price.
India and Pakistan are squaring up over Kashmir. In
the Middle East, intransigent Israelis face intransigent
Palestinians. Any hope for peace in the region must now be
In the long term, the war against terrorism is almost
by definition unwinnable. You can't put the frighteners on a
would-be suicide bomber. So what are we fighting for? The answer is
for the American way of life (freedom, democracy, grunge). This is
sometimes referred to as Western civilisation.
But Western civilisation, as much in Europe as in
America, is hard to find outside a monastery or a soup kitchen. Its
greatest legacy - liberty - has been reduced to licence, a means of
providing a rich and bored proletariat with debased
I caught a glimpse of Western civilisation the other
day when I saw part of a television awards programme. Sex and the
City had been entered in the best comedy category.
A clip showed a man on the edge of orgasm, though
with no woman in sight: we saw the man's head and torso. The next
frame showed a woman pulling a face that indicated she hadn't
enjoyed the act of oral sex. And the next showed a group of women
cackling at the news that she had left New York in search of better
Sex and the City is not part of the $8 billion-a-year
US porn industry; it is the sort of mainstream entertainment that
flourishes in the West. Perhaps soon the Afghanis, now liberated
from those loopy women-haters, will go for it too.
The September criminals must be brought to justice,
and their networks destroyed, but it is impossible to view an
unending war against terrorism -Orwellian, unwinnable - as a crusade
for true Western civilisation. What we have here is a clash between
post-Christian liberal humanism and mad and murderous theocracy;
between lap-dancing and limb-cropping.
The best conservative dissidents can hope for is that
George W Bush will get his man and feel able to declare victory in
time for the next Presidential elections. Meantime, we may as well
get tight. It is New Year's Eve.
The author is deputy editor of The
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