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 DT Opinion

A war to save civilisation - or carry on lap-dancing?
By Stuart Reid
(Filed: 31/12/2001)

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, baby").

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 absurd.

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 abandoned.

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 entertainment.

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 men.

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 Spectator

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