On Saturday America will be marking the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. The observances will be muted, because the world's superpower managed to lose the war on terror so totally preposterously that it has made itself a global laughingstock. So instead I thought we'd revisit the summer of 2001 with a few columns of mine from the days before "the day the world changed".
We began at the beginning of August with the summer of sharks, continued with racial demagoguery then and now, a column that captured the long, lazy, languorous holiday from history, and an ostensibly trivial piece that captured the zeitgeist and offered a portent of tomorrow.
To conclude our pre-9/11 series, here is a piece published three days before "the day the world changed". When you read it, you can be forgiven for thinking that's nothing changed - except, of course, that what twenty years ago was merely the unending whinge of professional grievance-mongers and shakedown artists is now the official position of presidents and prime ministers and the governments they head. If Mr Mugabe and his Chinese-made rubber penis not pushing up daisies, they would have a hard job articulating as low a view of the Dominion of Canada as Justin Trudeau does interminably. For that alone, his party should be reduced to a statistically undetectable percentage of the vote.
This is from The Spectator of September 8th 2001:
There is no great issue facing the world today that can't be made worse by having a UN conference on it. But even so the grand comedy in Durban this week has effortlessly surpassed all expectations.
There was Mary Robinson doing her 'Ich bin ein Jude' routine to sideline the unhelpfully over-strident Jew-haters; there was the Norwegian delegation soberly negotiating into the small hours over the degree and number of inflammatory insults to the Israelis that the final communique could withstand; there was the unmatched ovation for Fidel Castro, hailed by South Africa's foreign minister as leader of 'the most democratic country in the world'; there was the Organisation of African Unity's demand that reparations for the Hutu slaughter of the Tutsis should be paid - by the Americans, naturally; there were the major disagreements on the more general reparations front between the African-American bloviators, who wanted whitey's payments to go to individuals, and African presidents, who thought it would be more convenient if the West just dropped off one big cheque at the presidential palace; there was the Justice Minister of Zimbabwe calling on Britain and the US to 'apologise unreservedly for their crimes against humanity'; there was a hero's welcome for Robert Mugabe, taking time out of his hectic schedule of terrorising white farmers to deliver a stirring attack on the evils of racism; and, most importantly, a useful spotlight was beamed on the most wicked racist societies on earth, like Canada.
Matthew Coon Come, national chief of the 'First Nations' of Her Majesty's racist Dominion, told delegates that he and his fellow natives were victims of a 'racist and colonial syndrome of dispossession and discrimination' and that only last year his people were savagely attacked by 'white mobs'.
The crowd applauded wildly.
As a conference on 'Racism, Racial Intolerance, Xenophobia and/or Related Intolerance', it was perhaps misnamed, though it exhibited large quantities of all four. But as a UN Conference Against the West, Zionism and Capitalism - or, in the preferred formulation, 'techno-racism' - it was a roaring success, and, for those who think the world could use fewer Canadas and more Zimbabwes, an important milestone in human progress.
Even so, some of you may be wondering how it is that when one Rwandan tribe wages genocide on another Rwandan tribe it's the Yanks who get sent the bill for compensation. The OAU's argument is that the ultimate blame for the Hutu attack on the Tutsis rests with Washington for not intervening earlier. Therefore, the UN must persuade the US to acknowledge its responsibility by paying reparations to 800,000 Tutsis. Rwanda is a sovereign nation, and the United States has no connection with it, historic or present. Nevertheless, when one bunch of Rwandans decides to hack up another bunch of Rwandans, it's Uncle Sam who's supposed to pony up.
Whatever the moral argument, this is a sound fiscal argument: there'd be no point in the Tutsis demanding compensation from the Hutus, since they haven't got anything to cough up except a handful of emaciated cows and a job-lot of used machetes. If you're going to designate yourself as permanently oppressed, you might as well pick the wealthiest oppressor. Therein lies the logic by which the tab for slavery is to be charged to the US, Britain and Europe, even though they were last to get into the game and first to get out. The UN and its conventioneers are not really interested in actual, specific, here-and-now 'intolerance' - like the Taleban's recent introduction of that retro fashion accessory, yellow identifying patches for Hindus - or even in slavery, which today is alive and well in the Sudan, Mali, Niger, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, etc. , etc. What they're interested in is the grand historical reckoning - in putting the white man in the dock, getting him convicted and fined, and thus enabling what the OAU calls a 'massive injection of new capital into places from Harare to Harlem, from Trinidad to Tanzania, from black Brazil to Burundi'.
There is, of course, no point whatsoever to a massive injection of capital into Harare, unless you feel Robert Mugabe's pension plan is in urgent need of topping up. But the pointlessness is its own point. The further the colonial era recedes into the past, the more it is to blame. Or, as an earnest young Zimbabwean put it on Canadian TV recently, it's all very well going on about the property damage to these white farms, but what about the ongoing 'psychic' damage to the country done by colonialism?
Ah, the White Man's Burden, Millennium Edition: no matter how long ago the stiff-upper-lipped Brit scrammed out of Africa, it's still his fault. Anti-racism, like the abolitionist movement, is a Western concept, always tinged with a bit of progressive self-loathing. But in Durban it became clear that anti-racism has shrivelled into the modern world's most acceptable form of racism - anti-white. Its international evolution thus mirrors its development in the pace-setting Western jurisdictions that invented it.
The Bush administration, for example, has inherited an awkward court case from its predecessor, in which it feels obliged to defend 'affirmative action' quotas in federal highway construction contracts. Three decades ago, 'affirmative action' meant that the 10 per cent of the population who were black got a bit of preferential treatment over the remaining 90 per cent. But, with the ever-spreading tide of victim culture, so many other groups have been dealt into the game that two-thirds of the population qualify as 'presumed disadvantaged', the various categories extending into the dozens to embrace Pacific Islanders, women, veterans, and people from 'Juvalu', which doesn't seem to exist but is most likely a typo for 'Tuvalu'. Neither Tuvaluans nor Juvaluans have suffered historic, systemic discrimination in the US, but if a federal highway contract is up for tender and the choice is between, say, a tenth-generation Yankee or a Juvaluan who just got off the boat, you're obliged to give it to the guy from Juvalu.
Nearly 70 per cent of the population are entitled to preferential treatment over the remaining 30 per cent - white men, the sole surviving non-victim group in American society, and thus the only people you're allowed to victimise. An anti-discrimination programme is now an explicitly discriminatory programme against male honkies.Under the trickle-down apartheid of this and similar programmes, the avowedly antiracist governments of the West now ethnically classify their citizenry with a zeal that Afrikaner old-timers can only marvel at.
Martin Luther King's famous dream of a society where you're judged by the content of your character, not the colour of your skin, has been precisely inverted. The more anti-racist the state becomes, the more race permeates every aspect of life. If a US municipality is prepared to pay more for the toilets in its town hall for the privilege of having them installed by a Samoan plumber, it's no wonder the OAU figures there's no reason why they shouldn't get a piece of the action. The confab in Durban was certainly anti-Western, but the West is being chastised by scorpions it itself has incubated.
Frankly, I'd be in favour of reparations in exchange for dismantling the race lobby. The conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer proposed a payment of $50,000 per family in return for ending 'affirmative action' quotas and returning to the quaint, colour-blind concept of individual citizens equal under the law. I'd happily up it to $250,000 if all the racemongers and shakedown artists - the Revd Jesse Jackson, the Revd Al Sharpton - would retire themselves. Jesse could return to his 'ministry' or to impregnating his mistress or whatever. But it's not going to happen. The Reverend has no interest in getting a real job: like the man said, 'Jesse don't want to run nothin' but his mouth.' So reparations would be paid and the race lobby would carry on just as before. Racism may be hard to eradicate from society, but anti-racism of the Jesse variety is even more difficult to get rid of.
Slavery was banned in Britain in 1772. America's founders were on the wrong side of history, and their great injustice stains the American dream precisely because it is, in every other respect, so admirable. It's not hard to imagine how, for a black man, the iconography of America - the Constitution, the Liberty Bell, the Statue of Liberty - are just reminders of exclusion. Whether a cheque can end that, I don't know. But a sovereign state is entitled to reach that judgment by itself.
International reparations, however, are an entirely different matter. The West has nothing to apologise or pay for, least of all Britain. International reparations to Africa would be an outrageous travesty. The British abolished slavery within the empire in 1833, in the teeth of fierce opposition from Arab and West African traders. If one had to single out one institution that did more to end the trade in human beings than any other, it would be the Royal Navy, whose ships enforced the ban at great risk to themselves. Yet the reflexive shame in their inheritance is such that no British delegate in Durban would dream of standing up for the historical record. If Colin Powell wanted to, he could, for he regards his family as a beneficiary of British imperialism. 'American blacks sometimes regard Americans of West Indian origin as uppity and arrogant, ' he writes in his autobiography. 'The feeling, I imagine, grows out of an impressive record of accomplishment by West Indians. What explains that success? For one thing, the British ended slavery in the Caribbean in 1833, well over a generation before America did. . . . They told my ancestors that they were now British citizens with all the rights of any subject of the Crown. That was an exaggeration: still, the British did establish good schools and made attendance mandatory. They filled the lower ranks of the civil service with blacks. Consequently, West Indians had an opportunity to develop attitudes of independence, self-responsibility, and self-worth.' And so the most prominent black man in American life today is the son of British subjects, raised outside the festering grievance culture of the Jessefied African-American community.
But even in Jesseland things aren't so bad. Life expectancy for American blacks is 69.6 years; for Ugandans it's 45 years, and falling. That may be why, for all the affected solidarity of their elaborate self-hyphenation, African-Americans generally steer well clear of the Mother Country. If the Ugandan comparison is a little too easy, consider this: on the North American continent, for all their problems, the approximately 30 million American blacks have a greater combined wealth than the 30 million Canadians. Blacks don't need reparations to prosper, just the civic freedom and economic integrity of democratic society. If, on the other hand, they listen seriously to Castro and Mugabe and the other pin-up boys of Durban, you can pretty much bet the farm on which way their income, life expectancy and other social indicators are going to be heading.
That's why Colin Powell's analysis is right in a broader sense, too. The institutions the British brought with them - most importantly, the rule of law and the law of contract - more than compensated for any of the 'evils' of colonialism. Those Commonwealth countries which have prospered are those that have deviated least from their Britannic inheritance. There's the real lesson for Africa, if only the guilt-ridden wimps of the British delegation had the guts to point it out. In fact, the only thing the West has to apologise for is that it was too indulgent of Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere and post-colonial Africa's other founding frauds, and simply stood by as they beggared the continent with their uniquely virulent strain of Afro-Marxism.
In 1980 the argument was advanced that Zimbabwe's deferred independence had ensured Mr Mugabe wouldn't make the same wretched mistakes as Africa's first generation of leaders. To be sure, he may consider himself nominally a communis tbut he had no plans to embark on the insane agricultural collectivisation that had beggared, say, Tanzania.
So here we are in the year 2001, with Mr Mugabe's mobs squatting on efficient farms and threatening to kill the people who run them. Maybe they will, and afterwards - as elsewhere in the fertile, once food-exporting lands of Central Africa - they'll set about eating the cows and using the irrigation troughs to build shelters, and then the demands for reparations will grow even louder. But as ye sow so shall ye reap, to point out an elementary rule of agriculture, which may come in useful once Mugabe's boys have killed the last farmer. The pressing question for Africa is whether it can recover not from imperialism but from independence.
~from The Spectator, September 8th 2001.
Many of Mark's pieces from this period can be found in his anthologies Mark Steyn from Head to Toe and The [Un]documented Mark Steyn, personally autographed copies of which are exclusively available from the SteynOnline bookstore. And, if you're a member of The Mark Steyn Club, remember to enter your promotional code at checkout for special member pricing.