This essay is excerpted from Mark's book, The Face Of The Tiger:
September 7th/11th 2002
We are back to September 10th 2001, at least if the National Education Association is anything to go by. Their attractive series of classroom lessons and projects for September 11th, sponsored by Johnson & Johnson, begins with a little light non-judgmentalism: the NEA advises teachers not to "suggest any group is responsible" for the, ah, "tragic events". Just because Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'eda boasted they did it is no reason to jump to conclusions:
Blaming is especially difficult in terrorist situations because someone is at fault. In this country, we still believe that all people are innocent until solid, reliable evidence from our legal authorities proves otherwise
- which presumably means we should wait till the trial and, given that what's left of Osama is currently doing a good impression of a few specks of Johnson's Baby Powder, that's likely to be a long time coming.
We have no reason to believe that the attacks were part of an organised plan of any other country. The terrorists acted independently, without the sanction of any nation.
Er, well, okay, if you overlook the meetings between Mohammed Atta and the bigshot Iraqi in Prague, and the millions of dollars al-Qa'eda got from the House of Saud, and the fact that Osama and Mullah Omar were married to each other's daughters.
But instead the NEA thinks children should:
Explore the problems inherent in assigning blame to populations or nations of people by looking at contemporary examples of ethnic conflict, discrimination, and stereotyping at home and abroad."
And by that you mean…?
Internment of Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor and the backlash against Arab Americans during the Gulf War are obvious examples.
Not that obvious: for one thing, the "backlash against Arab Americans during the Gulf War" is entirely mythical. But you get the gist. Don't blame anyone. But, if you have to, blame America.
This is more or less where we came in. Last September 11th, my friend's daughter Rachel went to school and was told by her teacher that, as terrible as the unfolding events were, the allies had killed far more people in Dresden. Lehigh University in Pennsylvania banned the American flag from its campus "so non-American students would not feel uncomfortable". At the University of North Carolina, students dressed in Muslim garb to express solidarity. The interim pastor at my local Baptist Church warned us not to attack Muslims, even though finding any Muslims to attack would have involved a good three-hour drive.
And so this September 11th, across the continent, millions of pupils, from kindergarten to high school, will be studying such central questions as whether the stereotyped images on 1942 War Bonds posters made German-Americans feel uncomfortable. Evidently, they made German-American Dwight D Eisenhower so uncomfortable that he went off and liberated Europe. But I don't suppose that's what the NEA had in mind.
I don't think the teachers' union are "Hate America" types. Very few Americans are. But, rather, they're in thrall to something far craftier than straightforward anti-Americanism, a kind of enervating cult of tolerance in which you demonstrate your sensitivity to other cultures by being almost totally insensitive to your own. The NEA study suggestions have a bit of everything in them: your teacher might pluck out Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms", on the other hand, she might wind up at the discussion topic about whether it was irresponsible for the media to show video footage of Palestinians celebrating September 11th as this allegedly led to increased hostility toward Arabs. Real live Arab intolerance is not a problem except insofar as it risks inflaming yet more mythical American intolerance.
This stuff went away for a while last October, and some of us were foolish enough to think it might go away for good. That it didn't has a lot to do with George W Bush and the strategy that brought him to power. You'll recall that he campaigned in 2000 as a "compassionate conservative". On his first trip to New Hampshire, he declared, "I'm proud to be a compassionate conservative. And on this ground I will make my stand!" Those of us who ventured on to the ground to stand alongside him found it pretty mushy and squelchy, but figured the bog of clichés was merely a cunning ruse, a means of co-opting all the Democrats' touchy-feely words and thereby neutralising their linguistic advantage. My distinguished colleague Barbara Amiel felt differently. As she put it two years ago:
Those of us who give a tinker's farthing about ideas knew we were in merde up to the waist. Conservatism is by definition "compassionate". It has a full understanding and tender spot for the human condition and the ways of our world. A need to qualify conservatism by rebranding it as a product now found in a sweet-smelling pink "compassionate" version is hideous and a concession to your enemies right at the beginning.
I was wrong and Barbara was right. It didn't seem important at the time, but it is now. I thought the clumsy multicultural pandering of the Bush campaign was a superb joke, but with hindsight it foreshadowed the rhetorical faintheartedness of the last year. Bush, we right-wing types were assured in 2000, would do the right thing, even if he talked a lot of hooey. Many of us stuck to this line after September 11th: okay, the Muslim photo-ops and the non-stop White House Ramadan-a-ding-dong got a bit tedious, but for all the Islamic outreach you could at least rely on the guy to take out the Taleban, and, when the moment comes, Saddam as well.
But words matter, too. As noted previously, Churchill wasn't just down in the ops room sticking pins in maps but all over the airwaves explaining why the Nazis were evil and why they needed to be wiped from the earth. Lose the rhetorical ground at home and you lose the war overseas – Vietnam being the most obvious example. This time round, the very name of the conflict was the first evasion. It's not a "war on terror", it's a war on radical Islamism, a worldwide scourge operating on five continents. But the President is too much of a compassionate warmonger to say so.
And so the evasions continue. Here's Thomas Friedman in The New York Times:
The ruckus being raised by conservative Christians over the University of North Carolina's decision to ask incoming students to read a book about the Koran - to stimulate a campus debate - surely has to be one of the most embarrassing moments for America since Sept. 11.
Why? Because it exhibits such profound lack of understanding of what America is about, and it exhibits such a chilling mimicry of what the most repressive Arab Muslim states are about. Ask yourself this question: What would Osama bin Laden do if he found out that the University of Riyadh had asked incoming freshmen to read the New and Old Testaments?
Blow it up, I guess. But Friedman's being supremely disingenuous. What most of us object to at UNC is the decision to promote not the reading of the Koran, a very worthwhile activity, but the reading of a highly selective book about the Koran, which makes a point of ignoring all the troublesome passages. The university is not "stimulating a debate" – something increasingly few American educational institutions are interested in – but promoting a particular view in line with all the usual delusions. I'm all in favour of studying Islam, so long as we're honest about it.
After all, our enemies are perfectly honest, and remarkably straightforward. Just tune in any Arab TV station for Friday prayers with the A-list imams:
O God, destroy the Jews and their supporters. O God, destroy the Christians and their supporters and followers, shake the ground under them, instil fear in their hearts, and freeze the blood in their veins.
That's Sheikh Akram Abd-al-Razzaq al-Ruqayhi, some hotshot imam live from the Grand Mosque in Sanaa on August 9th on Yemeni state TV. It's the local equivalent of "Thought For The Day", and even more predictable. Here's the same dude a week earlier:
O God, deal with Jews and their supporters and Christians and their supporters and lackeys. O God, count them one by one, kill them all, and don't leave anyone.
This isn't some fringe crank sentiment, but what appears to be a standard formulation from the Middle Eastern equivalent of the Book of Common Prayer. Another state TV channel, another mosque, another imam, same script:
"O God, deal with the occupier Jews for they are within your power," said Sheikh Anwar al-Badawi on August 2nd live from the Umar Bin-Al-Khattab Mosque in Doha on Qatar Television. "O God, count them one by one, kill them, and don't leave any one of them."
Same Sheikh a week later: "O God, destroy the usurper Jews and the vile Christians."
Hmm. Perhaps we need to call in Bletchley Park. Must be some sort of code.
As a matter of fact, you don't even need to go to the Middle East to catch the death-to-Jews-and-Christians routine. I stayed in the heart of Paris a couple of months back, at the Plaza Athenée, and the eight Arab TV channels available in my room had more than enough foaming imams to go round.
The old-time Commies at least used to go to a bit of effort to tell the western leftie intellectuals what they wanted to hear. The Islamists, by contrast, cheerfully piss all over every cherished western progressive shibboleth. Women? The Taleban didn't just "marginalise" women, they buried them under sackcloth. Gays? As The New Republic reported a week ago, the Palestinian Authority tortures homosexuals, makes them stand in sewage up to their necks with faeces-filled sacks on their heads. Yet Canadian MP Svend Robinson, Yasser's favourite gay infidel, still makes his pilgrimages to Ramallah to pledge solidarity with the people's "struggle". Animals? CNN's showing videos all this week of al-Qa'eda members testing various hideous poison gases on dogs.
Radical Islamists aren't tolerant of anybody: they kill Jews, Hindus, Christians, babies, schoolgirls, airline stewardesses, bond traders, journalists, dogs. They use snuff videos for recruitment: go on the Internet and a couple of clicks will get you to the decapitation of Daniel Pearl. You can't negotiate with them because they have no demands – or at least no rational ones. They've nothing they want to talk about. It takes up valuable time they'd rather spend killing us.
President Bush has won the first battle (Afghanistan) but he's in danger of losing the war. The war isn't with al-Qa'eda, or Saddam, or the House of Saud. They're all a bunch of losers. True, insignificant loser states can cause their share of trouble when they're proxies for the great powers. But, in a unipolar world, it's clear that the most powerful enemy in this war is ourselves, and our determination to sleepwalk to cultural suicide in order to demonstrate our sensitivity. By "our", I don't mean the American people or the Canadian people or even the French people. I don't even mean the Democrats: American politics is more responsive and populist than Europe's, and when war with Iraq starts, Hillary will be cheerleading along with the rest of them. But against that are all the people who shape our culture, who teach our children, who run our colleges and churches, who make the TV shows we watch – and they haven't got a clue. Bruce Springsteen's blurry equivalist mope of a 9/11 album, The Rising, is a classic example of how even a supposed "blue-collar" icon can't bring himself to want America to win. On my car radio, John McCain pops up on behalf of the Office of Civil Rights every ten minutes sternly reminding Americans not to beat up Muslims.
And, of course, let us not forget Britain's great comic figure Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, QC, who thinks that it's too easy to go on about "Islamic fundamentalists". "What I think happens very readily," she said, "is that we as western liberals too often are fundamentalist ourselves. We don't look at our own fundamentalisms." And what exactly does Lady Kennedy mean by western liberal fundamentalism? "One of the things that we are too ready to insist upon is that we are the tolerant people and that the intolerance is something that belongs to other countries like Islam. And I'm not sure that's true."
If I follow correctly, Lady Kennedy is suggesting that our tolerance of our own tolerance is making us intolerant of other people's intolerance. To complain about Islamic fundamentalism is to ignore how offensive others must find our own western fundamentalisms – votes, drivers' licenses for women, no incentives to mass murder from the pulpit of Westminster Cathedral.
America's had a year to wise up, but instead it's retreating to its illusions. George W Bush had a rare opportunity after September 11th. He could have attempted to reverse the most poisonous tide in the western world: the gloopy multiculturalism that insists all cultures are equally valid, even as they're trying to kill us. He could have argued that western self-loathing is a psychosis we can no longer afford. He could have told the teachers' unions that there was more to the Second World War than the internment of Japanese-Americans and it's time they started teaching it to our children.
But he chose not to. Anyone who followed George W Bush during the 2000 Presidential campaign will recognise the pattern:
He stacked up more money and a bigger poll lead than anyone had ever seen in a competitive race – and then he didn't bother campaigning in New Hampshire. So he lost the primary.
But he clawed his way back and won the nomination – and then he pretty much disappeared from sight to spend the summer working on his new ranch house back in Texas. So by Labour Day Al Gore was ahead in the polls.
But he stirred himself and eked out a small lead in the run-up to November – and then, in the wake of a damaging last-minute leak about an old drunk-driving conviction, he flew back home and took the final weekend of the campaign off.
But he just about squeaked through on election day, even though his disinclination to rebut the drunk story almost certainly cost him the popular vote and a couple of close states.
This is the way George W Bush does things and his rendezvous with history on September 11th – the day that "changed the world" – did not, in the end, change the Bush modus operandi. A few weeks after the attacks, he had the highest approval ratings of any President in history. But he didn't do anything with them. And, in political terms, he might as well have spent this summer playing video golf and watching the director's cut of Austin Powers. On election day in November, without Saddam's scalp on his bedpost, Bush will be right back where he was on September 10th 2001: the 50% President, his approval ratings in the fifties, his "negatives" high, the half of the country that didn't vote for him feeling no warmer toward him than if the day that "changed the world" had never happened.
If this sounds familiar, that's because it is. Last autumn, Bush aides were at pains to emphasise that the son would not make his father's mistake: unlike George Bush Sr, the new President understood that political capital can't be banked; you have to spend it when you have it because it won't be there in six months' time. The 90% poll numbers were always going to come down. It was just a question of where they stabilised, and what Bush would manage to accomplish while they were up in the stratosphere. By that measure, he squandered his opportunity.
In devoting his energies to the war, the President let his domestic agenda die. Even as the USAF were strafing Tora Bora, Senator Pat Leahy, a wily Vermont Democrat, continued to stall the President's judicial nominations; Ted Kennedy gutted the Bush education bill; and their fellow Democrats obstructed plans for oil-drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. At that moment, with his poll numbers in the eighties, it would have been so easy for Bush to do to Leahy what Clinton did to Gingrich. The President could have said that, with so many suspected terrorists and their accomplices in custody, we can't afford vacancies and backlogs in our courthouses and my good frien' Pat needs to stop playin' politics with the Federal judiciary. September 11th is not just an event, hermetically sealed from everything before and after, but a context. Everything that's wrong with the environmental movement, with the teachers' unions, with the big-government bureaucracies can be seen through the prism of their responses to that day.
But the President's greatest mistake was his failure to take on the debilitating Oprahfied therapeutic culture that, in the weeks after September 11th, looked momentarily vulnerable. There were two kinds of responses to that awful day. You could go with "C'mon, guys, let's roll!", the words of Todd Beamer as he and the brave passengers of Flight 93 took on their Islamist hijackers, and, at the cost of their own lives, prevented a fourth plane from slamming through the White House. Or you could go with "healing" and "closure" and the rest of the awful lifeless language of emotional narcissism. Had Mr Bush taken it upon himself to talk up the virtues of courage and self-reliance demonstrated on Flight 93 he would have done a service not just to his nation but to his party, for a touchy-feely culture inevitably trends Democratic.
But he ducked the rhetorical challenge. Bush has allowed the culture to lapse back into its default mode of psychobabbling self-absorption.
Increasingly dispirited as the summer wore on, Republican foot-soldiers pondered a basic question: when your leader puts his domestic agenda on hold to switch to a war Presidency and then puts the war Presidency on hold, what's left? In the end, even Mr Bush's magnificent moral clarity faded away into a Colin Powellite blur. Long after it became clear that 3,000 Americans were killed by Saudi citizens with Saudi money direct from members of the Saudi Royal Family, Mr Bush was still inviting Saudi princes to the Crawford ranch and insisting that the Kingdom was a "staunch friend" in the war against terror. This is not just ridiculous but offensive. Even if it's merely "rope-a-dope" and behind the scenes all kinds of plans are being made, the public dissimulation diminishes the President's authority. Symbolism matters: the White House is for business, the privilege of kicking loose at the ranch ought to be reserved for real friends; Yet Australia's John Howard, whose boys fought alongside the US in Afghanistan, didn't get an invite to Crawford and the fellows who bankrolled al-Qa'eda did. Words matter, too: Bush's remarks about the Saudis come perilously close to lying to the American people about who murdered their friends and family.
In January, naming Iraq as part of the "axis of evil", Bush declared that "time is running out". Eight months later, time had run back in again. "I'm a patient man," said the President. You can't blame the American people - the "sleeping giant" – for dozing off again.
Mona Charen summed it up in a column on the increasing pressure to pretend that September 11th 2001 was not what it was – an act of war – but instead some sort of unfortunate "tragedy". It is, she says, "a kind of moral disarmament of the nation. Before there can be an army, navy and air force capable of protecting us, there must be a citizenry that believes we are worth defending."
If it sounds extreme to put it in those terms, consider how far many in the west are prepared to go not to defend themselves. In August, in Sydney, the pack leader of a group of Lebanese Muslim gang-rapists was sentenced to 55 years in gaol. I suppose I ought to say "Lebanese-Australian" Muslim gang-rapists, since the accused were Australian citizens. But, identity-wise, the rambunctious young lads considered themselves heavy on the Lebanese, light on the Australian. During their gang rapes, the lucky lady would be told she was about to be "fucked Leb style" and that she deserved it because she was an "Australian pig".
But, inevitably, it's the heavy sentence that's "controversial". After September 11th, Americans were advised to ask themselves, "Why do they hate us?" Now Australians need to ask themselves, "Why do they rape us?" As Monroe Reimers put it on the letters page of The Sydney Morning Herald:
As terrible as the crime was, we must not confuse justice with revenge. We need answers. Where has this hatred come from? How have we contributed to it? Perhaps it's time to take a good hard look at the racism by exclusion practised with such a vengeance by our community and cultural institutions.
Indeed. Many's the time, labouring under the burden of some or other ghastly government policy, I've thought of pinning some gal down and sodomising her while 14 of my pals look on and await their turn. But I fear in my case the Monroe Reimers of the world would be rather less eager to search for "root causes". Gang rape as a legitimate expression of the campaign for social justice is a privilege reserved only unto a few.
Mr Reimers, though, will be happy to know his view is echoed across the hemispheres. Five days before 9/11, the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet reported that 65% of the country's rapes were committed by "non-western" immigrants – a category which, in Norway, is almost wholly Muslim. A professor at the University of Oslo explained that one reason for the disproportionate Muslim share of the rape market was that in their native lands "rape is scarcely punished" because it is generally believed that "it is women who are responsible for rape".
So Muslim immigrants to Norway should be made aware that things are a little different in Scandinavia? Not at all! Rather, the professor insisted, "Norwegian women must take their share of responsibility for these rapes" because their manner of dress would be regarded by Muslim men as inappropriate. "Norwegian women must realize that we live in a multicultural society and adapt themselves to it." Or to modify Queen Victoria's wedding-night advice to her daughter: lie back and think of Yemen.
France? Well, I can't bring you any ethnic rape statistics from the Fifth Republic because the authorities go to great lengths not to keep any. But, even though the phenomenon of immigrant gang rape does not officially exist, there's already a word for it: the "tournante" – or "take your turn". Last year, 11 Muslim men were arrested for enjoying a grand old tournante with a 14-year old girl in a cellar. It's now a widely accepted communal "rite of passage" in the North African quartiers of French cities.
Whether or not certain cultures are more prone to rape is a delicate question we shall explore another day. But what's interesting is how easily even this most extreme manifestation of multiculturalism is subsumed within the usual pieties. Norwegian women must learn to be, in a very real sense, less "exclusionary". Lebanese male immigrants, finding refuge in a land of peace, freedom and opportunity, are somehow transformed into gang rapists by Australian racism.
After September 11th, a friend in London said to me she couldn't stand all the America-needs-to-ask-itself stuff because she used to work at a rape crisis centre and she'd heard this blame-the-victim routine a thousand times before. America was asking for it: like those Norwegian women, it was being "provocative". Even so, it comes as a surprise to realize the multiculti apologists do exactly the same to actual rape victims. After the OJ verdict, it was noted by some feminists that "race trumped gender". What we've seen since September 11th is that multiculturalism trumps everything. Its grip on the imagination of the western elites is unshakeable. Thus, President Bush, in the month after September 11th, went around declaring "Islam is peace" while surrounded by representatives of organisations whose literature claims Jews are apes.
On this "Islam is peace" business, Bassam Tibi, a Muslim professor at Goettingen University in Germany, gave a helpful speech a few months back: "Both sides should acknowledge candidly that although they might use identical terms these mean different things to each of them," he said. "The word 'peace', for example, implies to a Muslim the extension of the Dar al-Islam - or 'House of Islam' - to the entire world. This is completely different from the Enlightenment concept of eternal peace that dominates Western thought." Only when the entire world is a Dar al-Islam will it be a Dar a-Salam, or "House of Peace".
On the face of it, that sounds ridiculous. The "Muslim world" – the arc stretching from North Africa through South Asia – is economically and militarily moribund. But, looked at through the lens of Norwegian rape or French crime, the idea of a Dar al-Islam doesn't sound so ridiculous. The "code of silence" that surrounds rape in tightly knit Muslim families is, so to speak, amplified by the broader "code of silence" surrounding multicultural issues in the west. If all cultures are of equal value, how do you point out any defects?
As I understand it, the benefits of multiculturalism are that the sterile white-bread cultures of Australia, Canada and Britain get some great ethnic restaurants and a Commonwealth Games opening ceremony that goes on till two in the morning. But, in the case of those Muslim ghettoes in Sydney, in Oslo, in Paris, in Copenhagen and in Manchester, multiculturalism means that the worst attributes of Muslim culture – the subjugation of women – combine with the worst attributes of western culture – license and self-gratification. Tattooed, pierced Pakistani skinhead gangs swaggering down the streets of Northern England are as much a product of multiculturalism as the turban-wearing Sikh Mountie in the vice-regal escort at Rideau Hall. Yet even in the face of the crudest assaults on its most cherished causes – women's rights, gay rights – the political class turns squeamishly away.
Once upon a time we knew what to do. A British district officer, coming upon a scene of suttee, was told by the locals that in Hindu culture it was the custom to cremate a widow on her husband's funeral pyre. He replied that in British culture it was the custom to hang chaps who did that sort of thing. There are many great things about India – curry, pyjamas, sitars, software engineers – but suttee was not one of them. What a pity we're no longer capable of being "judgmental" and "discriminating". We're told the old-school imperialists were racists, that they thought of the wogs as inferior. But, if so, they at least considered them capable of improvement. The multiculturalists are just as racist. The only difference is that they think the wogs can never reform: good heavens, you can't expect a Muslim in Norway not to go about raping the womenfolk! Much better just to get used to it.
As one is always obliged to explain when tiptoeing around this territory, I'm not a racist, only a culturalist. I believe western culture – rule of law, universal suffrage, etc – is preferable to Arab culture: that's why there are millions of Muslims in Scandinavia, and four Scandinavians in Syria. Follow the traffic. I support immigration, but with assimilation. Without it, like a Hindu widow, the west is slowly climbing on the funeral pyre of its lost empires. You see it in European foreign policy already: they're scared of their mysterious, swelling, unstoppable Muslim populations.
Islam For All approvingly reported the other day that, at present demographic rates, in 20 years' time the majority of Holland's children (the population under 18) will be Muslim. It will be the first Islamic country in western Europe since the loss of Spain. Europe is the colony now.
Or as Charles Johnson of the Little Green Footballs website drolly suggested: "Maybe we should start a betting pool: which European country will be the first to institute shari'a?"
A couple of days after September 11th, I wrote:
Those western nations who spent last week in Durban finessing and nuancing evil should understand now that what is at stake is whether the world's future will belong to liberal democracy and the rule of law, or to darker forces.
But a year later, after a brief hiccup, the western elites have resumed finessing and nuancing evil all the more enthusiastically, and America's "compassionate conservative" shows no stomach for a fight at least as important as any on the battlefield.
The great imponderable of this war is how widespread among Muslims is support for radical Islamism. The evidence is conflicting: On the one hand, the supposedly incendiary "Arab street" is relatively calm. On the other, few imams in North America or Europe are prepared to stand up and give an unqualified denunciation of Osama bin Laden and al-Qa'eda. It's clear there's a struggle going on in the Muslim world along a continuum with Turkish and South Asian Islam at one end and the psychotic death cult of the jihadi at the other. Victory over the latter requires wholesale reconstruction of the Middle East, and the free world long ago lost faith in its moral authority to embark on such projects. This isn't a "clash of civilisations" so much as two clashes within civilisations – in the west, between those who believe in the values of liberal democracy and those too numbed by multiculturalist bromides to recognise even the most direct assault on them; and in the Islamic world, between what's left of the moderate Muslim temperament and the Saudi-radicalised death-cult Islamists.
The Islamists are militarily weak but ideologically secure. A year on, the west is just the opposite. There's more than one way to lose a war.
September 11th was the day everything changed. Everyone said so, and some still do. But nations don't change in a day, much less the world. The change that occurred on September 11th was a simple one. When Osama bin Laden blew up the World Trade Center, he also blew up the polite fictions of the pre-war world. At Ground Zero, they've been working frantically to clear away the rubble. Likewise, at the UN, EU and all the rest, they've also been working frantically not so much to clear away the mess but to stick it back together and reconstruct the great fantasy world as it existed on September 10th, that bizarro make-believe land where Nato is a "mutual defence alliance" and Egypt and Saudi Arabia are "our staunch friends". Even in America, some people are still living in that world. You can switch on the TV and hear apparently sane "experts" using phrases like "Bush risks losing the support of the Arab League".
The easiest way to understand how little has changed is to consider the two UN Conferences in South Africa which bookend the year. The weekend before 9/11, at the UN Conference Against Racism, Colonialism, Whitey, Hymie and Capitalism, Robert Mugabe's government was cheered to the rafters for calling on Britain and America to "apologise unreservedly for their crimes against humanity". Last week, when the world's jetset luddites convened at the Church of the Sustainable Conception for the so-called Earth Summit, who got the biggest roar this time? Why, ol' Starver Bob, for a trenchant assault on the wickedness of Tony Blair.
A few weeks earlier, Libya was elected to chair the UN Human Rights Commission. Washington doesn't expect much from the UN, but why did it have to be Libya? Okay, it's never going to be America or Britain, but how about Belize or Western Samoa? Why did it have to be something so utterly contemptible of reality as the elevation of Colonel Gaddafi's flunkey? If the multilateral world is irrelevant, it's because its organs – the UN, EU, Nato – are diseased and it has shown no willingness in the last year to address the fact.
Does that mean Bush is a unilateralist? Not at all. Bilateralism is booming. Since September 11th, US-Russian, US-Chinese, US-Indian and US-Turkish relations have all improved, all of which are arguably more important than whether Washington sees eye to eye with Chris Patten. Only a very blinkered self-absorbed Eurocentric would assume that because Mr Bush (as quoted in The Spectator) says he doesn't "give a shit about the Europeans", he doesn't give a shit about anyone else: within a year, for example, the US has built productive relations with the Central Asian republics.
So, whether or not the world changed, America's relationship with it did. A year on, there's still no agreement as to the meaning of September 11th. To some of us, it was an act of war. To Guardian columnists, it was the world's biggest "but": yes, it was regrettable, BUT it was also a logical consequence of America's "cowboy arrogance" blah blah. To the Muslims who celebrated openly in Ramallah and in Denmark and at Concordia University in Montreal, it was the most spectacular blow yet against the Great Satan. To other Muslims, it was obviously the work of Mossad. To John Lahr, theatre critic of The New Yorker, it was possibly the work of George W Bush trying to distract attention from Democrat criticism of his missile-defence plans.
When an opinion-former's caught unawares, he retreats to his tropes, however lame, as Lahr did, and Pilger, Chomsky et al. But the clearest way to understand the meaning of the day is to look at those who were called upon to act rather than theorise. We now know that the fourth plane, United Flight 93, the one that shattered across a field in Pennsylvania, was heading for the White House. Had they made it, it would have been the strike of the day. It might have killed the Vice-President and who knows who else, but, even if it hadn't, think of the symbolism: the shattered façade, smoke billowing from a pile of rubble on Pennsylvania Avenue, just like the money shot in Independence Day. Those delirious Palestinians and Danes and Montrealers would have danced all night.
But they were denied their jubilation. Unlike those on the first three flights, the hostages on 93 knew what their fate would be. They understood there would be no happy ending. So they gave us the next best thing, a hopeful ending. The plane crashed, not into the White House, but in some pasture outside Pittsburgh.
The most significant development of September 11th is that it marks the day America began to fight back: thanks to the heroes of Flight 93, 9/11 is not just Pearl Harbor but also the Doolittle Raid, all wrapped up in 90 minutes. Those passengers were the only victims who knew what the hijackers had in store for them, and so they acted. The improvisations of Flight 93 foreshadowed the innovations of the Afghan campaign, when men in traditional Uzbek garb sat on horses and used laser technology to guide USAF bombers to their targets. The B2s dropped their load and flew back to base – Diego Garcia or Mississippi.
The Flight 93 hijackers might have got lucky. They might have found themselves on a plane with John Lahr ("You guys are working for Bush, right?") or Robert Daubenspeck of White River Junction, Vermont, who the day after September 11th wrote to my local newspaper advising against retaliation: "Someone, someday, must have the courage not to hit back but to look them in the eye and say, 'I love you.'" But, granted these exceptions, chances are any flight full of reasonably typical Americans would have found a group of people to do the right thing, to act as those on Flight 93 did. When you face these psychotic death-cultists, when you "look them in the eye", you see there's nothing to negotiate.
On Flight 93, Todd Beamer, Jeremy Glick, Thomas Burnett, Mark Bingham and others did not have the luxury of amused Guardianesque detachment. So they effectively inaugurated the new Bush Doctrine: when you know your enemies have got something big up their sleeves, you take 'em out before they can do it.
Everything that mattered after September 11th – Bush's moral clarity, the Afghan innovations, and the crystal-clear understanding that this is an enemy beyond compromise – was present in the final moments of Flight 93. They're the bedrock American values, the ones you don't always see because everyone's yakking about Anna Nicole Smith or the new "reality-based" "Beverly Hillbillies". But we know that when you need them in a hurry they're always there.
Bush will need them in the years ahead because he has chosen to embark on the most ambitious change of all, a reversal of half-a-century of US policy in the Middle East. The polite fictions – Prince Abdullah is "moderate", Yasser Arafat is our "partner in peace", the Syrian Foreign Minister is as respectable as New Zealand's – will no longer do. They led to slaughter.
Europe, for one, hasn't caught up to September 11th: when it comes to Saddam, the Continentals are like the passengers on those first three planes; they're thinking he's a rational guy, just play it cool and he won't pull anything crazy.
But America learned the hard way: it's the world of September 10th that's really crazy.