They still don't get it
"HE is sedated," said Bill Clinton's heart surgeon. "But he is arousable." I've never doubted it. That seems as appropriate a thought as any with which to consider the state of the new war three years on.
Like former president Clinton, much of the West is sedated. But is it arousable?
On the eve of the September anniversary, hundreds of Russian children were murdered in their schoolhouse by terrorists. Terrible. But even more terrible was the reaction of what passes for the civilised world, the reluctance to point the finger.
The perpetrators were "separatists", according to the Christian Science Monitor. What, you mean like my fellow Quebeckers?
They were "commandos", according to Agence France-Presse. Like the SAS?
"We have been confronted with a deep human tragedy," said the Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Bot, speaking for the European Union.
"I am appalled that a school and its pupils are being used for political ends," said UNESCO's director-general Koichiro Matsuura.
A "tragedy"? "Political ends"?
Five days after the slaughter, the New York Times finally got around to using the "I" word, and then only in paragraph 24: "While the extent of international support may be debated, the attacks bear some trappings of Islamic militancy. Officials in Beslan said they found notebooks with Arabic writing, and witnesses reported hearing Arabic exhortations, though the attackers mostly spoke Russian."
Any Arabic exhortation in particular? Only the slogan of the age, "Allahu Akbar" (God is great). Nothing to worry about, folks. They may kill kids, but they're just "separatists", "radicals", "activists". No connection with any events you may have heard about in Madrid, Istanbul, Bali, Tel Aviv or New York.
The approved tone in polite society is that of the London Daily Telegraph's Adam Nicolson: each dead child was "a Pieta, the archetype of pity . . . each is a Cordelia carried on at the end of Act V . . ."
Lovely stuff, may even be an award in it. But not a word about the killers or a hint of their identity. Only a feeble, passive sadness.
Nicolson is sedated but, unlike Clinton, not arousable.
Three years after September 11, the Islamist death cult is the love whose name no one dare speak.
And, if you can't even bring yourself to identify your enemy, are you likely to defeat him? Can you even know him? He seems to know us pretty well. He understands the pressures he can bring to bear on Spain, and the Philippines, and France, too.
He's come to appreciate the self-imposed constraints under which his enemy fights – the legalisms, the political correctness, the deference to ineffectual multilateralism.
He's revolted by the infidels' decadence but he has to admit it's enormously helpful: the pro-gay, pro-feminist Left are far more idiotic and far more useful to him than they ever were to Stalin.
He's figured out that while pluralistic, open democracy might be a debased system of government next to Sharia, it has its moments: he had no idea that quite so many Westerners so loathed their own governments and, if not their own, then America's.
And he never thought that, even in America, while one party is at war, the other party is at war with the very idea that there is a war. And even the party committed to war presides over a lethargic, unreformed bureaucracy, large chunks of which are determined to obstruct it.
So, despite the loss of the Afghan training camps and Saddam and the Taliban and three quarters of al-Qaida's leadership, it hasn't been a bad three years: the enemy has learnt the limits of the West's resolve, and all he has to do is put a bit of thought into exploiting it. A nuclear Iran will certainly help.
By contrast, what have we learned? According to the Associated Press, at the Bercy stadium in Paris, Madonna dedicated her performance of Imagine to what the reporter was still calling "the Russian hostage crisis", even though the "crisis" was over, as were the lives of the hostages. Madonna "urged fans to think about what happened in Russia and Lennon's lyrics".
OK, here's "imagine there's no heaven; it's easy if you try". Not what I would want to hear if my kid had just been shot dead.
More importantly, advocating global secularism as the answer to terrorism is backing a loser. For the fellows pulling the martyrdom routines, heaven is a brothel; they are supposedly promised 72 virgins on arrival. In Madonna terms, that's Like a Virgin times 72. It's the jackpot, it's winning the lottery. Telling the guy it's a fraud and that his crappy life in Egypt or Saudi Arabia is all there is, doesn't seem likely to work.
Doesn't it make more sense to try to move him into buying the idea of heaven as a lot of fluffy clouds where we sit around twanging harps all day rather than attempting to shunt him all the way over into instant radical post-Christian atheism?
This isn't a theoretical proposition. Last year a senior Dutch cabinet minister talked me through some very interesting findings apropos his own country's Islamic population.
The grandchildren of Muslims who arrived in Holland in the '70s were often more militant than their grandparents. Raised in a society as close as one can find to the sappy nihilism of Lennon's lyric, they had decided it had no appeal.
I mocked the singing of Imagine on some all-star September 11 memorial gala in 2001, yet here it is again, irrelevant, dated, but indestructible as ever. Singing Imagine is a sure sign of a failure to imagine. That's really the heart of it: the failure of what Osama bin Laden saw as a soft pampered West to imagine that it could ever all come to an end.
September 11 was not "the day that changed the world" but instead the day that revealed how much the world had already changed. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, "the West", for example, had lacked sufficient common purpose to "fight back".
It's fashionable now to employ some false distinction between Afghanistan and Iraq – the good war and the Texas cowboy's Halliburton Oil land grab. But "the West" was never committed even to Afghanistan.
A few months ago, I had the honour of participating in the US Naval Academy's annual foreign affairs conference in Annapolis. After I'd made a few breezy generalisations about the pitiful performance of America's so-called allies, an indignant French naval cadet stood up to insist that, au contraire, Paris had made a significant contribution to the war in Afghanistan. Why, it had dispatched the ultimate symbol of Gallic prestige, the nuclear (and, indeed, toxic) aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle.
It seemed cruel to point out that Afghanistan is land-locked, and that dispatching a stricken carrier with a few reconnaissance aircraft to the general vicinity of the Indian Ocean is not the most robust commitment to the war effort.
It seemed crueller to point out that the Charles de Gaulle was dispatched in late December 2002, a month after the fall of Kabul. In other words, the French had waited until the war was over. That's America's postmodern "alliance".
In the US, some observers thought it would be different once Europe was hit. On the day of the Madrid bombing, John Ellis, a Bush cousin and a shrewd commentator, declared confidently: "Every member state of the EU understands that Madrid is Rome is Berlin is Amsterdam is Paris is London is New York." All wrong.
Within 72 hours of the atrocity, voters sent a tough message to the Islamists: "We apologise for catching your eye." The Spanish Government lost the election.
Whether or not Madrid is Rome, Berlin, etc., it certainly isn't New York. At least in the two and a half years between the Twin Towers and Madrid, there was always the possibility of Europe stiffening itself. Now America lives with the certainty that it won't, and can't, until it's too late.
This war will go on for some decades, and by the end of it Madrid will be Rome will be Berlin will be Amsterdam will be Paris, but none will be as we now know them.
By 2030 Europe will be Eurabia – at least semi-Islamified, with Muslim lobby groups transformed into Muslim political parties, with their own representatives serving in coalitions with bewildered multi–culturalists. (Recent by-elections in Britain, with the Friends of al-Aqsa Committee summoning candidates in order to see who could outpander the others, is only an interim phase.)
In the past three decades, Europe has taken in (officially) about 20 million Muslims – or the equivalent of the populations of three EU countries (Ireland, Belgium, Denmark).
Once you look at it like that, why should they have less say in the corridors of Euro-power than Ben Bot or Ireland's Bertie Ahern?
Imagine France with a 20 per cent Muslim bloc and then consider the likelihood of French forces fighting alongside the US ever again.
In a lame apologia for the Beslan kiddie-killers, the Guardian newspaper's Isabel Hilton rhapsodised about "asymmetrical warfare" – how else could the poor wee insurgents/activists/whatever fight back against overwhelmingly superior force? But these days who's really "superior"?
An old-fashioned European army – Belgium's, say – is incapable of projecting itself to Saudi Arabia; but a terrorist group in Saudi Arabia, through routine innovations like e-mail, mobile phones and automated bank machines, can easily project itself to Belgium.
What did September 11 cost its perpetrators? Flight lessons would be below $A12,500 depending on how impatient the hijackers were (as Zac Moussaoui told his instructors, he didn't need to learn how to land); Stanley knives cost next to nothing; add in a few rental cars and motels, and that's it. For about $A375,000, 19 not especially talented terrorists killed more than 3000 people and caused immediate economic damage of $A67.5 billion, with the final tab yet to be calculated.
That's what I call asymmetrical. Now imagine nuclear technology, which long ago slipped the bunkers of the great powers. If you're a quiet-lifer like the Spaniards, who do you talk to to head off catastrophe? There isn't an "al-Qaida" in the sense of an organisation one can enter into formal peace talks with, as Britain's former Northern Ireland minister Mo Mowlam advises.
There are local terror groups sharing the same aims and methods from Algeria to Indonesia and, like crime families, they all know who to go to if they happen to find themselves in Chechnya, or Kosovo, or Sudan or Colombia.
And there are freelance acts of mayhem committed by chaps who wake up one morning and hear the call of the jihad – the British shoebomber and the Washington sniper both fall into this category.
Not all Muslims are al-Qaida supporters, but they don't have to be. If just 1 per cent is generally sympathetic, that's enough for a vast global support network.
More to the point, keep an eye on that big picture. Between 1970 and 2000, the developed world declined from just under 30 per cent of the world's population to just over 20 per cent, and the Muslim nations' populations increased from 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the world's people.
The year 1970 isn't that long ago. It's when John Lennon wrote Imagine, which our pop stars seem to think is still pretty cool. But while they're droning the same old dirge, everything else has moved on.
The terrorists blew apart the "polite fictions" of the September 10 world. A lot of people have devoted a lot of energy to trying to reconstruct them. But it can't be done. The old world has gone, and if Madonna wants to preserve the kind of pluralist society that enables her to be photographed naked with her bottom hanging over a wall and get a bestselling book out of it, she's going to have to choose sides and fight for it.
Mark Steyn is the master. I knew who wrote this after reading the first three sentences.
I particularly like that 1% line....