September 11, 2006
Modern Europeans may not believe in God, but they certainly believe in the Devil.
The small town of St Riquier, near Abbeville, is essentially a big churchyard: Ecclesiastical buildings, including a huge abbey and a vast church, completely dominate the small village, and everything else fits in around them. The town is a good representation of the medieval world of which it was once an important part, a world in which every aspect of life was seen through the prism of faith. In the eighth century, when they started laying bricks in St Riquier, it wasn’t possible to even conjure a thought, let alone a deed, that didn’t have spiritual implications.
Today, of course, politics shapes everything we know about the world. Nothing transpires without being quickly deconstructed in order to understand how it fits into the new world of secularized faith. Since this includes even hurricanes, once thought to be the work of an irritable God, but now known to have been made by the Bush administration’s environmental policies, it isn’t surprising that 9/11 has been reduced to something less than what it was by all those in the European press who need to see it as something else.
Even if you’ve never soiled your fingers by touching a French or British or German newspaper, you will know already the views you will find there because they are essentially restated on a daily basis near where you live by the Washington Post, the New York Times, and others similar.
Today, for example, the editorialist at the Times laments the lost “possibilities” created by the attack, counts “the sins of the Bush administration” and echoes what the Times’s op-ed crew have been saying this last week on the BBC, that having suffered on 9/11, Americans need to suffer more in order to avoid a “relapse into a self- centeredness that became a second national tragedy. We have spent the last few years fighting each other with more avidity than we fight the enemy.” This, from the folks who tried to politicize the Boy Scouts while giving cover to a president so lost in his own personal troubles that he ignored the growing peril of al Qaeda in the first place. “The president will remind the country that he has spent most of his administration fighting terrorism,” concludes the paper, “and his opponents will point out that Osama bin Laden is still at large.”
Of course, “his opponents” must include virtually every newspaper and broadcaster in Europe, almost all of whom have been reporting American failure in Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran and elsewhere for years. The EuroPress is the global edition of the Huffington Post, where no idea is inane provided it’s served with a big dose of anger. The BBC’s World Service, for example, has just wrapped up its own commemoration of 9/11 with an anthology of anecdotes from Muslims who felt that they were the victims of what the World Service called “an American witch-hunt” in the weeks and months following the attack on New York. Today’s programming includes interviews with left-wing American academics and journalists all of whom have predictable views: the U.S. (along with Israel, of course) is the real enemy of the world and the threat of another terrorist attack on America is just a politically-driven myth.
This narrative combining futility and failure is everywhere today. In Le Monde, the 9/11 story is also built on the Washington Post’s piece about bin Laden’s great escape, but adds to an AFP item the huge amount the U.S. is willing to spend to catch the guy. Suddeutsche Zeitung sardonically observes that the U.S. hasn’t the slightest idea where to find its “public enemy no. 1.” In Britain, the Independent runs down the “bitter legacy of 9/11” in numbers, Harpers-style (“7 per cent — People in UK who think US-led war on terror is being won, according to YouGov,” etc.).
This comes on the heels of the angry coverage, including the Guardian’s, of Bush’s speech acknowledging CIA “secret prisons.” Europe is a room full of old ladies, and the CIA is a mouse, but as we all know, the great non-communicator does little to make converts among those who see the U.S. as a nest of rodents. Not that he could, of course, but really, you have not heard miscommunication until you have heard Karen Hughes, Bush’s overseas p.r. diplomat, reply to an extremely skeptical World Service interviewer who had asked how she was going to convince the rest of the planet the U.S. was not the enemy. She said she was inviting some Muslim youth over to her house for ice cream and pizza. Hold the sausage, Karen.
We’re all true believers, of course. Those on the right are just as anxious as those on the left to write the gospel of political faith. But printing it in black and white doesn’t make it simple. Besides, as Le Figaro carefully points out, we already know that belief in the wrong hands has terrible consequences. When perverted faith becomes politics, as it has for Islamic jihadists, the result is 9/11. When politics becomes faith, however, the result is the journalistic jihadists in the European media and their nonstop exorcism of the Great Satan.
Fromage news. Nicholas Sarkozy is in the U.S. and Le Monde is on the story: Sarko likes America’s “fluidity and energy,” which is the diplomatic equivalent of describing a woman by admiring her personality. According to Reuters, his rival, the hyper-hirsute, self-published poet and premier, Dominique de Villepin, announced that France was no longer interested in fighting a “war on terror.” Jacques Chirac, meanwhile, is wiggling to find a friendly prosecutor who won’t toss him in le poké when his term expires next year. The bloggers at Eursoc have the goods. The surprise of the week was French television’s broadcast of a sensitive re-enactment of flight 93. It made the hijackers look like, uh, terrorists.
Hard Labour. The serial suicide of the British Labour party, in advance of Blair’s departure, continues apace, as this interview with the apparently late Gordon Brown in the Times demonstrates. The alternative? The empty Izod that is David Cameron, often running slightly to the left of New Labour. The BBC carries his latest pronouncement against free market economics. “I want India to be India and Britain to be Britain.” And Cameron to be Blair, no doubt.
Innocents abroad. The British are brilliant at sending their William Boots to darkest America, where they meet the incomprehensible natives and their quaint folk ways. Here’s the Observer’s hapless Paul Harris outraged at the eccentricities of federalism in the New World: “In some places you can't vote if you have a prison record. In others, you can.” Plus, all the license plates are different. It’s like hard math. Paul, in some places, you can vote if you’re dead — and if you vote for Hugo Chavez. It’s a political miracle.
— Denis Boyles is author of Vile France: Fear, Duplicity, Cowardice and Cheese.