Saturday 15 September 2001

Today at the Vicarage The

Today at the Vicarage : The Vicarage.

Punk delivered the draft of the two chapters of his second 'Vicar Chronicle'. My earlier reservations have not changed, but there is something very real about his writing. I accept that I am not the best judge of his work.

For those interested in editorial comment on recent events in New York, I can recommend today’s Daily Mail. This is my wife’s newspaper of choice, and is normally too full of celebrity gossip for my liking. It is still inclined to dwell on the sentimental – numerous pages filled with colour pages of people weeping at the recent service at St Paul’s Cathedral, where for the first time in history, the Star Spangled Banner was played – but the editorial comment is excellent. Philip Knightley reminds us that when Independence Day was shown in cinemas in Europe, with its scenes of New York being destroyed, many european audiences burst into cheers. The producers were left wondering 'Why New York?'.

On a more positive note, Paul Johnson’s Saturday essay wonders whether this week has brought to an end a century of liberalism and permissiveness, a century where liberal notions took over every aspect of our own society, from sex and the media, to immigration, to crime and punishment, from marriage and family life, and the relations of parents to children to the replacement of traditional notions of duty by the pursuit of universal rights.

I myself have often thought that the end of the last century in many ways mirrored the common image of the debauched final days of the Roman Empire, with the breakdown of moral values and the constant shades of grey.

Will the need for security create a more black and white world – centred on the traditional notion of right and wrong. Are we moving from an age where crimes evoke compassion, pity, sympathy, understanding, and (with terrorism) the impulse to negotiate, to compromise, to concede – the liberal buzz words, as Paul Johnson calls them – towards a harsher, sterner world based on responsibility, personal discipline and punishment.

If so, we should welcome the change.

Tony Blair has echoed George Bush’s words in declaring war on terrorism. But will this be a selective war, I wonder – remembering that for many, there are good terrorists (freedom fighters and patriots) and bad terrorists (the Arab murderers). If there is truly to be a war on ALL terrorists, and those who harbour and support them, our current notions of 'personal freedom' will be greatly affected.. At this very moment, Tony Blair’s own government is harbouring, appeasing and releasing known IRA terrorists; it is in discussion with Irish politicians, many of whom were themselves terrorists; there are people on the streets openly supporting the terrorists, and opposing the US, our allies in this war; The US is allowing people to make contributions to the IRA. All of these things must stop if we are war.

Freedom of speech is the first casualty of war.

I pray that our politicians will have the courage to make this tragedy the first step to a new more secure world. If this world is less liberal, permissive, and absurdly tolerant, and more focussed on personal discipline and responsibility, it will have become a positive force for good.