Did September 11 change the world?

Did the world change on September 11? I didn’t think so on September 12 and I don’t think so now.

It was a spectacular event, brilliant in conception and execution and awe-striking in destruction of a cityscape.

It greatly annoyed the Americans who have responded with great force to exterminate an evil.

Why such force? Because true evil doesn’t become good by persuasion. Bad might and often does. But evil is beyond redemption.

Only a pacifist, which Keith Locke very nearly is, can coherently oppose the Afghan adventure. The rest is humbug, dishonourable ideology or dishonest anti-Americanism.

To be sure, the United States, as the great post-1945 imperialist power, has, both as a country and through its corporate citizenry, done many people and even whole countries damage. Imperial powers do. Right is might. Ask Maori.

But the United States is not evil, as Bin Laden is. The good it does promoting the values of the open, inquiring, inventive society far outweighs the ill it does others and itself. I think Helen Clark, once anti-American, has now grasped that.

But when it stops, this just war against evil, will 2001 turn out to be a pivotal year in world history?

Is Bin Laden the historical match of Lenin, whose system set back many decades the (still fragile) liberalisation and (mostly still delayed) enrichment of hundreds of millions in central and eastern Europe?

Is Bin Laden the historical match of Hitler, who killed 6-7 million Jews and laid waste a whole continent and thereby triggered, in reaction, its great democratic unification?

Is Bin Laden the historical match of Mao, who derailed material advance for decades as he slaughtered, starved and impoverished in body and mind tens of millions of his subjects and thereby, in reaction, tied the United States into the building of Japan and the east Asian “tigers”?

In short, was September 11 the equivalent of the storming of the winter palace or the burning of the Reichstag or the Cultural Revolution?

Has September 11 pitchforked the world into a new era of terror? Maybe we will look back in 20 years and see that it did. But for now it looks no more than a marker in a century-long technological extension of terror’s reach and destructive power.

Did it unveil the makings of fundamentalist takeovers of states with muslim populations? Maybe in 20 years we will see that it did. But the early evidence suggests not.

Did it expose a new war of religions, the confrontation of islam and judaeo-christianity, oil-backed muslim masses against the technologically rich, effete peoples around the North Atlantic? Maybe in 20 years we will see that it did. But the early evidence, for all the overtones of medieval crusade in the American revenge, is unconvincing.

And, most important, will September 11 prod rich societies to see a duty to forgo, for decades, significant material wealth and work alongside poor societies to develop — in the way they, not we, see fit — the civil and economic conditions in which liberty and wealth flourish?

Maybe in 20 years we will see that it has. But the evidence now is flimsy.

Political leaders talk loftily of attending to the “root causes of terrorism”, by which they seem to mean “poverty”. But the root causes of terrorism are psychological or psychosocial, not simply socioeconomic. It is the building, over generations, of civil societies where now there are only enslavers and enslaved which will best beat brigandry — and in turn poverty.

The United States is an unlikely leader of such a project. It rejects an international court of justice and equivocates over the United Nations. After Afghanistan, will we hear of an American-led coalition for the Congo, the globe’s most ghastly tragedy, the exemplary failed state?

I expect not. But if Christmas has any meaning in a godless age, that is what “changing the world” on September 11 would mean — would have meant.

The meek do not inherit the earth. The strong do. This year’s Christmas message might have been that the strong will help the meek become strong. Then the world would have changed.

* The Speaker, Jonathan Hunt, has asked me to say that after reading my “offensive” column last week he ordered Timara wine deleted from parliamentary functions.