20 OCTOBER 2001, Page 9


forces has not persuaded Gordon Brown to disgorge an extra farthing.

The Onion, an outstanding American Internet publication, ran a challenging interview following the events of 11 September, with God. Under the headline 'God Angrily Clarifies "Don't Kill" Rule', it quoted 'the omniscient creator-deity' as saying, 'Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbour. Well, I don't. And to be honest, I'm really sick and tired of it. Oct it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to.. .. ' God's press conference elaborates this position and ends, — I'm talking to all of you here!" continued God, His voice rising to a shout. -Do you hear Me? I don't want you to kill anybody... . How many times do I have to say it? Don't kill each other anymore — ever! I'm f—ing serious!"' Sadly, this interview has not got such wide coverage as the video by Osama bin Laden. It is a useful reminder of what advertisers might call a 'key brand proposition' of religion.

The Taleban, obviously, disagree. I am fascinated by the literal-minded zeal with which they try to follow their faith. According to the scholar of Islam, Professor Michael Cook, the Taleban banned the use of paper bags in 1997. They did so because the Koran is sacred not only for the scriptures it contains, but as a physical object, and therefore no copy must ever be destroyed. The Taleban feared that some paper bags might be made of recycled material which contained fragments of the Koran.

Afriend of mine is in charge of the horses at Hyde Park barracks, and kindly took me and a distinguished general to exercise them there ten days ago. In that brief moment of Indian summer, the park could not have looked more lovely, nor Western civilisation more worth defending. My thoughts were crystallised by a middleaged Australian wearing a suit and dragging his baggage as if just arrived off a plane. 'Good morning, gentlemen,' he shouted. 'There's no better place to be on this earth than London today. God bless you! God save Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II! I found this very moving. My soldier friend was less sentimental. 'Oh yes,' he said. 'we always get quite a few nutters.'

We should not 'give the Americans a blank cheque', people like to say. When was the last time we gave the Americans any cheque, blank or filled in? The flow of money is virtually all the other way, and America will be paying for 99 per cent of what happens in this war. I notice that Mr Blair's eloquent celebration of our armed When invited to Essex for a day's partridge-shooting last week. I knew I would enjoy myself, and I did. but I didn't expect to learn more about Islam. At tea, however, was Jonathan Riley-Smith, Professor of Mediaeval History at Cambridge, whose sister was our host. He told me that the Islamic world was almost completely uninterested in the history of the Crusades until the 19th century. In particular, Muslims neglected Saladin. It was only when Kaiser Wilhelm II restored the great Kurd's tomb at Damascus with huge pomp that they got interested again. Yet another piece of evidence that the West somehow manages to foster every ideology which opposes it.

The Riley-Smith family is very large, and Jonathan's youngest brother, Torquil, was also present. He is just setting up what is said to be Britain's first gay radio station, Pink FM. Torquil, I am told, is straight, and is simply taking a commercial opportunity. Thirty years ago, such an idea would have been almost impossibly exotic to a typical cross-section of partridge-shooters. Sixty years ago, it would have seemed unmentionable or imprisonable. Last Saturday, it attracted no more than friendly amusement. Fascinating how a stable, conservative society can accommodate such change.

Lird Hailsham, who died this week, was one of the once numerous group of Old Etonian politicians. But he was not a typical one because he belonged to a distinct sub-species, the Old Etonian Old Colleger politician. Collegers at Eton are the '70 poor scholars' for whom the school was originally founded. 'Tugs', as they are known, live in a separate house, and an air of indigence, learning and uneasy manners clings to them still. The typical Old Colleger is more likely to be a civil servant than an entrepreneur, more likely to have read a few books, more likely to be a know-all than other Etonians. Quentin Hail sham fulfilled the role. When I made him guest of honour at The Spectator Parliamentarian of the Year awards, he silenced the top table by bellowing the Latin hymns which Collegers sing, and later sent me an article about them, written in the beautiful hand which often characterises good classicists. He had the gift of perfect expression, which is not the same as the gift of perfect wisdom. Old Colleger politicians tend to take the side of the interests of the state. rather than those of the independent citizen, and this, I think, was true of Hailsham. It is also true of Douglas Hurd and James Arbuthnot, two more recent Tug Tories. The only exception to this rule would seem to be the editor of this publication. (By the way, I am an Old Colleger myself, so please allow for a certain resentment against College's authority figure, the Captain of the School. All those named above were Captain of the School.) At the Dal& Telegraph, we have been running a 'Free Country' campaign, drawing attention to all attempts to restrict our liberties. In the immediate aftermath of 11 September, I wondered whether events would force us to rethink, but in fact the campaign is more needed than ever. Mr Blunkett wants to lock up people for years without trial, dip into unconvicted persons' bank accounts and ban expressions of religious hatred. I am a religious person myself, and I share the post-Vatican II 'esteem' for Muslims who 'along with us adore the one and merciful God' (Lumen Gentium). But I feel that the least that people are entitled to do after seeing such crimes committed in the name of religion is to say how much they hate it.

In all these horrors, the far lesser but still great disaster of foot-and-mouth is forgotten. The other day, looking in a cupboard, I came across a 19th-century two-handled mug which I always loved as a boy. It is decorated with symbols of agriculture and the following verse appears on it:

Let the wealthy and great Roll in splendour and state.

I envy thcm not. I declare it.

I eat my own lamb, My own chickens and ham.

I shear my own fleece, And I wear it.

I have lawns. I have bowers.

I have fruits, I have flowers, The lark is my morning alarmer; So, my jolly boys, now Here's God speed the plough.

Long life and success to the farmer.

us sont passes, ces beaux jours.

Charles Moore is editor of the Daily Telegraph.