Sunday, September 14, 2003

On September 11, 2001, the first individual to be named among the dead was the wife of the U.S. solicitor-general, Barbara Olson, whom I had sat next to at dinner a couple of months earlier. On Sept. 11 this year, I woke to the news of the death of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, whom I also sat next to a couple of months ago, at a conference. I can’t claim anything other than the most casual acquaintance with either lady, but even an accidental proximity to the victims of terrible murder is sobering.

Mrs. Lindh was a charmer, even if you didn’t agree with a word she said. It wasn’t until afterward that I found out she liked to refer to President Bush as “the Lone Ranger” and that she had complained about the U.S. dropping a bomb on six al Qaeda terrorists in Yemen: “It is a summary execution that violates human rights,” she said. “Even terrorists must be treated according to international law.” She believed in the so-called “Swedish model,” a phrase which to Don Rumsfeld probably means Anita Ekberg but that Swedes understand as the most advanced form of European cradle-to-grave welfare democracy. Conversely, the American model with its bizarre preoccupations — guns, abortion, lethal injection, military budgets, nonconfiscatory taxation — strikes most European politicians as something from the Stone Age.

But, for the second time in as many weeks, I find myself wondering where European statism is heading. In France, where the death toll in the brutal Gallic summer is now up to 15,000, the attitude of Junior to the funny smell coming from granma’s apartment was the proverbial Gallic shrug and a demand that the government do something about it. On Thursday, Swedes, though more upset, took much the same line: The government should have done more for Mrs. Lindh.

“This can happen to anyone, anywhere,” said Annika, described as “a 24-year old bystander”, at the scene of the attack. “She should have had bodyguards.”

There seem to have been an awful lot of bystanders to Mrs. Lindh’s stabbing — in broad daylight, in a crowded Stockholm department store, after being pursued by her assailant up an escalator. Granted that most of the people bystanding around were women, it still seems odd — at least from this side of the Atlantic — that no one attempted to intervene or halt the blood-drenched killer as he calmly left the store. I’m inclined to agree with Jimmy Hoffa that I’d rather jump a gun than a knife — and evidently Jimmy’s luck ran out eventually — but, if just a handful of the dozens present, had acted rather than standing by, Mrs. Lindh might still be dead but her killer would be in jail and not en route, like the late Prime Minister Olav Palme’s murderer, to becoming yet another man who got away.

“It’s terrible wherever it happens,” said Fredrik Sanabria. “But you think you would be safe from this kind of violence in a country like Sweden.”

Really? Why would you think that? Sweden’s violent crime and murder rates have been going up, up, up over the last quarter-century. But just about every Swede quoted in every news story seems mired in what National Review’s Dave Kopel described, after September 11, 2001, as “the culture of passivity.” The lone exception was Lanja Rashid, a Kurdish immigrant. “If I had been there at the stabbing, I would have ripped his face off,” she said. “We Swedes have to think again. How could he have got away? How could people just stand back and watch?”

You can blame it on a lack of police, as everyone’s doing. But Mrs. Lindh’s killer didn’t get away with it because of the people who weren’t there but because of the people who were: The bystanders. When I bought my home in New Hampshire, I heard a strange rustling one night and, being new to rural life, asked my police chief the following morning whether, if it had turned out to be an intruder, I should have called him at home. “Well, you could,” said Al. “But it would be better if you dealt with him. You’re there and I’m not.” That’s the best advice I’ve ever been given.

This isn’t an argument for guns, though inevitably Sweden has gun control, knife control and everything else. It’s more basic than that: It’s about the will to be a citizen, not just a suckling of the nanny-state narcotic. In Lee Harris’ forthcoming book “Civilization and His Enemies” he talks about the threat of societal forgetfulness: “Forgetfulness occurs when those who have been long inured to civilized order can no longer remember a time in which they had to wonder whether their crops would grow to maturity without being stolen or their children sold into slavery by a victorious foe.”

Mrs. Lindh would have thought that was just American cowboy talk, too raw, too primal to be of relevance in Europe. But I don’t think so. On September 11, the only good news that lousy day was that the fourth plane never got to slice through the White House. That’s because a bunch of passengers decided they weren’t going to follow Federal Aviation Administration regulations and outmoded 1970s hijack procedures but instead rose up against the terrorists. “C’mon, guys, let’s roll,” said Todd Beamer. They could have used him in that department store.

That’s the big lesson I took away from September 11: Don’t be passive. After September 11, my wife bought me a cellphone, so if I found myself in a similar situation I could at least call my family one last time. It’s not much use up here in the mountains, so I never bothered getting it out of the box. If I ever am on a hijacked plane, while everyone else is dialing home, I’ll be calling AT&T or Verizon trying to set up an account. But, of course, no one will ever hijack an American plane ever again — not because of idiotic confiscations of tweezers, but because of the brave passengers on that fourth flight.

That’s why, three months later, the great British shoebomber had barely got the match to his sock before half the cabin pounded the daylights out of him. Even the French. To expect the government to save you is to be a bystander in your own fate.

Mark Steyn is the senior contributing editor for Hollinger Inc. Publications, senior North American columnist for Britain’s Telegraph Group, North American editor for the Spectator, and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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