Images of people in the Middle East dressing like Westerners, spending like Westerners, that is what the voters watching TV here at home want to see. That is a visible sign that we really are winning the war of ideas—the struggle between consumption and economic growth, and religious tradition and economic stagnation.
I thought, why are those children coming onto the streets more and more often? It’s not anything we have done, is it? It’s not any speeches we have made, or countries we have invaded, or new constitutions we have written, or sweets we have handed out to children, or football matches between soldiers and the locals. It’s because they, too, watch TV.
They watch TV and see how we live here in the West.
They see children their own age driving sports cars. They see teenagers like them, instead of living in monastic frustration until someone arranges their marriages, going out with lots of different girls, or boys. They see them in bed with lots of different girls and boys. They watch them in noisy bars, bottles of lager upended over their mouths, getting happy, enjoying the privilege of getting drunk. They watch them roaring out support or abuse at football matches. They see them getting on and off planes, flying from here to there without restriction and without fear, going on endless holidays, shopping, lying in the sun. Especially, they see them shopping: buying clothes and PlayStations, buying iPods, video phones, laptops, watches, digital cameras, shoes, trainers, baseball caps. Spending money, of which there is always an unlimited supply, in bars and restaurants, hotels and cinemas. These children of the West are always spending. They are always restless, happy and with unlimited access to cash.
I realised, with a flash of insight, that this was what was bringing these Middle Eastern children out on the streets. I realised that they just wanted to be like us. Those children don’t want to have to go to the mosque five times a day when they could be hanging out with their friends by a bus shelter, by a phone booth or in a bar. They don’t want their families to tell them who they can and can’t marry. They might very well not want to marry at all and just have a series of partners. I mean, that’s what a lot of people do. It is no secret, after that serial in the Daily Mail, that that is what I do. I don’t necessarily need the commitment. Why should they not have the same choices as me? They want the freedom to fly off for their holidays on easy Jet. I know some will say that what a lot of them want is just one square meal a day or the chance of a drink of clean water, but on the whole the poor aren’t the ones on the street and would not be my target audience. They aren’t going to change anything, otherwise why are they so poor? The ones who come out on the streets are the ones who have TVs. They’ve seen how we live, and they want to spend.