You can't move in Riyadh for stalls selling T-shirts with "A woman needs a man like a camel needs a bicycle"

There's nothing like a war for making drivel acceptable. So everyone nodded when Tony Blair, running through the reasons for supporting military action against the Taliban, added: "This is a regime . . . in which women's rights are non-existent." Unlike our ally Saudi Arabia, which is a veritable cauldron of modern feminism. You can hardly move in Riyadh markets for stalls selling T-shirts reading "A woman needs a man like a camel needs a bicycle". And every local authority is under strict orders to announce "Public stoning of woman for adultery", never "girls", "birds" or any other term that may be considered sexist. The grand coalition against terrorism is full of such honourable characters, crucially General Musharraf of Pakistan, who came to power by overthrowing an elected government in a military coup. He supports the war because, if there's one thing that makes him sick, it's people who use violence to achieve political ends.

Finally the bombing starts, and we're getting familiar with the procedure. First, there's an announcement about the supreme accuracy of the missiles - just as there was in the war against Serbia, quickly followed by an admission that one of the bombs had landed in Bulgaria. Now, call me a perfectionist, but shouldn't laser-guided accuracy mean hitting the right country? This time, within just a few hours, they knock over a United Nations building and kill the staff. At least if they get that 86-year-old Afghan king to take over, he'll be the only person of that age in the world to walk through entirely flat areas saying: "When I was a lad, this was all buildings round here."

Then comes the president's address to the people, ending with "May God continue to bless America". But this time round, with the worldwide coalition, they need all the Gods on their side, or the whole thing could fall apart. It would take only Buddha not to be on board and that's half of Asia out the window. The chances are that the Gods will be on every side, as they usually are. There's no instance, as far as I know, of a general ever having said to his men before a battle: "Last night, in this, our hour of need, I prayed to God for guidance. But unfortunately it seems he's backing the Turks on this one, so we're on our own, I'm afraid."

I come across a huge interview with the writer P J O'Rourke, in which he is referred to, as usual, as "America's leading satirist". And he starts the interview by saying "this is not a time for satire". What a twat. Crammed as it is with pomposity, lies and hypocrisy, this is exactly the time for satire. It's like a soldier saying: "I don't mind drilling during peace, but now there's a war on, this is not the time for fighting."

Besides, the bloke's supposed to be a satirist. What's he going to do - sign on the dole until this all blows over? Maybe this has been happening all over America, so that not only have airlines been sacking their staff, but hundreds of satirists have been laid off, and comedians are all on short time because of an international slump in funniness.

I've become a big fan of the al-Jazeera Arabic TV channel. The great thing about it is, I haven't the foggiest idea what they're on about. I pick up the odd word, so to my ignorant ears I get what sounds like "ahala sha laha Tonerblair ahala sha Bin Laden". At one point, I felt certain someone had mentioned Gary Lineker, so had to flick across to BBC News 24 to check whether he'd been kidnapped or become a suicide bomber, or got involved in some way. You can recognise the format - an interviewer in a studio asks two people a series of questions. Then the two interviewees row and shout across each other and you pick sides, but for all I know, I've plumped for the bloke who's yelling that the Taliban have become too soft on women and that political correctness has gone mad in Kabul. At one point, someone was ranting at such a volume and with such fluency that he literally couldn't stop, and the poor presenter kept trying to interject with words that clearly meant "I'm afraid that's all we've got time for, sorry, yes, we must leave it there, thank you, look, it's time for the weather report". But he carried on and on for several more minutes, and presumably the following programme had to be cancelled. Perhaps there was an announcement along the lines of: "We are unable to bring you highlights of tonight's football as the Northern Alliance education spokesman's final sentence went on for 23 minutes longer than expected."

On Monday night, I went to Brighton for a "Stop the War" meeting, at which there were more than 300 people. This sounds roughly in line with other meetings around the country, including the one in London attended by more than 2,000 protesters. A student came up to me afterwards and said he was really glad he'd come, because "before tonight, I thought I was on my own". But he's not. Now is the time to stand up against the drivel.

The story about that spin-doctor's e-mail has cleared up a few things. Ever since the attacks, the anti-war lobby has been accused by new Labour warmongers of being "anti-American" and unsympathetic towards the victims in New York. Now we realise what they mean. If we really cared, we'd have watched the planes striking the towers and thought: "Aha, this is handy."

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2001 issue of the New Statesman, A nation in panic