There is a sharp intake of breath at a BBC meeting when I tell the story of friends in Washington who have been known, after saying grace at the start of their smart dinner parties, to raise their glasses a second time with the shout, ‘Death to al-Qa’eda!’ This approach to the world, simplistic and doomed to disappointment as it doubtless is, strikes me as refreshing in its acknowledgement of identity. American self-confidence has been battered by the Iraq war and by events on Wall Street — on the eve of this election most Americans think the country is in poor shape — but they still back themselves and the American creed: pluralism, tolerance and freedom. They raise their glasses in what they genuinely believe is a fundamentally decent cause. And I raise my glass back to them.
I now have this great desire to organise a dinner party and invite Yasmin, Polly, Johann, Jackie, Sir Michael, et al. Mind you, I suspect they would be more shocked by the thought of saying grace, than by raising a toast to the death of Al Qaeda. Having said that, as an agnostic, it's not likely to happen at any dinner party I organise, I suppose.