Happy Independence Day.

If you are in the USA, you will probably be going to watch fireworks tonight, in celebration of your country's independence from mine. Enjoy yourselves - political freedom is a wonderful thing. We won't be having fireworks here for another four months and one day. On November 5 we'll be lighting up the skies on Bonfire Night to celebrate the thwarting of a terrorist plot against the government, back in 1605. It'll be a great event, no doubt, but it's a negative celebration, marking the absence of a terrible disaster. Those who were convicted of involvement in the Gunpowder Plot died horrible deaths at the hands of the English authorities. Britain no longer has the death penalty, but we burn Guy Fawkes in effigy still. It makes for a fun evening out, but the underlying story is negative.

America's celebrations today mark a positive achievement - the establishment of a political order based on the love of liberty and self-determination. If America were to follow England's lead, we might one day see the fireworks on September 11 instead. Don't do that. We hear a lot about what 'will mean the terrorists have already won'. Well, if the focus of national identity and expression shifts from a true celebration of freedom and independence to a spirit of opposition to the terrorist boogeyman, the terrorists will have won. Don't let your enemies change you, or you risk becoming the thing you hate. 16th- and 17th-century Britain saw a whole series of shifts of political and religious orthodoxy, including several ruthless purges 'in the interests of national security', and a civil war. Each succeeding regime inflicted on its predecessors' supporters the same injustices its own supporters had had inflicted on them before.

Small wonder, then, that diverse religious groups from Britain fled to the New World. Their legacy has been a nation whose founding principles rose above that cycle of oppression. Over the centuries between then and now, those principles have come closer to being a reality. Every now and then, a retrograde step is taken. Senator Joseph McCarthy took one. But the steps forward, by Republican and Democrat alike, are what makes America truly great today. Concentration on military might or economic prominence obscures this point. Let's all hope the steps continue to be forward. Celebrate your independence today.