Nothing stronger than soda water passed my lips on New Year’s Eve, but I still woke up with a hangover.

The pounding headache and the queasy stomach were undeniable, but their cause wasn’t overindulgence, but dread.

The horrible year that was 2001 still had its unfinished business — tensions were high between Pakistan and India, and American President George W. Bush had vowed to keep bombing whatever country the United States is currently bombing until Osama bin Laden is dead or, at least, until he stops releasing home videos.

Sorry. That little joke might have been in bad taste; 2001 was the year, after all, that irony and cynicism, like God and feminism before them, were declared dead. And good riddance to them too, apparently.

First editor Graydon Carter declared in Vanity Fair — a magazine that very unironically juxtaposes images of dismembered civilians in Sierra Leone next to profiles of supermodels — that “irony is cynical and reactive and unserious and detached; I think all of those things will seem foolish and dated.”

Then, in Time, a news magazine that shied away from making bin Laden its newsmaker of the year, in favour of the less controversial New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, writer Roger Rosenblatt scathingly opined:

One good thing could come from this horror: It could spell the end of the age of irony. For some 30 years — roughly as long as the Twin Towers were upright — the good folks in charge of America’s intellectual life have insisted that nothing was to be believed in or taken seriously. Nothing was real. With a giggle and a smirk, our chattering classes — our columnists and pop-culture makers — declared that detachment and personal whimsy were the necessary tools for an oh-so-cool life.

But Rosenblatt and other irony obituary-writers have got it all wrong.

It’s true that nothing could be a better legacy for September 11 than a shift in American values from selfishness and self-absorption to compassion and generosity. But the irony is that America, even pre-September 11, was never that ironic. The chatter of the chattering classes aside, few countries take themselves as seriously or feel their own importance so keenly.

It’s like a joke John Cleese once told: The difference between America and other nations is that when other countries hold a World Series, they actually invite the whole world.

Few nations are as happily isolated from the rest of the globe, are as uninterested in foreign affairs and as unaware of what’s thought of them as America. So much so that when the terrorist attacks happened, so many could naively comment, “nothing so terrible had ever happened before” (forgetting the Holocaust, slavery, two world wars, ethnic cleansing and apartheid), or innocently wonder “why do they hate us so much?”

There’s more than one kind of irony. There’s the sneering and cruel variety, but good irony, the kind that’s vital, the kind that America needs more of, not less, is, like good satire, deeply rooted in a sense of morality and is effective exactly because it illuminates hypocrisy and false sentiment.

Isn’t it ironic, for instance, that the same police officers, firefighters, nurses, paramedics and construction crews that led relief efforts and cleaned up the horrible mess in New York and Washington and have become heroes for it, still make a pittance compared to those who portray them on film or television?

Or that the same nation that has vowed to ferret out pockets of terrorism around the world, neglects to address the terror experienced by so many of its own citizens, living in violent, impoverished and drug-riddled neighbourhoods?

Or that at the same time the media trumpets a new sense of purpose and gravity, it then turns to fluff-ball celebrities like Britney Spears and Tom Cruise to weigh in on their feelings about September 11?

Or that the same values the U.S. is defending in its international war on terrorism — democracy, civil liberties, freedom — are under attack domestically by the homeland security office?

Single-mindedness without reflection, without perspective, without distance, without question — without irony, in other words — is the stuff of fanaticism.

It’s what drives young men like John Walker to run off and join the Taliban. Or Diaa Tawil, a member of Hamas, who attempted to board a bus in a Jewish neighbourhood in Jerusalem with a shrapnel bomb strapped around his waist. Or Richard Reid, with his explosives-filled running shoes. Or the nineteen terrorists of September 11 who saw no irony in murdering innocents in the name of Allah.

It fuels extemism in Saudi Arabia, where women are forced to live under Taliban-like religious restrictions, and in Uzbekistan, where the fanatically secular and authoritarian government has imprisoned 7,000 Muslims over the past two years, many just for praying.

And it fuels extremism in the United States, where Christians in New Mexico recently burned copies of Harry Potter books.

Irony is dead?

Long live irony.