Calling for the re-Britannification of Britain:
We have reached a turning-point in the relations between the Muslim community and the rest of us, and it is time for the moderates to show real leadership
This is a turning point: we have to fly the flag for Britishness again
I have already had enough about how perfectly normal these young men were, and what charming fellows they were, and how there was nothing they loved more than serving in dad’s chip shop or helping an old lady across the street or a good game of cricket in the park.
“All he wanted to do was have a laugh,” said one of the neighbours last night, about one of the sick quartet responsible for killing themselves and at least 52 others in London. “He was sound as a pound.” Yeah, right. If these four young men were perfectly normal Yorkshiremen, then what the hell is happening to this country? Of all the shattering revelations of the past few days, the worst has been that these suicide bombers were British.
They were our very own. They were as British as a wet bank holiday. They were as British as Tizer, and queues and Y-fronts and the Changing of the Guard, and the chips that made them what they were. They were born in British maternity wards, and attended by every comfort that the state could give.
They went to British primary schools and learnt about Britain from British teachers, and when they murdered so many of their fellow Britons it was the British emergency services who tried to save what lives they could.
That shocking fact of their Britishness tells us something frightening about them and about us, because, as suicide bombers go, they are unusual. When the Palestinian bombers attack Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, they usually come from miserable lives in Nablus or Hebron. When the 19 suicide bombers destroyed the Twin Towers they originated, without exception, from the Arab world, mainly Saudi Arabia.
We seem to have pulled off the rare feat of breeding suicide bombers determined to attack the very society that incubated them; and the question is why. Why does America import its suicide bombers, while we produce our own? Last summer we had a magnificent holiday driving around America, and for a cynical Brit it was astonishing to see the way the Americans fly that flag of theirs.
On every porch, on every flagpole, on every bumper: there were the stars and stripes, unabashed, exuberant, proud. Contrast our treatment of the Union Flag, which is endlessly being cited in racial harassment cases, on the ground that it is provocative merely – for instance – to stick it on your locker. Remember Bob Ayling, the Labour-supporting businessman who succeeded the late, great Lord King at British Airways, and decided that the Union Flag was so too embarrassing that he stripped it from the tailfins of his planes.
The Americans would be mystified by our approach to a national symbol. For them the flag is a vital agent of integration, a way of asserting that, in that vast immigrant country, each person is not only American but equally American, and has an equal stake in society. That is why American children still begin their day at school by pledging allegiance to the flag, and that is why the Americans show a patriotism and a simple enthusiasm for their own country that our jaded British sensibilities find childish.
Well, if you consider what is taught in British schools – and when you think that one of the killers was actually a primary school teacher – it is hard to deny that in their assessment of what a nation needs to stick together, the Americans are right, and we are tragically wrong. It is not just that most British children no longer know much about British history (13 per cent of 16- to 24-year- olds think the Armada was defeated by Hornblower, and six per cent ascribe the great naval victory to Gandalf).
The disaster is that we no longer make any real demands of loyalty upon those who are immigrants or the children of immigrants. There are many culprits, and foremost among them is Enoch Powell. As Bill Deedes has pointed out over the years, the problem was not so much his catastrophic 1968 tirade against immigration, but the way he made it impossible for any serious politician to discuss the consequences of immigration, and how a multiracial society ought to work.
In the wake of Powell’s racist foray, no one had the guts to talk about Britishness, or whether it was a good thing to insist – as the Americans do so successfully – on the basic loyalty of immigrants to the country of immigration.
So we have drifted on over the intervening decades, and created a multi-cultural society that has many beauties and attractions, but in which too many Britons have absolutely no sense of allegiance to this country or its institutions. It is a cultural calamity that will take decades to reverse, and we must begin now with what I call in this morning’s Spectator the re-Britannification of Britain.
That means insisting, in a way that is cheery and polite, on certain values that we identify as British. If that means the end of spouting hate in mosques, and treating women as second-class citizens, then so be it. We need to acculturate the second-generation Muslim communities to our way of life, and end the obvious alienation that they feel.
That means the imams will have to change their tune, and it is no use the Muslim Council of Great Britain endlessly saying that “the problem is not Islam”, when it is blindingly obvious that in far too many mosques you can find sermons of hate, and literature glorifying 9/11 and vilifying Jews.
We have reached a turning-point in the relations between the Muslim community and the rest of us, and it is time for the moderates to show real leadership. That is why I want to end with the words of my Labour colleague Shahid Malik, MP for Dewsbury, who said yesterday: “The challenge is straightforward – that those voices that we have tolerated will no longer be tolerated, whether they be on the streets, in the schools, in the youth clubs, in the mosque, in a corner, in a house.
We need to go beyond condemning. We need to confront.” Well said, Shahid; and it is time for the imams to follow.