America Alone, although written with Mark Steyn’s inimitable verbal energy and wit, makes for grim reading. We do not know which is more minatory, the explosion of radical Islam or the West’s supine response to its depredations. It is cheering to report, then, that Europe may finally be rousing itself from its multicultural torpor. Consider the situation in England. England has been as accommodating to Muslim sensitivities as any country, but there are signs that this may be changing. A few weeks ago, the former foreign secretary Jack Straw, Member of Parliament for Blackburn, said that he would prefer that women not come to his surgery wearing a veil. The veil was a “visible statement of separation and difference,” and he felt “uncomfortable” talking to someone whose face he could not see.
Well, there was the usual eruption of mutli-culti indignation in the “Muslim community.” But what was a refreshing change was the response in the media. “Mr. Straw is to be commended for brushing aside the politically correct nostrums that have inhibited such discussion among senior politicians,” wrote one editorialist, while Patience Wheatcroft, writing in The Daily Telegraph, weighed in with a rousing essay under the headline “Multiculturalism hasn’t worked: let’s rediscover Britishness”:
The tyranny of political correctness has for years suppressed the qualms that many Britons have had about what was happening to their country. Radical imams were allowed to preach hatred while being funded with state benefits, but few dared to question such madness, let alone act against it. The doctrine of multiculturalism dictated that all beliefs should be allowed to flourish, and to challenge that view was as politically incorrect as … suggesting that two married parents usually provide the best start in life for a child.
Gradually, however, people are gaining the courage to defy the diktats of political correctness and to question the assumptions of what should be acceptable in Britain today.
Jack Straw’s comments were a galvanizing event, but the concern seems to go far beyond that episode. The Financial Times, for example, reports that there are plans afoot to “rebalance” the official funding of Muslim groups, favoring “those that publicly oppose extremism and endorse ‘shared values.’” The burden of the FT’s piece was to say that any such effort “could trigger legal challenges,” but the heartening thing is that such initiatives are underway in the first place.
Even the Church of England, a notably invertebrate entity of late, has shown some signs of abandoning its accustomed recumbancy. “The Church of England has launched an astonishing attack on the Government’s drive to turn Britain into a multi-faith society,” we read in The Sunday Telegraph last month. “In a wide-ranging condemnation of policy, it says that the attempt to make minority ‘faith’ communities more integrated has backfired, leaving society ‘more separated than ever before.’”
The criticisms are made in a confidential Church document … that challenges the “widespread description” of Britain as a multi-faith society and even calls for the term “multi-faith” to be reconsidered… . It claims that divisions between communities have been deepened by the Government’s “schizophrenic” approach to tackling multiculturalism. While trying to encourage interfaith relations, it has actually given “privileged attention” to the Islamic faith and Muslim communities… . One bishop said it was the first time the Church had launched such a defence of the country’s Christian heritage.
It is too early to say whether such evidences of life are too late—whether, that is to say, the processes Mark Steyn anatomizes in America Alone have rendered any such objections moot. Still, it’s been a long time since a mainstream British institution stood up for Britishness, let alone the Church of England defending England’s “Christian heritage.”
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 25 Number 3, on page 2
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