A late education can be a good thing, and a deathbed conversion is better than no conversion at all. But neither is easy.
Race relations has become a big industry here, and even bigger abroad, particularly in Britain where government boards have been established to “educate whites out of prejudice towards ethnic minorities.”
This is sometimes good but often bad because the “educators” are often the blindest bigots of all. The riots in Birmingham, once one of the great cities of England, have revealed vicious hatred of whites and contempt for the nation’s history, customs and traditions among minorities who have no interest in becoming “British.”
“Multiculturalism” has largely insulated the black and Asian communities, keeping them apart except when they fight each other in the streets, and leaving them at the mercy of rumor and tall tales spread by those with no interest in community.
“The chairman of the Commission on Racial Equality,” notes the London Daily Telegraph, “has warned in recent months of the dangers of the multicultural society. Lozells [a residential district of Birmingham and the scene of racial rioting] proves his point. While it is correct that in a free society the cultures and ways of life of different groups should be tolerated, toleration almost to the exclusion of the cultural mainstream is highly dangerous. Instead of having warring factions in our inner cities, we should have communities that, first and foremost, regard themselves as British.”
The London bombings in July changed attitudes in Britain even more profoundly than September 11 changed things in America. Perhaps it begins with respect for language. The Queen’s English belongs first to the British, after all, and most Englishmen are not as eager as we are to cower behind clouds of euphemism, obscuration and other poisonous gases.
The most profound change in Britain, says Daniel Pipes, an American scholar who is the director of the Middle East Forum, “is the sudden need of the British and others to assert what it means to be British, Australian or some other nationality. In the face of the Islamist challenge, historic identities taken for granted must now be explained and codified.”
Not just the British, but Europeans, usually regarded here as made up in equal parts of mush, cotton, hay and rag, in recent months have stood up to defend the customs that make the West the West. Burqas have been banned in Italy, reluctant German schoolboys are required to attend coed swimming classes and male applicants for Irish citizenship are now required to renounce polygamy. When a visiting Iranian government delegation demanded that a Belgian minister drink no wine at his luncheon for them, the minister promptly canceled the lunch and told them: “You can’t force the authorities of Belgium to drink water.”
But it’s more than wine and water. David Cameron, a rising Tory star in Britain, summons the courage to define “Britishness,” and says it begins with “freedom under the rule of law,” and this “explains almost everything you need to know about our country, our institutions, our history, our culture — even our economy.”
Mr. Cameron rises to bluntness: “The driving force behind today’s terrorist threat is Islamist fundamentalism. The struggle we are engaged in is, at root, ideological. Islamist thinking has developed which, like other totalitarianisms, such as Nazi-ism and communism, offers its followers a form of redemption through violence.”
Bluntness inspires bluntness. The international relations minister for Quebec says immigrants who respect neither women nor the rights in the Canadian civil code are not welcome. The prime minister of New South Wales says immigrants who don’t want to become Australians first should stay out. Australia’s education minister told prospective Islamic immigrants that if they can’t commit to Australian rule of law “they can basically clear off.”
Lately George W. Bush has shown signs of acquiring a late education, saying for the first time what everybody knows, that the radical enemy within the gates does not necessarily embrace “a religion of peace.” It’s not much, but it’s a start.