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Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Blighty and the Umma

On The World At One today there was a discussion about the possible dangers of multiculturalism. It was pointed out that the affirmation of each 'community' in its particular culture had weakened a general sense of Britishness and encouraged members of the Muslim community to feel that they belong first and last to the Umma and much less if at all to Britain. It was then suggested (I cant remember by whom) that general embarrassment with Britishness and patriotism since the end of Empire mean that even if one wanted to go back to instilling a sense of pride in British identity in the population there was a lot of work to do in re-establishing what British identity actually is and why one should be proud of it.

Now it occurs to me that all of this is probably true. Furthermore there is probably some more or less Whiggish account of why it is splendid to be a Brit that could be dusted off and put into school history books and trumpeted by politicians at relatively short notice. However, there is a problem with this. The last word in Whiggery is to show how jolly splendid things are now, how they were always heading in this direction and by gum they've come out better in Blighty than anywhere else. 'Now' in this context means New Labour Britain. No problem there. They are always keen to tell us how we've never had it so good. Unfortunately, in the New Labour modernising world there is no real place for things like the Monarchy and the House of Lords and an established Church. If we keep some or all of these things it is because we are sentimentally reluctant to do away with them. In themselves they are a drag on 'modernisation'. This means that Johnny foreigner has stolen a march on us. The French and the Americans have got rid of these things and we have foolishly kept them. In short, New Labour Whiggery fails because it leaves us all wishing we were American or French. Places, incidentally, even more inimical and aggravating to the Islamic community than Britain.

If we are going to be proud to be British we will have to bring in Edmund Burke to bolster our Whiggery. We will have to come up with good reasons why we are jolly lucky not to have had a revolution and to show that it is testimony to the general inferiority of the French that they did indeed have one. We will have to believe in Mediaeval things like Magna Carta and Habeas Corpus which have no place in the 'Republic one and indivisible of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity or Death' (or for that matter in the world view of New Labour). We will have to say like Burke that, while their grievances may have justified their actions at least in part and their constitution might be very well put together (and based on our own), all in all it would have been better - whoever's fault it may be - if the American colonies had parted with us on better terms and rather later, like Canada or Australia.

Now many have detected a certain tension in Burkean liberalism that has led them to suspect him of Jacobite or even Papistical sympathies. In the opinion of the present writer they have done so with good reason. And here lies the crux of the problem. Claims of particular excellence for this or that country require universal standards of comparison. Universal standards more often than not imply universal loyalties. Islam provides such standards and British society is found wanting. Thus the universal loyalty those standards imply jars with loyalty to Britain. We cannot change British society on a way that will bring us up to these standards without us all becoming Muslims. Non-Burkean liberalism of the New Labour sort has a set of universal standards as well (the negation of universal standards is a kind of universal standard in itself). But the sort of society to which they tend rightly inspires any Muslim worth his salt with contempt. An attempt to instil pride in British Muslims for a Britishness of this sort will not only be confused and self contradictory for the reasons already stated but will really be a disingenuous attempt to make them abandon their religion.

In fact everything that is good and particular and excellent about Britain does indeed stem from a set of universal standards and they are Mediaeval standards and they also imply a universal loyalty but not to the Umma but to the Unam Sanctam. There is a modified kind of Catholic Burkean Whiggery that is neither confused nor self contradictory and which, though it also requires an attempt to make not only our Ismailite brethren but all our non-Catholic countrymen abandon their false religions, ought to be if it is to succeed the very opposite of dishonest. If it were to succeed those Muslims who were not convinced might still reject the basis of the society thus created but they would at least be unable to treat it with contempt.