observations and opinion
Islamist extremism is real. It must be named and shamed and maimed and snuffed out. But it does not define Islam or most people who are Muslim. And the fear of it, should not define the rest of us.
The best weapon is to be ourselves, with brave and cheerful good will towards each other, unafraid to befriend and defend our fellow citizens, our sisters and brothers in liberty. It is best to be like the Brits.
In late 1940, the city of London was aflame. Every night German bombers sailed out across the Channel, to aim staggering ordnance at the British capital. Whole quarters of the city were reduced to rubble. Londoners lived in the dark at night, huddled in tube stations, climbing out each morning to the dust, debris and carnage on their streets.
It was there, in the smoky ruin wrought by German bombs, that the modern romantic aura formed around London. Who could resist the charm of plucky Londoners, brave, stoic and relentlessly droll, as they faced death and destruction.
From a London rooftop, the American radio broadcaster Edward R. Murrow would watch as spotlights swarmed the sky hunting for German planes; he would describe (and record) the explosions. Murrow painted the picture that the world came to know, of brave London.
We must remember that while London was pounded into the dirt, it awaited worse: invasion. The Germans had rolled across the continent, occupying themselves or by proxy, every inch save Switzerland and Luxembourg. Hitler had an army of millions and the world’s most fearsome Air Force, the Luftwaffe, committed to crushing the United Kingdom. Britain was alone in the fight, sustained only by its former colonies and the half-hearted support of the United States.
In those darkest days, the small island of Britain was the lonely bastion of democracy – the point of the civilization’s spear – surrounded by committed enemies. Like Israel today, the UK had to face the reality of their situation and bull through it, with no guarantees of anyone’s help.
Reasonably, the Brits were worried about the “enemy within”, foreign nationals (Germans and Italians) who might assist the enemy, and subjected thousands of those people (over age 16) to quasi-judicial assessment. Those judged to be high risk were interned, but as the process progressed and the numbers climbers, an outcry arose – among Britons, who felt that these people were being treated unfairly. This led to a reversal of policy and the freeing of most of those who had been interned.
What we see in the 1940s, is that the British were confident – so confident that they rarely sank to the level of quaking fear that Hitler had hoped to inspire. To paraphrase the over-quoted poster, the Brits “kept calm, and carried on.”
What the British did not do, was to become like their enemy. They resisted their worst racist impulses – even when bigotry was warranted. They weren’t fools about the enemy that might be in their midst, but they dealt with it in a very British manner: not by mob rule, but by the rule of law. That is not to say that they were perfect – who is perfect? But it is to say that under the most ferocious existential threat imaginable, the British chose to remain… British. F
It is true that when Churchill said “we will never surrender” he meant that they would never succumb to or cease to fight, the German onslaught. But it is equally true that the British did not surrender to themselves – they did not surrender to their fear or to their worst instincts. If the British were going to die, they were going to have to be killed by the enemy – the weren’t going to snuff themselves out by changing into cowardly, shivering beasts.
Which brings us to the London on the morning of June 4, 2017. The smoke has cleared, the blood is being scrubbed off the streets and floors, and the river is being searched for bodies. The Islamists struck again last night, cruelly slaughtering seven and injuring about 50 others. Every single Londoner is entitled to be afraid and, frankly, they probably are a little scared. We should all be a little scared, considering the unpredictable and horrific nature of the Islamist methodology.
But will the British change? Will the British become creatures of fear – crouching, hiding, hating? This son of British parents does not believe so. That belief isn’t rooted just in ethnic pride or romanticism (although those feelings are real), but in the evidence: the people of the United Kingdom have simply never allowed their fears, even their reasonable fears, to shape their character.
No, the British are most likely to remain British. And their character is not grounded in race (there have always been many different kinds of people in the UK), but in the culture: clever, independent, self-deprecating, deeply suspicious of cant. To quote one representative work of fiction: “We are not a nation of social workers, or clients of social workers. We are not, please God, a nation of deserving cases. We are a fierce, proud nation, and we are still, God willing, a nation to be reckoned with!”
Yes, the British are a nation to be reckoned with, but that does not mean they will fall prey to their worst instincts for vengeance or mindless bigotry. That is not British.
There are almost three million Brits who subscribe to Islam. In the last few months, a handful of them have – inspired by what can be called the “Islamist” reading of their faith – have lashed out in a series of murderous acts. They may have been aided and abetted by a few dozen more Islamists. They may even have pleased a few hundred or thousand British Islamists, who hate the nation and culture which gives them refuge. They were likely inspired by the blood soaked “Islamic State.”
The UK’s cops, soldiers and spies are good at what they do. They will likely find most of the culprits and continue to avert terror plots. It will mean work and searches and raids and arrests – and trials, with fair judges and competent counsel. But what it will not mean – should not mean, cannot be allowed to mean – is that the British will become so unnerved, so afraid, so enraged, that they will become un-British.
Yes, Islamist extremism is a cancer in British society. It is a cancer in every society. But does it define all of Islam? Is every Muslim guilty of it? Of course not. So should fear of Islamism re-define everyone else? Should we be so afraid, that we let it change who we are?
Of course not. So let us not imprison the innocent and wall off the world. Let us not become like the cowards we despise.
It is easy to be afraid, harder and more complicated, to be one’s best true self. It is sensible to be angry and when necessary, to fight; but it is never sensible to be enraged and thereby stupid, petty or mean. And it is in these most painful moments, these crucibles of character, where we hold fast to who we want to be and not succumb to what lesser men have already become.
No, we must not surrender our sanity, civility, comity or fairness. We must remain ourselves – people whose liberty and good will make us wise, not vulnerable. The only shelter from this enemy is the civilization we defend.
So we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall never surrender. Because wherever we are, this is London.