As usual, Shakespeare said it first and best: "The smallest worm will turn, being trodden on." At long last, there are signs that the people of Britain are refusing to capitulate to the Islamicization of large enclaves of our cities.
The backlash began a fortnight ago, when the Labor Party floorleader and former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw spoke out against the practice of Muslim women covering themselves from head to toe, revealing only the eyes. His argument was that such veiling made integration and even communication difficult or impossible. At first he received little support from his fellow ministers, but overwhelming support from the public. Given Mr. Straw's hitherto craven posture towards radical Islam, this act of defiance was — well, a straw in the wind.
Another minister, Phil Woolas, gave vocal support to a school which suspended a Muslim teaching assistant who refused to remove her veil during lessons. As it happened, the school in question is in Dewsbury, a Yorkshire town that has become a hotbed of Islamist agitation and from which several terrorists came.
This week Tony Blair himself spoke up on the issue. He said of the veil, "It is a sign of separation and that is why it makes other people from outside the [Muslim] community uncomfortable."
Needless to say, there has been a chorus of condemnation of these tentative moves to speak openly about the spread of this and other "signs of separation." But Mr. Blair has evidently decided that he cannot leave office without at least raising these issues. He sees the danger of allowing a Muslim state within a state, living formally or informally under Shariah law, to emerge.
One of the most sensitive aspects of this radical rejection of Western norms of behaviour is the absolute refusal of a single one of the official representatives of the Muslim community in Britain to recognize the central importance of the Holocaust. This is symbolized by the Muslim Council of Britain's boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day, the ceremony to mark the liberation of Auschwitz, which over the past few years has become one of the most significant dates in the British public calendar.
Last week, a minister for the first time publicly criticized this boycott. Ruth Kelly, whose department is responsible for relations with ethnic and religious minorities, said "I can't help wondering why those in leadership positions who say they want to achieve religious tolerance and a cohesive society would choose to boycott an event which marks, above all, our common humanity and respect for each other," she said.
Even more to the point, Ms. Kelly hinted that taxpayers' money, which the government doles out liberally to organizations like the Muslim Council, would no longer be given away to those who could not bring themselves to commemorate the Holocaust on the spurious ground that it ignored victims of other genocides. The government, she implied, would switch its support to more moderate groups instead.
The furious response from the Islamist camp was predictable: the government was stoking up "Islamophobia." Inayat Bunglawala, the assistant general secretary of the Muslim Council, threatened to withdraw co-operation, "If the Government is planning to merely seek out those organizations who will be less critical or parrot its policies, then this is not a strategy that will succeed. If that happens, the Government will lose credibility with the Muslim community."
After years when the media dared not publish stories about Muslim intolerance, reports suddenly began to appear of shocking incidents. One Muslim taxi driver was sued for refusing to allow a blind woman with a guide dog into his cab. Then there was the case of the wounded soldier in a hospital who was told to take off his uniform, or the four officers who were driven out of town by violence, threats, and intimidation.
Among the liberal commentators, confusion reigned. One Sunday Times columnist, India Knight, denounced such criticism in a manner that revealed her own prejudices. Declaring "Muslims are the new Jews," she tried to draw a parallel between the Muslim veil and the traditional dress of Hassidic Jews. Recalling a visit to a house in an Orthodox district of north London, she wrote, "I noticed a group of Hassidim were walking around us in a peculiar way. ‘They're avoiding our shadows,' the estate agent said, ‘because we're unclean.'"
Having lived for years among the Hassidim of Stamford Hill, I find this story as incredible as it is offensive. Orthodox Jews do not regard gentiles as "unclean," nor do they have superstitious beliefs about shadows. To attribute such attitudes to this notably law-abiding and peaceable community sounds like anti-Semitism to me.
More importantly, Ms. Knight clearly does not grasp the different significance of distinctive forms of dress in the two religions. In Britain, Hassidim do not seek to impose Mosaic law or their own customs on anybody else.Their costume may strike others as old-fashioned (or, as Ms. Knight tactfully puts it, "weird"), but it does not pose a threat to anybody. Muslims who wear the veil — or, generally, even the headscarf — are signalling that they are Islamists and that they wish to replace secular with Shariah law. This does pose a direct threat to others, backed by the implicit threat of terrorism. Islamists are demanding toleration for their own intolerance, which a liberal society only grants at its peril.
Having been so long in denial, Britain is stumbling towards recognition of its plight, but even those supposed to be in charge are still desperately confused. A case in point was the sensational outburst last week by General Sir Richard Dannatt, who as chief of the defense staff is Britain's most senior soldier. Against the advice of his political superiors, he gave an interview to the Daily Mail, a tabloid newspaper which, though socially conservative, wants British troops to come home from Iraq. The headline read: "WE MUST QUIT IRAQ SAYS NEW HEAD OF THE ARMY." And Gen. Dannatt did indeed say, "we should get ourselves out sometime soon because our presence exacerbates the security problems." Trying to explain himself on the BBC later, he warned that staying in Iraq too long could even "break" the army.
It was generally agreed that, by
contradicting government policy on
Iraq, Gen. Dannatt had broken the unwritten British constitution. However,
rather than fire the general, the prime minister decided to agree with him. I am sure that Mr. Blair does agree with the passages in which the general warned that "we need to face up to the Islamist threat," which might fill "the moral and spiritual vacuum in this country." Or when the general declared, "It is said that we live in a post-Christian society. I think that is a great shame. The Judaic-Christian tradition has underpinned British society. It underpins the British Army."
The great advantage of an unwritten constitution is that it is infinitely flexible. In 1951, President Truman had no choice but to relieve General MacArthur of his command in the Far East. That is not the case here. Mr. Blair needs Gen. Dannatt to help him win the culture war at home.What a pity that this decent but politically inept soldier cannot see that if the Islamists win in Iraq, there is a real danger of an intifada on the streets of Britain.