Enoch Powell was wrong. There have been no rivers of blood. (Yes, he didn’t use the phrase but, no, he should have known, even in 1968, that the one he used would have been so popularised.) Instead, Britain has absorbed mass immigration on a scale unprecedented in its history.
Census data are among our most-long running. Its record of the percentage of the population born abroad is, in the absence of migration data that goes back as far, perhaps the most reliable evidence of social change. In 1900, it was under two per cent. In 2019, it was 14 per cent.
But the dry statistics don’t tell the human story – of how a country which until recently was, despite successive waves of migration, overwhelmingly white, Christian (at least culturally) and imperial (in terms of recent memory). Now, 18 per cent of the population, almost one in five, are members of ethnic minorities. Less than half the population now describes itself as Christian.
Furthermore, the ethnic and religious minority population is concentrated in particular places. So it is that a majority of people in both Birmingham and Leicester are now members of ethnic minorities. This is a challenge to integration and cohesion.
That this transformation has taken place without mass violence is a tribute, first, to the minorities themselves but, second and on a larger scale, to the tolerance, good humour and sense of the white majority. It is fair to say both that this astonishing transformation was never endorsed by voters in a general election, and also that they have never voted for any party that would seriously attempt to reverse it.
Enter multiculturalism. To some, the word means simply a multi-racial society. To others, a country in which people have different value systems. More people seem to hold the first view than the second.
As the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities put it: “there is now near universal acceptance that the UK is a multi-ethnic society and people of immigrant backgrounds can be British”. So Conservative politicians should be careful to distinguish between the two meanings – or risk having to explain that their words have been “mischaracterised”, as Suella Braverman did recently.
However, the relevance of the second meaning has been growing for some time. On July 7 2005, four Islamist suicide bombers detonated bombs on three London Underground trains one on a double-decker bus. Fifty-two innocent people were killed.
It was part of a story that began with Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwah against Salman Rushie and continued through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to the teacher who remains in hiding after showing his pupils cartoons of the Prophet of Islam. It is a tale of pre-modern religious absolutism enforced by violence.
So although there have been no rivers of blood, some has flowed nonetheless. And that Powell was wrong in the past doesn’t guarantee he will be so for the future. At any rate, the incompatability of this monomaniacal worldview with pluralist democracy was grimly evident this weekend when pro-Palestinian demonstrators trampled an LGBT flag to the ground.
Al Qaeda and ISIS had derisory support among British Muslims and leftist voters. Hamas is different. Many of those who marched on Saturday don’t support it. But backing for a group proscribed by law in Britain must run, at the most conservative of estimates, into the tens of thousands.
As the war in the Middle East rages on, this is a stark threat to public order. It might be more manageable were the non-Islamist majority more confident in their own value system – and in the system, history and culture that underpin it.
But there is a deadly interaction between Islamism and woke. The first proclaims the legitimacy of a theocracy. (“The movement’s programme is Islam,” Hamas’ charter declared in 1988.) The second tells anyone willing to listen about the illegitimacy of western liberal democracy – since the West, by definition, is an oppressor, and everything else, pretty much, is the oppressed.
“You do not know a tyranny until it is on top of you; until it has you in a trap. The tyrant is not present until he is omnipresent,” James Orr tweeted on Saturday, quoting Chesterton.
First, Islamist extremism will use woke like a human shield. Then, once it has exhausted its purpose, it will cast aside, like that flag last Saturday. So it was that a tube driver, of all people, led a chant of “Free Palestine” on the same day – on the very tube network that saw scores of people die in 2005.
Is public opinion beginning to shift? Do the British people increasingly view multiculturalism as a clash of value systems? Probing, repeated polling might tell us.
So might a reaction against Black Lives Matter. Some Conservatives point out that it’s an extreme, anti-police, and corrupt movement. Others counter that most football supporters seem to see taking a knee as a anti-racism statement – no more, no less. Which is true enough, at least to date. What does its UK branch have to say, or at least retweet, about Israel and Gaza? “From the river to the sea”.
Is the multicultural dream doomed, here and elsewhere in Europe – puffed up beyond sustainability, and set to crash to earth, Ozymandius-style? Here are three signs of hope.
First, the recent letter by a group of senior Muslim religious leaders denouncing “Hamas’ killing and abduction of innocent people”. This was a clear rejection of the denialism and conspiracism among some British Muslims, a reminder to non-Muslims that Islam and Islamism are not the same thing, and an assertion of the religion’s mainstream, classical and majority tradition.
Second, a letter by a group of eminent Jewish lawyers urging Israel to observe “the laws of war”, which “apply irrespective of the level of outrageous conduct of an enemy and no exceptions to those rules can be derived from the level of suffering caused by Hamas’s actions. There are some aspects of Israel’s response that already cause significant concern.”
My point is not about the rights or wrongs of the Shaykhs’ and lawyers’ letters. Rather, it’s that they offer some basis for dialogue at a time when monologues are becoming louder and more shrill.
Finally, the Times reported the story last Friday of the Nisa-Nashim network, which brings together groups of Muslim and Jewish women. However, the paper noted that “ at a local level there have been relatively few examples of joint vigils or outreach events between neighbouring mosques, synagogues and churches”.
The Metropolitan Police are claiming a 1,353 per cent increase in antisemitic offences this month compared to the same period last year, and anti-Muslim offences up by 140 per cent in the aftermath Hamas’ slaughter in Israel.