Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Rivers of Blood

"It is the supreme function of statesmanship to provide against preventable evils." [Enoch Powell]

Tomorrow, April 20, is the anniversary of the infamous "Rivers of Blood" speech by Enoch Powell, a brilliant man who was then a prominent Conservative politician in Britain. It was a time of sharp debate about immigration, centered on the proposed Race Relations Bill. Speaking in Birmingham at the annual meeting of the West Midlands Conservative Political Centre, Powell painted a lurid picture of a future Britain swamped by immigrants:

Here is the means of showing that the immigrant communities can organise to consolidate their members, to agitate and campaign against their fellow citizens, and to overawe and dominate the rest with the legal weapons which the ignorant and the ill-informed have provided. As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood’. That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. Indeed, it has all but come. In numerical terms, it will be of American proportions long before the end of the century. Only resolute and urgent action will avert it even now. Whether there will be the public will to demand and obtain that action, I do not know. All I know is that to see, and not to speak, would be the great betrayal.

Typically, for a European politician, he framed the nightmare in terms of "American conditions." If you want to scare a European, the quickest way is to tell him his country is in danger of becoming like America. But America in April 1968 looked like Hell. Martin Luther King Jr. lay dead and riots shattered city after city from one coast to the other.

Powell paid for this speech with his career. He never held high office again, though he continued in Parliament. He died in 1998. The Guardian, predictably, gave him an unflattering eulogy: "He became a myth, a bogyman, in whose name blacks and Asians were to be harassed and assaulted for the next couple of decades." Even worse, he was a precursor of Margaret Thatcher: "He offered British politicians a model for racialist rhetoric which was to last for a long time - when, a decade later, Mrs Thatcher spoke of British civilisation being 'swamped' the Powellite echoes were unmistakable, and successful."

Yet was he right? Wasn't he? The Europeans continue to define their policies in terms of "not-America." But 1968 wasn't the permanent state of America. It was a crucial year that broke a logjam of racism and allowed the slow process of integration to accelerate. Deep problems remain, and the challenges will absorb us for the rest of our lives. But we are not the same nation we were in 1968:

In 1940, more than two-thirds of whites believed blacks were less intelligent. Today, less than 6 percent think so. Before World War II, in the North as well as the South, fewer than 40 percent supported any kind of desegregation. Today, between 95 and 100 percent of Americans support the idea of integration. That percentage among whites is actually higher than among blacks.

The melting pot held together through the shock. Where is Europe now? That much closer to Powell's nightmare:

For many Muslims in Europe, self-segregation has come naturally. What's tragic is that European authorities have supported it. Rejecting the American approach - namely, encouraging immigrants to work and integrate - they've instead helped newcomers to maintain distinct communities and provided benefits that have made it easy for them to stay unemployed. Why did these authorities prefer segregation? Supposedly they were enlightened "multiculturalists" who respected differences; for many, the real reason was a profound discomfort with the idea of "them" becoming "us." Naively, they imagined they could preserve their nations' cultural homogeneity while letting in millions of foreigners and smiling on their preservation and perpetuation of values drastically different from their own.

What they've reaped, alas, is a generation of Muslims, many of whom view their neighborhoods as colonies amid enemy territory - and who demand this autonomy be recognized. In Britain, imams have pressed the government to designate part of Bradford as being under Muslim law. In Belgium, Muslims in the Brussels neighborhood of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek consider it to be under Islamic jurisdiction. In Denmark, Muslim leaders have sought similar control over parts of Copenhagen. In France, an official met with an imam at the edge of Roubaix's Muslim district out of respect for his declaration that it was Islamic territory. In many cities, police have stopped patrolling certain enclaves, the authorities having effectively ceded control to local religious leaders.

The rivers of blood are yet to come, and may yet be avoided. Yet there's a trickle of blood from ripped-open buses and Tube cars, and there's a call for blood in the unassimilated voices that preach "Massacre those who insult Islam" and "Europe you will pay, your 9/11 will come" on the streets of London. There's a scent of blood in the words of the London-based imam who said, “I believe the whole of Britain has become Dar ul-Harb (land of war)." In such a state, he added, “the kuffar (non-believer) has no sanctity for their own life or property.”

Enoch Powell saw, and he spoke, but they didn't really listen.